By Ellie Hearne

 

I once worked with a leadership coach; it can't have been an easy gig for him. My company at the time hired him to work with a few senior leaders, all of whom were themselves coaches to senior leaders at other companies.

But even making allowances for that, let me put it bluntly: he did a terrible job.

 

 

My experience with him reinforced a few tenets of coaching for me. Here are just a few:

 

Do your prep work

"Why are you charging twice the agreed hourly rate?"

"I do a lot of prep work."

This seemed fair enough to my company and me - even though we didn't ourselves charge coachees for any prep work - so we consented.

But here's the thing: he showed up to each of our sessions apologetically saying "Oh yeah I didn't have time to put together your coaching plan this week." Full disclosure: I had just 3 sessions with him. But to show up to more than one double-rated sessions without having earned that double-rate seemed pretty damning. Heck, to show up to a standard-rated session without keeping his word wouldn't exactly have covered him in glory.

 

Be respectful of people's time

Doing that prep work would have signaled a baseline level of respect for my time, but there are other ways to show that sort of consideration - ways that he also slipped up on.

For example, the three people he was working with in my office were each busy with their own leadership and client work. But when he would schedule sessions with us, he'd dictate when we'd meet, with little care for our time constraints. 

As a coach, I work with my coachees to find windows that work for all. And I get it: sometimes everyone has a fire-drill week or a particularly busy period when coaching takes a back seat. But the client takes priority. Treat their time with at least the amount of respect you show your own.

 

Don't betray confidences - and don't make assumptions

As I do in my first coaching session with a client, this guy explained in our initial meeting that anything discussed in coaching would remain confidential. With this understanding, a colleague of mine told him I was pregnant - something I had yet to tell him myself.

What he did next I still struggle to believe. He emailed me congratulations. Fine - polite, a momentary slip in her confidentiality pledge, you might reason.

But in that email he also did two other surprising things:

1. He said that he understood that "now may not be the best time to be working with me on your career development." (A direct quote. I wonder how many expectant fathers he said that to? Probably not many.)

2. And then, "I will suggest a different resource for your consideration, my wife [name redacted].  She is an experienced doula... who works with women all over the country as a childbirth and parenting coach." He then gave her a testimonial, provided a link to her website, and, the kicker, noted that he'd copied her on the email.

In the best case, this was a well-intentioned if tone-deaf move.

But at the time I read it as this, as did my team - experienced coaches all:

"Congrats! You're going to be a mom. So obviously you're not interested in a career anymore - it's time to focus on birth and babies! Remember that pledge of confidentiality I made? We'll, for marketing purposes, I've disregarded it so I can try to sell my wife's lady-coaching services to you. Again, well done on the fertility thing."

 

Add value and tailor your approach

Prior to getting this email, I'd hoped to grow and learn new things via coaching - or at least to get better at the things I'd already been doing. In these sessions though, a few things stood in the way of those goals. Things that could easily have been prevented:

1. He talked a lot. Easily more than half the time. I could forgive this more easily if his words added significant value, but they did not. He said I was already "a strong critical thinker" and there wasn't much for him to add. Perhaps if he'd let me share a little more, we could have drilled down on some challenges to workshop together.

2. To address this, I asked for any insight he had into better-directing the financial side of our organization - a weak spot for me. He recommended a book. A good book, and one I'd recommend to others. But his approach felt a whole lot less bespoke when I learned he'd recommended the same one to another member of our team.

3. While I stopped working with him before I ever saw the coaching plan he'd been consistently talking about getting me "at the very next session", my peer received hers and was unimpressed. "I think it's a copy/paste job from another client," she said. With everything else he'd done, it was hard to give the benefit of the doubt. So we let him go.

 

Coaching is a position of trust - in every way. As a coach, you are entrusted with someone's time, confidence, and respect. Use that trust wisely - and be the coach you would want to have.

 

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Ellie Hearne is an experienced leadership coach. She has worked one-on-one with leaders at Apple, Google, Starbucks, and Marriott - as well as numerous start-ups. She almost never tells expectant fathers not to focus on career development.