I made a mistake on a recent coaching engagement. I got enrolled in my client’s story.


The core purpose of our “journey” blog on Coachmetrix is to collaboratively support each other in building our coaching and leadership development businesses so that we can collectively make a bigger impact on this world. From “oh ya!” to “oh no!”, we’ve been sharing our mistakes and lessons learned from our 16 year journey toward building an incredibly successful coaching practice. To that end, I’ve had some recent insights about how my own gremlins impacted what I know to do well in a coaching engagement.


If you’ve been through an International Coaching Federation (ICF) credentialed training process, you know that Setting the Foundation is the first category of core competencies that the ICF regards as critical to a coaching practice. Underneath Setting the Foundation are two competencies – (1) Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards and (2) Establishing the Coaching Agreement.


Establishing the Coaching Agreement always made sense to me. Pretty straightforward – right?


When you create clear expectations with your coachee, it becomes easier to share observations and provide ongoing feedback and feedforward in a supportive way.


I recently had a client experience where my own gremlins got in the way and I glossed over a one very critical agreement.


Here’s what happened


I started working with an arrogant, driven, and hard charging CEO of a small IT consulting company. These are my favorite type of leaders to work with. He was outspokenly fast paced and made it clear that the coaching process needed to be fast too. (Not the duration of the engagement, but the speed of the sessions.)


I enrolled in his story (mistake #1) and as a result, I glossed over one key coaching agreement (mistake #2) that I usually spend time discussing in our first session. The agreement was related to the coachee owning his results and that I would be there as an advocate, supporter, and truth teller – but the work and outcomes were his to own.


Three coaching sessions into the engagement, the client was blaming me for his lack of effectiveness in completing fieldwork assignments and not progressing fast enough in the sessions.  


Here’s what I learned


My first lesson in this experience, after deep reflection, is that I got enrolled in my client’s story. I changed what I knew was right. Instead of trusting my own experience and instincts, I justified my actions as adapting to what my client needed. I can see now how my own limiting mindset (fears, stories and gremlins) evolved and reduced my effectiveness as a coach. By enrolling in the client’s story, I kept my coaching at a surface level instead of going deeper and helping the client uncover his limiting beliefs that are leading to ineffective behaviors.


This experience also reinforced for me the importance of the coaching agreements. That first session is critical and lays the foundation for all future work. I realized that even with fast paced clients, I have to slow down to speed up.


Finally, I learned that I have to be courageous and vulnerable enough to compassionately call out what I am experiencing as I interact with my clients. In many cases, I’m the only person in my client’s life who is willing to tell the truth. I’ve also learned, through other client experiences, that the more I do this, the more value my clients get from the coaching engagement.


How to Apply These Tools in Your Leadership Development and Coaching Programs


It’s easy to apply the structural and process components in a coaching engagement – scheduling the sessions, setting clear agreements, following up, etc.


The harder part is discerning my own story and understanding what is happening in the dynamics between myself as the coach and my coachee.


How has your mindset (expansive or limiting) impacted your coaching practice?


Where have you gotten enrolled in your client’s story?


What have you learned?


These are the reflections that will help us take our coaching to the next level and make a bigger impact one leader at a time.

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