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How to Get Sued
by Your Coaching Client








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November 5, 2001                                                  

All Coaches Make Mistakes. Here are two you can avoid...

Dear Coach:

All coaches make mistakes; that comes with the territory of being a professional. Some mistakes are inadvertent or judged as mistakes by the client. Other mistakes are just bad form. Every month, I receive a couple of letters like the following one and it's always a shock. And, very worthwhile because it helps me to craft the Certified Coach training we'll be offering to help coaches avoid making such mistakes.

There are two lessons here; one is professionalism when the client chooses to move on. The other is to not push our clients or encourage them to take financial risks that they cannot afford.

The author of this note has given me permission to share it with you, without attribution. She was responding to one of the lessons in the Full Practice 100 ecourse that we offer.

Thomas J. Leonard
CEO, CoachVille




I appreciate your comments [in the Full Practice 100, lesson 55, below] about "sophisticated" coaches who avoid pushing their clients. I would say that *ethical* coaches refrain from pushing their clients.

Last March, while I was still on a payroll, I realized I wanted a career change. I was feeling burned out and isolated and had no support system. So I did what I thought was sensible: I hired a coach, a grad of [coaching school name deleted] and member of ICF. He emphasized action. As an action-oriented person, I liked that.

Coach X convinced me to stop looking for other jobs in my field, even though that would give me a financial base while I started a business. He encouraged me to start a coaching business, although I had no contacts, no support system, no community ties and no sales aptitude.

After three months of coaching, I had a website -- created by a designer recommended by the coach, who turned out to be his cousin. (The coach never told me; the designer spilled the beans.) And after three months of coaching, I had a a diminished bank account, a website that would never bring in clients, no strategy, no game plan (the coach said he didn't believe in planning -- just "go with the flow"), and no idea where to get clients. The "coach" said, "Go talk to your friends." When I said that would not be possible in my situation, he jeered, "What's the matter, don't you have any friends?"

He was surprised and nasty when I terminated, saying "Since you fired me..." A few months later, I asked for my money back. He sent back half, saying, "I take no responsibility for anything that happened. I feel your pain."

It will take a long time for me to recover from this "coach."

Without contacts, setting up a business can take a very long time, and most people fail.

It will be difficult for me to find another job that would be as good as those the coach encouraged me to avoid.

It is one thing to recover from adversity but to recover from a bad coach is very disheartening. It's been over twenty years since I had so much uncertainty and since I was in such a precarious financial situation. And it took a coach to get me here.

Rather than encourage people to go out and practice being coaches, I hope you will warn people of the harm they can do.

You also need to qualify statements like, "If you want to succeed, get a coach."

I will survive and recover, but it will be in SPITE of that coach. We did move fast, but in reverse gear.


Here is Lesson 55 from the Full Practice 100 ecourse, which prompted the above CoachVille member to write and share her story with us:

Lesson 55
Strengthening Your Reputation:
From heavy to light

This is a lesson from 100 lesson Full Practice ecourse available from Cost is $39. Details here

You can be very strong, powerful, effective, edgy, compelling, wise, analytical, intelligent, inspiring and directive with your clients, and still be incredibly light/informal in how you communicate.

There are more ways to communicate than there are flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream, so I don't want to try to get you to communicate using my favorite flavor, but I do believe that coaches can lighten up in general without losing their effectiveness.

It's also my view that the more entrepreneurial and the more sophisticated clients want a light vs heavy touch in how they are communicated and related with.

I used to be a heavy and significant coach.  Everything the client said mattered, my advice mattered, the events of life mattered, the potential risks mattered, my history mattered, the outside temperature mattered, the color of my dog's collar mattered, those new gray hairs mattered. I mattered.

As a result, I wasn't very good at inspiring, encouraging, enjoying or heartening my clients.  I looked at the potential downside of everything they were doing or could be doing because I wanted to protect them from failure/loss.  And I would do my best to impart wisdom that really mattered, because it should matter to them.  After all, it mattered to me!

The bottom line of this heaviness/significance is that clients left me after a couple of months. I probably bummed them out.  Or made them feel inadequate.  Or scared the bejeezus out of them.  All in the name of 'doing a good job' as a coach.

But over the past 5 years, here's what I've learned along this line...

1. As much as clients can benefit from your wisdom, they also want tons of encouragement.
Most clients hire a coach because they are taking on a big project, or facing a challenge or resolving something that is more than they want to do on their own.  Thus, they want, need and deserve encouragement.  Just like you encourage your kids.  Yes, that much.

2. I was carrying my clients concerns/challenges on my own shoulders.
I so wanted their lives to be fun/easy that I felt compelled to share their burden in a lame show of solidarity.  This, instead of only working with clients who were willing to become problem free zones.

3. Most heavy/significant situations that clients are in, are totally and beautifully perfect.  And...
While I wouldn't be so insensitive as to try to get a client to make light of a difficult situation or try to get them to put on a happy face or only see the bright side of a problem, I do believe that I can help my clients to being lighter beings in general by helping them to include/embrace what they think is a negative thing.  I help them to do this by helping them to find the perfection in even the most challenging situation.  But ONLY AFTER they know that I'm there with them and totally empathize and respect their feelings.  Only when we're in synch can I help them move forward via the perfection approach.

4.  People in general take life way, way too seriously.
I'm not sure where this comes from in our culture but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  We're all gunna pass on; most of us can have 50 to 70 great years as an adult.  Tell me again why we should feel burdened with problems, shoulds, coulds, musts, tolerations, conflicts, pain, frustration, obligations, and duties?

Who made THAT up?

Yes, I am a believer in being responsible and being an adult, but I think we are pushed by our cultures to take that too far and fit some mold set 100's of years ago by our ancestors.

So, in my coaching, while I respect anyone having a difficult time or challenge, the bottom line is that I only am willing to work with clients who wish to become problem/toleration/should free zones and who have taken themselves to the place in live where they see that most of what matters in life is a trip that someone many years ago laid on them.


For more information about the Full Practice 100 ecourse, click here.

To join CoachVille, click here.


Issue Sponsor: Coaching Mistakes
The full collection of 101 Coaching Mistakes and how to avoid them is available only to CoachVille Members for personal use.  It may not be included in a coach training program or similar, unless specifically licensed to do so.

copyright 2000 by thomas j. leonard/ | all rights reserved.  no duplication.

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