Coaching myths. Although not as mesmerizing as unicorn lore, coaching myths constantly catch my attention. I hear them from prospective clients. I see them in comment threads tied to coaching articles. I find them in TV shows, movies, and water cooler gossip — like city-wise cockroaches, these myths manage to live and breed in every corner.
Understanding how coaching myths are born and propagated is not hard. Many people have never been coached. When they Google coaching, they find endless lists of coaches describing themselves and what they do in seemingly different ways. The number of styles, approaches, and niche areas marketed is overwhelming (even for me). To make matters worse, no legal or regulatory requirements exist for being trained, certified, or allowed to operate as a coach. This means anyone can call themselves a coach and define what they offer as coaching.
Why Coaching Myths Are A Problem
These myths are a problem. They discourage people from exploring coaching. They prevent people who are interested in coaching from trying it. And, they can lead to mismatched expectations between a coach and client, which cause frustration and disappointment on both sides.
Because I believe in the tremendous power of coaching, I don’t want anyone to stop short in exploring whether coaching is right for them. I also don’t want anyone to decide a coach can’t help them based on misinformation or without testing the waters. So, to encourage your inner explorers to do what they do best (explore), I’ve picked some common myths and addressed them below, from the perspective of my coaching practice.
9 Common Coaching Myths
“You will tell me what to do.”
No. I will not tell you what to do. (I have children for this.) I will not tell you who you should be or how you should act. I will not give you expert advice on what approach you should use or decision you should make. I will not do work for you (but advisors and consultants will, so many support types exist to help you).
I will coach you. I will listen, ask questions, and share observations. I will work with you as you clarify your vision and goals. I will help you understand what decisions and actions align with who you are and what you want. I will partner with you to make plans and serve as an accountability partner as you move forward. I will help you learn to look inward for decisions rather than outward. I may use my experience and expertise to offer you information or starting points, but I will not advise you, tell you who to be, or pick your actions.
“You will tell me what I want to hear (so I feel good).”
No. This would be unethical and not help you get results: a perfect strategy for destroying my business and building a reputation as a horrible thought partner. My job is to be honest about what I see and hear. It requires listening for your beliefs and “truths” and probing them. It requires sharing insights aimed at increasing your awareness and the possibilities you see. Often, you will feel good or lighter because of what you learn and do through coaching (not because of what I say.) Other times, you will have a momentary urge to punch me or tell me to bugger off because we hit a truth that is heavy or painful. Don’t worry, it will evolve into growth, and I can take the temporary heat.
If someone is telling you what you want to hear, they are not a coach.
“Your clients have excess money and time to invest in themselves.”
No. Some of my clients may have more resources to draw from than others, but all would laugh out loud if asked whether they have excess money and time. My clients are committed to investing in themselves and the things in their lives that matter most. Each has had to find the courage and power to deliberately shift their time, energy, and money to act on this commitment. The amount of resources they have may affect their pace, but it doesn’t prevent their journey.
“You work with your clients to “fix” them; only broken people need coaching.”
No. Back off — my clients aren’t broken. They have incredible gifts and big dreams; my job is to support them as they strive for these dreams using their gifts. If anything, part of my job sometimes involves helping them see how unbroken they are. And, if you made a list of successful people you admire and believe to be “whole,” my guess is many of them have (or have had) coaches. If someone comes to me feeling truly broken from open wounds or trauma, I ask them to heal before starting coaching. This may mean seeking a clinical specialist, therapist, or other type of support, depending on the individual’s needs.
“Your clients know who they are and what they want in life.”
Sometimes they do. Usually, though, they don’t. Complete clarity isn’t needed to begin a successful coaching journey. What’s important is being —
- Ready to figure out who you are, what you want, and how to move forward
- Committed to doing the work and prioritizing your resources in this pursuit
- Willing to open your perspective and take new actions when you feel stuck or moving away from the results you say you want
“You CAn’t coach me if you don’t ‘get me’ because your life is different than mine.”
No. It is true: we have different lives. We can connect on common experiences — on the human condition. And, I can have boundless empathy and compassion for you because that’s who I am. But, I will never “get you.” Even people you label as “similar” probably don’t get you. Being human can feel lonely.
My question is, why do you want me to “get you?” Is it because you want to be heard and understood? Is it because you want to be accepted…to be met where you are rather than to be judged for where you aren’t? Is it because you don’t want someone drawing assumptions about who you are and what you should do when they have no idea what you go through?
If so, you are in luck. This is what coaches do. We find power in embracing “not knowing.” Maybe instead of looking for someone you think will “get you,” consider speaking with coaches to find one you connect with…someone you “resonate” with, someone who is in your soul tribe, someone who energies you. Find someone you feel empowered and safe with so you can be unfiltered and vulnerable. Maybe their life will look like yours, and maybe it won’t.
“You are just a wannabe therapist.”
Wow. You went there. You are one tough cookie.
No. First, had I wanted to be a therapist, I would not have spent decades of my life being a neuroscientist. I could have avoided cleaning rat cages, exposing myself to cancer causing toxins, and spending early weekend mornings scanning people’s brains. I would then not have spent another decade of my life leading, advising, and coaching people in crazy fast, high pressure environments. The less dangerous path to becoming a therapist was there, but it wasn’t my jam. I wasn’t born to do what great therapists do, and I’m cool with that.
Second, coaching is not therapy, so the only thing I “wannabe” is an amazing coach. They are different forms of support designed to do different things. Coaching can draw on tools or concepts that are relevant for therapists: appreciative inquiry, an understanding of subconscious influences on behavior, approaches to tackle worry and fear, and so on. But, these tools and concepts are applied in a different context for different purposes.
“Coaching is something unsuccessful people do because anyone can do it.”
Ouch. Again with the stones.
No. All the coaches I know have been successful throughout their professional journeys. (And, although I’m not Oprah, I hold my own.) They became coaches because they believe in the power of coaching and are “lit up” by helping people. Many gave up fancy titles and big paychecks to start their practices, which are thriving because they get real results for the people they coach.
Part of this myth is right: anyone can become a coach. Perhaps this opens the door for people to become coaches because they haven’t found success elsewhere. Maybe some of these people are fantastic coaches and others aren’t. Maybe some people became coaches because the barriers to entry are low, and they aren’t the type to put forth time and energy to achieve coaching excellence. Not everyone chooses to meet the training, education, and skill requirements set forth by rigorous coaching programs or organizations like the International Coach Federation (ICF). Not everyone chooses to learn about the art of coaching and master coaching best practices and competencies. Not everyone recognizes that coaching is more than life experience. Not everyone invests in learning, practicing, and constantly growing as coach.
It’s OK. You can find the coach who is right for you by doing your homework. Once you do, it doesn’t matter who else is out there.
“Your profession is a scam.”
Um. This is starting to hurt a little. We’re still friends, but ease up a little.
No. Research findings consistently show that people and organizations that invest in coaching see real results. You can find this information online and reach out to interview people who’ve been coached to get their perspective. In addition, coach training, competencies, and tools are constantly being updated to reflect advances in psychology, neuroscience, human development and performance, coaching and leadership best practices, and other important areas. This isn’t quite what scam professions do.
Look. This doesn’t mean scammers don’t exist, hiding behind the title of “coach.” Like I said above, do your homework just as you would when hiring any other service provider. If you spend hours or days researching a new car, electronic device, or plumber, you should probably do the same for a coach.
Bottom line is that if you want to explore coaching, allow yourself to explore it. Research the benefits of coaching. Watch videos and read testimonials by people who have actually partnered with coaches. Interview coaches. Try coaching. If someone tells you a myth, probe to understand its source. Did the person actually have a coach? What were the coach’s qualifications? Was it an issue of “fit?” Does the person feel they were ready to be coached and did they allow enough time and effort to test the process?
Feel free to add your own perspective for additional flavor and wisdom. And, as always, some questions for you…
- What myths have you encountered about coaching?
- How have your coaching experiences been?
- What questions do you have about what coaching is (or isn’t)?