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The 3 Kinds of Shitty Coaching You’re Probably Doing

(OH, they start in the Drop BTW because #series)

You got into coaching because you wanted to help people. On some level this desire was deeply noble. You care about humanity, you care about other people, and you realize that your life means more than moving pixels from one column to another or creating tweets about deodorant all day long.

Of course, deodorant does have a noble background and history… and you can create anything to have a purpose, but I think you get my point.

So there you are, ready to go out and help people, except you’re not really sure how to do it. So maybe you read some books about how to help people, or you take a course. Or maybe you try to help people in the same way someone helped you. (A lot of people who end up coaches start because they got coached by someone.)

As the fog of your idealism wears off, you start to wonder if you’re doing this the “right way.” And so you read more books, you take a course that’s got words like “200 hours,” “proven system,” and “complete in four weeks” on the sales page, or you hire fancier, more expensive coaches and try to do what they do.

At some point you decide you’re good enough. You stop thinking much about coaching, and instead you start worrying a lot about marketing, niches, sales conversations, and signature programs.

Unfortunately this usually happens before you’ve gotten really good at coaching. In fact, very often you’re barely above mediocre. The impact? At some point your business gets stuck. You can’t sign clients above a certain fee, you can’t sign clients that aren’t in some level of crisis, or you can’t make enough money to do anything but barely scrape by (and that last one is only true if you’re really lucky).

Of course crappy coaching is only one reason why this might be the case. Sales and marketing can certainly have something to do with it, but it’s just as likely, if not more likely, that you’re coaching just isn’t that great.

Except since 99.9% of the stuff in the coaching industry is about sales, marketing, niches, six-or-seven-figure programs, money mindset, and being a wealthy walrus, you probably won’t notice.

After all, it’s WAY easier to sell you on the idea that a quick-fix funnel or social-media program will solve all of your problems, than it is to take you aside, put a hand on your shoulder and say, “Dude, you kind of suck at this coaching thing.”

Lucky for you, or maybe not, I’m here to help you not suck as a coach—or at least to come to grips with the way you suck as a coach.

But first some disclaimers:

1) The kinds/types of coaching I’m listing below are sometimes used by “successful” coaches.

I mean we hate to say it’s true but the truth is you can learn to sell something that sucks and still make money off of it.

Just look at lottery tickets. I mean the chances of winning are REALLY CRAPPY, but people still buy them.

Same thing with poorly made products. You’ve bought them, you’ve broken them, you’ve cursed at them, you’ve left angry one-star reviews on Amazon… AND YET, people still buy them.

In the coaching industry this is super easy to do.

Especially because it trades so much on persona, personality, and the perception of success, not to mention that coaching is really just a mashed up set of soft skills that are ill-defined, hard to measure, and easy to fake if you don’t know a lot about it.

Add to all this that our industry as a whole is built on a flow and churn of endlessly new and idealistic coaches who don’t know ANYTHING about what they’re doing and with dollar signs and words like “work from anywhere” in their eyes… and what you have is a San-Francisco-gold-rush-level flow of hopeless, naive, new coaches willing to throw money at their dreams out of desperation and scarcity.

Which means that for the past five years and maybe for the next five you’ll be able to make a lot of money with great marketing and not much great coaching.

2) These kinds/types/styles of coaching can be effective under some circumstances.

I’m not much of a coaching purist. I think all of this never give advice, always draw the answer out of the client, never hold them accountable BS. . . is . . . well . . .  BS.

In truth almost ALL of the bad or mediocre coaching that exists in the world has its place. I mean even the “don’t have sex with your client” rule doesn’t apply to all the great coaches I know. (A story for another day.)

Which is why I want to be clear, I’m not saying these kinds/styles of coaching will get you sent to the halls of coaching hell, or even the halls of coaching purgatory. Though I do chuckle at the idea that there’s a realm of hell for coaching without permission. What I’m saying is that when you use these as your WHOLE way of coaching, you are doing yourself, your client, and the craft of coaching a great disservice. So please, please, PRETTY PLEASE, stop doing them, or at least do them 1/1000th as much as you’re doing them now.

Okay, now that the disclaimers are over, let me do a bit better job defining what I think makes great coaching, in as simple a way as possible:

Here are (some) of the qualities of great coaching:

  1. It causes the client to change.
  2. It’s aligned with the change the client wants.
  3. It’s empowering for the client.
  4. It affects both the client’s being as well as their doing.
  5. It uses an appropriate amount and type of force/manipulation to produce the above results.

If you check out the chart I made up below you’ll see that A LOT of coaching ends up either being ineffective or disempowering. And some coaching ends up being BOTH ineffective and disempowering.  

All of the examples of bad coaching that follow fall into either the orange or red quadrants. You may wonder how this happens. Basically it’s due to the fact that coaches tend to optimize for either ego, outcomes, or feeling.

Coaching that’s effective but disempowering does tend to create more immediate and obvious outcomes. I mean, having someone yell at you to do a pushup will get you to do pushups—at least so long as they are yelling at you.

Coaching that’s empowering but ineffective trades on the idea that mindset is everything and tends to blend in a lot of woo woo mumbo jumbo without actually creating a powerful container for change. The client feels good and the coach feels good, but they are both sort of ignoring the fact that they’ll wallpapered over the same BS that the client brought into the conversation.

The last category coaching that is both disempowering and ineffective happens because either:

  1. The coach lies to themselves and convinces the client that the reason the coaching doesn’t work is because of the client, often by pointing to people who were successful, even though those people only managed to be successful despite the coach or because the coach reminded them enough of some sort of dysfunctional parent in a way that made them co-dependently effective.
  2. The coach and client are kind of just polite with one another. The coach is afraid that the client will get offended, so doesn’t really challenge the client, and the client is afraid that it’s not working because they’re broken and so doesn’t really say anything to the coach about what is or isn’t working.

And of course all of this starts to happen in the Drop. And of course there are a BUNCH of different kinds of coaching that fall victim to these problems.

But here are the most common ones.

1. YELLING AT YOUR CLIENT ‘coaching’

I could easily blame Tony Robbins for this kind of coaching. The reason people coach like this is that it works… sort of. I mean there is something really powerful about challenging clients to not hide from their commitments. A bunch of different schools of transformation use this, including Landmark (though EST used to be even more hardcore), and even several 12-step programs do this in one way or another.

The theory is that if you really hold people to what they say they’re going to do, remove all excuses, push them to see what’s truly possible they get an experience of themselves beyond the BS of excuses and lies.

Coaches who use this love it, because it’s sort of simple and makes the coach feel really powerful. I mean, who doesn’t love yelling at someone, right?! It’s also close to a powerful stance to take with a clients, so it seems like a good idea.

Where it starts:

This coaching tends to start in the Drop, because the Drop tends to be ALL ABOUT WHAT THE CLIENT ISN’T DOING, and the slow, deliberate deconstruction of all of their excuses, reasons, or objections to why they didn’t do what they committed to.

The problem with it:

The big problem with it is that it doesn’t really look at the thing behind the excuses, at least not as often as it might. It uses the club of extrinsic motivation to beat clients into submission. And while it can work because most of us were raised in schools that used extrinsic motivation to push us to conform, it doesn’t leave the client empowered.

Instead it subtly sows a message of, “I must need someone to yell at me to get off my lazy ass.” Now this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ever confront your clients, but in general this form of coaching is artless, lacks subtlety, and serves to boost the coach’s ego at the expense of the client’s.

It also should be noted that this type of coaching can happen even without yelling. It’s more of an energetic feeling than anything else.

If you notice yourself doing this more than two sessions in a row, please stop being a dick and try to figure out how to make your clients feel empowered to take action rather than just berating them into compliance.

2. “Uuuushy-guuushy, touchy-feely, go-nowhere” coaching

This kind of coaching is on the total polar opposite end of the spectrum from the “yelling at your client” session. It usually involves asking the client where they want to go and then wandering around with the client until they stumble upon some sort of insight.

This style usually leaves the client with a vague feeling of something changing or happening but without really being able to put a finger on it. If you were to ask a client what happened in a session they would struggle to explain it, but not in a “my being shifted so much I don’t have words” sort of a way, but rather more of an “I don’t really know if we did anything but I’m afraid to admit it” sort of way.

Still, coaches—especially coaches on the more spiritual or woo woo end of the spectrum—love this kind of coaching because it feels in alignment with flow, the universe, or some goddess energy they made up last week. It’s also great because clients who believe what the coach believes feel really good in these sessions. Partially because they don’t really have to change, nothing is really on the line, and it’s more about them “feeling” like they’re doing something, or the “experience” of transformation more than anything else.

Where it starts:

Again this type of coaching starts in the Drop—or should I say, the LACK of a Drop. Sessions with this coach never seem to go anywhere… but you probably don’t notice because they never seem to start anywhere either. They are guided by the client’s feeling in the moment and while they can feel good—sort of like gentle back rub—this lack of a Drop causes pretty major problems down the road.

The problem with it:

The biggest problem with this sort of coaching is that it’s both ineffective and it tends to empower people to make excuses or justify their own untransformed ways of being. It’s also problematic because it’s really similar to REALLY POWERFUL DEEP COACHING which can also go with the flow, have lots of spaciousness, and be guided by a spiritual coach. It’s sort of like a knock-off pair of sunglasses. The lenses scratch easily, the logo rubs off super fast, and the hinges break, but it’s okay, because it looks like an expensive pair of sunglasses at first.

Even worse, this kind of coaching hides it’s shiftiness in a layer of affect and spiritual aphorism, equivocation, and other subtly delusive thinking, which makes it even harder to figure out. Any objection to it not working is often met with suggestions about being out of alignment, with the universe’s negative vibrations, or something about chi or chakras—which sounds true but really just ends of confusing and obfuscating the vague meandering that the coach claims is a process.

If you think you might be doing this kind of coaching, please read EVERYTHING we wrote about the Coaching Canvas and really focus by starting your sessions by finding out what your clients want. Just adding a lil bit o’ structure to your sessions can make a BIG difference.

3. “Telling wrapped in silence” coaching

This kind of coaching share similarities with both the previous types. It has both the uuushy-goooooshy feeling of go-nowhere coaching and a subtle form of bossy-ness that exists in “yelling at your client” coaching.

Of course, these are tempered by the other, which makes it even harder to notice if this is happening.

This coaching is often denoted by long stretches of silence, which add an air of significance to the sessions but not much else. The questions are sparse and simple, which hides the fact that they’ve been regurgitated hundreds of times, and are designed to have a client dance on a string for the coach. When used by newer coaches this kind of coaching has the quality of an awkward puppeteer playing with someone else’s dolls, but it’s no less insidious.

What really sets this coaching apart, though, is that these questions are always followed by subtle suggestions or observations that are crafted in a way to seem really insightful, but are actually just advice in a clever format. Each suggestion is followed by silence and a “What if?” feeling that gives a sense of awe to the whole vibe, but the coaching itself is only crafted to look original, even though it isn’t.

The stories the coach tells sound good, because they’ve been told dozens of times. The feeling of the session is magical, not because of the magic but because of the careful persona the coach has learned to craft or is pretending to craft in the moment. If the coach is experienced, it’s only after working with this coach for six months to a year that you begin to see the game, perhaps less if the coach is newer to this art form. But the effect is the same: you start to wonder if you’re going to get any coaching this time or simply the performance of coaching they trot out every time they do a session.

When it starts:

Again this starts in the Drop. Instead of the coach being with the client and finding out what they would like, the coach carefully nudges the client down some predetermined path only the coach can see, if they are even aware of it. And because of this, the session doesn’t Drop into the client’s possibility, but merely the coach’s script of various coaching options.

The problem with it:

The biggest problem with this kind of coaching is that it LOOKS REALLY GOOD!! In fact, this kind of coaching is optimized for observation and performance. It’s not messy in any way, it’s not even wild. Instead, it’s clean and polished, and the more experienced the coach, the more polished it is. And so it’s really hard to notice that the session isn’t actually that powerful.

Probably the worst part of this style of coaching is that it debilitates both the coach and client, because as the coach gets better at it, the sessions start to feel easier and more amazing, and the clients are more willing to buy into how amazing they are, even though the sessions have started to rot from the inside out.

This can be one of the hardest shitty ways of coaching to root out; it’s something experienced coaches have to be on the lookout for. If you’re a newer coach this kind of coaching usually starts out as a form of imitation, which is of course a great way to try on different styles of coaching. But eventually it becomes so much of an homage to the coach you’re copying that any sense of you or even the client in the session is entirely lost. If you think you’re doing this kind of coaching, add a bit more of yourself to the session or find a way to break your coaching rules and have a session that is 10x more messy than any session you’ve had in a while.

Not All Coaching Is Shitty

I’m realizing now as I finish this post that I could probably list out at least a DOZEN or more shitty kinds of coaching that you need to watch out for, but in truth A LOT of the coaching I’ve seen that subtly sucks falls into one of these categories in a big or small way. But don’t worry, almost every coach I know who’s any good has done a few sessions like the ones I described above. If you pay attention, get feedback, and keep working on your coaching you’ll notice that you’re doing one of these pretty quickly and be able to stop.

Really, the only way coaches get stuck in these types of coaching is when they don’t get feedback from their peers, stop studying their art, and double down on their way being the “right way” to coach.

When we lose our humility as coaches, we lose our mastery, so long as you can stay curious, stay humble, and keep learning, you’ll be able to ferret out these insidious kinds of shitty coaching. But of course that’s what practice, a community of mastery, and dedication to the sacred craft of coaching is all about.

Love,
Toku

 


 

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