You fail to Challenge

The next item on the list of things that could go wrong in coaching is “You
fail to challenge.” Sadly, this is an all too common failure- Coaches fail
to adequately challenge their clients. Now if you ask them, nearly all of
them will say that they do. “Yes, I challenge my clients.” If you ask the
clients, “Do you feel that your coach challenges you?” most will say no. Or
they will say, “Not enough. I wish my coach would challenge me more.”

What’s going on here?

The problem is that most coaches are people people, they love people, they want to see people grow, they do not want to offend, they do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings, and so they hold back when it comes to the very idea of challenging a client. They are too compassionate, too nice, too soft, too gentle. And if there are any cultural frames about pushing people, provoking people, teasing, etc., then they may be incapable of actually challenging a client because “it would not be respectful.”

Let’s back up. What do we mean by challenge anyway?

And why does a coach need to challenge his or her clients? What’s the purpose? In coaching, which is a form of self-actualization psychology, a coach challenges a client in order get the client out of his comfort zone so that he will stretch forward to unleash potentials that the client may not even be aware of. If the client stays in her comfort zone with everything comfortable and familiar, there will be no change, no growth, no development. People grow when they are challenged to move out of what’s comfortable and to take on something bigger or more challenging.

What happens when there is no challenging?

As a coach, you challenge in order that your clients grow and unleash their
potentials. If you do not challenge, your client will probably not grow.
Will he feel comfortable? Yes. Will she like you? Yes. Wil he keep doing
what he has always done? Yes. Will she keep getting the same results that
she has always gotten? Yes. But grow, develop, or unleash? No. That’s
why you need to challenge- why you owe it to your client to challenge, why
if you respect your client, you will honor her by challenging her.

How do you challenge?

Okay, so now the how. How do you challenge? The biggest misunderstanding
is that to challenge is to be aggressive, nasty, or mean. Challenge does
not mean any of that! To challenge is to first test your client. For that,
use testing questions. It forces a person to make small clear commitments.
“So you want to get healthy and fit?” “That’s what you want?” These are
yes-no questions. Keep asking them to drive home the point and to get a
commitment. Ask clarification questions. “How are you using the word
‘fit?'” Then pursue the definition 4 to 7 times until you get a
see-hear-feel answer. On your part, this can feel pushy, even aggressive.


With testing and clarifying questions, you are challenging your client’s
over-generalized model of the world. Most clients operate for too globally.
Your job is to ground their feet back on mother earth. That will take some
challenging. Next use the value-questions, “Why is that important?”
repeatedly until you move up the value hierarchy and get the person into the
being-realm. This will take some doing. It is both a science and an art.
Here you are challenging the superficial level of responses and pushing into
the realm of your client’s deep authenticity. Now the coaching conversation
is getting real. And uncomfortable! Your client is now probably beginning
to feel open and vulnerable.

When the conversation gets real, your client is beginning to speak his truth
in a way that he may have never spoken truth before. This isn’t abstract
Truth (with a capital T), this is your client’s personal truth. This is the
heart of challenging- enabling and empowering your client to get real. And
this also is where unleashing really begins. This is what the books – Get
Real (2016) and The Crucible and the Fires of Change (2010) address. [If you
don’t have those, I’d recommend you get them.]

Get Real

When you challenge, you are asking your client to come out from behind
himself his personas, masks, cover-ups, roles, and all of the ways that we
humans hide from ourselves. When you challenge, you are asking your client
to make the conversation real. And you do that by moving up and beyond the
immediate thoughts and emotions, beyond the actions and behaviors of
everyday life, up to the governing frames, up the levels of beliefs, all the
way up to presuppositions and assumptions. That’s why we call it
Meta-Coaching. You are coaching to the person’s inner matrix world of

So the ultimate challenge is a challenge to your clients frames.

So prefame things, “If we find a problem or something that you think is ‘the
dark side,’ I want you to know that you are not the problem. If there is a
problem, the frame is the problem.” Flushing out the frames that’s holding
a person back, leashing them to an old referent event or to a toxic belief-
and then challenging that frame- when you can do that, you are really
getting to the heart of coaching. Don’t fail in this. Challenge!

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