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21 Secrets to becoming a better coach

You will not find these secrets in any textbook or coaching manual.

They’re from experienced and highly successful coaches who were asked to describe the most important lessons they’d learnt coaching executives through the toughest situations imaginable.

Secret #1 – Create a safe space for dangerous feelings. Those feelings will lead you to the source of the problem and to its solution.

Secret #2 - Executives who think their business decisions have nothing to do with personal feelings are using disassociation as a defence mechanism.

Secret #3 - In most cases, executives got to where they are because they DO have the necessary skills.

Secret #4 - When previously successful executives start to fail, something in their lives is interfering with their potential.

Secret #5 – Executives are in crisis only when they feel they are in crisis. Crisis is an inner state.

Secret #6 – Executive coaching is most effective with executives who are experiencing a crisis. The successful coach only takes clients who are ready to benefit from his or her services.

Secret #7 – Executives must first take responsibility for experiencing a crisis before they can begin to work on resolving the crisis. A person can’t fix what he or she won’t admit is broken.

Secret #8 – Never allow your client to become a victim. Clients must talk ownership of their crises.

Secret #9 – The client not the coach does the work. The coach is simply the facilitator.

Secret #10 – Stay focused on how client feels. Once he or she takes ownership of the problem your job is to push deeper into muddy waters.

Secret #11 – A coach should never attempt to play the role of the executive’s boss. You are there to help the client reach his or her highest potential not to direct their work.

Secret #12 – The role of the coach is different from a management consultant or human resources representative. The unique value of the coach is your concern about feelings. No one else on thye job or in the company is really concerned about his or her feelings.

Secret #13 – An executive who is inspired will outperform one who isn’t – every time. Regardless of skill set, a motivated executive will find a way to succeed.

Secret #14 – A crisis first appears in the executive’s life as a “latent” crisis. The feelings and conditions underlying a crisis exist even before being inflamed by a triggering event.

Secret #15 – A triggering event turns a latent crisis into an inflamed one. A traumatic event – whether or not it is business-related – activates the latent crisis and begins the cycle of frustration and pain.

Secret #16 – Suppressing a crisis keeps the executive locked into a repeating behavioural pattern. Suppressing a crisis – instead of resolving it – depletes the executive’s internal resources, leaving him or her unable to grow, take risks, and move forward with his or her career.

Secret #17 – Every executive has latent crises that have not yet been inflamed. Executives are human being with human vulnerabilities. The right set of circumstances and triggering events can send any person into crisis.

Secret #18 – At first, suppressing a crisis appears to be easier than resolving it. A crisis can be so overwhelming that the first impulse is to avoid it rather than meet the challenge.

Secret #19 – The executive coach must insist that the executive focus on resolving the crisis rather than suppressing it. It is your job to “keep the crisis alive” until the executive is forced to work through it.

Secret #20 – It is very easy to confuse the triggering event with the underlying crisis it inflames. Focusing on the triggering event may amount to putting a Band-Aid on a mortal wound.

Secret #21 – As long as executives are unable to resolve the crises, they cannot be emotionally engaged in their work. The end goal of all coaching is to increase the executive’s emotional engagement with their work.

by Alan Downs

6 Responses to "21 Secrets that will make you a better coach"

1 | Alfonso Vonscheidt

November 30th, 2011 at 1:19 pm


Great tips Alan, it’s good to revise one’s and the client’s viewpoints every so often. And to keep in mind that every crisis is an opportunity seen from another perspective.

2 | Malcolm Gallagher

December 4th, 2011 at 12:31 pm


I really do agree with what Alan is saying here. It is essential to help the client keep the focus otherwise peripheral stuff creeps in and the effectiveness of the coaching is lost.

3 | Sanjeeva Godakandage

December 5th, 2011 at 6:20 am


Very useful tips, Alan. However bit puzzled as to what extent an executive should get emotionally attached to their work.

4 | ann carver

December 5th, 2011 at 8:23 am


I turned to coaching after being a yoga practioner and teacher for 17 years, this I took up to escape from my past. This never truly worked and finally admitting this I took to coaching with the asset of strength and flexability. All what ytou say is spot on as I have worked through these levels and my business and work are growing with purpose and strength. Thank you

5 | John Aspden

December 7th, 2011 at 12:07 pm


Great Article Alan.

In my experience, so many executives engage intellectually with their issues, their stuckness or their crises when it comes to coaching, but it takes an age sometimes to gain emotional engagement.

Once emotional engagement happens then they begin to engage in resolution.

Emotion is a place that executives hate to go to but when they get there – bingo.

6 | Agnes Cserhati

January 25th, 2012 at 4:46 pm


Super article, Alan.
My particular favourites are: tips 2 and 13.
The question is: what inspires/motivates executives?
It would make an interesting blog. Thank you.

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