The Biggest Challenges of Coaching and Mentoring and How to Overcome Them
by Lucia Baldelli
Have you heard your mentor coach or another coach say ‘this is something you will face sooner or later, so be prepared’? In the realm of individual and team coaching, there are recurring common challenges that both new and seasoned coaches face. As I help other coaches to grow, often the same challenges emerge over and over again. I experienced them myself, and I wish I knew how to handle them when I encounter them. In this article, I will explore some of them, so that you can add something new to your coaching.
12 Challenges Most Coaches Face
We can’t predict what will happen in the coaching room. Even the most experienced coaches sometimes find themselves struggling with unexpected scenarios. If you went through coach training, you might be equipped with some tools, but only continuous work on your personal development with a mentor coach or supervisor and a long coaching experience will allow you to develop the confidence that – no matter what – you will handle anything that might happen.
The aim of this article is to share some advice on how to overcome some of the common challenges I have either experienced or heard from my students, as well as strategies and tips on how to improve your coaching practice.
Here is the list that will be unpacked in the following paragraphs.
- Explaining what coaching is and not solving their problem
- Setting boundaries
- Building trust in the coaching relationship
- Finding the direction for the coaching session
- Handling very talkative clients who like to vent
- Focusing on the person, not the problem
- Letting them do the work, even when they say ‘I don’t know’
- Building accountability and commitment
- Helping them to see the behaviours that need to change
- Dealing with strong emotions or no emotions at all
- Dealing with people who are pessimistic about succeeding
- Opening up a new topic at the end of the session
Explaining what coaching is and not solving their problem
One of the challenges coaches face that can be surprisingly tricky is explaining what coaching is without falling into the trap of offering solutions. Some people still need a solution and might invite you to give input. Sometimes they simply don’t know…
If you continue a coaching relationship and it is not what they need, you might find yourself in this situation more than once. It might be worth exploring if they need a different type of support. This challenge emerges from the expectation that coaching will provide immediate solutions, whereas the true essence of coaching is guiding clients to find their own answers – and it might take longer to get to the desired outcome. Overcoming this obstacle involves clear communication, setting the right expectations, and ensuring that the person in front of us is ready to do the work.
Another challenge that coaches face is the essential yet often overlooked aspect of setting boundaries within the coaching relationship.
- What does your relationship look like when you have agreed ground rules that allow you both to be comfortable and at the right distance from one another?
- What are the things that you will do or refuse to do as a coach?
Being very clear about what “healthy” means for you in a coaching relationship and asking them to do the same is a great starting point for effective and transformative coaching. The failure to establish healthy boundaries might lead to unmet expectations or other problems in the relationship later. Overcoming this challenge requires conscious efforts to define and communicate our needs, fostering a safe and respectful space for both of us. It’s a delicate balance that enhances trust and sets the stage for meaningful progress.
Curious to get more coaching tips and insights?
Building trust in the coaching relationship
A key aspect of artful coaching is about establishing a genuine and trust based connection with a person we have never met before.
- How do we get people to be open and vulnerable even if they have not worked with us before?
- How do we create a space that is safe enough?
If there is no trust, our conversation will be transactional and will not address real issues. This is a core aspect that can boost or break the effectiveness of coaching. Trust-building goes beyond surface-level communication: it requires time, empathy, active listening, and a commitment to creating a non-judgmental space that enables deep exploration. Without this foundational trust, even the best strategies and insights remain ineffective. For those who want to go deeper on this topic, we explored it in the article on how to build trust in a coaching relationship, offering practical insights and techniques.
Finding the direction for the coaching session
Have you ever felt you were spending too much time on the coaching contract? People often arrive with very confused and unformed ideas to the coaching room, and sometimes finding the direction of a coaching session is a lengthy process. It’s not uncommon to feel the urgency to start exploring the topic without spending enough time to agree our destination. We might be concerned of not having much left for coaching. But you know what? Contracting is coaching! The process of getting to the heart of the matter is more helpful for them than it is for us. And only if we go deep can we address the real challenge.
Handling very talkative clients who like to vent
Handling very talkative clients who like to vent presents a unique challenge in the coaching relationship. It can become a stumbling block if not managed properly. Sometimes, venting is useful, especially when clients come with lots of emotions and need to get some steam off before doing any work. They need to clear their mind before they can focus.
However, if it is a reoccurring pattern, it can derail the coaching process due to low focus and forward movement. A possible solution is for the coach to notice the pattern and have an open conversation about it. Additionally, it might be effective to timebox the time they need to share their emotions and then move on to have a more constructive conversation. Coaches can therefore find the right balance between empathising and facilitating forward movement, so that we are having both a supportive and productive conversation.
Focusing on the person, not the problem
Focusing on the person, not the problem, is an essential yet sometimes challenging aspect of successful coaching. It’s common for beginner coaches to have WHAT conversations and discuss what clients need to do to succeed. This approach, while perhaps well-intentioned, often misses the mark in facilitating deep transformation. Artful coaches, on the other hand, have WHO conversations: they speak to the person in front of them and discuss how they need to be different to be successful. They delve into what the clients are feeling, who they are being, and what is making their situation a challenge. By shifting the focus from the problem to the person, coaches enable deeper transformational work. This nuanced approach enables a more empathetic connection with the client, who are encouraged to engage in a conversation on a more profound level. In practice, this means moving beyond surface-level solutions and striving to understand the underlying emotions and characteristics that drive a person’s behaviour and choices. It’s a process that requires skill and sensitivity but leads to more authentic and lasting change.
Letting them do the work, even when they say ‘I don’t know’
Coaches may encounter this response and feel a sense of urgency to fill the silence, driven by the pressure of providing value. I do not believe many of the “I don’t know’s” I hear. If I pause for a little longer, allowing space for contemplation, clients often move forward on their own. This process of letting them do the work is essential, as it encourages self-reflection and personal growth. It’s their responsibility to do the work, not ours, and a skilled coach must learn to be patient and facilitate this process without jumping in too quickly.
Building accountability and commitment
Building accountability and commitment in the coaching relationship is a vital yet challenging aspect of the coaching process. The challenge often arises from a misunderstanding of the coach’s role in the client’s development. Clients do not need a nanny, someone to look after them and chase them on actions. It is not uncommon for coaches to be part of their client’s accountability mechanisms, but this is an anti-pattern! We are creating a dependence on us! Coaches should focus on empowering clients to take ownership of their actions and goals. By establishing clear expectations and providing tools for self-management, coaches can encourage clients to take responsibility for their progress. This shift in approach not only builds the client’s autonomy but also enhances their commitment to the growth process, resulting in more sustainable and meaningful change.
Helping them to see the behaviours that need to change
Clients often lack awareness of the behaviours that need to change. If not done properly, it will bring high challenge in the room, and this might break trust. To overcome this barrier, it’s essential to approach the situation with sensitivity and care. I like to share observable data as much as I can and invite clients to make their own meaning, so that they can see things with new lenses. This strategy promotes self-awareness and enables clients to identify the necessary changes independently, thus fostering personal growth and empowerment without damaging the crucial trust in the coaching relationship.
Dealing with strong emotions or no emotions at all
Dealing with strong emotions or no emotions is an integral aspect of the coaching process, and it is a multifaceted challenge. It is vital for coaches to create a safe space where clients can share their feelings. When strong emotions come up, we need to give them space to acknowledge them, understand where they are coming from, and let the clients decide what to do with them. A common anti-pattern is to try to shift a “negative emotion” even when the client needs to sit with it.
When no emotions show up, I just talk about it. It’s important to address this openly by sharing observations and engaging in dialogue. By asking them what they are experiencing and encouraging self-reflection, we facilitate deeper understanding and personal growth.
Dealing with people who are pessimistic about succeeding
When clients are pessimistic about succeeding, this can create a barrier to progress in the coaching relationship. Maybe our client is overwhelmed or has limiting beliefs. Exploring what is real and what is a story they are telling themselves might be useful to uncover assumptions that get in the way of feeling empowered, allowing them to distinguish between genuine obstacles and self-imposed barriers. Coaches can facilitate a shift in perspective and foster a more constructive and optimistic approach.
Opening up a new topic at the end of the session
Opening up a new topic at the end of a coaching session can be an unexpected challenge. It usually happens when a new insight or question arises just as the session is drawing to a close. While the impulse to explore new avenues is positive, it becomes a challenge as there is typically not enough time to delve into the topic thoroughly. We do not have time and we do not want to dismiss them. But because we trust they will to great work on their own, we can invite them to reflect on what they will have to think about, when and how, empowering them to continue their exploration outside of the session. You will be amazed by how much they will move forward without you! This approach allows clients to take full ownership of their continued growth and development.
If you want to explore your challenges with us or simply get better at your craft, we explore this in our advanced course Deepening Conversations.
- The coaching relationship: definition and key elements, by Lucia Baldelli MCC
- Building trust in a coaching relationship, by Lucia Baldelli MCC
- What coaching is and isn’t, by Lucia Baldelli MCC