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Not about you

It’s not about you!

Most leaders have little exposure to or knowledge of the underlying models, theories or insights about people that we coaches carry around in our heads. And neither do they want to. It’s all irrelevant. After all, which engineer would you rather see when your hot water system is broken? The one that talks about getting you some hot water so you can have a shower or the one that talks about pressure valves, expansion tanks and heat converters? You just want a hot shower, not a description of how he’s going to help you get one.

If you have qualifications in and a good working knowledge of psychology, psychodynamics, psychometrics or psychotherapy, good for you – many of these are essential resources – but they are not badges of honour to wave about at clients who are unlikely to have any real interest, not at this stage anyhow.

It’s unusual if a client is so anxious about the coach that they ask about qualifications or experience. That should be self-evident in the coach. Embodied, in the stance.

But of course clients will occasionally ask about qualifications and it would be odd not to answer. But the way the answer is handled can be, I believe, crucial. You can give a comprehensive answer without any mention of your qualifications or accreditations. Because it’s not, as I learnt in my first chemistry check, about you.

“It wasn’t until our session that I knew what I really wanted from coaching”

“The coaches with the best ‘biogs’ were the ones who just talked about themselves!”

Looking beyond a client’s question about qualifications or coaching experience, I imagine the real question is actually something more like this:

“I’m usually the one to ask the questions. I’m anxious about this whole process. I’m still not sure it’s safe to go on this journey. I need to know more about you to help me understand all this and I wonder if you have ever coached anybody in my position, in this industry, at this stage…”

I try and see it as a kind of unconscious test of boundaries by the client, and a form of communication. This can be seen as an opportunity to address both the boundary test and the hidden message.

The boundary test is often something like

“Is this really a safe and confidential place to talk about some pressing personal and professional dilemmas?”

and the communication is often

“Are you skilled enough as a coach to take me on a challenging but rewarding developmental journey?”

I usually try and reply in a way that answers both those unspoken questions and ensures it’s about them again within about three sentences.

For example I might try something like:

“I’m happy to tell you something of my background – I occupied several roles in business life, which resulted in me leading my own business, during which I began to realise the vital importance of understanding my own personal style and my impact as a leader on others and the organisational dynamics – and the importance of improving both for enduring business success. I then spent several years in transition training as a coach with a focus on personality type, leadership and organisational health (note: I don’t say ‘Jungian based psychometric self assessments’ or ‘phenomenological and structural systemic constellations’!!) and now spend all my time working alongside a portfolio of senior individuals and teams who share many of the sorts of challenges at a personal, leadership and organisational level that you’ve shared with me today.”

That’s always more than enough and brings the whole subject back to them, having reassured them en route that they are in safe, boundaried and experienced hands and that I’ve been on a developmental journey myself.

I still haven’t told them about my qualifications, experience, or my own professional development journey in any detail. I’ve given them a sense, a feeling about what it might be like to work with me, and a sense that other people in similar positions have found it useful working with me.

“I saw four potential coaches – three of them told me about themselves and their qualifications. You mentioned neither…”

My belief is that, even when they ask, they don’t really want to hear about you or your qualifications and preferred theoretical models. This is about them not you. So never try and sell yourself, particularly by talking about your qualifications or theory base, never try and create ‘good chemistry’. You will fail.

The attitude, the ability to coach in the moment with whatever material the client brings, is what creates a good working relationship with a potential client, not qualifications or a list of what’s in your toolbox. There is no chemistry unless you start to make a difference to the client in front of you. That’s how chemistry is created. By coaching. If you don’t do that in a chemistry check how can a potential client know what it might be like to work with you?

Here again, stance is more important than content.

Start at the end
Take in the whole system
Acknowledge what is
Not about you
Choose your clients
Everything else . . .


Start at the end
Take in the whole system
Acknowledge what is
Not about you
Choose your clients
Everything else . . .

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