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Fierce Coaching

By Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg,
Richard Michaels & Sharon Brown

Coaching for Transformation
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Coaching as a profession attracts deeply compassionate, nurturing people who don’t always know when to bring out the hard edge. Fierce coaching can be a challenge for those naturally drawn to empathy and encouragement. Coaching requires courage, and fierce coaching is a test of that courage.

Instead of avoiding behaviors that feel uncomfortable, we take risks for the sake of our clients. If we step into fierceness and push ourselves, we bring aliveness and deeper trust into the coaching relationship.

Fierce coaching builds on the work of Frank Farrelly, a therapist dissatisfied with his effectiveness, who developed provocative coaching by exploring new procedures for promoting change in chronic and recalcitrant clients. Rather than using the same old techniques, fierce coaching moves us out on our growing edge as a coach. Instead of relying on what consistently works for us, we stretch ourselves and increase our range by trying new ways of interacting with clients. We can wake up their power by taking risks. If we usually make them toe the line, experiment with creating soft, loving, intimate space. If we habitually offer warmth and support, we can try a crisp, “let’s get moving” approach. If you routinely empathize, try radical honesty.

Examples of Fierce Coaching

Carmelita: I’m wondering if I should take a leap and confront my boss about his bias against younger employees?

Coach: You already know the answer to that question.

Newt: If I had the guts, I’d leave this job.

Coach: So let me see if I have this right. You’re staying in this job so you can be miserable? For the rest of your life?

Nadia: It seems like I am spinning my wheels. I’m sick of it.

Coach: So am I.

Trevor: I’ve never been good with people.

Coach: Until now.

Suze: I have no idea how to be a good ally.

Coach: My b.s. detector just went off. You know exactly what to do.

Niko: My mother has all the power.

Coach: So when are you going to start driving your own boat?

Joe: So I slammed my fist on the table, told them I wouldn’t take no for an answer and threw my phone across the room.

Coach: Sending them an unequivocal message… that you just want to be loved?

Gretchen: I lost so many years when I was sick. All of my friends have achieved big things, and I’m so far behind. Nothing has gone right since my Dad died eight years ago.

Coach: This comes up in many of our coaching sessions. Haven’t you had enough of feeling powerless? What are you going to do about it right now?

These short coaching dialogues are some of the countless ways to use fierceness to call out the power of the client. Connecting with our client’s power happens in the moment. Responding from a real, empowered place inside, we stay alert to possibilities.

Particularly when clients are stuck coaching on the same issue week after week, consider playing the devil’s advocate, spearing old belief systems, making mischief, finding humor, off ering outrageous suggestions or holding silence for a very, very long time.

Some examples of fierce language:

You’ve told yourself this for how long?

What’s wrong with that?

If that happens, you’ll probably die.

So why do you bother?

Either it’s your karma or you’re in a bad soap opera.

Each of these phrases sounds antithetical to coaching, but delivered with care, they can move people out of a rut quickly. Whether they’re shocked, shaken, confused or angry, clients have breakthroughs simply because you love them enough to jolt them into discovering their own insights. Behaviors that seem absolutely impossible to change, suddenly become so repulsive that people can’t change fast enough.

Be prepared

Fierce language might have an undesirable impact. What if clients tighten up, shut down or retreat toward safety? If you’ve backed them into a corner, stop. We can change the focus of our energy, create more space, back away physically and share our own vulnerability. We can name what is happening in the moment, “It looks like what I’m doing is actually making it harder for you. I’m going to shift and wonder what you need to re-establish trust.” Transparent with our feelings, we support connection. As we enroll them in exploring what’s alive for them now, we can reconnect by identifying the values they want to honor.

If we have set up an agreement that we’re both going to take risks at the beginning of the coaching relationship, we can celebrate how small failures contribute to the long-term trust and ultimate transformation.

Coaching has its challenges. As we fully support clients by being present to their feelings, dreams and goals, we simultaneously challenge their limiting beliefs. How can we be supportive, empathetic champions and fearless truth tellers at the same time? We look to clients for the focus, agenda and goals, and simultaneously hold our agenda in order to serve them fully.

Calling out our client’s power often requires us to act in ways that are uncomfortable. We may bring more intense intimacy and connection. We may be fierce, forceful or challenging. We may slow down and create spaciousness. Or speak louder, softer, faster, or slower than usual. We may do things that stimulate discomfort in our clients. It’s all part of coaching.

Notice that clients who are fully in their power won’t always feel upbeat, cheerful or happy. They can be grieving, hurting or angry and at the same time powerful.

Questions to Consider

What is your growing edge for fierce coaching?

How can you take yourself to the edge and beyond?

What was the impact of experimenting with this technique?


Excerpt from the book Coaching for Transformation: Pathways to Ignite Personal & Social Change by Martha Lasley, Virginia Kellogg, Richard Michaels and Sharon Brown. As faculty at Leadership that Works, they certify coaches who offer personal, organization and community transformation. Check out the free Power of Coaching teleclass.

Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

Leadership that Works

Transforming the world.
One heart at a time.

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