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What makes me walk away from a coaching engagement as a coach?

Rajat Garg 

- Jan 19th 2018



There have been a few occasions in my career as a professional coach where I have either declined to take up the engagement or continue with it further. There are times when I am faced with a client who is simply not coachable and others where the situation is not favorable. Marshall Goldsmith has outlined ways to spot these situations in a very interesting article that I often refer to. There are many other situations where our professional code of conduct from ICF helps us decide.
However, for me there have been quite a few situations in the no-man’s land where the lines are blurred – where I have had to decide on my own. I want to share the top five of these situations in this blog post & invite your comments.
1.     Coachee not in agreement with the goals set by the sponsor
Several times in a sponsored coaching engagement – I find that the person to be coached has not bought into the coaching agenda. I am called into the engagement by the HR or the superior ostensibly for the purpose of development – without adequately educating the coachee about what coaching stands for & where the coachee needs to make the investment. I make it a point to meet the coachee before entering into the contract to make sure that he understands that coaching is about him and is primarily his journey. There are times when we had to meet for several pre-coaching sessions to work out the coachee’ s preferred agenda and get the sponsor to see this point of view. In case there is no common ground reached – there is no place for a coaching contract. I bow out of the agreement before we begin – preferring to leave behind an enlightened coachee & a wiser sponsor. There have been occasions that the coachee has reached out to me for a personal one-on-one arrangement later – and this has led to very fruitful conversations.
2.     Case for therapy or counseling – my skills are not enough
I am primarily an executive coach – very conversant with issues that affect leaders in their workplace. I am perfectly capable of dealing with incidents, emotions and relationships that occur outside the workplace but have an impact at the office. However, there have been clients who carry a lot of baggage & have been doing so for a long time – they would need to be assessed for useful specialist help. It could be bouts of deep depression, social withdrawal & avoidance and sometimes a marriage on the verge of breaking up. I have to take the call onwhether I have the skills to deal with it – or would like to recommend specialist help.
I normally err on the side of caution. In the majority of cases, the coachee has later thanked me for a timely advice.
By the way – there is a very useful checklist from ICF that Rajat recently circulated that should help in taking a more prudent call.
3.     Against my moral sense
I have a heightened sense of professional integrity and rather stern conscience – that has little tolerance for deviations. I frequently find myself running into a personal dilemma of whether to engage or not when commonly understood ethical lines are twisted. Cheating, lying, plagiarism are something just not permitted in my rule book – even when matters are trivial & the action is condoned by many others in the name of practicality. Needless to say that I will draw the line – if the business activity is classified as illegal or socially unacceptable. It is not that that my moral standards are derived from religious beliefs – they happen to come from my own rule book of right & wrong.
I frequently engage in internal coaching conversations to re-validate the rule book. I keep asking myself if the rules I have set for myself should restrict my performance in the coachee’s  journey – I am yet to receive an answer &  have decided to take the safer option till I get one. At least, it helps me present myself with honesty & authenticity during our coaching sessions.
4.     We have radically different belief systems
I have been brought up with liberal thought – and an education system that has always valued a sense of fairness and inclusion. I feel strongly when there is discrimination, exploitation and when people are unfairly taken advantage of. However much as I would like to prevent it, I find myself defending my beliefs when my coachee thinks otherwise. This prevents me from healthy coaching conversations – especially with very senior business leaders where self accountability rules decision making. It is quite strange that I should be guilty of the same intolerance that I am supposed to despise – but that’s the way I am. I have tried really hard to get over this – including talking to my supervisor coach – and over time have learnt to be more flexible. Today, I can handle conversations with most leaders except the extremely die-hard ones.
What worries me is the increasing number of people on the opposite end of the spectrum to mine in today’s world. I normally check out on values and beliefs of my coachee at the pre-coaching stage itself & prepare myself for allowing the conversation to go the coachee’s way. But to be honest, the conversations do not have same authenticity that several others have. I have an honest conversation with those of extremely opposite views and decide to go ahead only if we are comfortable – comfortable in the thought that at least the coachee knows where I stand.
5.     The chemistry just doesn’t work
This is an easy one and I am certain that most of would have encountered it before. After a few sessions we (as coaches) find that we are not feeling connected with the coachee – what do we do? We check back – as directly as possible – to see if the coachee has been feeling the same and there is some other direction he wants to head in during our conversations. Candor and openness are the most elements in this conversation – I often set up time separately for this review. There is often a feeling of guilt – it hurts more if it is both sides – but I feel that the coach has to take lead to terminate the agreement. Professional conduct would demand that I offer an alternative – it could be a fellow coach or in some cases that we just take a break and think.
I have learnt to provide for at least three pre-coaching interactions prior to beginning the sessions. This has helped me really reduce the chance of this occurrence.
As I reflect over what I have expressed, the question still lingers – are the above my personal limitations as a coach that I need to work upon? Can I aspire to have robotic neutrality & objectivity and a vibrant humane mindful presence at the same time as a coach?


About The Author

  • Amitabha Sinha is a credentialed coach and management consultant focused on business strategy, growth, transformation & governance. He has been working closely with board members, business owners and professional managers in their quest for excellence, on building capability for scale, growth & global reach. An engineer–MBA by education (IIT Kanpur & IIM Ahmedabad) he brings in over 35 years of corporate experience with global majors in leadership positions.

Rajat Garg

Rajat is a Master Certified Coach (MCC) with over 18 years of industry experience and over 2500 hours of coaching experience, helping people and organizations attain maximum effectiveness. His background includes working with CXOs, senior managers, managers and board of directors of small private companies to multi-billion dollar publicly traded organizations.

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