Worried Your Coach Will Betray You? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am an EVP of strategy and shareholder value for a billion dollar global conglomerate. I have been working with a coach for the last six months and she has made a huge difference in terms of helping me prioritize, focus, and develop more powerful relationships. Things have been going so well that I am now seriously being considered to replace the CFO when he retires, which will be soon. Also in the running is our comptroller, who is a very bright and very powerful person.

I just found out the coach I am working with has been tapped to also work with this comptroller—essentially my competition. I feel that my secret weapon has been stolen from me and my coach has betrayed me by agreeing to take on the job. I am so mad that I’m thinking of firing my coach—but I really like her and trust her, so I worry that I am being childish. What do you think?


Dear Betrayed,

You may be being childish, but from a social neuroscience standpoint, when something feels unfair we are all reduced to acting like four-year-olds. So you are not to be blamed, honestly. However, let’s make sure you can experience your feelings, get back to your very rational self, and proceed like the grownup you actually are.

The only thing for you to do is to have a conversation with your coach. Does your coach know you perceive the comptroller as your competition? You will want to know what the coach’s rationale is for her decision to work with both of you. Presumably she is well trained and thoughtful and has given this some thought either way. I do know that for most coaches, the practice of working with both a boss and a direct report is frowned upon as it is very difficult to keep out of the mix. But we often work with peers, many of whom have the same goals for advancement and promotion. It really doesn’t make a difference, though, because coaching is always focused on the person being coached: leveraging their strengths, their needs, what is in their way, etc. We share the just-in-time concepts that are going to support the client at the moment they need it. No decent coach would ever use any knowledge of others they are working with to help another client get the upper hand. The coach will always hold the truth that the only person you are competing with at any given moment is yourself. You can certainly share how you feel with your coach and see what she has to say.

As you have the conversation with your coach, check your gut. Ask yourself, “Do I still trust this person to have my best interests at heart?” If the answer is yes, then carry on with her. If the answer is I don’t know, have one more session with that question top of mind and then decide. If the answer is no, then fire your coach and ask for another one to work with. I am sure your coach is great, but frankly, any trained and certified coach who has been vetted by your company will be totally competent and able to continue where the last coach left off. Who knows, you might find someone even better!

Clients do get attached to their coaches, but here is one thing to keep in mind: The coach is only as good as the client. What clients get attached to, really, is how competent and brilliant they feel with just a teeny bit of good coaching. So the thing for you to know is that the person who is doing so well in this situation is you. Help is useful only to people who know how to ask for it and avail themselves of it. So don’t worry, Betrayed, there are plenty of secret weapons out there because you know how to use them. You have everything at your disposal that you need to compete.

Go get that job, if that is what you really want—with your current coach, a new coach, or no coach at all.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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