Good Coach, Bad Coach | What to Look for and What to Avoid

I recently put together an article outlining some of the key qualities to look for when enlisting the services of a coach. These traits and skills set you up for the best possible chances for success, as long as you’re willing to put the work in.

If there are positives to look for, then there must also be negatives to avoid when looking for a coach. Let’s take a compare and contrast approach to these negative qualities, outlining scenarios that indicate that someone shouldn’t be in a coaching role, and how they should be acting instead. Welcome to Good Coach, Bad Coach.


Bad Coach: Makes it About Them

Take a moment to evaluate how often your coach talks about their personal experience. While a coach brings both personal and work experience to the table, the majority of your sessions should be finding out more about your experience and putting in the work that is specific to your needs. While it’s fine for a coach to say “I’ve had a similar experience” or “based on my experience” you shouldn’t feel like your meeting is a recap of their history.

This can be a challenge for many coaches and clients, as over time you build a rapport that can feel like a friendship. It’s up to the coach to instill boundaries and maintain a friendly-yet-professional relationship.


Good Coach: Listens More Than They Speak

Rather than constantly telling you things, a good coach listens to what you have to say. They make sure they understand before making themselves understood. The majority of their speech will be questions, meant to clarify or probe deeper into an issue. This approach ensures that they are getting all the information required to help you direct your path in the best way possible.


Bad Coach: Will Make You Feel Like a Number

You know that you aren’t the only client or priority in your coach’s life. However, during your session, it should feel that way. A bad coach will make you feel like one of many rather than one in a million. They may constantly reschedule appointments or run late, get distracted by phone calls and text messages during your time together or confuse your details with another client’s.


Good Coach: Has Focus and Strong Time Management Skills

A good coach knows when they have too many clients and limits themselves. They aren’t just interested in taking your paycheck; they mean to make a difference. A good coach will shut out distractions during your scheduled meeting time, arrive promptly, and give you their focus. They will have taken a brief look at your details or notes from your previous meeting to ensure they’re on base when making decisions. Of course, incidents occur when someone needs to take a phone call or gets stuck in traffic, but these should be rare occasions rather than frequent happenings.


Bad Coach: My Way or the Highway

A bad coach might be a bully who is determined to have you follow the path they carve for you, rather than helping you create your own. They do not listen to your input and have a cookie cutter approach that everyone is expected to follow. Rather than leaving your meetings feeling inspired and empowered, you will likely feel discouraged and unsure.


Good Coach: Navigates While You Drive

A good coach gives you the floor to say your piece (because they’ll be listening more than talking, right?) and takes your thoughts into consideration. They may have a curriculum or plan, but it serves as a starting point and is flexible to be able to address your specific needs. Rather than discouraging your ideas, they may ask reflective questions like “have you tried this approach before? How did it work for you in the past?” to guide you forward, rather than shoving their ideas down your throat. A good coach can challenge you without insulting you.


What to do When You Have a Bad Coach

Find a good one! Is that oversimplifying things?

If you’ve been working with a coach and find that the behaviors mentioned above are apparent or feel that you’re adhering to the plan you’ve put in place but aren’t making progress, you can look at other options. The person with whom you are working may not be a “bad coach” per se, but their methods may be misaligned with your values or personality. Try not to get discouraged by coaching as an option to help you reach your goals.


It’s also important to trust the process-- if you trust your coach. Take responsibility for your life. If you aren’t doing the things you have deemed necessary to move forward during your coaching sessions, you own the responsibility for your lack of progress. Regardless of how good your coach is, you have to be coachable for things to work.

How can you become more coachable? Well, that’s a whole other story.


Meredith Wailes is the president of Bloom Leadership, founder of SEED, and an advisor and builder of women who impact social change. Contact her via or connect on LinkedIn to see how she can help you.