Coaching seems simple enough. You help your clients define their most important long-term goals, break their goals down into short term milestones, hold them accountable, keep them focused and volià… success.

In fact, it seems so simple that if you are a potential client, why would you even need a coach to define what’s important to you and then, like a “nagging-but-loving” parent, make sure you do your homework? That’s easy. In spite of your best intentions, if you are like most people, you become distracted. A “nagging-but-loving” parent or coach may come in handy–whether it is to make sure that children get their homework done or that you make it to the goals you set for yourself.

How about you if you are a coach? You love coaching, you love helping others and dang it, if only people would hire you, they would love the results you can get for them…But to hire you, they have to find you. Oh, c’mon; that’s just wishful thinking. You have to find them and then convince them that what they need (that is, you, in order to reach the goals they set for themselves that they can’t reach on their own) is what they want.

This is called marketing and selling. Marketing is getting yourself in the position to offer your services–getting to the telephone or face-to-face conversation with a potential client. You must then sell your services in such a way that a potential client hires you.

As a potential client, you get this–you expect people to lay out their USP (unique sales proposition). But if you’re a coach, although you wholeheartedly agree with how coaching can help people define and reach their goals, you may feel a knot in your stomach about anything related to marketing and selling.

Despite knowing what you each need to do in order to become more successful, your self-defeating behavior may often get in your way. If you’re a potential client hiring a coach, or if you’re a coach committing to marketing and selling your services, you may instead either procrastinate, get defensive, make excuses, quit too soon or engage in some other self-defeating behavior. There is almost no limit to the number of ways you can defeat yourself. I’ve written two books that cover 80 of them.

Human nature doesn’t exist, only animal nature
and the human potential to not give in to it.

Whether you’re a coach or a client, you both know that you get in your own way. What may be less clear is why you do it. Understanding how and why people in general, and you in particular, engage in self-defeating behavior will enable you to take that first step toward getting out of your own way.

Success: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (Figure 1)

From your first breath to your last, you are stepping into the unknown. Your first baby step is daunting, yet exhilarating. The real challenge to your evolving personality occurs when you take that first step and fall down. To be successful throughout your life, you want to make sure you take two steps forward and one step back, instead of no steps forward or one step forward and two steps back.

Think of an infant taking his first step. He crawls, then stands holding onto a chair or his parent’s leg, and then ventures out into the world of homo-erectus. He steps away from any supports, balances precariously, and looks back at his parent (developmental psychologists refer to this stage with the French word, rapprochement, which means “looking back”). He feels reassured and ventures forth.

Sooner or later he falls and cries. One minute he felt like Superbaby; the next he found himself a helpless little creature. He turned out to be as fragile in the next moment as he felt powerful in the first. He looked back at his parent for reassurance (in other words, coaching–see far right column in Figure 2) that what he had experienced was a slip–it doesn’t mean he has fallen through the cracks and can’t get up and try again. Taking in his parent’s reassurance, he does get up and try again. This occurs over and over, until one day he is able to walk on his own.

When a child internalizes this new skill, a little piece of self-confidence develops and he integrates it into his evolving personality. As his personality develops into his own distinct identity, he becomes more and more an individual, and a confident one at that.

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to
lose sight of shore for a very long time.
Andre Gide

This process continues all the way through life. Our personalities and identities are constantly evolving in this two-steps-forward, one-step-back dance of learning–falling, pausing, refueling, retooling, and retrying. Along the way, we make mistakes and learn from them; over time, we can develop perseverance, persistence, and effectiveness.

When you make forward progress, you feel vital, effective and empowered. You seek out opportunities to test your mettle in the world. The world is one giant opportunity and your oyster to explore and enjoy.


Self-Defeat: What Goes In, Comes Out (Figure 2)

So what happens to you when you defeat yourself? As a baby, if you take that first step into the unknown, go to take a second step, fall, look back, and your parents do not respond to you with encouragement, you become stalled. Worse, you may slide further back and regress. You feel tentative, ineffective, disempowered. You seek out any mitigating behaviors that give you relief from these feelings. You adopt so-called “quick fixes”–ways to cope that give you momentary relief from the trauma of falling from Superbaby to Powerless Baby. The problem is that quick fixes fix nothing, and actually hurt you in the long run.

What happens when Superbaby is criticized (and feels as if he has done something wrong), ignored (and feels alone in his helplessness), or coddled (and then feels confused when not coddled)? Superbaby’s reaction is fear, guilt, shame, anger and confusion. Negative messages about the meaning of what he’s experiencing begin playing in his head. He is suddenly knocked off the resilience track. He doesn’t have the self-confidence he needs to get up and try again on his own.

And instead of becoming effective, he seeks relief. Anything and everything he does in reaction to feeling “upset” triggers a negative coping reaction that works to make him feel better in the short run, but in the long run turns into a self-defeating behavior (SDB).

What’s done to children, they will do to society.
Karl Menninger

These behaviors waste time and squander his potential. Instead of seeing the world as a terrific place to explore, he views it as a terrifying place that can trip him up at every step. This causes him to stall in his life and his career. If he repeats these behaviors often enough, they become habits. Eventually they become internalized parts of his personality that are very resistant to change. That is why you must not become discouraged if you are not able to stop and overcome these self-defeating behaviors overnight. Becoming impatient with yourself is in itself self-defeating.

When you run into adversity in your adult life, the trick is to cut the endless playback loop of the old negative messages so that you can develop the inner strength and resolve to become effective in your life and work. This means replacing the abusive, critical, avoidant, neglectful, or overindulgent and authoritarian voice in your head with the voice of the supportive, authoritative role model, mentor or coach.

At first, you may want to conjure up the image and voice of that supportive person telling you to pause when you most feel like reacting or doing something impulsive. In my case, I brought to mind the image of Dean William MacNary. Dean MacNary, who passed away fifteen years ago, was an advocate for me during some difficult times I had in medical school. When I would run into stress and was about to do something foolish, I could see him in my mind’s eye making a Rabbinical shrug (despite his being an Irish Catholic) and saying to me in his Bostonian accent: “M-a-a-h-k, c’mon; take a deep breath and don’t do what you’re about to do. Let it go.” I would occasionally get into an argument with him in my mind, but “Mac,” as I and my fellow medical students called him, would usually win and prevent me from shooting from the hip and then shooting myself in the foot.

Over the years I have internalized his voice as part of my personality, but on those occasions when I want to dip into the gratitude I feel towards Mac, I’ll still imagine his Rabbinical shrug and steadying voice keeping me in line.

You might want to do the same with the people who have helped you along the way. It will help you feel less alone, and fortify you when you’re battling those impulses that could derail you from your goals. In addition, you can enlist the help of a coach so that you can begin to internalize that supportive, authoritative voice. And ultimately, you’ll replace those self-defeating messages and behaviors with confidence, motivation and determination to succeed.


This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Fall Issue 2005, Volume 1, Issue 3).

Mark Goulston, M.D.

Mark Goulston, M.D., is Sr. Vice President Executive Coaching and Emotional Intelligence at Sherwood Partners. He writes “The Leading Edge” for FAST COMPANY, “Directions” for the National Association of Corporate Directors’ Directors Monthly, and is the author of Get Out of Your Own Way at Work… and Help Others Do the Same (Putnam, available October 6, 2005).

Business coaching is expanding as a means of improving programs, processes, and even people. Sponsors, clients, and corporate executives–those who fund coaching activities–want to hear about successes in terms that they understand, terms related to organizational needs. Everyone might know that a coaching program made a positive difference, but someone insists on getting to the bottom-line: what did we spend and what did we get in return? The following is a brief summary of a real-life case study of a coaching intervention demonstrating measurement and evaluation, including the calculation of the return on investment (ROI)


A USA-based, internationally established, prosperous hotel company, the Nations Hotel Company (NHC), sought to maintain and improve its status in the highly competitive hospitality industry. With hotels in 15 countries, 98% brand awareness worldwide, and 72% customer satisfaction rating, NHC wanted to help executives find ways to improve efficiency, customer satisfaction, revenue growth, and retention of high-performing employees. Challenged to execute this project, the Nations Hotel Learning Organization (NHLO) developed a program, including as a pivotal component a formal, structured coaching program called Coaching for Business Impact (CBI). NHC corporate executives wanted, as part of the process, to see the actual ROI for the coaching project.


The NHLO first surveyed executives to identify learning needs and to assess their willingness to be involved in coaching. Most of the executives indicated that they would like to work with qualified coaches to assist them through a variety of challenges and issues, and that this would be an efficient way to learn, apply, and achieve results. The measurement and evaluation goal for the senior executive team was to assess results for 25 executives, randomly selected (if possible) from the participants in CBI. Figure 1 depicts the 14 steps in the new coaching program, from the beginning to the ultimate outcomes. For the planned ROI analysis, step #4 was critical; executives made a commitment to provide data on action plans and questionnaires.


Although these steps are self-explanatory as to the coaching process, the ROI process involved gathering data throughout the coaching engagement so that evaluation results could be reported for all five levels:

To collect complete and reliable data for Levels 4 and 5, executive-participants completed action plans that included questions addressing the four business impact measures sought to be improved:

1. What is the unit of measure?
2. What is the value (cost) of one unit in monetary terms?
3. How did you arrive at this value?
4. How much did the measure change during the evaluation period? (Monthly value)
5. What other factors could have contributed to this improvement?
6. What percentage of this change was actually caused by this coaching for business impact program?
7. What level of confidence do you place on your estimate of the change attributable to this program? (100% = Certainty and 0% = No Confidence)

Using the action plan responses and collecting data through executive questionnaires, senior executive questionnaires, and company records, the NHLO obtained information to convert data to monetary values (items 1-4 above), to isolate the effects of the coaching on this business impact data (items 5-6 above), and to adjust for errors in estimation (item 7 above).

Evaluation Results

Careful data collection planning allowed the NHLO team to measure the results of the coaching program at all levels. Level 1: Reaction, Level 2: Learning, and Level 3: Application all showed positive results and comments.

Impact: To assess the business impact, the NHLO team assimilated the information on the action plans for the 22 CBI executive-participants who responded. Using these responses, the NHLO arrived at the total adjusted value of the program’s benefits as $1,861,158.ROI: The fully-loaded costs of the CBI program included both the direct and indirect costs of coaching (needs assessment/development, coaching fees, travel, time, support, overhead, telecommunications, facilities, and evaluation). CBI costs for 25 executives totaled $579,300.
Using the total monetary benefits ($1,861,158) and total cost of the program ($579,800), the NHLO developed two ROI calculations. First is the benefit-cost ratio (BCR), which is the ratio of the monetary benefits divided by the costs:

This value suggests that for every dollar invested $3.21 was returned. The ROI formula for investments in any human performance intervention is calculated as it is for other types of investments: earnings divided by investment. For this coaching solution, the ROI was calculated thus:

For every dollar invested in the coaching program, the investment dollar was returned and another $1.21 was generated. In this case, the ROI exceeded the 25% target.

Intangibles: The NHLO chose not to convert all measures to monetary values, creating a list of intangible benefits — improved commitment, teamwork, job satisfaction, customer service, and communication.


Credibility of data and of the ROI process itself is always critical. The NHLO’s sources of data (executives and company records), conservative data collection process, isolation of program impact, adjustment for errors in estimates, use of only first-year benefits in the analysis, fully loading program costs, and reporting results at all levels made a convincing case for the CBI program.


To communicate results to target audiences, the NHLO produced three documents:

To convey a clear understanding of the methodology, the conservative process, and information generated at each level, the NHLO team held meetings with the sponsor and other interested senior executives. Conservative and credible processes and competent communication led senior executives to decide that, with a few minor adjustments in the program, they would continue to offer the coaching for business impact program on a volunteer basis. Pleased with the process and progress, they were delighted to have data connecting coaching to the business impact.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Fall Issue 2005, Volume 1, Issue 3).

Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D

Jack J. Phillips, Ph.D, is a world-renowned expert on measurement and evaluation, chairman of the ROI Institute, and consultant to many Fortune 500 companies. He facilitates workshops for major conference providers throughout the world. His most recent books are Proving the Value of HR (SHRM, Winter 2005) and Investing in Your Company’s Human Capital (AMACOM, Spring 2005). Find out more about Jack’s work at