9 Mistakes of the Rookie Coach

Young Boy Dressed In Suit With CoffeeThe Ken Blanchard Companies has hired a lot of coaches since we first opened up our Coaching Services division back in 2000. We currently have 153 coaches in place to work with managers and executives in organizations all over the globe.

To assess whether the coach has the level of competence we need, we always have them coach one of our senior staff members. Rookie coaches who really don’t know what they are doing stand out like a sore thumb during this exercise even though most are very well meaning. Their lack of experience usually shows up in one of nine ways.

You can tell someone is a rookie coach when they:

  1. Worry too much about creating relationship. Clients tend to give a new coach the benefit of the doubt as long as they perceive the coach to be competent and caring. Coaches don’t need to spend hours getting every detail of a client’s life history.
  2. Ask too many questions to satisfy their own curiosity rather than getting to the heart of the matter. Good coaches sift quickly for what is relevant and ignore the noise.
  3. Let the client go on too long about their story. The narrative is important insofar as the coach or client needs it to write the ending—but detailed plot twists just waste time.
  4. Ask a bunch of why questions to assess motive and purpose. Many people being coached don’t know the why of anything and will go in circles trying to figure it out. Why is to be used on very rare occasions to help the client get through layers to reach what’s real and true.
  5. Get too hung up on accountability. Holding people accountable is taught aggressively in many coaching schools. To be fair, some clients really want and need it—but many don’t. So it’s wise to check instead of insisting on an annoying practice that can come off as parental.
  6. Step over opportunities to challenge the client about attitudes, beliefs, or potentially unproductive behavior. It takes some courage but it is part of the job. I have worked with clients who said they had worked with other coaches they characterized as being “too nice.”
  7. Ignore inklings that the client is not getting value from a coaching session or engagement.
  8. Take the client to task if they haven’t done their homework. Coaches aren’t schoolteachers grading people on compliance. If a client doesn’t do what they say they will do, it is a useful sign that they tend to overpromise and underdeliver, aren’t working on the right goals, or aren’t as committed to the goal as they thought. All of these are potential data points the coach can use to move the person forward.
  9. Fall for it when a client asks “What do you think I should do? or “What would you do?” Coaches can and should definitely share useful proven models, concepts, and general rules of thumb to help a client think through and make sound decisions—but a coach’s actual opinion is rarely germane. If a coach does share an opinion, they should name and claim it as their opinion, and be ready to explain what the opinion is based on, whether it is experience or research.

Everybody has to start somewhere, but the challenge we face in providing coaches to executives in organizations is the need to put our most experienced and effective coaches in front of clients. For us, learning on the job is something we can’t afford. The good news is that new coaches can move ahead much more quickly by identifying any of these possible errors in their own approach and practicing alternative approaches that are more beneficial to clients.

With practice, new coaches will soon find themselves having the productive engagements that we—and all coaching organizations—look for.

About the Author

Madeleine_2_WebMadeleine Blanchard is the co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.  Since 2000, Blanchard’s 150 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services. And check out Coaching Tuesday every week at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.

7 thoughts on “9 Mistakes of the Rookie Coach

  1. Hi, I liked your article. I had a couple of questions. I do have clients go on “too long” with their story, and I also don’t want to interrupt them or cut them short. What are some good strategies you have found to interject and get back on focus? Also, wondering about when a client does ask something like, what would you do? I also have clients who expect some mentoring from me, which I see as appropriate to my role as executive coach. Thanks for your insights. Jeannie Gunter, MA, President, Transformative Solutions http://www.transformativetraining.com

  2. Jeannie!
    These are such great questions, thank you so much for asking them.
    1: How do you get a client to stop the talking and step back? Some clients are such extraverted thinkers that they actually need to process all of the noise in the heads before they can settle down. That is OK. You can take notes about questions to ask, relevant points you may want to look back too after. If I client is so long winded that you can’t actually get anything done in the session, you can bring that up and ask how the client wants to handle it. Perhaps they want to book more time? Perhaps they want to spend a little time preparing for the session? (See prep form questions below). Perhaps they want you to curtail them? So step one is that you have engaged them in solving the problem. There is a high chance that the client is doing this to other people, and that it is impacting their effectiveness elsewhere. What a great thing to work on – to help a client be more prepared, brief, compelling and concise in their communication. Possibly though, your sessions are the place the client can think out loud, safely – that is a huge service too. The distinction there is: thinking things through or spending a lot of time giving a lot of irrelevant details. If it is details, you can stop the client (“OK, wait, hold on” or “let’s step back and take a breath” “may I interrupt for a moment for a check in?”) and basically repeat back what you have heard so far, and then ask what is most important for them right now. This will often do the trick.
    Prep questions to give to clients to help them be more focused in their coaching sessions:
    • What did I accomplish since we last spoke?
    • What did I mean to do but didn’t get to?
    • What challenges/opportunities are in front of me right now?
    • What do I most want to get out of my coaching session?
    2. Dealing with: What would you do? Many coaches are also consultants, trainers and/or subject matter experts. Often it is those qualifications that make them attractive to their clients. In the pure coaching modality that is supported by the ICF, we really are not supposed to give advice, but in organizations that doesn’t really fly. Clients expect you to have some smart answers that will advance their thinking – information, models, frameworks, methodologies. So I think the key is to be clear – with yourself and your client – that you are sharing ideas based on expertise and experience but that the final decision is theirs and theirs alone, not something you think they should do. Whenever I read or hear someone say “my coach told me I have to…” I think, “wow, you are working with a rookie coach”.

  3. Thank you Madeleine for sharing these tips. I will certainly keep them in mind. I can see where it would be very easy to fall into some of these situations.


    Dawyna Steed

  4. Stuffing up is a normal part of life. If we didn’t make mistakes we’d never learn anything. But if you’re worried about bouncing back, or find yourself only paying attention to the things that go wrong, there are ways you can turn it around. Cheer it up!

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