The 5 Key Mistakes in Coaching

Published on 2012-05-12

Coaching MistakesCOACHING IS RED HOT IN CHINA right now. HR managers at events and networkings ask each other in hushed tones about the progress of their internal coaching program. The details of the hottest external coach’s business cards are hurriedly etched into notebooks. Everyone, from burned out executives to newly onboarded mid-managers, is signing up for programs. There’s no denying that China’s management level is receiving more coaching than ever before and the need is at an all time high.
Before you embark on a program of coaching for your firm, either run internally or from an external provider, there are five key mistakes that you should be aware of. Make sure to test your coaches on the following issues to ensure your program does not fall into the same traps.
1. A Lack of Rapport
Trust is a must. As a coach, if you ever find things are not going to plan, the first question you should ask is, “How is our level of rapport?” This is the most common mistake made by coaches throughout the world and is even made by the most experienced (and over-confident!) coaches. As soon as rapport is lost, the coachee will not want to share the most important elements of the cases that are discussed, preferring to guard themselves in case the coach might use it against them somehow, or tell someone else. If you find yourself losing rapport, there are a few things that you can do:

  1. Get back to small talk and find out what they’ve been doing in their personal life. Showing an interest in sports, hobbies or family members usually generates positive rapport, especially when you reciprocate by sharing about your life.
  2. Remember the principle of mirroring and matching. Notice your body language, breathing rate and facial expressions and ensure that they are in-sync with the coachee. I notice that some coaches will lean forwards a little too much, especially when they feel they have something important to say, which can make the other person feel overwhelmed. Remember not to mimic, which can make the other person feel like you are trying to “win them over”.
  3. Share something personal from your life. While too many personal stories can quickly distract from the point of coaching, a well timed personal anecdote can help make the coach human and remind the coachee that they have feelings too.

Many people that call themselves coaches are in fact extremely confident individuals who are able to drive a coaching session with sheer force of personality, without a thought of rapport. In terms of results, these sessions come up severely lacking and can end up putting someone off coaching for life. Avoid at all costs!
A lot of coaching sessions will end up tailing off rapidly due to lacking a clear plan of action. While some of the world’s most experienced coaches can sit down with a client and generate valuable insight and follow-up actions, most people will need to have some idea of the path they are going to take if results are going to occur. While over-planning and scripting a coaching session will leave the coachee feeling like they have had an encounter with a robot, having no plan at all is a recipe for failure. Once both the coach and coachee have a clear idea of the time investment (90 minute to 120 minute sessions often work well) and the schedule (one session every two weeks is highly recommended except in crisis situations) then both can begin to align their actions to maximize the value of the sessions.
2. Starting Without a Plan
There are a number of solid coaching systems and techniques in the market which all offer a clear and professional structure. My particular favourites are IAC (International Association of Coaches), ICF (International Coaching Federation), NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and HNLP ™ (Humanistic Neuro Linguistic Psychology); however, how they are delivered by newly qualified coaches can vary enormously. When choosing a coach, ensure both a system and a personal referral whenever possible.
3. Driving a Coaching Session Based on the Coach’s Values
Any decent coach will spend time finding out what is really important to the person they are coaching. This, in most cases, will be done in the initial consultation, where the individual’s situation can be appraised and a coaching plan can be outlined. If a coach is not fully aware of work and personal values, the tendency is to seek out solutions that fit with the coach’s own values. Let’s take an example of a coach whose core communication values are directness, honesty and being to the point. The coachee’s communication values in contrast are warmth, humility and trust building. The situation occurs where the coachee comes into conflict with their manager over a project they are running. It would be a great temptation for a newly qualified coach to guide the coachee to a solution where they confront their manager about this situation. The coach might even convince them to walk up to the manager’s office, knock on the door and have a frank meeting outlining exactly what is wrong with the situation. Unfortunately, this does not fit with the coachee’s values and whenever action is taken that goes against someone’s values, incongruence occurs. The meeting would likely end poorly, as the manager would reassert their authority and the coachee would back down, feeling even more alienated. A solution needs to be found that meets both the requirements of the situation and the trainee’s values if it is to be sustainable, congruent and provide long-term satisfaction.
John Bower of Harrison Assessments says “Understanding values is critical if you are going to help someone perform at their best”.
4. Having No External Follow-Up
Coaching will sometimes pendulum between the extremes of “having a nice chat” and “the lecture”, neither of which are particularly useful in terms of generating key behavior changes that lead to real personal development. Having an external sponsor responsible for both the coach and the coachee ensures that sessions can keep on track and that accomplishments are made. The process of writing a session report gives a powerful demonstration as to how well the time was used and can ensure that if mistakes were made, they would not be made the next time. A session report should also include follow-up action steps that the coachee has agreed upon and if these steps become too few (2 or less from a session) then it gives the sponsor a chance to check in with both parties.
5. Continuing to Coach Someone Who is Not Following-Up on Agreed Actions
Lance Tanaka, a veteran coach of twenty years told me, “As a coach it is very important not to waste anyone’s time, especially your own”. One of the first warning signs you should note from sessions is, “Does this person follow-up?” If the answer is no, we need to question whether or not the sessions should continue. A one-time lapse due to an emergency at work or home is fine, but if a coachee really has no legitimate excuse for not following up, I suggest you end your sessions until they actually value them. There is an old saying in English that goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and in this case the student is clearly not ready.
If you are an external coach being paid to deliver sessions, the sponsor will very much value your integrity as you inform them that this is not the right time for coaching sessions for this particular individual. As an internal coach, this situation would raise the question as to why they might not be interested in personal development at your firm. It could well be because the position they are currently in is not meeting their personal values.
As with much of the HR function, if a program lacks commitment and the right guidance, it can end up becoming a costly exercise that wastes people’s time. On the other hand, if a program is run well and given the attention it deserves, it can help drive the organisation to achieve far greater results. I wish you the best of success with your next coaching program!