Coaching Defaults: Self-Assessment

Awareness is key in coaching practice. Experienced and novice coaches benefit from examining how habitual patterns influence coaching practices. A default is a go-to place, a habitual way of behaving that emerges when you are not fully present, when you are under stress or confused, when you move quickly through your work without sufficient reflection, or when you are cruising on the coaching equivalent of automatic pilot. The following self-assessment identifies what you experience in your coaching interventions when you are distracted, uncertain, under pressure, trying too hard, or insufficiently present.

Preparation: To make the most of this assessment, spend 5 to 10 minutes reflecting on some of your recent coaching experiences. Identify any repetitive patterns that show up in your work. Once you have reviewed your recent work, answer the questions below.


To what degree do you see yourself in the following descriptions?

A lot / Some / Rarely / Never

  1. I move into problem-solving mode quickly. I want my client to have a clear fix on what she or he needs to do.
  2. I find myself asking many questions about how my client feels regarding different aspects of our discussion.
  3. When upsetting emotions emerge, I must ensure my client feels okay before ending our session.
  4. I am intrigued by the reasons clients do things, so I try to identify root causes. I look for explanations in their histories or their current life situations.
  5. When things get tense, or the client seems unhappy, I strongly need to lighten the mood.
  6. My mind often goes to books and other data my client can access to better inform themselves.
  7. I like things to flow smoothly. I simply reflect (paraphrase) whatever is coming up so my client can move gently at her or his pace.
  8. I express my expertise and knowledge about matters when I know what works best. I quickly share solutions I know about or have personally experienced.
  9. I find myself pushing to ensure that all aspects needed to do things well are considered for my client to get it right.
  10. I stretch my clients, so they are taking on challenging tasks. I don’t let them settle for easy actions. I want them to be more successful than they can imagine.
  11. I worry about my clients. I feel concerned that they might experience failure or something bad. I often wonder if they are going to be all right.
  12. Either during or after sessions, I feel anxious that I may have done something wrong or that something I did may have had an adverse impact on my client.
  13. I love out-of-the-box solutions. I strive for creativity, for the unique and novel. I don’t want my clients to settle for something ordinary or mundane. I want them to experience how special they are.
  14. Insight and awareness are essential in my coaching. I work hard to “turn the lights on.” I want my client to be aware, to see deeply, and to feel intensely.

Other defaults?

What to do with all this? These defaults or automatic orientations usually reflect the coach’s needs rather than the client’s. We know our work is always about the client’s agenda. Still, it is human nature to bring ourselves into the coaching process. Nonetheless, when we are driving a particular perspective beyond the expressed needs of our clients, we must take stock. If any defaults are strongly represented in your work, it is time to reflect on your patterns, seek supervision, or work in peer development sessions with other coaches.