Taking Care of Ourselves as Coaches: Bottom of the Pile?!

As Executive Coaches we quite rightly put a real focus on our clients, ensuring we are ‘match fit’ as we turn up to see them, and giving them 100%.

But do we do the same for ourselves? Or do our busy lives mean that we never quite get round to this – taking a bit of time for ourselves and recharging our batteries?


I have to admit, it took a long time for the penny to drop for me! By this I mean, if I’m putting myself ‘bottom of the pile’ – looking after everyone else first, taking care of clients’ and others’ needs – that there are actually a few problems with this.

  • First off, I can’t do it for ever, or I will burn out. No matter how strong I am and how well I think I’m coping with all the pressure!
  • Secondly, I’m not actually ‘practicing what I preach’. As I work with coaching clients to support them to live healthy work lives, deal with adversity, overcome challenges, step into their higher selves – I need to be authentic and able to do this for myself. Look after myself. Modelling this is so important, whether or not I actually articulate this with my clients.
  • Thirdly, from a systems perspective, looking after self, being resilient in the force field of organisational systems, and helping others to do this too, is so important in today’s organisations. I see ‘resilience’ appear more and more in organisations sets of competencies for their people and their leaders.

I was also interested to observe that ‘self-care’ for the coach is often a requirement of becoming professionally accredited and maintaining that accreditation.

The ‘Quality’ of What We do….our Impact

In reflecting on the topic of self-care for Coaches, I have been reminded of work I have done using Otto Scharmer’s Theory U – designing a leadership programme on his ideas – and a quote of Bill O’Brien’s, a contributor to Scharmer’s research:

“The quality of the intervention depends on the interior state of the intervenor.”

Bill O’Brien was the CEO of a successful insurance company in the US, before his untimely death in 2002. One of his key learnings, in life, and as a leader, was this: your intention, and how you’re feeling as you step into something as a leader, determines how others hear you, how others feel, and ultimately, the impact which you have on others.  It’s a pretty powerful concept!  If you’re not 100%, no matter how well you try to hide it, how brilliant you are at being strong, always giving out your energy and good intent to others, others will at some level know, and your effect is diluted, or weakened, in what you were trying to do.

‘Being Strong’ is an idea from Transactional Analysis which you may be familiar with (along with other Drivers we resort to, such as Pleasing Others, or Being Perfect). Are Coaches more likely to ‘Be Strong’, able to cope with lots of pressures, yet still give goodwill, attention, energy to their clients, such that their clients would never guess that they are not 100% that day (at least consciously anyway)?

So…what is a Coach to do?!

What will help us go against our grain – and see looking after ourselves as a valid aim, to which we need to give ‘disciplined attention’ (to coin a term from the Harvard Professor Ron Heifetz)?

My own journey, and what I pick up from my friends and colleagues and mentors in this business, points to several useful strategies! Let me summarise some of them here:

  • Firstly, understand yourself, and how you put pressure on yourself. In your very worthwhile striving to help others through coaching, how much energy are you putting in to that, and are you always ‘match fit’? What do you know about yourself, with regards to giving too much, thinking you can cope with anything and everything? What do you know about yourself with regards to rising above any challenge and keeping going in the face of challenges, which might well floor other mere mortals?!
  • Secondly, who is going to challenge you on this? Do you have a critical friend, a coach, a mentor, who helps you spot when you’re needing a bit of battery recharge time yourself?
  • Thirdly, experiment with what works for you. As we do with our clients, what will enable us to change our thinking patterns, and/or our behaviour, and/or our feelings about things? What is our resistance? What is our habitual pattern, perhaps adopted in childhood, perhaps reinforced by current work pressures and life in general? Who will help us delve into this, and support and challenge us to reassess and take action?
  • This one is a gentle note to self! What do you love doing? What re-energises you in life? This could include walking in nature, treating yourself to a wonderful meal, having a massage, meditating for 10 minutes every morning, having a half day off to walk round an art gallery….the list is endless J
  • And out of the above suggestion….what is your intuition (or indeed creativity!) around what you could do more of in your life? Have you been drawn vaguely to a concept of – doing something creative (I don’t know – it could be learning how to make bread! Or taking up a completely new hobby like learning to sail!) What is it you love about great holidays – the freedom, the new experiences, the relaxation, the time to read and reflect? Tune into what you would love to do more of, if only you had the space (and permission!) in your life. How can you find more of that in your weekly life? What are the baby steps or indeed grown up steps, you could start to take now?!

For me…I found my way into yoga, a mindfulness practice, living in a beautiful place close to nature, and having a dog who demanded so endearingly to be walked every day!


I’ve uncovered some wonderful resources along the way – mentors, peer support, mindfulness teachers happy to work via Skype, mindfulness and yoga teachers generously recommending others work via audio books and online resources. I don’t think we should be precious about what we can offer others, we live in the age of generosity around resources and content, sharing, collaboration, giving.  To acknowledge those who’ve helped me on my way (and on what is – I freely admit and now acknowledge to myself! – is an ongoing journey – as it ever is!) – here are some places you might look for inspiration and guidance:

  • Mindulness for Women book/website/audio book – free 10 min meditations
  • Journalling – Linda Monk
  • Co-Active Life Coaching – Co-Active Coaching
  • Theory U and Presencing/Deep dive – individually and in teams/organisations/communities – Otto Scharmer
  • Coaching Supervision Academy (CSA) – ethos and practice for coaching supervisors (where I undertook my Diploma in Coaching Supervision) – CSA

I’m often reminded of Eric Berne’s analogy (reference: Eric Berne, the originator of TA – Transactional Analysis) – when things have gone wrong in our lives – but it takes us a while to cotton on. He said it is like a stack of coins.  The coin we put on top of the first one, isn’t exactly on top, it’s a little bit off.  The next coin is again, just a tiny bit off.  As we keep adding coins, potentially over years and years, the stack starts to bend, and at some stage, inevitably, topples.  Each time, it was only a tiny, tiny thing.  But over time, it’s huge.  And it will topple.  It kind of has to, at some stage.  And that’s the hard thing, because each little bit we can tolerate and cope with.





Wendy will be running a series of CPD workshops for coaches in Glasgow, Belfast and Cork over the coming year. The first one is entitled ‘Bottom of the Pile?!’ – a workshop exploring self-care for Coaches.  In this she will present a framework for how we can think about self-care.  In the safety of a small group setting, she will explore what self-care means for us as Coaches, and the barriers to it.  She will also enable participants to experiment with self-care techniques, enabling each coach to leave with clear take-aways.  And, the workshop in itself is a wonderful ‘time for me’ experience!

First Workshop: Belfast 29th November 2-5pm; The Mount Conference Centre.

For more details and to book your place, please contact Linda Harkins: linda@taylorclarke.co.uk or +44 (0) 141 221 1707.

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1 Response to Taking Care of Ourselves as Coaches: Bottom of the Pile?!

  1. Alistair Brown says:

    This great Wendy, thanks for sharing

    Sent from my iPhone

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