Coaching Challenges

Face it, sometimes the coach does have an agenda.

When you are a manager or leader in an organization, striving to coach your direct reports is a great way to increase performance and impact morale.  AND the kind of coaching you do as a supervisor is different from the coaching done with paying clients.  After all, when you supervise you have a responsibility to the organization, to your team, to yourself, as well as to the employee you are coaching.

So how do you make the most of coaching within a supervisory role?  Here are three best practices I’ve picked up through the years:

1. Make a distinction between outcomes and process.  Outcomes are often non-negotiable (make X number of sales this month), while the process or approach for reaching the outcome can be different from employee to employee.  Coach process, and manage for outcomes.

2. Know the developmental stage of each employee.  New employees often need lots of direction as they learn the job, while experienced and growing employees have more room for benefiting from coaching, which aims to pull out their accumulated experience and expertise.  When it comes to coaching new employees, the coaching can focus more on factors for motivation and commitment, less on the knowing how to do the job.

3. Don’t be a lid.  Too many managers and leaders surround themselves with employees who are less capable than the manger, figuring that it’s best for the manager to be the most capable person on the team.  This practice severely retards the performance of employees, the team and the organization.  The coaching manager knows he adds value by bringing out superior performance among direct reports, not by outshining them.

What else have you found helpful in coaching those you supervise?


As I mentioned in my earlier article, I am relatively new to this side of coaching.  Although I have spent a couple of years as a PBC, the experiences of being the one to help guide the discussion are still new and sometimes perplexing to me.  One common and inevitable occurrence that I don’t feel fully prepared for is the ending of a coaching relationship.  Happily, none of my associations to date have ended on a negative note–although I’m sure that time will come.  But just the normal fulfillment of a contract has been surprisingly full of unexpected thoughts and emotions for me.

To begin with, I have formed a connection with the PBC.  Although I may have never laid eyes on the person’s face, I have been privy to some of their deepest thoughts.  We have talked for hours and hours, and I feel invested in their accomplishments.  We may have cried together.  We definitely have laughed.  We have pushed through times of indecision and discouragement.  And we have celebrated both small and gigantic successes.  A bond has formed, and I am sad to let it go.  What will happen to their plans?  Will they follow through on these last steps?  Will they call me again if they get stuck?  I feel like a mother hen sending out her chicks … and worrying about the foxes.

Even harder is the PBC who simply fades away.  He cancels appointments or just doesn’t show.  He may have made some great progress but then suddenly appears to lose interest.  Or it may be that the challenges seem too great or that he doesn’t want to do the work.  But, because he just disappears, I can never really know what happened.  Was it my fault or was he not ready to move?  The lack of closure frustrates and leaves me hanging.

And, finally, how do I evaluate the time I’ve spent?  Did I do all I could to be the best coach for this individual?  I’ve considered various ways to approach this topic:  email an evaluation form, ask during the last few minutes of our final conversation, or just let the experience speak for itself.  Mostly, I have used the second method counting on the PBC to be honest and guiding them to give me the good, bad and ugly truths from their perspectives. But I wonder if writing their responses would allow them more freedom to be open with me.

So … will you give me a hand?  How do you handle the resolution of your coaching relationships?  Do you experience some of the same emotions I’ve mentioned?  How do you deal with the PBC who just fades away?  Or the one who responds negatively to your approach as a coach?  And how do you get the appropriate amount of feedback to insure that you are doing your best work and growing as a coach?  My inquiring and inexperienced mind really wants to know.  And thanks in advance for sharing your experiences with me.


I come from a long line of hardworking German immigrants with a little splash of Irish independence thrown into the mix for good measure, so it was really no surprise while on vacation in an unfamiliar town that I refused to stop and ask for directions when I couldn’t find a particular restaurant.  My friend who was riding shot-gun said, “There’s a great place to get some help” and sadly watched out the window as I drove right past.  Several miles and about twenty minutes later, my hungry daughter who was in the back seat and knows me well decided to take matters into her own hands and texted her Daddy to get the right directions.  A little miffed, I said, “I knew that’s where it was!”  And we turned around and drove right there.  I admit it now–I needed some help.  But we’d probably still be driving if I hadn’t had some friends to help me get on the right track.

I arrived at coaching in a similar way.  It was becoming pretty obvious to those who love me that I was feeling terribly frustrated by a lack of direction.  I felt like the cow pond out in the middle of our pasture—green, stagnant, and more than a little stinky!  Lots was going into me, but not much was coming out.  But, I could handle it myself, thank you very much.  What did I need with some New Age, Oprah-esque experience called coaching?  Thankfully, a friend showed me that coaching wasn’t what I thought, and after more than a little bit of grief (for my poor coach as well as myself), I began to experience the flow of genuine movement as I rediscovered my long forgotten interest in writing.  Whew!  And what a huge relief it was.

A couple of years later, I am seeing that familiar resistance to asking for help in others.  Acquaintances casually ask me, “So … what is this coaching stuff all about?”  Or mention a “friend” of theirs who they think might benefit from coaching.  I do my best to explain the process.  That it is driven by the person being coached.  That it is nonjudgmental.  That it is a safe place.  But it’s a tough sell for some folks.  Here are some of the issues I see as standing in their way:

  • A fear of being too transparent
  • A belief that asking for help shows weakness
  • An unclear understanding of what coaching is
  • A presumption that a Christian who has enough faith can handle it all on his own

The list could probably go on and on.  And I am new to the role of coach.  (Don’t be shocked. But, yes, I admit that I could use some help here.)  What are the oppositions to coaching that you have had to help your potential clients overcome?  How have you dealt with some of the items I have listed or others that I have failed to list?  As a fledgling coach, what can you tell me that will help me to help others see that it’s not a weakness to ask for help?  To borrow from a familiar hymn, how can I help others see that it’s okay to “Come just as you are”—even if that is as a stagnant, stinky, manure-filled (but very stubborn) cow pond?  Help!


When I first started coaching, I shuddered to hear the PBC say, “I have tried to come up with something, but I just can’t think of anything to be coached around today.” It would literally cause me to panic. I would frantically start searching my brain (and my cheat sheets) desperately looking for questions to ask that would stimulate something—anything at all—to work with.  But it seemed that the harder I tried, the more frustrated both the PBC and I would become.  After all, how could I get them moving if we couldn’t even find a place to start?  At worst, the PBC would say something like, “Sorry I let you down today” or perhaps even decide to give up on coaching altogether.

As time has gone on and I have relaxed as a coach, these situations don’t cause nearly as much consternation as they once did. In fact, I hadn’t thought much at all about this topic until a recent conversation with Lisa Huddleston (a friend and coach) brought it back to my attention.  As we talked, we came up with some things to remember when hearing the dreaded words, “I don’t know what to talk about today!”  

 Remember coaching is a conversation. Let the PBC talk. The coaching session does not hinge on whether or not I come up with something for the PBC to be coached around. First and foremost, it is about the conversation. Many times, I have discovered that if I will let them talk and spend most of my time genuinely listening, they will discover something to be coached around either that time or by the time of their next call. 

 Remember to ask what the PBC hopes to gain from the call. A coaching session is never about my agenda. It is not about how good a coach I am or whether or not I can sculpt the perfect hourglass call. It IS about the PBC. Sometimes all the caller wants from their hour with a coach is to have an opportunity to talk, to be heard, and to vent.  In such a case, all I need to do is listen and encourage, ask questions when appropriate, and wait to see what happens.  It’s important that the PBC feels free to use their hour as they need to—not every call has to end with three action steps to be time well spent.

 Remember coaching is not a onetime event but a process. If they haven’t been made to feel like a coaching failure, the PBC will call again—especially if they have been listened to and encouraged. Usually, although not always, their next call will be very different, and the PBC will have made some discoveries or uncovered a new direction through the simple process of sharing their thoughts on a continuing basis.  (More on that in another post.)

Coaching really is a conversation.  Relax and let it happen. If you will allow yourself and your PBC to enjoy your time together without bullying either of you to “action” every time you talk, both of you will enjoy the journey much more, and you will be a better coach for it.


I experienced a new awareness this week. It was a huge surprise and I thought I’d bring it up here to see if anyone else has experienced something similar. After a terrific coaching appointment this morning, I drove away super excited, inspired and fulfilled. I like feeling that way and it is the spice of my coaching life. I quickly contrasted that with various other coaching conversations that seem to tax my coaching abilities to the limit. This client and I were so in sync that I exerted very little effort and felt the greatest freedom to create a “playground” for us both to ask “what if”. We played well together and it was the perfect representation of the kind of coaching partnerships I’d love to experience all of the time.

Reality check.

I guess in coaching, like in all of life, mountaintop experiences are notable because they are so infrequent—and we appreciate them all the more because of that. But my new awareness is not that great coaching moments can sometimes be rare. My awareness came as I took a closer look at my precious client. What she brought to the table of herself was a gift—to both of us. Her willingness to be vulnerable, to sound silly, to think out loud without editing her words, to hope like a little girl in the body of a grown woman, made ALL the difference. As I drove back to my office I thought, “THAT is what ‘coachable’ looks like.” Frankly it’s a relief to realize that while sometimes it is my need for improvement, insight, humility or experience that is called for, other times, a coachable client is simply . . . magic!

Coachability. I like it. I want more clients who possess it. And I want to learn all I can to encourage and inspire it in those I work with.

So I’ll ask you two questions:

1. How responsible are we as coaches to foster coachability in our clients?

2. What can we do to educate them, encourage them, coach them toward coachability?

picture-9Stuck!  Know the feeling? 

You can’t find a way forward, and it’s too late to go back.    You’re cornered in one of life’s cul-de-sacs.  Your wheels are spinning; you can’t get traction again.   You’ve driven off the edge of your map onto a slippery slope.

It’s way more than run-of-the-mill frustration.  You’re at a complete impasse.   You feel trapped in a blind alley, a situation with no exit.  Your mental maps don’t work now.  You don’t know what comes next, but you dread whatever it will be.  You have your toes curled over the edge of the ledge, deepening a “sense of abyss.”  You are stuck!

There are common reasons for becoming stuck. For example, important relationships have ended in death, divorce, or disappointment, leaving us feeling abandoned and off-stride.  Or, we’ve had big failures, and they’ve unsettled our confidence.   Maybe markets have shifted seismically, and the old rules of the workplace no longer apply.  Or, the economy has soured, and we feel trapped.  You’re on alien terrain.

 Usually we stall and plug along, hoping the impasse will pass soon.  Unfortunately, that tactic often just amplifies our negative inner voices to full shout.  But, impasses open new worlds to you by closing old ones.  When your maps no longer work, adopt a pioneer perspective.  Scout new territories.  Draw new maps to new places.

 Launch out to a new place.   You’re stuck, right?  You want to get somewhere else, right?  The time is right to risk drawing a new map.  Go. 

 Venture to the verge.  In Old French, “verge” described the brink or border where fields merged into forests or coastlines into seas.  It was clear a margin would soon be crossed.    The adventure of getting unstuck will take you past the verge.  Step over lightly into adventure.

 Exploration creates new maps.   Approaching new places invites learning.  With new eyes and ears, you will sense more possibilities.  With a pioneer’s innovative repertoire, you can map yourself to a place beyond your current impasse.

 Use the perspectives of low and high places.   Explorers prefer vistas—places with long views like seacoasts, middles of rivers, tops of mountains, outer space—for charting directions.  Position yourself to “see” a longer distance.  That larger perspective can get you unstuck.

Being stuck demands new directions.  Don’t give up.  Enlist a coach, and get past your impasses now.


What an ominous sounding word!  And, for good reason.

Early on, a “dead line” was a mark drawn in the sand to show the absolute limit of movement allowed Civil War prisoners.  When combatants were captured on the battlefield, there were no stockades to hold them.  Guards simply scratched a restricting line on the ground with a sobering warning, “If you cross this line, you’re a dead man!”  

That line in the sand haunts us, especially if we’re compulsive types.  Consider your coaching client, Conscientious Cal/Callie, who lives by clocks, calendars, and checklists.   Cal/Callie is successful, a productive pacesetter in the workplace.  Conscientious Cal/Callie does the right thing in the right way at the right time, and sticks with tasks until they’re completed.  So, what’s the problem?  Poor Cal/Callie is overloaded and burning out from the inside.  Cal/Callie’s internal “to-do” list is too long with an inner timer set on fast forward.  Still, Conscientious Cal/Callie’s a “star” for one simple reason: workaholism is hard-charging organizations’ favorite addiction. 

To survive today and to thrive later, burned-out Cal/Callie is looking for relief now and for a new work style for the future.  Conscientious Cal/Callie wants to transform deadlines into lifelines.   How can you help compulsives untether themselves from unhealthy deadlines?

Fan the ashes in the direction of lifelines.  Successful folks rarely turn corners fast.   Their styles have helped them succeed in the past.  They may need to crash and burn—or nearly so—before they can ask for help.  With clear motivation from an infrequent failure, Cal/Callie may finally be primed to grow and change.

Plant seeds to grow new habits.  Compulsive types are creatures of habit.  Challenge them to plant new seeds of balance and sanity through new habits.  Help them use their strengths as habit-followers to re-new their lives—literally.

Add “fun” to “to-do” lists.  Cal/Callie will likely “have fun” on command.   However, some change-of-pace activities are probably healthier for Cal/Callie than others.  Remember that some avocations like golf are highly structured and metrics-oriented, just the stuff that both enlivens and kills conscientious folks.  Maybe fishing or gardening are better hobbies for compulsives, since the fish and flowers set the agenda.

Be alert for ways to reframe deadlines into lifelines.  Otherwise, Conscientious Cal/Callie may live by deadlines and die still looking for lifelines. 

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