17 signs that a coach is lousy, and what he or she can do about it

There are lots of ineffective coaches practicing today. On the one hand, this is a good thing, because well-trained, substantive coaches can do circles around them and will always be busy. On the other hand, it hurts the reputation of the coaching profession and is bad for all of us.

Following are 17 signs, or red flags, that you might be a lousy coach, along with an alternative approach for each.

Red Flag #1: You start a coaching session or engagement weakly, as in, “What would you like to talk about today?” Or, “What’s on your mind?”

Better approach: Start every engagement, and every session, by focusing right in on value. At the start of a coaching session, learn how the client and you can make the session the most valuable experience of the client’s week, or even month. What specifically does the client want to achieve from your time together? Choose an outcome that is significant and compelling for the client, and not just based on “talking.”

Red Flag #2: If the client isn’t getting results or doesn’t seem to be coachable, your first instinct is to blame him or her.

Better approach: First look at your own coaching. Perhaps you are pushing too hard, having the wrong conversations, or simply not understanding and empathizing with the client’s situation. Or, maybe you are not a very good coach and you need some mentoring.

Red Flag #3: Being coached by you is like playing Twenty Questions with a four-year old. When my four-year old plays twenty questions, she jumps right in with the answer, “Are you thinking of a drum?” “Are you thinking of a pink flower?” Some coaches do the same, jumping in with superficial or quick solutions – even if hiding them in the form of a question.

Better approach: Develop the ability to explore the client’s issues in deep, rich ways that open up new possibilities.

Red Flag #4: You refuse to offer your own ideas, even after understanding the client’s situation, because you think that pure coaching doesn’t allow it. This is a guaranteed way to frustrate almost any client.

Better approach: After taking time to understand the client’s world and let the client have insights, offer your own. The client doesn’t go to the International Coach Federation to read about how coaching “should” be done. The client wants a trusted advisor with insights of their own.

Red Flag #5: You focus on surface issues, like a plan of action to get something done. This is fine as it goes, but anybody can do this. If this is all you can do as a coach, after a very short time, clients won’t need you.

Better approach: Focus on issues that solve the client’s problem over the long term, including how the client can get even better as a leader, relate better with others, and communicate with even more impact going forward. Have a toolkit of solutions so that you can keep working with clients as they continue to get even better.

Red Flag #6: You don’t have any frameworks or methodologies that solve specific leadership challenges in practical, powerful ways. All you do is ask never-ending open ended questions.

Better approach: Studies show the people hire professionals because they have a proven methodology that gets results efficiently and effectively. For instance, the Center for Executive Coaching gives you over 27 methodologies for the most common leadership challenges that leaders face – royalty free, and you can adapt them to fit your own style and client needs. This sets you apart as a professional with substance.

Red Flag #7: You use clichés, jargon, or magical thinking, like: “out of the box,” “win-win,” “transformation,” “the universe is telling you something,” and anything else an unemployed person watching television might hear on the Oprah network.

Better approach: Use practical language that clients understand and use in their everyday work.

Red Flag #8: You talk about the things you are passionate about (leadership, transformation, emotional intelligence, the latest pseudo-scientific approach to coaching) but not what your client might be passionate about.

Better approach: Focus on the client’s problem and solutions.Clients want solutions to their most pressing problems, not a bastardized application of a best-selling book about the latest in, for instance, neurological science.

Red Flag #9: You don’t build a 10,000 mile checkup into your coaching.

Better approach: Build a follow up session into any coaching engagement. That way, you can follow up with the client to confirm your coaching worked, and also help the client get back on track if results or better behaviors have not continued.

Red Flag #10: You are often a “one and done” coach. The industry is filled with coaches who get a client for a short time and never work with that client again. This is a very bad sign, because it means you aren’t providing value to the client and that you don’t have the depth to provide ongoing value, either.

Better approach: Get a full suite of tools so that you can work with clients over the long term. About 10% of coaches keep clients for three years or more. You can be one of them, if you choose the right training and have the right tools.

Red Flag #11: You can’t clearly state the problem you solve for clients or the results you get in a compelling way. This could be a sign you aren’t bringing much value, or are use fuzzy, lightweight coaching approaches.

Better approach: Focus on the client’s biggest problems and the value of solving them. Articulate this value in a clear, compelling way.

Red Flag #12: You are invisible. No one knows about you. No one sees you as a go-to professional in your market.  Often this is because you really don’t bring much value as a coach.

Better approach: Get visible. Speak. Write. Get into leadership roles in places where your target client can be found. Get involved. Build your network. Help others build their network. If you want to coach leaders, be a leader!

Red Flag #13: You coach clients in areas where your own business or life is a mess. Coaching is for the benefit of your clients, not a vehicle for you to turn your life around. Unfortunately, many coaches have trouble managing their own finances, relationships, and business affairs – and coach clients on exactly those issues.

Better approach: Coach clients in areas where you are credible.

Red Flag #14: You are hung up on coaching credentials. Credentials are helpful, and they give validity to the coaching profession. However, they are not sufficient to get you hired and they don’t guarantee that you are any good as a coach. We all know coaches with the highest designations from various coaching professional associations, and couldn’t coach somebody out of a paper bag.

Better approach: Instead of getting hung up on credentials, get hung up about your clients’ success, their most pressing challenges, and how you can help them solve those challenges and become even better. Bring practical, hard-hitting, and comprehensive solutions to your clients. This approach does circles around any credential, any day. Combine the two, and you are unstoppable.

Red Flag #15: You talk too much. If you are talking more than 25% of the time in a coaching conversation, this means you.

Better approach: Become aware of how much you are talking in a session, and talk about 25% of the time or less. Stop boring the client with your own war stories. Stop giving your clients answers that they will never implement. Stop making the session be about you and your passions. Listen, and let the client tell you where the conversation needs to go.

Red Flag #16: You are hung up on whether you are a coach, consultant, trainer, or facilitator. There are certainly differences among these different ways of delivering professional services. However, often the client doesn’t care. The client wants a solution, not a union-like approach to the coaching profession.

Better approach: Solve the client’s problem, whether as a coach, consultant, trainer, or facilitator. You can be explicit about which role you are playing, but solve the problem and bring value!

Red Flag #17: You try to coach people who aren’t coachable.

Better approach: Stop it. You can’t coach someone who isn’t coachable. Don’t start an engagement with someone who isn’t coachable. When a client becomes uncoachable during an engagement, stop the coaching, find out why, and find a way to have the client become coachable again.

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