Coaches: The #1 Thing You Might be Doing that is Derailing Your Clients

Are you making this coaching mistakeYou probably got into coaching because you wanted to help make people’s lives better. Those that go into the coaching / mentoring /self-improvement /etc. industry are people who want to make a difference.

Maybe you experienced something dramatic in your life and you wanted to share the positive change with others.  Maybe you have a specialized skill that can help others.  Maybe you are like me and the “light-bulb moments” of your clients are what charge you up.

I don’t know of any coach that has gotten into the business because they wanted to tear people down.

Yet, lately, I’ve been really frustrated listening to story after story of people that have hired a coach/mentor and invested thousands of dollars only to have something stolen from them. 

The theft is not something that can be reported to the police and prosecuted, although I would argue it is much more valuable than anything with a monetary value.

They are being robbed of their personal power.

Personal power is both the internal and the external strength a person has.  It’s a combination of of our self-esteem, self-concept, self-trust and how well we are able to apply it to our own lives independently.

It’s okay and human to need help. One of my biggest mistakes early on in my business was being too pride-filled and not asking for help.  We all have different talents, knowledge and skills and can help one another grow and prosper.

People hire coaches so that they can become stronger.  

In my life I have hired a number of different coaches to get stronger:

  • physically,
  • in marketing skills,
  • in communication skills,
  • in my singing,
  • even in my ability to be a good dog owner, though they called that a dog training,
  • etc.

The best leaders around the world (in government, business, sports and entertainment) have advisors and get advice and coaching. None of them do it on their own.

So, why is it that some coaches (the new and quite experienced) feel that they must steal someone else’s power in order to hold their own?

Why is it that some people getting coached/mentored allow their power to be stolen?

Consider: There is a difference in seeking advice and seeking approval. One is powerful and one gives up power.  Knowing where your client is coming from so that you can shift the dynamic if necessary is key.

Here are some signs that you may be making this mistake with your clients:

  • Are you energized by the drama or crisis mode of your clients?
  • Do you enjoy your clients needing you?
  • When asked a question by your client, do you immediately give an answer?
  • Do you phrase things specifically to work your own agenda “for your client?”
  • Have you found yourself “wanting more” for your client than they want for themselves or defining what they should want?
  • Do you try to get your clients to change to fit into the picture of what you think they should be?
  • Do you get gratification in being your client’s hero?
  • Do you have a difficult time taking responsibility when you have made a mistake or given bad advice to your client?
  • Have you found yourself talking about one client negatively to someone else?
  • Do you judge your clients?

Allowing your clients to own their own power and trust what they know, while giving them an opening to receive help and perspective is the most powerful position you can hold as an effective coach/mentor.

It is completely possible to be an influential leader and still empower those that hire you.  To lift them up and show them when they are making good decisions without you.

But you have to do one thing to make that happen for you.  You have to let go of your ego.  Your need to be right.  Your need to always be the one with the answers.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your client is help them see that they already have the answers.  Help them learn how to tap into their brilliance.

I’d love to know what you think.

What techniques do you use to empower your clients?

Have you ever felt dis-empowered by a coach/mentor?

Have you ever had a coach/mentor that helped you claim your power?  What was that like?

It’s in the conversation that we can all learn and grow, so I encourage you to share freely!

Live Fully -- Love Openly -- Laugh Often -- Leverage Your Brilliance -- Connect Authentically -- Get Your Message Out -- Serve with Impact -- Prosper Everyday

Steph Calahan




  1. says

    So glad you waited to temper your thoughts! Way back there in coaching school, I learned that one of the distinctions between coaching and consulting is that the former is about the ‘who’ and the latter is about the ‘what’. Going further with that distinction, the client is the expert on ‘who’ they are and the coach’s role is to nudge more of that unique set of qualities from them to apply to the next level of growth they’d like to take. And, regardless of my perspective and experience, it’s my role to hold their agenda and priorities for them and guide them to pursue them in a powerful way.

    When it comes to the ‘what’, however, typically the consultant is the expert and is the primary reason they’re hired – to apply their know-how about a subject to a client’s problem or bungled opportunity.

    When the coach implies s/he has a greater level of expertise on what the client ‘should’ do or how they ‘should’ change they’ve ‘jumped the shark’ and moved from professional standards of coaching into ego-land; worse yet, they’re unskilled in the arena Thomas Leonard defined as the province of professional coaching: human communication.

    While some clients may request that kind of push rather than the partnership that is the coaching hallmark, that’s best provided through a professional therapeutic process, not a coaching relationship.

    • says

      Andrea – Thanks for chiming in! Well said.

      Adding to your thoughts: I’ve had formal training on coaching, consulting and training and use all 3 approaches in my book of work.

      Even when you are consulting, there is a way to deliver the necessary information in a way that allows the client the final choice. It’s largely in the delivery of your communication. A good consultant will present the problem as diagnosed, make a recommended course of action and provide the reasons for the suggestion. The client has the option to then go with the recommendation or not. It’s similar to how a doctor might work with a patient.

  2. says

    Very thought-provoking post.

    Ego kills business. Even if you ARE right, trying to prove it with a client or customer is going to backfire.

    I’ve learned to stop saying “you ‘should'” to clients. I now say, “I recommend you try…” and then give them a definite time frame to see if that particular tool or action does work for THEM. I also help them evaluate WHY something does not (or does) work. I think the way I empower clients is by helping them to understand how they think. Then we can work from there to establish techniques and tools that fit with their personality and habits.

  3. says

    Hi Stephanie,

    My 18 years mentoring is with adolescents. Of course that’s an entirely different brain and life issues to coach. I always find myself “wanting more” for them than many want for themselves and that is a struggle. It is fulfilling to be their hero when many have few or no heroes to turn to. Still, even more so with adolescents, I know it’s important to walk that fine line with inspiring them to find their way that resides within.

    You brought up some great points and I thank you for them.

    • says

      Gail –
      It’s great to see you here today. Thank you for dedicating your life to our youth. Adolescence is a transformative and often turbulent time in life. Having positive influences is critical.

      Let’s go a bit deeper into the two items you brought up.

      An effective coach is also a leader that knows that there is an knowing soul in each individual. She/he is more interested in empowering than changing. Wanting something more for someone is ok. Helping them see their true worth so that they can create their own vision of a wonderful future is even better. Holding the space for them and believing in them until and after they can believe in themselves is different than holding a specific vision and trying to get them to buy into your vision.

      Someone looking up to you and calling you their hero is different than you wanting to be the hero. The desire to be a positive role model is powerful. Someone that they can choose to model after. Building systems where you want them to have “hero worship” because you are above them is not. Role models are a type of person that you can aspire to be like. You can see the possibility.


      • says

        Excellent feedback. Yes, you absolutely clarified. The difference in someone looking to you as their hero because you’ve exhibited positive role modeling, and you wanting to be above someone and look down on them is night and day!

  4. says

    People turn to me seeking guidance. The first step before offering any guidance is to be a good listener. Once your client feels heard, they are more open to not only sharing more & more with you, but to receiving what you have to share.

    It is a collaborative effort – a partnership designed to bring out the best in your clients. It’s not about forcing your ideas on them, but as you suggested, helping them see their value and follow their heart’s message.

  5. says

    This is why it’s so important to choose carefully who we allow to sow into us. I’ve run into a few “experts” like this and have even have had a few colleagues like this. I say – pause the relationship, not your vision.

    • says

      Tai – Thanks for dropping by. Yes, sometimes it is easy to get caught up in marketing copy or the energy at an event and begin to think that you need what is being sold. Sometimes we do, but at other times it is a good solution but not for us. Understanding our true needs and the best way for us to receive is important.

  6. says

    Great post, Stephanie! Your list of 10 “are you doing this” is certainly thought provoking.

    As I looked at your post through my perspective as a time management coach, and then tried to put myself in the shoes of one of my “very busy clients” (their words!) I find at times I fall into the “wanting more for my client than they want for themselves” category.

    I believe everyone deserves to live a life where they feel in control of their choices throughout the day. I also believe that it is possible for each person to live a life where they feel in control of their choices throughout the day. Because of this belief – I feel I can often see potential that my clients don’t yet see – and I want that sense of ease and accomplishment for them. I’m not sure I view this as a negative.

    Instead, I view this as holding the space for my clients to accomplish more than they may have originally thought possible. (Of course, this thought process is based on the fact that I take each client at their word when they say they want to live a life that is less stressed, more balanced, and more relaxed. If this isn’t their true desire, then I certainly can see how I could be “pushing” them in a direction they aren’t ready to go. . . or imposing my agenda on them.)

    What do you think? Could “wanting more for a client than they want for themselves” be similar to “wanting more for a client than they think they are capable of achieving”? Or – is it just holding the space for them to achieve BIG things?!

    • says

      Lisa – Love your push back question. It gives me the opportunity to dive deeper into my own thoughts on this topic.

      To me, there is a difference between
      – seeing potential, seeing greatness and holding the space for someone to be their BIGGER self (you have experienced that I’m all about that!)


      – wanting something the other person isn’t really looking for.

      It’s about intention and focus.

      Helping a client see what they are capable of is totally different than bullying them to doing something they are not ready for. It can often be a fine line.

      For example, the other day I was talking to a person who calls herself a coach. She said, “Clients should be good resume builders. I push my clients to charge more and do more. They may not like me, but in the end they see it my way or they leave.” In talking further with this person, it seems that her method for moving someone forward was manipulation and guilt. She “saw” where she wanted them to go and pushed to get them there. That isn’t healthy.

      There are slews of people today that are in businesses that don’t match who they are because the coach saw them doing things that were simply not in alignment with who they are.

      In your examples it seems that the clients have already told you they want the freedom that you can help them achieve. You help them see possibilities of how that can happen.

      Checking your motivation around what you are doing and thinking is really key.

      Here is another example.

      I was talking with a new client recently who changed coaches for this very thing. She wanted her coach to help her figure out a marketing strategy for her business. This client is quite dynamic and excellent on stages. Because of this, the former coach wanted her on a buch of stages and traveling and speaking. She could “see” her selling from the stage and doing really well. After meeting this person, I agreed with the former coach that would be an excellent plan. However, there was a glaring problem with it. The client did not like traveling and her priorities were to be home with her family and ailing parents. She didn’t want that vision of travel speaking. The coach wanted it more than she did and kept pushing her to “think bigger.” The reality to this particular story is that you can “think bigger” and grow a business in a number of different ways.

      Another example

      Time management coach (not you!) felt that everyone should be able to live in a digital world. It worked great for her. She saw the ease it brought her to have everything at her fingertips on her device. Because of this she wanted all her clients to have the same ease. Every time she came up to a client that liked their paper planner she would try to change them. She wanted the switch to digital more than they did.

      Do those examples help?

      • says

        Stephanie –

        Thanks for providing those three examples. I can certainly see your point with these distinctions! In fact – I’m wondering if there isn’t another blog post or two lurking in here somewhere!!!

        So . . . my big take-away from this very excellent post is to really examine my motivation when I’m brainstorming solutions with clients. I can suggest – but not be married to the outcome. Ultimately the decisions are theirs.

        AND . . . as a paper planner, paper calendar, paper task list gal, I cringe at anyone trying to switch me digital!!!!

        Thanks for the reality check, and the clarity! You are AWESOME!


  7. says

    This post made me really think. So much so that I had to take some time to think and THEN come back and comment!

    Recently, I went through an experience where I was giving up my personal power to my coach. I wanted to follow her direction and do the hard work necessary in order to be successful. While technically the strategies worked, the misalignment with who I was at the core and what would work for me over the long run started to take over and take a toll on my business. It started to feel like I was working FOR my coach and couldn’t make a move without running the idea past her. That’s NOT what I went into business on my own to do.

    It confused me about coaching and the value of it.

    It confused me about the value of coaching I was giving my clients.

    Going through those questions, I can see where many times they happened to me. I couldn’t see it in the moment, but I can see it clearly now that I am not working with her. They made me step back and say “wow”.

    It’s funny, as a leadership coach, I would NOT want the leaders I work with exhibiting these. But, in my own business, I didn’t see what was happening for quite some time.

    And that is what a GOOD coach will do, right Stephanie? Help you see the blind-spots!

    • says

      Emilie –
      Thank you for sharing your story. It sounds like you have learned a lot! Yes, that is what a good coach will do. Help you see your true potential and help you to own your own power. Glad that you are stepping into that now! It is exactly what I mean when I say SERVE WITH IMPACT. :-)

      From this experience, is there anything you will do differently in your own coaching business?

  8. says

    As a trainer of coaches I found your article to be refreshing. We often stop looking or evaluating our own performance as a coach when we allow ourselves to feel “OK I’ve been doing this for a while now and I know what is best for you…”

    The coach opens the doors, he/she does not bamboozle the client into following the coaches pathway; as a coach you do not create a co dependancy but rather nurture self sufficiency with a healthy dose of truthful confidence.

    Thank you for this narrative – appreciated

    • says

      Rod – Thank you for visiting from Twitter and for retweeting this post. I agree with your philosophy on healthy coaching. Some are better than others in supporting self-sufficiency or even recognising that is the goal. In your practice, how do you help coaches to know how to do that? I welcome your tips for readers of this post.

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