At its heart, coaching boils down to two things.

1. building awareness and understanding of ourselves and our situation – the issue, if you like


2. driving action and transformative change in our behaviour

It sounds so simple. But but bridging the gap between awareness and action – really changing our behaviour which is the important part of the process – can be very hard.

Even when you can see what you’re doing and the mistakes you’re making.

A long-standing CEO client, Sarah*, who is usually extremely direct, confident and sure of herself repeatedly follows the same behavioural pattern with under-performing senior members of her team.

Sarah senses there’s an issue. She’s not seeing the results she needs, but she doubts her judgement, questions herself and allows the situation to continue. She congratulates herself for empowering senior leadership by trusting and believing in them, giving them time and her support and fostering independence. She’s busy and she needs them to take responsibility and continue the forward momentum. Instigating change would create further instability and feels like a step backwards too damaging to take.

The issue persists.

She attempts to understand what’s going on, why she’s not seeing results. She tries to ignore the impact that it’s having on the rest of the team, the culture and the business she has worked so hard to get to where it is.

When, finally, the team member leaves – often their decision, not hers – she sees the fall-out of keeping them in their position, realises that she was right all along and should have acted sooner.

In the time we have worked together, I have seen her repeat this pattern of behaviour three or four times to the extent that she recognises it in herself. Yet she still finds it very hard to act – even when she can see it happening.

Pippa* allows one of her male co-founders, who has an inflated opinion of himself, to consistently undermine her. She feels the effect of his subtle jostling for position, although she recoils from playing his game.

Gradually she sees how he asserts himself over her – particularly in front of others – but needs her to support him in his role. She enjoys the supporting role, but she starts to see it’s harming her. She needs to establish boundaries to protect herself, but these don’t come naturally – she’s always drawn to helping and supporting others – and the behaviour change isn’t immediate or linear and it takes a lot of work.

When Alex* is focused and challenged she gives 120%. She’s motivated, energised, empowered, successful and rewarded. On this upward surge of momentum, she can achieve anything. But when she’s not, she slumps.

Caught in a downward spiral she finds it very hard to reverse her situation and gets bogged down in negative, de-motivating self-talk which further undermines her. She knows she needs to find more balance, establish more self-care, look for internal validation and reward so that she is not reliant on external factors and can control her circumstances. But she finds this very hard to do, particularly in the moment when she’s dragging herself down in a negative energy current.

There are great books on building good habits and behaviour change (see below), but in reality, it is difficult and requires consistent, conscious thought and evaluation.

A Path to Behaviour Change

  1. Identify the behavioural pattern
    It’s quite often our intuition which tells us when something’s wrong. When that “feeling” doesn’t subside, it’s a good idea to interrogate it a bit. What is the concern? How are you handling it? Are you avoiding something, are you reacting impulsively, are you complicit?
  2. What are the circumstances?
    Can you go into it in more detail. What’s the behaviour? What’s triggering it? How does the behaviour harm you? How does it serve you? What’s the impact on others? How are you excusing it?
  3. What would be a more effective course of action?
    What’s your vision of the future? How could your situation be better? How will acting serve you? What do you need to do?
  4. What are the barriers to this implementing this?
    What are you telling yourself? What is daunting or challenging? What is likely to put you off? What’s behind this resistance?
  5. Small steps
    Can you identify small, manageable actions to help you move towards changing your behaviour. It’s important to understand the path won’t be linear; you will fall into old behavioural patterns. Don’t judge yourself if it goes wrong, because it will. But if you can try to stay aware and conscious, you will start to see the rewards.

*All names have been changed

Further Reading

How to Change by Katy Milkman

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg