A Coaching Dilemma: How to Discover What Your Coaching Client Really Needs

At ACI for Coaches, we recently held our first teleclass, “The Top 3 Reasons Coaching DOESN’T Work, and What You Can Do About It.” One of the points we make is that a person’s explanation of why they have come to coaching often obscures what they really need to work on. The cause of this is at the heart of one of the main reasons why coaching often does not achieve all that it can.



Strength-based coaching is designed to help people achieve their goals by helping them to develop and apply their strengths. The problem lies in the fact that people are often confused about what their strengths really are, and coaches don’t have a quick and reliable way to assess these strengths. Without a reliable assessment that focuses on measuring a person’s natural strengths, coaches are left to rely on their own informal assessment skills and their client’s self-report. All too often this approach misses the mark.

The difficulty clients have presenting a clear and accurate description of what they have come to coaching for is based in the years of well-intentioned, but confusing performance feedback they have received throughout their lives. As a society, we have accepted the value that we want to produce “well-rounded” citizens who are capable in many areas. While this sounds good, the approach to producing these “well-rounded” citizens creates a “develop your short-comings” mentality that undermines the discovery and development of our natural strengths.

Beginning with early pediatric application of developmental norms, continuing with school report cards, and culminating in job performance reviews, the majority of the feedback we receive is about what we don’t do well or where we fall short and what we can do to improve.

After years of feedback about their shortcomings, most people feel slightly inadequate about their skills. The majority of their energy is focused on maintaining a functional level with skills they have acquired to fill in the gaps that have been repeatedly pointed out to them. Acquiring, developing, and maintaining these skills come with a high price of both energy and time. People continue to achieve average results despite the enormous cost, and they come to coaching with issues that reflect this attempt to achieve success in life using acquired skills rather than seeking to discover their innate natural skills.


When  clients present their issues from this perspective, they are hoping to find the magic that will make performing acquired skills easy. They know something is wrong and focus the blame on their inability to use their acquired skills to create meaningful success. The magic, however, lies in helping them to u