Coaching Skills: Take a Page from Mother Goose

Think back to when you were a young tyke facing that dreaded time of day: Bedtime.

You grasped every excuse to get out of going to bed: I need another glass of water, I need to brush my teeth again, I forgot to give my little sister a night-night kiss. Really?

But mom and dad, shrewd operators that they are, often replied, “How bout a story?”

It’s true, we’re hardwired to love a good story, whether it’s a Mother Goose classic, a chilling tale around the campfire, a gripping page-turner or a spine-tingling movie. And we enjoy listening to a good storyteller, so a well-crafted, well-told story can help you connect with your client in surprisingly profound ways. 

An effective coach spends time learning how to be a good storyteller, knows when telling a story will serve to illustrate a specific point, and why the stories she tells will resonate with her client. Your success as a coach will rely on your ability to tell moving and authentic stories that help connect you to your client as the person who can help guide them to achieving their authentic goals. 

The stories you tell should be credible and relevant. Whether you use real-life examples, allegories or metaphors, the stories must demonstrate that you are in the moment, you are actively listening, you’ve heard them and you understand what they want to get out of coaching. You get it, and you get them!

Irrelevant stories sound concocted and forced, square pegs to the round holes. If your choice of tales, and your ability to tell them sound inauthentic, the coaching session will be a bust, you will lose credibility, and you will be deemed just another money-grubbing fake.

Storytelling is a tool, one of the many in the professional money coach’s bag.

It’s one that doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but one that must be cultivated as a leading communication device, one that connects in a meaningful and believable way.

A good place to kick start your learning is StorySelling for Financial Advisors, by Scott West and Mitch Anthony, Kaplan Publishing, 2000.

First published in 2000, the book was written for licensed financial advisors, but the two decades-old reference can help money coaches get a good start on understanding the importance of being a solid storyteller, how to become a skilled at the art and how to make the stories you tell relevant to your client’s situation.


Great Coaches Ask Great Questions

Coaches ask questions. 


Because a coach is not a teacher. A coach is not a trainer. A coach does not tell a client what to do. 

A great coach asks lots of questions to help their clients find the answers within themselves. And they help their clients discover how to keep moving forward by staying accountable to achieving their greatest goals in life.

It’s not only important to know which questions to ask, it’s equally important to know when to ask them. That is, which are the most relevant questions to ask at this moment.

Being in the moment is an essential skill for the professional coach, and while all of your past coaching sessions are relevant to the client’s here-and-now, and each session should build on the previous ones.

But it is today’s session that keeps your client moving forward.

If you are a coaching client, ask yourself: Have you slid back or lost momentum since your last session? Or have you taken an important leap forward in your self-understanding? Have you remained accountable to doing the work required to find a better path?

A coach does not tell a client what to do.

Only by being in the moment, only by being present at today’s session can you and your coach assess where you are right now. Staying grounded in the moment requires your coach to ask, and you to respond to the many deceptively powerful questions that can move you forward, for instance:

What’s changed since last we spoke?

What’s on your mind today? Anything else?

What would help you right now?

What’s been the most useful thing that we’ve talked about so far?

What do you want to get out of today’s session?

What has been the real challenge for you so far?

You seem to be holding back a bit. Can you tell me more?

As you can see, none of these questions are about money. Each question focuses on you, the client, not the money. How do you feel right now?  What are you thinking right now? What’s bothering you or making you happy, right now?

As strange as this may sound in the context of personal finances, as we explore each client’s relationship with life and with money, knowing you is far more important than knowing about your money!


Always be closing?

It’s a tense and iconic scene.

The lives of four deceptive Chicago real estate salesmen are thrown into chaos when sales manager Blake (Alec Baldwin), the literal angel of death, is sent in by his bosses, Mitch and Murray, to execute a special evening sales meeting, an intervention and final warning for the losers at Premiere Properties. Only Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) is lighting up the sales board because he’s the top closer (or is he?).

The entire meeting consists of the highly offensive Blake unleashing a torrent of abusive epithets and threats if the loser salesmen don’t start closing sales. When the laggards complain the leads are weak, he merely engages in more humiliation, name calling and threats. “The leads are weak? You’re weak!”

Weakness, and one’s innate ability to spot it and profit from it, is a major theme of the story.

The good leads, the Glengarry leads, like the office coffee, he coolly explains, are for closers. “Only one thing counts in this life! Get them to sign on the line which is dotted!” he says, and then follows with the existential credo, “A-B-C. A-Always. B-Be. C-Closing. Always be closing!”

If you’ve ever had a sales job, you have undoubtedly had to endure some ham-handed, second-rate sales manager attempting to fire up the troops by quoting liberally from Baldwin’s scene-stealing oratory in Glengarry Glen Ross, but to address his assertion that you should always be closing, should you?

I maintain that a solid business developer should switch from an A-B-C mindset to an N-B-C mindset: N-B-C.

N-Never.  B-Be.  C-Closing.  Never be closing!

“Wait, how can I get sales if I don’t close?” you may ask.

If you’ve researched your chosen niche, and if you’ve qualified your prospect who resides in the niche, if you ask powerful questions that elicit heartfelt answers about their wants and needs, and if you create small agreements along the way as you travel down the initial path of relationship building, if you did all that correctly, then you will never have to close. 

Easy, right?


Deception has no place in coaching.

Manipulation has no place in coaching. 

Why is Ricky Roma the top closer at Premiere Properties? Because he isn’t closing at all. Roma is a predator. He sizes up a room and then stalks the weakest mark. Closing techniques.? Leave them for the losers.

Look at what he did with prospect/prey James Lingk (actor Jonathan Pryce).

Roma harnesses the power of his own preternatural instincts to snare his prey, who reveals his weakness, a deep seated inferiority complex. And then Roma pounces so smoothly that Lingk never saw him coming.  Roma exploited the man’s insecurities, and got him to sign on the line which is dotted.

Every scene between Roma and Lingk is a masterclass in deception and predatory behavior (and acting). I won’t say anything more about this multi-award-winning David Mamet stage play-turned-film, because I would spoil the joy of seeing it for yourself, and if you haven’t, rent it immediately. Glengarry Glen Ross... | Blended coffee, Coffee humor, Art pictures

Like Roma, a great coach understands how to find what makes their clients tick, but in an honest and caring way. She makes it her business to know what gets them out of bed in the morning, what makes them want to repeatedly face the world’s challenges every day. But a strong coach, it should go without saying, is never digging deep just to get a sale.

Deception has no place in coaching. Manipulation has no place in coaching. 

Genuinely wanting to help someone get to a better place is the only goal of establishing a professional coaching relationship. Money coaching is a world where sales manipulations and closing techniques will out your prospective coach as just another charlatan, someone just in it for the money. 

So, some tips to my professional coaching colleagues:

Never be closing.

Always be caring.

Always be listening.

Always be asking powerful questions.

Always be the person who can help your client change their future.