Previously published on Forbes
Not everyone is cut out for a coach. I thought about that the other day when someone asked me about my least favorite kind of coaching client. Over the course of my 30 + years as an executive coach, I’ve picked up on a few tell-tale signs of a bad coaching client. If you’re wondering whether or not a coach is right for you, here are my top five reasons not to hire a coach:
1. Someone Told You To
We’ll start with my number one rule: I don’t work with hostages. This means I don’t agree to coach someone who has been sent to get coaching. Typically, it’s a person who has pissed off someone (or many people) at work. They have blind spots galore, and no one seems to be able to get through to them. So, their boss or the board decides, let’s bring in the big guns. A professional. Someone who can talk some sense into them.
Nope. This is not going to work. To engage with a coach, you really need just one thing —a willingness to change. You have to know that change is necessary and good, and that it’s something you want. Maybe you are sick and tired of yourself and are ready for some kind of system upgrade. Or maybe the feedback you have been getting these past ten years has added up to a pattern that you can clearly see. Without this motivation, no coach is going to be able to make a difference with you. My advice: Wait until you are over being the way you are and having the impact you’re having on others.
2. You Think Hiring a Coach is Going to Make You Look Good
Having a professional coach has gone from being a bad thing to a really, really good thing. According to the International Coach Federation, $3 billion was spent on coaches last year, up 21% from four years earlier. Coaching has become a kind of corporate jewelry. It goes with the fancy office (back when we had those), the fancy title, and the fancy car.
Really good executive coaches are expensive. But a coach isn’t necessarily going to make you feel good. My job as a coach is to point out all of the stupid stuff you are doing that no one else is going to tell you (because they don’t want to get fired). I’m not here to make you comfortable. I’m here to push and poke and find the part of you that you don’t want to see. The part of you that isn’t on your Curriculum Vitae. The part of you that you aren’t necessarily so proud of.
3. You Just Want to Vent
Having a coach isn’t about you talking and talking and talking. You have to be willing to listen. I had a client once who talked for eight hours without really slowing down. She wanted to talk about absolutely everything that had happened, was happening or might happen to her as a CEO. At no time did she pause to really quiet herself down and listen for her own sensibility, let alone accessing mine. The day ended with her apologizing for “sucking up all of the air in the room.”
And she had. We didn’t work together again. I wondered if this was how she ran her executive team meetings. I couldn’t know for sure, though, because she never stopped venting long enough to get into the real work of a coaching relationship.
4. You don’t have time for personal or organizational change
Don’t hire a coach if there is no “white space” in your calendar. If it takes weeks to find an open hour on your calendar just to get started with coaching, if you have no room for reflection and experimentation, if you don’t have the bandwidth for change — if any of these sounds like you, you’re not cut out for coaching, at least not right now.
One of my least favorite kinds of coaching clients are those who show up to coaching sessions out of breath and unprepared. They haven’t looked at their coaching notes and haven’t completed any of the homework I gave them. They are full of apology, but man, they’ve been busy. I’m supposed to understand. And I do. But this isn’t a good use of time for either one of us. Best to put coaching off until there is some breathing space in your calendar.
5. You don’t really want anyone to know you are working with a coach
In some circles, having a coach is equivalent to admitting a weakness, that you need help. But when you hire an executive coach, the coach is going to want access to the larger system that you’re a part of. They’ll want to see how you are with your team and how they respond to you. Without this kind of visibility, your coach can’t really see the whole picture.
This means you’re going to have to be willing to tell your people that you are working with an executive coach — and realize that this will raise expectations for you to make productive changes.
If any of these sounds like where you are today, take my advice and don’t hire a coach. Maybe things will be different in the future, but right now, you just aren’t cut out for it.