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Coaching and the world’s oldest profession…

December 14, 2017

Okay, so if the title of this article makes you uncomfortable, me too! If you have some judgments about ‘the world’s oldest profession,’ you’re not alone. And if you are willing to be uncomfortable and will consider dropping your judgments for a bit, read on.

I grew up in the Bible Belt (TX, LA, OK) and was taken to church (Southern Baptist) pretty much every time the door opened. I must admit that a puritanical residue from that experience persists within me.

So when I got the email from Tim Ferriss, host of my all-time favorite podcast, with the title “The Erotic Playbook of a Top-Earning Sex Worker,” I was immediately anxious. Should I listen? What if someone knew I was listening? Is it okay to listen? What would that say about me?

Then I decided to get over myself, suspend my judgment and give it a listen. And I’m glad I did.

I was struck by the similarities between coaching and (I’ll call it) sex work. You may find that offensive, and if so, feel free to stop reading. If you are willing to consider how understanding the similarities between the two professions can make you a better coach, read on.

Connection and Intimacy

Because I work with CEO / owners, I have the opportunity to work with my clients over a long period of time. My relationships with my clients go beyond coaching to improve performance. We connect over what matters most to them.

It’s common for my clients to share things with me that they’ve never told anyone, including their spouses. We connect over their anxieties, frustrations, exasperations about their business, their confidence as a leader, their hopes for the future. It frees them to confide in someone who has no skin in their game, no agenda.

They share more and more deeply with someone who knows them, their company, their family, their history. Someone who listens and remembers and cares.

We develop a meaningful, personal and intimate relationship that’s unlike what they can get from a spouse, relative, friend, or co-worker.

Alice Little is one of the US’s top earning sex workers. She works legally at Nevada’s Moonlite BunnyRanch and is a dedicated sex educator and advocate. One of her most requested offerings is the Girlfriend Experience.

For clients requesting the Girlfriend Experience, Alice performs the role of a girlfriend; going on dates, accompanying the client to parties, communicating and connecting, just as a girlfriend would, over an extended period of time.

Alice attends to the needs of her clients in personalized, precise and intentional ways. She develops a meaningful, personal and intimate relationship with her clients that is unlike what they can get from a spouse, a hook-up, a tinder match, or a friend with benefits.

Both professions fulfill a need for connection and intimacy without attachment in a way that clients can’t get elsewhere.

Both professions are focused on helping the client connect not only with the coach / sex-worker, but also with themselves.

Establishing the Agreement

As coaches, the first thing we do is establish the agreement with our clients. We figure out what the client wants, for themselves, their lives, their futures, and what they are hoping to get from our work together.

For years, I’ve asked clients to complete a discovery questionnaire designed to reveal their strengths, values, and principles, and to flesh out their goals for themselves and our work together.

Frequently, I feel I have to keep after my clients to get them to complete the discovery document so we can start our work. (I think, “Good grief, they just agreed to work together. Can’t they find the time to complete the paperwork to get started?!”)

Alice begins each client engagement with a discovery session, too. It’s intended to explore the client’s desires, hopes, dreams, and what they want to do together. She gets a clear sense of the experience they want to have and how they want to experience it.

She attends not just to goals, desires and outcomes, but also to the person and their deeper yearnings, what’s underneath their desires. Only then can she truly know what the client wants to experience, and to create it.

Both professions rely on agreed upon outcomes, but focus on something deeper; something within the client that yearns to be met and satisfied.

When we don’t attend to our clients’ deepest yearnings (instead, staying at the surface, at the level of the goal, the outcome), we miss the opportunity to help our clients truly create themselves and their lives. (Note to self: Do something to make my client discovery process more exciting!)

Creating Clear Boundaries

Having long term relationships with clients means that strong, clear boundaries are a necessity.

Without boundaries, it would be easy for coaching conversations to become like any casual conversation. I’ve had colleagues who socialize with their clients regularly. I’ve never wanted to or been able to do that. For me, it blurs the boundaries too much.

I want to have one kind of conversation with my clients, a coaching conversation.

Otherwise, I blur into the kinds of conversational experiences that they can get anywhere. (I’ve found that the more social I am with a client, the less boundaried I am, and the easier it is for our coaching conversation to devolve into a conversation they could have with anyone.)

If you listen to Tim Ferriss’ interview with Alice Little, you’ll hear how clearly differentiated she is from her clients.

While she doesn’t speak to it directly (because she wasn’t asked*), it was clear to me from her crisp articulation of the process and her distinct description of her responsibilities, that she is able to clearly delineate where she stops and her clients start.

This delineation allows her to dance in the space of being both connected and separate.

Healthy boundaries are essential to both professional coaches and to…well…professionals.

Paradoxically, the only way we are able to create the connection and intimacy that allows our clients’ deepest desires to surface is by being both connected with and separate from them, knowing where we end and they start, and what are our responsibilities and what are theirs.

At Learning in Action, we call this Self / Other orientation.

We’ve learned that we humans tend to lean toward either blurred boundaries or boundaries too thick. (If you’re interested in a little primer on Self / Other Orientation, give this video a look).

What’s the point in identifying the similarities between coaching and sex work?

Two things: 1) I believe that understanding the similarities illustrates how important it is that we coaches deliver something our clients can’t get elsewhere – healthy, boundaried connection and intimacy that provides a foundation for helping them achieve their deepest desires;  2) like sex, coaching satisfies a basic human need.  Everyone needs to be heard, seen, acknowledged, empathized with, connected with. And all of that is in all too short supply.

What about you? Do you know which way you lean? Boundaries blurred or boundaries too thick?

Connected and separate, dancing in that space of clients’ desires.

We’d love to hear how you do it.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


*As I was listening to this episode from Tim Ferriss, I wanted to shout into my headset, “Tim, ask her about boundaries. Ask her about her relationships. Stop being such a guy and ask her about something besides sex.” (Okay, my judgments were coming out.)




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December 8, 2017

I must confess, I am (occasionally☺) guilty of filtering my life through my lens as a coach. While that’s not always healthy, recently it resulted in an idea that I plan to use for myself and my clients.

My husband, son, and I have a tradition of spending the weekend before Thanksgiving with my family in Tulsa, OK; spending Thanksgiving day, just the three of us, in Duck, NC; and then flying to Seattle, WA, for our third Thanksgiving for the year. (We stay home for Christmas. Whew!)  

At our last Thanksgiving of this year, a couple of the young men in the family who work for tech companies got to talking about what’s new. That’s when what3words came up.

Where Am I? is a wayfinding platform that has mapped and named every location on the planet in three square meter chunks. Why do this? Because 75% of the world’s countries lack a reliable addressing system. And in highly developed countries, like the U.S., addresses don’t exist within parks, rural areas and rapidly developing areas.

what3words names every three square meters on the planet using three words. For instance, my home office in Seattle is located at joke.lonely.jungle. My home in Bethesda is located at friday.scan.bother.

That’s right – every three square meter location everywhere in the world is named using a unique three-word combination. So cool, right? This is where my coach lens kicked in.

Discover your unique three-word address on what3words here.

Wayfinding From Within

As a coach, you know that coaching is, in essence, facilitated wayfinding. We help our clients see clearly where they are, identify where they want to go, and help them find their way there. Sounds simple, right? Only, where our clients are and where they truly want to go is often times unmapped territory, unaddressed, and perhaps, out of conscious sight.

Often times, using devices like metaphor, we can help our clients to step out of their day-to-day linear, logical, analytical patterns and access more of themselves. We can provoke lateral thinking and use creative exercises to help our clients tap into dimensions of their experience they would not otherwise access. It occurred to me that what3words might be a device for inspiring deeper exploration.

Going First

When I heard about what3words and saw it as a metaphor for coaching, I immediately wanted to use it with my clients. I LOVED the idea of asking my client to use three words to describe their current location and three words to describe their desired location. (I plan to start using it in my Client Discovery process.)

I’ve learned that for me to truly connect with and help my clients, I have to go first. I have to do the work I’m asking my clients to do.

I can’t take my client anywhere I have not gone.

I was noodling how I might introduce what3words in a coaching context as I drove to meet my long-time client this week for breakfast. When he asked me how I was doing, I asked him if he was up for trying something new.

I described what3words and suggested that we each use it to describe our present location – where we were in relationship to our life. I told him that I would tell him my three words, and when I was done, I would ask him for his. He was game for it.

I told him my What 3 Words: trying.seed.simmering. I explained what that meant. (If you are curious about what those words meant to me, you can go here.)

And then I asked him his three words. (As you can imagine, that was a challenge. It’s a challenge that wouldn’t work with everyone all of the time.) He said, “I can’t come up with the words, but I have an image.  

“I am standing at the edge of a big lake, with a long swim ahead. I think I can make it across, but I’ve never done it before.” Such a rich metaphor. With a little bit more exploration, he came up with his three-word location: “ready.daunted.excited.” Wow!

From this simple metaphorical exercise, I learned so much, so fast, about my client and his relationship to his life and the challenges facing him.

The entire coaching conversation that followed stemmed from his response. To be clear, it wasn’t about the exercise or the exact words. The exercise was simply the tool that gave him access to a dimension of his experience that had been previously unmapped.

The What 3 Words exercise gave him access to a part of himself that he didn’t have access to before.  

Making Meaning

Perhaps even more important than our role in helping our clients improve is the opportunity we have to help our clients make meaning of their lives.

No matter what we do or what happens to us, what we take with us is the meaning we make from it.

If we can bring out our clients’ own resourcefulness, creativity, wholeness to their meaning-making, we can bring them into the fullness of themselves. We can help them build a foundation from which to thrive.

Now It’s Your Turn

Will it take a bit of courage to invite your clients to do this exercise? Yes, and it’s such a good thing that you are a coach! ‘Cause courage is part of the job description!

To encourage you to take that courageous leap, I’ve provided you with everything you need for using this What 3 Words exercise with a client. You can find it all here. Give it a shot and let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear.

Add your Comments below this post, or Share and repost with your own thoughts.

Fun Footnote

Sometimes we can see truth in the random (Or is it random?) nature of things. One of the three square meters at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington DC, has these three words as its location name: many.appear.windy. ☺ So tweetable too!


Alison Whitmire
President | Learning In Action


P.S. Our 2018 EQ Profile Certification course calendar is now set! Check out the entire course catalog or click on the link below.



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When the Coach Undermines Coaching

December 1, 2017

I’d been working with Tom for a couple of years, when we had “the talk.” I was a relatively new coach, still figuring things out, and frankly, I hadn’t done a good job of explaining to Tom what coaching is. (This is me blaming myself, because that’s what I do. But, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.) 

Tom says, “Alison, I feel like I’m not getting much value from our work together.” Ugh! It felt like a kick in the stomach. My first experience was to feel ashamed, responsible and anxious and to think “What could I do to add value? What does this mean about me as a coach?” Seems like a natural reaction, right? Until you know the backstory.

For the prior few months, Tom had not followed through on what he’d designed to do from our coaching sessions, cancelled our sessions last minute, and regularly showed up unprepared, without anything specific he wanted to work on. Tom was getting out of the coaching just what he was putting into it. But that wasn’t anywhere on my radar when I was experiencing stress that felt like failure. 

Taking Too Much Responsibility

My taking responsibility for what was going wrong in my coaching with Tom, robbed Tom of the opportunity to examine his relationship to our coaching. My default setting of accepting responsibility for what’s not working was negatively impacting my effectiveness as a coach and my ability to help my client.

There were so many other responses that would have served Tom (and me) better. “Thank you for telling me. Can you say more? “ and/or “What is the value you are wanting to be getting from our coaching?” and/or “What are you doing to create value for yourself in our work together?” I don’t remember now exactly what I said (the kind of amnesia that sometimes accompanies stress and the passage of time), but it wasn’t any of those.

My focus was too much on myself and my responsibility for the success of the coaching. I was not focusing enough on Tom and holding him equally responsibility, equally accountable for the success of our work together. And that’s my default setting, in most any relationship under stress in the moment – to take more responsibility than is mine to take when things are going wrong.


Planning to Self Soothe

Tricia showed up to our coaching session wanting to work through a challenging situation with her boss. She was furious with her boss, feeling devalued, discriminated against, obstructed and stressed. When I asked what she hoped to get from our session, she explained that she wanted a plan for approaching her boss and having a constructive conversation that would help them resolve their conflict.

So, with clearly defined desired outcomes for the coaching, we launched into our session. We talked through what Tricia really wanted for herself (from the conversation, her job, her life) and generated a plan that she hoped would create it for her  The only problem was that at the end of the session, when Tricia had her plan, she was still furious. It was as if nothing we’d talked about mattered.

Even if you’ve only barely started on your coaching journey, you can recognize the rocky coaching mistakes I’d made. And there were many. I’d stepped over her feelings. I didn’t focus enough on her relationship to the situation, her feelings, her boss. I’d focused on the results, the plan.  I know these are pedestrian coaching mistakes, so why did I make them?

I love a good plan. When I’m under stress or in crisis, what helps me move through it is having a plan.

When I lost a pregnancy at 23 weeks, I grieved and could have become overwhelmed by it.  What lifted me out of my grief and got me moving forward was having a plan. A plan helped me create a future that was more like what I wanted, what I hoped for.

So, my default response to help Tricia was to help her create a plan that would lift her out of her distress and help move her forward.  After all, it was what she said she wanted, and I was only too happy to comply.


The Coach’s Default Setting

All of us coaches (actually all of us humans) have a default setting. Our default setting reflects how we take in and process information, the meaning we make of the information, and what we tend to do with that information when we are under stress. (And BTW, when we are coaching, we are always under some degree, no matter how small, of stress, whether it’s our own stress or our client’s stress that we take on.)  

We are largely not conscious of our default setting because it is to us like water is to a fish. Our default setting is the ubiquitous filter through which we thread all our experiences.

Two specific aspects of my default setting are to take too much responsibility and to use planning to self-soothe. I know this about myself now and wish I’d known it when I was working with Tom and Tricia.


The Coach Affects The Coaching

Of course, the coach affects the coaching. We all know this, in general. But, do we know SPECIFICALLY how our own nonconscious biases are impacting (and potentially negatively affecting) our coaching and our clients?

I don’t get soapboxy about many things. I feel I don’t have the right. So instead, I’ll position this the way my buddy, Simon Sinek does, by stating what I believe.

I believe that every coach has the responsibility to know and understand the impact of their default settings on their coaching.

We coaches have a responsibility to know how our nonconscious biases, when they remain outside of our conscious awareness, affect our coaching and our clients (oh, and of course, us).

When we are aware of our default settings, our filters, our biases, we can stay out of the way of the coaching, ensuring the agenda is always the client’s agenda, unfiltered through our own unconscious agenda. And until we know SPECIFICALLY what our default settings are, we can’t do that.


Seeing the Filter Through Which We See Ourselves, Others and the World

How do we learn our default settings? How do we see our filters? How do we know what our unconscious biases are? I know there is not a single answer to this question, as much as I wish there were. Here are some ideas of places to look:

1) Examining Relationship Patterns

We can get a pretty good hint of our biases / filters / default settings by looking at our patterns, particularly our patterns in relationships. The relationships we attract, are attracted to, how our relationships play out.

For example, early on in my coaching, I noticed that I wasn’t enjoying working with older women. I didn’t feel the same connection as I did with men, or even younger women.

I quickly realized a pattern of thinking and feeling that was way too reminiscent of my early relationship with my mother. (Sorry if that’s too psychological, too uncomfortable, too woo woo. It’s my truth, and an example). Once I was aware of, and conscious of, the pattern, I could mitigate the biases that came up, and work with my older female clients the way I would anyone else.


2) Stream of Conscious Conflict Journaling

Conflicts trigger our default settings. By journaling about our internal experience in conflict, we can detect patterns that are unique to us.

Do we focus outside of ourselves and on what everyone else wants or needs, do we blame ourselves for what’s gone wrong, do we lose trust in the other, do we move to act too quickly, do we hear the same kinds of things about us from different people?

Journaling helps us tease these things out of ourselves. I’ve learned through journaling that I’m not as sensitive to the feelings of others as I’d like to be. (I tend to be direct, which some people find insensitive. That reminder allows me to be extra careful in the relationships that are most important to me.


3) Visualizing Our Internal Experience Under Stress Using the EQ Profile

Yes, this is a shameless plug for The EQ Profile. I’m shameless about it because it’s been transformative to me personally, to me as a coach and to my coaching.

What is the EQ Profile? The EQ Profile is an instrument that measures our internal experience under stress in relationship. It reveals our default settings, our unconscious biases, our patterns of thinking, feeling, wanting, and of being, when challenged.

Knowing my inner landscape as revealed to me by the EQ Profile helps me be aware of my biases and be on the lookout for them to show up in my coaching. When I coach my next Tom or Tricia, I’ll be able to detect my own biases. I’ll recognize the tendency for me to take more responsibility than is mine, or to focus more on planning or acting than on feeling.

Maybe you are more other-oriented,and my experience with Tom wouldn’t happen with you. Maybe you focus more on feelings, and my experience with Tricia wouldn’t happen with you. Consider that you have all different biases affecting your coaching, and that you likely have yet to see your own biases.


It Starts with Us Coaches

As coaches, our work is never really done. There is no end to what we’ll do to help our clients. Our ability to do more with, and for, our clients is directly related to our ability and willingness to do more with, and for, ourselves.

If we want to help our clients see how they are getting in their own way, we have to be willing and able to see how we are getting in ours.

We can’t take our clients anywhere we haven’t gone.

OK, maybe that is a little soapboxy. ☺

Alison Whitmire
President | Learning In Action

P.S. Our 2018 EQ Profile Certification course calendar is now set! Check out the entire course catalog or click on the link below.

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How Do I Connect With My Heady Client?

November 21, 2017

As coaches, connecting with our clients is a natural thing. We support and advocate for our clients, so why don’t we always connect with them?

I don’t know about you, but I have found that some of my clients are more difficult to connect with than others.  I’ve had clients that were what I call heady, operating mainly from their heads (their thinking dimension). I’ve been challenged to feel deeply, truly connected with them.

A few years ago, a close coaching colleague keenly articulated for me the challenge of connecting with heady people. We were in Rio de Janeiro attending TEDGlobal, having dinner in a loud, traditional Brazilian restaurant. We talked fluidly over a dinner of wine and LOTS of meat and enjoyed a lovely conversation. Then, we happened to see another colleague from the conference, and he sat down to join us.

As we chatted with him, I realized my coach friend, who is legally deaf, could not hear him. She often asked him to repeat himself. When he left, I asked her, “Why is it that you can hear me and you couldn’t hear him?” And she replied, “Because he speaks from his head!”  Remarkable.

Getting Out of The Head

For the most part, we don’t connect with our clients at a head level. So, connecting with our heady clients means getting them out of their heads. But how do we do that? And where do they go instead?

For you somatic coaches, you may take them to their body. I’m not a somatic coach, so maybe some of you who are will chime in here and offer your expertise.   

Trying to shift a determinedly heady client to their feelings may be an exercise in frustration for both coach and client. When heady clients express their feelings, it can often be threaded through their thinking (e.g. ”I think I feel like I want to do something different” – a thinking / feeling / wanting combo pack ☺). They may be left with the sense they aren’t doing feelings right, creating more resistance.

How to get our heady clients out of their heads and in touch with more dimensions of their experience? Invite them to share their internal experience through a tool called an attunement.

Attuning to Connect

What is an attunement? An attunement is an expression of one’s present moment experience for the purpose of connecting.

An attunement invites one to notice and name their present moment experience (e.g. what they are thinking, feeling, sensing, experiencing internally, in real time) and to share that with another.

The attunement serves 1) to bring us into the present (leaving the past behind and the future ahead) 2) to build muscle around noticing and naming our internal experience to continually create greater awareness of self and 3) to facilitate connection, allowing the space for both coach and client to see and be seen, accept and be accepted, empathize and be empathized with.

An attunement invites our clients to move beyond the face they might present to the public and connect with themselves and us in their present moment experience.

How do you use an attunement with a client? One way to use an attunement is at the beginning of a coaching session as a check in.

Here’s how it can work:

  1. Ask your client if they are willing to try something new (getting permission first always helps). You don’t need a bunch of preamble – that would engage their brain more, tempting them to over-think what’s coming.
  2. Suggest that your client close their eyes, ground their feet, and take a few deep breaths.
  3. Invite your client to tune into their internal experience – what they are feeling, sensing, experiencing – in the present moment
  4. Mirror for yourself what you are asking your client to do.
  5. Suggest that your client describe their internal experience metaphorically, using one of the sample attunements below, or one of your own making (e.g. ”If your internal experience was like the weather, what would be a description of the weather you are experiencing right now?).
  6. Then, if you’d like, you can share a description of your internal experience using the same attunement.

For your more heady clients, you may want to leave it at that, keeping the experience extra safe by not probing into their answer. As your client builds muscle around tuning into their internal experience, you may find that your client has expanded their capacity to go beyond their head and into other dimensions of their experience. You may find that you feel more connected with your client and with what they are experiencing.

Hearing More Than Words

I’d been working with Paul for a couple of years when he started talking with me about a pain he was experiencing. Paul was a brilliant young CEO, driven, passionate, generally healthy, though overworked, overwhelmed and overwrought.

Paul would talk about how much pain he was in, with a smile on his face. He’d laugh as I asked him to tell me about the pain, how he experienced it, what was underneath it and what was driving it. Because Paul smiled throughout our session and spoke from his head, I made the mistake of not tuning into how much psychic pain he was in.

One day, he showed up to a coaching session looking drawn, pensive and unsmiling. This was new. So I asked him if he’d be willing to try something different.  He agreed. We walked through the process outlined above, using my favorite “weather” attunement.  He described his weather as a tsunami that follows an earthquake. Only then did I truly understand the magnitude of the pain he was in. I could connect with him in a much different, much more empathetic way.

Exploring the Tunes of Attunement

You can use your creativity and have some fun with attunements. There is no wrong way to do it, so play a little! Here are a few examples of possible attunements to get you warmed up.

  • If you were to describe your present moment experience as a weather report, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a clear, blue, sunny sky on a calm summer’s day.)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience now as a river, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a river after a storm, where there’s a strong current, wakes and swollen riverbed.)
  • If you were to describe your present moment experience as a holiday, what holiday would it be? (e.g. I’m feeling a bit sad so I’m feeling like Veteran’s Day, like I’m feeling a sense of loss.)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience like a sunrise or a sunset, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed so I’m feeling like a sunset that you can’t really see because of all of the clouds.)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience like a color and a texture, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a sandy beach, a little gritty, but warm and happy.)
  • If you were to describe your present experience like a phase of the moon, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a full moon, bold, bright, ready!)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience like a tree or vegetation, how would you describe it (e.g. I’m feeling a bit like a cactus, I’m feeling kinda rigid, sharp, prickly.)
  • What is one word that describe an emotion that you are feeling right now, using a feeling word? (That would be a word that is used to describe an emotion – melancholy, embarrassed, anxious, impatient, frustrated, sad – versus a metaphor – like I want to bury my head.)
  • What is one word that describes how your body feels right now (other than tired)? (e.g. tense, overwhelmed, antsy, full, tingly)
  • If you were to give form to your current internal experience as a character or an animal, what form would you give it? (e.g. I’m feeling wistful like Alice in Wonderland.)
  • If you were to paint the picture of your present internal experience, what would the picture look like (e.g. I’m having a lot of very different, mixed feelings so my picture would look like a rainbow colored checkerboard.)

Start Attuning

Your client will probably never ask you for an attunement. Attuning with self and others will rarely be in anyone’s coaching plan. Attuning is a powerful tool that we coaches can offer. We can create the space and the connection with our clients that leads to meaningful change. So be bold, be courageous, be creative and start attuning!

Do you have an attunement you love or an attunement experience you’d like to share? Please do. If you use one of these attunements for the first time, let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear!

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Your Responses to ‘Does the Client Really Have All the Answers?’

November 17, 2017

We received dozens of responses to our blog post “Does our client really have all the answers?” and we’re grateful to everyone who openingly and honestly shared their thoughts with us. It is clear that this is a juicy question at the forefront of coaches’ minds, your minds. So juicy and important, in fact, we are working to provide time and space to further this conversation via a webinar platform. Stay tuned, details to come.   

Did you miss our initial blog post? No problem, you can get caught up here. 

It turns out, our coaching community has been mulling over this hot button topic of whether coaches should advise their clients or not. And while this topic seems to be at the top of mind, the conversation around it takes many different valuable shapes and forms. With hopes of continuing this important conversation we are sharing a summary of your valuable perspectives. 

Do You Coach Outside of The Lines? 

Overwhelmingly, you answered YES.  You regularly reach beyond the traditional co-active approach by:  1) doing what works for the client with recognition that all clients are different, which calls for a unique approach for each 2) doing what the client hired you for by coaching (mentoring, advising, and educating) them to improve performance, attain goals, and achieve their defined results (whatever they may be) and 3) holding your clients creative, resourceful, and whole – while warning and advising  them if there is a cliff ahead. 

One of you summarized this approach so eloquently:

 “The coach works to create the delicate balance between sharing information that expand the client’s knowledge in combination with questions that enable the client to expand their thinking through reflection, creating new learning that supports their needs and goals.”    

Giving Clients a Nudge

Some of you have found advising, directing, and “a little nudge” are essential to getting your client’s “unstuck.  Here’s what you had to say about offering a little something extra: 

“Some (clients) need to be taken by the hand, guided, and shown some options, even provided with suggestions or advice that they can take or leave, of course. Coaching, for me, is more than just listening and waiting for them to come up with their own answers (or not).”

“Do I ever offer my thoughts?  Sure, when the client runs dry, I’ll ask if I can offer up an idea or if he or she wants to do some brainstorming.”

 “Questions are important. I have gotten MUCH better at asking them. But – it’s not enough, sometimes.”

How Did We Get Here?

Some of you reminded us of the humble beginnings of the ICF core competencies by reflecting on how they were created to intentionally separate the coaching profession, created a platform for incredibly successful coaches, and now can be a springboard for continued conversations in the evolution of coaching:

“The ICF Core Competencies and certification track were developed at a crucial time in the emergence of the coaching profession. We, as a coaching collective, were becoming scrutinized by other professions that didn’t understand how we weren’t treading into their regulated areas and because we didn’t have a self-defined, self-regulated unified body of knowledge with a foundational set of competencies and a way to assess and measure proficiency in them, we left ourselves open as an emerging profession, to become defined by OTHER professions and adhere to outside standards of proficiency.”

The Questions We Are Still Asking Ourselves 

Some important and intriguing questions came up for some of you reflecting on the process of “when it comes to moving away from the client being the one that has all of the answers” including:

  • Where is the line between coaching and consulting?
  • How do we measure a coach’s ability to advise properly and correctly?
  • What if the wrong advice is given and has large repercussions?
  • How do you keep the client from holding the coach in a hierarchal position as the smartest one in the relationship?
  • How do you teach a client to be resourceful when they DON’T have the answers and you are not around as their coach?
  • How do you avoid client dependency on the coach for guidance on how to think and act?

We are inspired by the stories you shared around how YOU delicately balance the tension of self-inquiry around what will serve your client best – advising them in a way that can improve their performance or coaching them toward empowerment, resourcefulness and self-authorship:

“I’ve been doing some pro bono coaching recently for a good friend who is a business owner, and he’s been struggling with how to lay out clear expectations for a staff member who is in charge of all their marketing.  It’s a conversation he’s avoided for a long time.  I tried the coaching approach first – had him walk through pros/cons of having the conversation, asked him how he could approach the performance gap, asked him what’s been holding him back.  He just wasn’t seeing it.  Finally, I told him I thought he was avoiding a conversation he needed to have and that if he wasn’t direct, he was doing his staff member a disservice.  Once I gave him that little poke, he opened up and admitted he was afraid of being vulnerable with her about his lack of leadership.  I told him that vulnerability could increase trust and get the staff member to more readily hear the feedback – what he was avoiding was the very thing he needed to tap into.  Once we had that conversation, I shifted back into coaching and empowered him to build the plan for actually having the conversation.”

Some of you pondered how “the gurus” who have changed millions of lives through coaching fit into the equation. But wait, would Tony Robbins make it through the ICF exam?

“I read an article some years ago that claimed that Tony Robbins with his very directive coaching approach would not be suitable to pass an exam from the ICF. That made me think, that there must be something wrong, if somebody like Tony Robbins and his incredible successful method would fail.”

Where is the Coach in the Coaching?

Finding the space to interject with some “me” seems to be part of your special sauce and an essential way to coach, advise, mentor, educate, and consult your clients on the journey towards their goals (why they hired you to begin with). Many of you have experienced the value of a diverse toolkit when it comes to your coaching methodology:

“Do I provide advice?  You bet your biscuits I do!  I was just speaking to a colleague yesterday about this issue, someone who I have the privilege of mentoring.  I said to her that if a coach won’t be honest with their clients, who will be? When my clients hear about my downfalls or struggles they know that I bleed too, and our relationship is strengthened.  Also, it gives them the opportunity to learn and grow from my experience as well. ”

Another coach shares the importance of giving the client what they are paying for:

“My clients would fire me in a minute if I didn’t inject some “me” into the coaching. With that I mean, they WANT my perspective, shared experiences, suggestions and any resources I have for them. They WANT me to be a partner with them and act as a confident peer where they can say what’s really on their mind and not into a void of endless open-ended questions.”

“I try to default to a coaching approach, but I always have the “consultant” and “mentor” in my toolkit.”  

And finally, while you use a lot of tools in your toolkit, you recognize that the most transformational and valuable life shifting moments for our clients most often come from what our clients discover for themselves:

“Hands down (though), the biggest and most deeply resonating a-ha moments I’ve seen clients have over the years were the ones they found themselves, not the ones I had for them.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, now that we know we are all wrestling with this question, where do we go from here? As coaches, it is easy to become siloed and create our own processes. We must continue to leverage what our experience and gut is telling us by walking the line of coach, mentor, and advisor. We must keep pushing the boundaries through engaging in these uncomfortable conversations with the larger coaching community. We must use our voices and experience (with our clients best interest in mind) to successfully shape the future of coaching as a profession.

We invite you to continue to conversation.  Watch for our upcoming webinar to keep the dialogue going.


– Corrie

Corrie Weikle
Director of Training | Learning In Action

P.S. We have several upcoming EQ Profile certification courses. Check out our course catalog.

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