Resourced Leaders

'Resourced Leaders' is a premier Australian based Leadership Performance organisation that specialises in working with senior executives, leaders and high performing individuals who aspire to greater levels of personal leadership and success.

Coaching that harms

Posted by Phil Owens
Phil Owens
Philip is one of Australia’s leading performance and leadership specialists. He
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on Thursday, 29 November 2012 in Leadership

I am working with a number of clients around the world as an executive coach.  People seek me out as a coach because they are looking for help – rather than harm.  Unfortunately, I am often seeing the tail of what has been ‘left’ from previous coaching experiences, or indeed even therapy, that has been harmful to the client.

How do you ensure that you are getting help and not harm from your coach?

Consider this story.  A client reports speaking to a coach about an aspect of their business performance, in this case to do with their interpersonal skills.  The client in the discussion is reminded of a comment that their partner made to them 15 years ago.  The client shares this memory with the coach.

The coach immediately ‘leaps’ on this morsel – “Of course!  It is no wonder you cannot be more social if you had that said to you then!”

What is the problem with this?

The client now has a REASON for their social issue.  It is externalised, and out of their control.  It is a tangible ‘thing’ which creates evidence for the situation, a label, a comforting excuse.

However, it is really just the projection of the coach (and not the client) that this is the ‘reason’.  In fact, this single small interaction cements the problem and creates barriers to the client moving forward.  It has done immeasurable harm to the client in 25 words or less.

How could this have happened differently?  With a simple question that ensured that the client was put in the locus of control.  Something like “And when your partner made that comment, how did you choose to interpret it?  What conclusions did that lead you to make?  How do you know that they were real?”

The emphasis is back on the choices that the client made at that time.  They are forced, through the presupposition of these questions, into a place of control over their responses, rather than as the victim.

Coaching is the art of asking the right question that continues to move a client forward.  It is not about ‘discovery’, but about momentum.  One fixes ideas in a place they can never be solved (the past) whilst the other encourages the chance for insight and advancement.

Language is such a powerful thing.  A good coach understands that the quality of the question and the structure of the language can either be the powerfully supportive of helping the client – or incredibly harmful.

Choose your coach wisely.  They say the road to hell is paved with good intention.  It is also paved with poor linguistics and amateur projections.

Have you received coaching that was well intentioned but harmful?

What did you notice about it?

I would love to hear your feedback.

Stay Resourceful,



Philip is one of Australia’s leading performance and leadership specialists. He honed his skills working with executives and leaders around the world, coaching and consulting in over 30 countries, from entrepreneurial start-ups to boards of multi-billion dollar businesses.


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