Where Is Your Focus? - International Coaching Federation
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Where Is Your Focus?

Posted by Rebecca Dorsey Sok, MA, PCC | September 17, 2020 | Comments (4)

Performance Pressure and the Value of Coaching

Performance pressure can serve an important purpose. It provides motivation to continue honing and developing skills. It applies pressure to learn new techniques or to stay current with changing trends and best practices.

It also can cause anxiety or fear and undermine effectiveness. In those anxious moments, the focus shifts from the client to the coach. While some pressure is good, too much pressure can have a negative effect.

Many coaches experience self-doubt, imposter syndrome or general performance pressures, but the reasons why we question ourselves is unique to our situation. To best serve our clients we must answer two questions: What causes me to question my value as a coach? What happens when I question my value as a coach? Understanding the answers to these two questions will release a coach from the negative force of performance pressure and keep the focus where it matters—on the client.

I never questioned the value of my coaching, until I started charging an hourly fee. As an internal coach for over a decade, I focused entirely on my clients without the pressures of feeling “on the clock,” or sending an hourly bill after a session. I just coached. Performance pressure then came as an unwelcome and unanticipated surprise. I did not anticipate the imposter syndrome anxiety that came from sending an invoice. Once I saw my name and fee on paper, it triggered something in me. I began to question my value as a coach, both during and after a session, and the pressure of delivering value became a blinding burden.

Questioning value during a session is never helpful. In each of these moments of doubt, I unconsciously shift the focus from the client to the coach. When the focus shifts, behavior follows. Instead of coaching confidently, I begin to hold back. As I hold back, out of my own fears, the value of my coaching decreases. It is a vicious cycle. By actively questioning the value of coaching, I actively diminish the value I provide.

Identify Indicators of Self-doubt

Coaching behavior changes under pressure. How do we know our behaviors are shifting from the pressure? Here are a few indicators that could reflect a negative pressure-based behavioral change:

  • Are you focusing intently on the clock or the client?
  • Are you feeling stressed or confidently calm?
  • Are you appropriately intervening or letting a client ramble?
  • How kind is your internal monologue?
  • What are you saying to yourself about how the coaching is going today?

First, determine when self-doubt emerges by tracking the negative behavioral changes. Next, understand your triggers to resolve the root issues and redirect your focus back to the client. Analyze the behavioral shifts and monitor your internal monologue. How has your tone changed during the session?

Understand Your Triggers

Notice when your focus shifts. Break down those moments to identify what triggers your self-doubt or performance-related pressure.

  • When did you notice you were not focused on the client anymore?
  • What were you focused on?
  • What point in the conversation did the shift happen?
  • What was happening in the moment?

Resolve the Root Issues

Performance pressures are rarely based on the immediate situation. The pressure is a symptom, not the cause. Find the cause of your pressures to relieve them. Make a growth plan to identify and resolve the root of the issues.

  • What pattern of pain do you see?
  • When did the self-doubt start?
  • What is underneath the doubt or anxiety?
  • What do you need to address?

Redirect Your Focus

Redirect the focus off the coach and back to the client. Focus on listening. It is impossible to truly listen to a client while running a negative internal monologue. Pour energy back into the conversation. Coach yourself back into the moment. Ask yourself:

  • If I wasn’t acting in fear right now, what would I be doing?
  • If I was coaching confidently, what would I be asking?
  • If I was coaching confidently, what would I be noticing?

 Even though I’ve been coaching for a long time, I get a tad nervous every time I coach. I hope that never changes. It keeps me humble. It keeps me honestly honing my skills and focusing on what my client might need that day. Knowing the difference between excellence-pushing and fear-based behaviors is key. Now, when I notice 20 minutes have passed and we don’t have the coaching agreement nailed down, I take a few deep breaths and ask myself, Is it serving my client to let them talk or is it my inability to jump in because I’m doubting my place in this conversation?

What causes you to question your value? What happens to your coaching when you do?


Rebecca Dorsey Sok, MA, PCC

Rebecca Dorsey Sok, MA, PCC, is a Leadership Transition and Team Development coach based in Knoxville, TN. She helps great people do extraordinary things. Whatever transition stage you are in, she believes that every day really can, and should, be awesome.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (4)

  1. Questioning our Value is an essential part of the process of continuously developing ourselves as coaches. The questions you outline here are extremely valuable for both self-reflection & coaching supervision sessions. They also offer insight into the inner narrative we create for ourselves & insight into re-writing them for more successful interactions with ourselves & our clients. Thank you!

  2. The tricky gap for me is that when coaching is really clicking, it seems SOO easy and effortless. That can fly in the face of any self-understanding that connects effort to value, or valuable outcomes.

    There is, after all, a difference between questioning our value and questioning the value of what we DO to catalyze outcomes for our clients.

  3. Rebecca Sok says:

    Well said, Jonathan! Yes – when a session is really working well it does feel effortless. In those moments, the coach is in their sweet spot, and not questioning either their own value as the coach, or the value of coaching as a tool for change.

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