Unfortunately, working with a coach isn’t always a completely positive, productive experience for clients.
In this article, we’ll look at the potential problems with coaching so you can go into a coaching relationship with your eyes wide open. And if problems arise, you can spot them quickly and hopefully take care of them before they fester.
The following is a list of real problems that come up in coaching relationships, based on my observations of interactions between coaches and clients. To get both sides of the story, you may also want to read about the many benefits you can get from working with a coach.
When you work with a coach for a while, it’s natural to start relying on her, wanting to know her opinions, and using her as a sounding board. The relationship can become very important to you and reach a point where you feel you need the coach to function (or succeed) in life.
I’ve included dependence in the list of potential problems with coaching because many clients (and coaches) feel that a client’s dependence on a coach is a bad thing. While they’re comfortable with a client’s having a desire to work with his coach, they don’t think it’s a good thing for a client to feel he needs to work with his coach to function in life.
But some people are perfectly happy to rely on their coaches, just like they rely on other support professionals like therapists, lawyers, and accountants to keep aspects of their lives and business on track.
Pushed in the wrong direction for you
Your coach may have ideas about what you should do, what goals you should have, and what path you should take in life. She may push you or subtly influence you to go in that direction. You may not realize she’s doing it. She may not even realize she’s doing it. The result is that you could find yourself struggling to achieve goals that aren’t truly in your heart and wasting your time and effort on a path that isn’t right for you.
Advice and guidance are a major part of the services some coaches provide. This advice can be insightful, helpful, and perfectly tailored to you.
It can also be generic and/or not too useful. And, sadly, sometimes, the advice and guidance a coach gives you is just plain wrong or isn’t well-suited to you. It may lead you to make the wrong decisions for yourself, do things in a non-strategic way, lose opportunities, or make mistakes.
Trying to impress the coach
Clients can subtly (or not so subtly) orient around impressing their coaches and getting their coaches’ approval. Instead of a client’s getting clearer about his real values and feeling more in touch with himself, he ends up orienting around his coach and getting less in touch with himself.
Stress, too much work
A coach may pile on assignments and work to help you achieve your dreams. Even if the dreams are your real dreams and the assignments actually help you get there (either one may not be true), the coach may be pushing you to do too much.
Your coach becomes another source of pressure, stress, and guilt in your life, another person who’s making demands on your limited time. And when things fall apart and you can’t finish all the work assigned to you by your coach, you may end up feeling miserable, frustrated, embarrassed, and/or guilty.
A source of conflict
Not every coaching relationship is a smooth, flowing, joyous dance between well-matched partners. Some coaching relationships are contentious, peppered with arguments, power struggles, and other tension-inducing elements.
Though some people seem to thrive on conflict, many people find it difficult to deal with and counter-productive. People who are more sensitive to interpersonal conflict can find even a mild amount of friction with their coaches to be terribly painful and unbearable.
The coach discourages you
Generally, coaches are supportive and encouraging. They help you believe that more is possible for you than you ever thought.
But, sometimes, a coach will tell her client that he can’t do certain things. Maybe, in the coach’s opinion, the client doesn’t have the required skills. Or he’s too old. Or his personality isn’t the right fit. So he should just forget his dream of being a successful writer, salesperson, or entrepreneur. He just doesn’t have what it takes.
Coaches can have strong ideas about what’s necessary to be successful in a certain context and not be aware that their views are limited.
I’ve seen extroverted business coaches tell their introverted clients that these clients won’t be able to succeed as entrepreneurs if they’re not willing to network, speak, and go to conferences. The coaches aren’t aware of the world of other options that introverted entrepreneurs use to succeed in business in entirely different ways.
True, a coach who tells a client he can’t do something could be doing the client a big favor, if the coach is right. The client is saved the time, effort, and grief of attempting a goal he can’t achieve. But coaches are fallible human beings who don’t know the future. A coach can be wrong, and her discouraging, limited views can rob a client of his dreams.
On the other hand, either through genuine enthusiasm or manipulative marketing, a coach may give you the impression that you can succeed quickly or accomplish seemingly impossible goals.
The classic example of this are the business coaches who claim — with testimonials to back them up! — that they can help you go from nothing to a business of six figures in a short amount of time, like 90 days or even a year.
While it may be possible for such claims to be true in individual cases, it’s not common or likely to happen to you.
Coaches’ unrealistic claims can give people false hope and make people feel bad about themselves and their normal, realistic progress. I’ve met people who’ve gotten themselves into trouble because they’ve believed coaches’ unreasonable claims and made plans based on them.
Pushed too soon
A coach may get excited about your dreams and push you to make them into reality too soon.
Most people need some time to get comfortable with a radical change or a new project before they jump into it. A coach’s enthusiasm, support, and encouragement to get moving on your dream may push you to start before you’re ready, which means you may have a harder time of it or possibly won’t be able to succeed at all.
Also, you may be in the early stages of the dreaming cycle, where you’ve just felt the rush of freedom to take charge of and change your life, and your dreams aren’t ready to be taken as serious plans. In these early stages, it’s normal to try on different dreams, to be certain you want to take a certain path one week and be on an entirely different one the next.
You need room to play, experience, and explore. It can be a hindrance, not a help, for a coach to push you into action on one of these early dreams.
Insults you, puts you down
Though coaches generally support their clients and build then up, sometimes, they do the opposite. Coaches sometimes give their clients negative labels, insult them, criticize them, and put them down in other ways.
Often, coaches believe they are doing these things to help their clients. They’re pointing out clients’ flaws so the clients can improve themselves, get into action, or understand their problems more clearly.
It’s your call whether you find this treatment beneficial and you want it from a coach. Even if you decide you want your coach to treat you this way, please know that the coach isn’t necessarily right, no matter how much experience she has, how famous she is, or how high her fees.
Though a coach may act like she’s infallible, she’s just a human being with limitations, biases, and incomplete knowledge. She can make mistakes, even in her area of expertise.
In every industry, there are a bunch of rules about what you have to do to succeed that lots of people in the industry buy into. Often, those rules aren’t correct, if you look at empirical data.
Coaches — especially those who don’t have deep personal experience and expertise in an area — may learn these rules from “experts” and pass the rules on to their clients as if the rules were true.
Clients may then soak up these new rules. So clients end up with more limitations instead of being able to work in a way that’s authentic, enjoyable, and effective for them. For example, a marketing coach will insist that her clients blog every day because that’s what many self-appointed marketing gurus say, even though there are successful, popular bloggers who don’t follow that rule.
Waste of money
It’s natural for a client to stick with coaching, even though it’s not benefiting him and is pretty much a waste of money.
Various factors can lead to this, including these:
- coaching is a new relationship for most clients, so they don’t have a good sense of when they should stick it out and when they should leave,
- clients are embarrassed or uncomfortable leaving coaching after a short amount of time,
- some coaches almost bully clients to stay with lines like, “You’ll never succeed if you’re not willing to commit (as if committing to working with them is the same as committing to working on a goal)
I encourage you to have high standards when you work with coaches and expect to get value from almost every session.
The value may be obvious and concrete, like clever strategies, the inside scoop on an industry, or accountability structures that get you into action. Or the value may be more subtle, like getting clarity or feeling inspired. All that matters is that you’re getting things you truly value from the coaching.
Being an aware, empowered client
Hopefully, if you decide to work with a coach, you’ll have an entirely positive, productive experience.
But things do go wrong in coaching relationships, and I encourage you not to stay in a situation that’s not healthy and beneficial for you.
Even though coaching may be a new relationship for you, you can trust your instincts. If something feels wrong or you have an uncomfortable feeling that you’re wasting your time working with a particular coach, I encourage you to take it seriously.
You have a tremendous amount of power as a coaching client.
If you don’t like what’s happening in your coaching relationship, you can either work things out with your coach or end the coaching.
If you decide to finish working with one coach, you can try again with a different coach or check out alternative support options.