Life Coaching Programs: Why I Don’t Like Them

There was an interesting comment recently from a coach in the Coach the Life Coach Facebook Group with somebody suggesting that her life coaching program was best for her clients when she met with them bi-weekly.

I think she meant every two weeks rather than twice per week, but even so it still caused me to raise my eyebrows.

To begin with I’m not particularly keen on coaching ‘programs’.

They seems to suggest that the coach has everything mapped out before the coaching process has even begun.

When traditional clients (those who aren’t life coaches themselves as that process can be very different depending on where the knowledge gaps are), ask me what we will be doing in each session, this is pretty much verbatim what I tell them:

What I Say To A Prospective Client

In the first session we will be taking a look at all aspects of your life. As human beings we are very poor at compartmentalizing. As such if we have problems in one area they will tend to bleed into other areas too.

For example, if you’re stressed senseless at work it is almost impossible to be able to walk out of the office in the evening and leave all that stress behind. It’s inevitably going to impact on your home and social life.

I take a very holistic approach to coaching, and by that I mean I want to get a feel for most things that are going on in your life.

This usually takes me about an hour, but it’s super important for me to have a rounded understanding of where you’re at.

In the second meeting I want to take a look at core values.

This is without doubt the most important work I do with my clients and has given me more breakthroughs than everything else I do combined.

As a coach it’s my job to step into your map of the world and not drag you into mine. Knowing your core values makes that exponentially easier.

Not only does me understanding your values help me coach you more effectively, but they can offer some massive breakthroughs for you too, either immediately, as we move through the coaching process, or even at some point further down the road.

At the very least, understanding your values will give you greater clarity and improve your decision making abilities (presuming you utilize the information).

But they can offer you much more than that. Then can motivate you, help you deal with procrastination and give you some massive a-ha moments.

Again that will probably take me about an hour,  and that will take us to our third meeting.

I have absolutely no clue what we will be doing next time we convene. Seriously, none whatsoever because you’re different to every other client I’ve ever worked with.

If I did know when I have no way of forecasting what you will say to me during the first session, and even less of an idea what your values are, then it would mean I’m using a cookie cutter approach.

And that’s not good. At least not for you, it would probably make my life easier.

Coaching is very much a reactive process rather than a proactive one.

Good coaches aren’t trying to plan coaching sessions ahead of time because the whole ethos of co-active coaching is built on asking profound questions, and by definition we can never be sure of the answers we shall receive ahead of time.

Note: There can be occasions where planning is necessary such as for career coaches, strengths finder coaches, productivity, health coaches etc., I’m only talking about co-active coaching which iss what I was trained in and is the favored modality of the ICF.

I realize that all sounds a bit vague and I kind of apologize, but similarly I kind of don’t.

It would be easy for me to say what I think you want to hear based on what you’ve told me you’d like to achieve in the time we will be working together.

It would also indicate that I’m either a lazy coach using the same approach with every client, or I’m fundamentally dishonest and just trying to get you to sign up with me.

I have used this approach for as long as I can remember and I’m happy with it.

Why I Don’t Like Life Coaching Programs

If you have a structured program where you take a client from A to Z passing through all stops, that reminds me of hypnotherapists who read from a book of scripts (and yes they do exist).

Hypnotherapy works effectively when the therapist can adapt to each client accordingly and use stories and metaphors that are relevant and personal to them.

The same goes for coaching.

It works most efficiently when it is hyper focussed on the clients individual needs and everything happens for a reason.

I’m not saying don’t have a very vague framework to work within, although if you’re experienced you don’t even need that.

Similarly I’m not saying this approach is unethical presuming the client is aware.

I’m just saying it’s not that different to your client buying a book or an online course that isn’t live.

The other thing that frustrates me about programs is that it presumes we know how long a client needs to make things work.

Like most coaches who have worked with hundreds of clients, I’ve had clients make massive breakthroughs very early in in the process, sometimes even in the first session.

That’s one of the reasons I’m against free ‘discovery’ or ‘deep dive’ sessions that many coaches now offer.

Firstly, you’re coaching for free and unless it’s for somebody in serious financial difficulties who you want to help, or you’re still in training, why would you do that? You’re running a business not a charity.

Secondly, one of the most difficult sells is when you move from free to paid. Even experienced sales people struggle with it because you have just anchored your potential client to ‘free’.

And thirdly, on occasions you’re going to solve your clients issues and they are off on their merry way.

When I first started coaching I prepped the shit out of every call.

I’d pore  through the notes, think of clever questions and imagine where I was going to try and take the client.

After 20-years in sales, this was what I was used to doing – but it was hopelessly wrong for coaching and I soon realized that.

Now prior to starting a call I’ll scan my notes, go back and refresh my memory on what on what my clients values are and then get ready to kick off the call by saying:

‘So what’s on your mind?’

So what’s your take on this? Please leave me a comment below and let’s chat!

Comments

  1. Thank you for another good read Tim. I agree with you but at the same time I am extremely grateful for the training programme I chose to certify. I think it depends on circumstances, personality etc. The programme offers guidelines for each session. It gave me a lot of confidence and structure to start off with, knowing very little about the field. The bonus was that my first clients reacted very positive to it. I never followed it strictly but latched it if applicable (and it nearly always is) to whatever the client is bringing to the table. I do feel strong about being authentic and flowing with whatever is happening in the session but I personally like a little bit of structure. I did not enjoy a session I once experienced with a coach who seemed to touch on aspects here, there and everywhere. But its a personal preference and I am aware of this.

    • Tim Brownson

      I 100% understand how it would make you feel more comfortable to begin with, but our comfort is immaterial, it’s what’s best for the client in every instance.

      Having said that, yeh I can definitely see how some clients would welcome the structure as long as there is flexibility within that structure.

  2. I agree with your thoughts on this. I’ll often say to my prospects/clients something along the lines of, “I don’t have a playbook so I can look your issue up and say, Ah, Jackie, so you’re stuck with issue 23X so let’s ask question #245 to get things sorted.”

    Also, your ‘… prep the shit …” comment, that too changes over time, doesn’t it? Being able to know that you don’t already have the answer to a question you’ve not asked the client, or they’ve not yet asked themselves, comes from being confident in not knowing, (if you know what I mean!).

    It shows up in the contrast you highlight between sales which is based on getting to an outcome you want, whearas coaching has diddly squat with what we want; it’s what the client wants, or at that stage believes they wants that’s important.

    • Tim Brownson

      Just reading a book on motivational interviewing that talks about trying to use one solution for all being ultimately flawed and doomed to fail.

  3. Michael Wecke

    I agree that understanding the client’s values is of paramount importance to ensure affinity, compatibility – or not, in the Client-Coach relationship. If I ever get as far as being a bona fide Life Coach myself, I would include a handwriting analysis (HWA) prior to doing or agreeing to any coaching. I used HWA professionally as a personal profiling tool as a Human Resources Manager for almost 30 years and know its efficacy and would use it as my USP. Along with this approach I also agree that it is not advisable to try and pigeonhole people. Every person is unique and deserves my unique approach, if I want to help them to move forward. Thanks for another excellent post, Tim!

  4. Jen

    Hi Tim, so with regards to this, is there really a coaching tool that works ? Or would it be really the traditional coaching that starts from asking the client, getting into their values then having to apply the grow model?

    • Tim Brownson

      Well I don’t adopt the GROW Model or the DISC Assessment for that matter, but I know both can be effective if the coach knows what they are doing.

      Pre co-active coaching tends to sidestep such things, but there’s no reason whatsoever why you cannot have the GROW Model to use when you see fit.

  5. Thank you for your evocative and thoughtful article, Tim Brownson, which inspired some confidence and questions within my own mind. As a growing coach, that is in the final section of my coach training, I have often weighed the options of having “everything figured out” before I begin meeting with a client. Right now I am in the midst of the “getting as much coaching experience as possible” stage of my professional development, and your article appeared at just the right time. Thank you very much!