When It's Okay to Leave Your Coach: What Would Arlene Say?

11 min read
April 26, 2018

Let’s face it—life happens in seasons, and so do your professional relationships. Recently, I’ve had one or two coaching clients move away from our engagement. And guess what? Sometimes that’s okay! 

Over the course of my career, I’ve left jobs. Clients and I have parted ways. Things change. The clients who have ended our engagement recently have been incredibly apologetic, and it’s clear that they really struggled with the decision. Though the reasons are always different, one thing remains the same: “breaking up” is never fun.

This experience gets the questions: in what situation is it reasonable to leave my coach? How do I break up with my coach? Am I better off staying with my coach?

When to Leave Your Coach

There are many reasons you may consider ending your relationship with your business coach. While this conversation may be uncomfortable, sometimes it’s necessary. Here are the top scenarios where it’s in your best interest to leave your coach:

You’re Just Not Clicking

Sometimes this happens and odds are you both see it. Although I believe that most coaches are people-loving, butt-kicking cheerleaders who want to see you thrive (like me!), you might not be getting that vibe from the coach you’re working with.

Here are a few signs that you’re not clicking with your coach:

  • You don’t feel you’re getting value out of your engagement.

  • You dread coaching calls (and not just because you haven’t done your homework).

  • Conversation doesn’t flow easily.

  • You don’t trust your coach, or you’re not being completely honest with them about your fears, goals, and business. 

Every once in a while your personalities might not click. People are different, and while we need to at least try to get along with everyone in our professional sphere, it’s pretty darn important to “click” with your coach. In fact, you two should get along like gangbusters. That kind of compatibility is non-negotiable because when your coach is helping you through something hard, it helps tremendously if you actually like them.

It’s important to have this difficult conversation with your coach before you leave the relationship. Ask yourself what changed over the course of your engagement that made you want to take off? What was wrong with their coaching style, or what could have been done differently? 

Answering these questions can help you articulate why you’re ready to end things with your coach, and will provide constructive feedback so your coach can view what might feel like a let-down as a learning opportunity. During this final conversation, you might also ask for recommendations for a new coach who might be a better fit. I know several coaches in the industry, and your coach is likely to have a similar network. Ultimately, they want what’s best for you.

It's Too Heavy of a Financial Burden

Sometimes money is an issue when working with your coach. When I start an engagement with a client, I aim to find ways where I pay for myself. By freeing up time, helping you grow, or by helping you maximize existing tools to reduce other expenses, I help ensure that my fee is covered.

That being said, business budgets can be fickle. If you ever find that the expense of having your business coach is causing you additional stress or forcing you to part ways with critical components of your financial planning practice, it’s time to reassess.

An honest conversation with your coach about finances is absolutely necessary here. They may be able to work within your budget. Even if that’s not possible, they’ll appreciate your transparency. Ultimately, your coach wants you to achieve your ideal vision of success. They want to help eliminate roadblocks to your success, not create them!

They’re Pushing Too Hard

This should go without saying, but if your coach is pushing you to make changes to your business or your personal life, or to implement processes and tools that don’t align with your values, that’s a problem. If you’ve communicated that you’re not interested in pursuing a certain path but feel repeatedly pushed to do so anyways, it’s probably time to reevaluate whether this coach is a good fit for you.

Of course, if a coach is simply pushing you to tackle things outside of your comfort zone, but that are definitely in your best interest and line up with your values, you need to look inward. In cases like these, they’re probably not pushing something negative on you. There’s a big difference between “outside of your comfort zone” and “outside of your value set.” Decide which of these two things is happening and proceed accordingly.

When to Stick It Out

Sometimes, rather than breaking up with your coach, you need to evaluate the engagement to find what’s not working—and then fix it. Several things might be wrong with your current coaching engagement, but if they can be remedied, you should consider whether or not your relationship with your coach is worth working through your issues.

This is especially important to consider if you feel you’re truly clicking with your coach and have seen results in the past. A coaching engagement can become stale if you’re not actively involved in making it better or tailoring it to your needs. Let’s go over a few things that might be pushing you away from the coaching process, and how to fix them.

The Process Needs to Change

Maybe “clicking” isn’t the issue you have with your coach. Rather, it’s the way you work together. I’ve had professional relationships with mentors and coaches of my own where I just felt like I was no longer getting the value out of the engagement that I needed to take my business to the next level.

If you’re experiencing this, I have good news: you probably don’t need to leave the coach you love. Instead, you need to be honest with them and communicate how you’re feeling. When you and your coach are meshing well and you’ve seen benefits from your engagement in the past, the solution is simple: you need to change how you work together. 

This could mean that your coach needs to assess the process they use to work with you. It might mean you need to dig deeper together to find what kind of end result you want to achieve from this relationship, and determine how you can work towards that.

Whatever the case may be, you need to express your concerns. Your coach may be many things, but they’re not a mind reader. If you’re still making progress and don’t communicate your misgivings, they may not know that anything is wrong. It’s best to be honest and be direct. Your coach will be able to help you identify the problem and fix it so you can continue making progress together.

Set Expectations

Expectations are tricky in coaching relationships because there are several things to consider:

  • What you expect to get out of working with a coach.

  • How you expect the coaching process to look.

  • How your coach expects to work with you.

  • How your coach expects they’ll be able to make an impact in your world.

  • Your shared expectations for one another that lay the foundation for your relationship.

Let’s start with managing your own expectations. As with all things in business, results take time. If you expecting to work with your coach and see immediate results, you may need to reconsider your expectations. It’s also important to understand your goals for working with your coach. You may want to grow your business, make more money, save time, take better care of yourself as a business owner, or accomplish any number of other goals—you need to define those goals together so you have a shared understanding of what you want to accomplish through this relationship.

Your coach can absolutely help you accomplish these goals (and more!), but it’s hard for them to help you get there if you don’t communicate what you expect them to help you with from the beginning. This is also true if your goals evolve with time. If you don’t communicate your changing values, your coach won’t know how to best help you.

Now let’s tackle the expectations that your coach has. Most coaches only have a few:

  • You want to work with them

  • You’re open to their coaching

  • You trust them to help you grow 

That’s pretty much it. If you feeling like you’re pushing back against your coach’s expectations, that’s a problem. This often boils down to a miscommunication about shared expectations for your working relationship.

The key here is that you may not actually need to leave your coach just yet! If you feel like things aren’t working because expectations aren’t being met, sit down and talk it out before jumping ship.

Are You Done “For Now?”

Usually when I part ways with a client it’s because they’re truly done. In most cases, this means we’ve accomplished a big, hairy, audacious goal. We’ve worked through a process, we’ve collaborated to help them grow, or we’ve implemented a strategy to help them achieve a work/life balance that they’re happy with. We both feel like we’ve gotten what we needed from our relationship. 

But sometimes, clients just need a break. I have some clients who take a break for a quarter and then come back the next because they need help with a new challenge. That’s totally normal. This break doesn’t mean you stop working and growing. In fact, it usually means you’re taking time to commit to the new and improved version of you or your practice that your coach has helped you define. This time away from your coach should be spent implementing and putting into practice what you’ve learned. 

This is an exciting season for you. During your break, make a plan with your coach to have regular check-ins to track your progress. These check-ins can help you to stay on track as you implement new strategies.

Checking in with your coach regularly during a break can also be a preventative measure. I’ve seen clients spiral into crisis mode after taking on too big of challenges themselves for too long—periodic check-ins with your coach help prevent this.

Try an Accountability Partner

In some cases, if you’re taking a “break” from your coach, an accountability partner can help you continue to push toward growth and improvement until you’re ready to pick coaching back up again. This is especially true if the “homework” from your coach is time-consuming and feels overwhelming. An accountability partner can act as a stand-in coach, helping you keep your commitments. 

So how do you find an accountability partner? Reach out to your colleagues first. See if someone you know is interested in starting a partnership with you, or initiate a mini-mastermind group with other advisors. Set up a defined meeting schedule ahead of time and ask either your accountability partner or everyone in your mastermind group to select a few key tasks they’re working on right now. This will help keep your meetings on track and help you achieve the changes you’re working towards. 

You might even consider asking your coach for references. They may have coaching clients who are looking for a motivated individual to partner with while they’re not actively being coached.

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Define What You’re Looking For

When you’re thinking about leaving your coach, it’s often because your engagement with them just isn’t what you’re looking for anymore. The only way to address this problem is to do some soul-searching to determine what exactly it is that you’re looking for.

I firmly believe that every business owner can benefit from a coach. But if you approach your coaching relationship unconvinced of their value, you don’t open yourself up to the full potential of the coach-client relationship. Setting clearly defined goals helps you determine whether or not your coach adds value to your life and business.

These goals might be financial, but they can also be personal. As a coach, it’s my job to empower you to achieve your goals, whatever those may be. If that means checking to see if you made it to your favorite hot yoga class that week, you can bet I’m going to do it. If it means helping you add three clients by the end of the year, I’m going to facilitate the tasks that will lead to an expanded client pool and revenue growth. But it’s up to you to define those goals.

Defining the goals you want your coach to help you work towards helps keep your interactions with your coach on the right track. You’ll feel more successful when working towards a well-defined finished line. Having an established set of goals also makes it easier to see the progress you’re making with your coach.

How to Leave Your Coach

Here again communication is key. Whether the coaching relationship is beyond repair or you just want to see a few changes made, a conversation is necessary. Start by writing down some notes, focusing on a few main things:

  • How are you feeling?

  • What’s wrong with the engagement as it stands right now?

  • What things would need to change for you to feel that this relationship is still adding value to your practice and your life?

  • If you’re ready to move on, what could your coach have done differently? 

By approaching this conversation honestly and openly, you’ll have left no stone unturned in this process. Hopefully the conversation helps your coach understand your thought process and better improve their method(s) of working with clients in the future.

There is one exception to this rule. If you’re ready to end your relationship with a coach because they’re pushing you to act outside of your values, you don’t owe them a drawn-out conversation. If anyone in your personal or professional life pushes you repeatedly to do something that you deem innately “wrong” (and you’ve communicated your unease), you should drop them like a bad habit. A coach worth their salt will respect you, who you are, and your value set. If they’re stuck in their own ways and constantly disregard your values, that’s a problem you don’t need to waste more time and energy on.

A Word of Warning

There are two things that come up often when people are considering walking away from their coach:

  • They feel like they’re “done” with the task they came to the business coach for in the first place.

  • They’re unhappy that the coach is focusing on areas for improvement that aren’t in the original scope.

We already discussed what it’s like to take a “break” from your coach when you’ve worked through a task. I don’t see anything wrong with this course of action, as long as you keep doing the work. It’s important to realize that nobody is ever truly “done.” There’s always room for improvement, more homework to do, and other areas of your business you can work on. 

If the original task for which you engaged a coach is “complete,” it might be time to identify other pain points in your practice and make a new list of things to work on together.

But if you’re unhappy that your coach is encouraging you to work on things outside of the original scope of your arrangement, that’s problematic. Most people who seek out a coach have a very clear idea of why they need their help. Maybe they have issues with productivity, revenue concerns, or an inefficient onboarding process. Whatever the issue is, they’re well aware of it, otherwise they wouldn’t have signed up to work with a coach in the first place.

As a coach works with you and begins to peel back the layers of your business, they’re bound to find other areas where you can grow, improve, and become your best. Constructive criticism can be hard to take in, but it’s not a reason to run from a coach who has your best interests at heart. In short, if you’re not happy with your coach because they’ve pointed out an area where you could grow, you should swallow your pride and push through that discomfort to find true growth.

Don’t Be Afraid to Talk It Out

Not sure if it’s time to walk away? Talk it out. Have a conversation with your coach to evaluate your current relationship. Ask your colleagues or tap into your network to see what other people have experienced in their client-coach relationships. The truth is that this situation isn’t easy, but there are plenty of people willing to help you through it!

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Arlene-Moss-Square-ColorAbout Arlene Moss, Executive Coach
Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.

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