Coaching performance anxiety

Guest post by Amanda Alexander

Recently, one of my coach clients, Belinda, told me:

“I’ve got two new clients, and with one of them, it’s going really well, but with the other one, I don’t know if she’s getting value from me. I don’t know if I’m helping her enough.”

She went on to explain that the second client was in a very tricky situation, and Belinda was worried that she had not been able to move her forward.

Belinda could be any one of new coaches. One of the most frequent concerns that coaches raise with me is that they aren’t good enough as a Coach. They worry that they are:

  • Not asking the most incisive or powerful questions
  • Not moving the client forward fast enough
  • Not getting the client over disempowering beliefs
  • Not getting the client to achieve their goals fast enough
  • or simply that their COACHING per se is not good enough.

Performance anxiety as a coach is very common, for good reason: Most of us are naturally compassionate and most of us really want to make a difference. Most of us also have egos, too: we want their clients to make life-changing shifts—fast!

Performance anxiety becomes more acute with the lexicon of achievement that follows the coaching process: GOALS, RESULTS, OUTCOMES. These goals, results and outcomes should also be MEASURABLE, TANGIBLE and FAST…


Coaches fear that they won’t be able to provide their client with a return on their investment from coaching. To make matters even worse, there are many people who use the word coaching interchangeably with consulting and mentoring and even training.

Yet there’s a world of difference between, let’s say, teaching someone to drive and coaching them to be more confident. The former has a definite outcome: the driver passes their driving test. We can try to measure the latter by asking questions to get clear on what confidence means to our client, such as

“How will you know you’re more confident?”


“What will other people notice if you’re more confident?”

Nonetheless, the results from coaching someone to be more confident is still going to be less tangible and less easy to measure than teaching someone to pass their driving test.

So, it’s important to remember this: you are NOT responsible for your client’s results. You ARE responsible for creating a safe space for the client. Your role is to recognize that the client as whole and resourceful and as someone who is able to find their own answers. As a coach, you are not the creator of their masterpiece; your role is to give them the blank canvas upon which THEY can create that masterpiece and to offer them the paint to do so. You don’t pick the colors and you don’t tell them what to paint.

In my coaching contract, there is a paragraph about the nature of coaching. All my clients sign this contract before we start work together:

“The nature of coaching: The client is aware that coaching is no way to be construed as psychological counseling or therapy of any type. Coaching results are not guaranteed. The client enters into coaching with the full understanding that they are responsibility for creating their own results. The coach will engage in direct and personal conversations. The client can count on the coach to be honest and straightforward in asking questions and making requests.”

There are many skills to coaching—such as questioning, requesting, strategizing. Of course, there is also an art—an art that we master the more we practice. However, if you haven’t been practicing the art of coaching for very long, a few tips can go a long way.

7 ways to get the better of performance anxiety

Here are seven things that have helped me over the past 14 years to diminish performance anxiety as a coach:

  1. Show up completely for your client—be fully present. For the period of your coaching session, focus on your client as if they are the only person in the world who matters.
  2. When in doubt, shut up and listen.
  3. Tune into your inner child—ask questions out of genuine curiosity.
  4. Let go of your ego, of the need to prove yourself. If you find yourself thinking “This would be a great question to ask,” then chances are, you’re focusing on your performance, rather than on your client’s agenda.
  5. In ballroom or Latin American dancing, the female partner is “led” by her male partner. Think of coaching as dancing: you, dear coach, are the female dancer in this relationship. Once you’ve agreed to the agenda, be led by your partner—your client.
  6. The more you can let go of the need to prove yourself to your client, the more powerful your coaching will become.
  7. And my favorite of all is Michael Neill’s analogy “Even a lamp post will do.” If you find yourself worrying about your performance, this will help! I recall Neill saying, many years ago, that even if a man walked out onto the street and spoke to a lamp post every day for a week about his issue, he would still make progress with the issue.

You can stop worrying about how good your coaching is right now.

Because YOU are better than a lamp post!

(First published on the ICF global website, Feb 2017)

Amanda Alexander is a multi-award winning Coach and Founder of Amanda has been coaching for over 14 years and has been cited as one of the UK’s Top Life Coaches in the British Press. Her personal clients are professional women who have big ambitions but who need to “get out of their own way” first. Amanda works with her corporate clients primarily to help them retain talented women. Amanda remembers what it’s like to feel overwhelmed when trying to get your coaching practice off the ground. So she is offering you her FREE workbook to make it simpler. “Create New Coaching Clients in 15 Minutes a Day” is based on 14 easy tactics Amanda has used herself and with her own coach clients over and again. Some of them are so simple, you might have to suspend disbelief! You can get the workbook here. You’ll also get a complimentary subscription to Inspire, Amanda’s newsletter created to add a touch of “fizz” to your Friday!

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

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