Challenge Assumptions


Grocery shopping cart“So, Michele, it must be nice to be paid to tell people what to do,” says the friend I ran into at the grocery store. I noted the raised eyebrows and head shake, and sensed that he was…amused at my livelihood. “Well, the sad news is that I don’t get to boss anyone – not even my kids, it seems, unless I’m holding their car keys and my wallet. Coaching is more about guiding a client to find the right answers for them.”

As I rolled on down the aisle, I was sort of wincing, wishing I had thrown out a better comeback. C’mon, Michele – What is executive coaching and why does it matter?

Thankfully, the folks at Harvard Business blogs posted something this week that really helped. In Before Working with a Coach, Challenge Your Self-Assumptions, author John Boldoni says to those  thinking about getting a coach:

“Effective coaching is often a matter of challenging assumptions, and the biggest assumptions often reside in the mind of the person being coached.”

Yes! That’s it! I help people challenge their assumptions so they can get extremely clear. And working from that clarity, take the steps necessary to get the results they need.

[Now I am fully prepared for the produce aisle, thankyouverymuch.]

Case in point: my client Joe. Now, of course his name isn’t Joe, but we’ll call him that to preserve his confidentiality. Joe came to me a couple of years ago to reinvigorate his career. See, after a divorce he’d made a decision to throttle back a little on the career front so he could be a custodial parent. Once one kid was in college and the others nearly finished with high school, he decided to throttle his career back up. He wanted to get promoted, use his leadership skills more and do something more meaningful.

But he had a few assumptions about what was really possible, all tied up in confidence, self-esteem, and comfort with risk-taking – key elements required for effectively putting himself back in the mix. We had to tackle those assumptions and plenty of others as they came up before we could construct the plan that he would execute. And day by day, over about eighteen months, Joe executed on the plan.

And just this week, he said to me, “Michele, this coaching thing has really paid off. I wasn’t so sure there for a bit, but everything we’ve covered has put me where I am.” And the place he’s in is this – the candidate for a new big position internally and being recruited for a big position externally.

A few weeks ago, I sat down and crunched some numbers about my executive coaching practice. Who are my clients, and why do they come to me? How do they come to me? Anyone who’s in business for themselves can benefit from this sort of analysis. I learned:

Since January 1st, I have coached 10 men and 21 women in one-on-one, hour-long sessions. This excludes the laser coaching I do in The Club program, which has 44 members.

Of those 31 individuals, nine were senior executives, and seven were lawyers. Six were senior-level job seekers. Five owned their own businesses. Three were mid-level professionals and one was a coach. The bulk of them came to me by referral from past clients or professional colleagues.

With the exception of the job seekers, everyone wanted pretty much the same thing – “how can I be better at my job? How can I lead better? Communicate better? Manage crisis better? Create a strategy? Build?”

And every single client needed to challenge assumptions. Like the assumption that they are too old. Or too young. Or that the gap on their resume is too large. Or that Charlie won’t change. Or that Charlotte is their mortal enemy. That their lack of a specific degree is a deal-breaker.

That this isn’t the path I thought I’d be taking at this point in my life.

Oh, man, I love my work. I truly do. Because all day long, I’m challenging assumptions. All day long, I’m helping people find a new way.

Each day, with every session that concludes, I see minds opening and possibilities born.

I gotta tell you – it’s so much more fulfilling than bossing.


Subscribe by Email

Your E-mail Address:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *