We All Make Mistakes
It’s humbling to admit what I’m about to tell you, but more important than my ego is the discussion I hope to open up with this story. In over twelve years as a coach and even more of receiving coaching, I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve had life-changing sessions, and ones where the coach said something rude and insensitive. I’ve helped thousands of clients have breakthroughs and achieve their dreams, and I’ve said things or behaved in ways while working with people that I’ve truly regretted.
Yes, even a super experienced coach with a successful business and all the accolades still slips us and goes into their shadow side sometimes. It happened to me recently, and I woke up in my London suite before my alarm went off with a pit in my stomach. It was my intuition chiming in to announce that I needed to contact my client and apologize. In a coaching session, I had become irritated and it showed. I spoke in a way I wasn’t proud of, and I regretted not being there in loving presence for my client.
The scenario that triggered my sharpness was hearing my client bring up an issue we had been through over and over and over again. We were at least halfway through the session and everything seemed fabulous. She had made so much progress and was doing so well. Then…hearing her regress and undo what had been done, I started to lose my patience…and empathy. On the inside, I felt a big eye roll. I thought, enough already, get over it, get it together, move on! And before I knew it, I was telling her just that…in a bit of a blunt way.
Afterwards, I silently prayed she didn’t notice my irritation as I felt the wrestling within me. Oh no…what did I do? Do I need to apologize? Do I let it go? Is she going to be okay? My ego would reply, Gina, you do not need to apologize. It was the truth. It was what she needed to hear in that moment. Then, there was another voice in me that said, She’s hurting, she needs help! You need to reach out, say you’re sorry and support her!
I woke up this morning with clarity. It was in fact time for an apology. I realized this wasn’t about playing into any victim story or being weak. It didn’t matter whether or not that was what my client needed to hear. A masterful coach would have delivered the message differently. This was a moment where I needed to take personal responsibility to up my game and affirm my commitment to speaking the truth in love.
As coaches, we have to push our clients out of their comfort zones and sometimes that means being radically honest and saying something they may not want to hear. The art of coaching however, is about knowing how to have the hard conversations without making them sharp conversations. Ultimately we want everyone who walks out the door or hangs up the Skype call to feel uplifted and empowered—never torn down, ashamed or belittled.
Understanding this, apologizing actually felt like the strongest thing to do. There’s an expectation in our society that leaders are beyond error. We’ve been trained that to apologize is to admit weakness. While all of us in this community are striving to become our most enlightened selves, it is a journey and at the end of the day, we’re still humans. No matter how masterful we are, we can still mess up. When it’s from the heart, to apologize and connect to our humanity builds respect, trust and strength in any relationship.
This isn’t to let anyone off the hook for insensitive behavior, but it also isn’t about self-punishment. We all need to take responsibility for how we treat others—especially as coaches who are being looked to for guidance. But we should also allow ourselves to apologize, right the wrong and move on. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes, not to stop making them, deny them, or have them weigh us down.
On the other side of the apology, I’m looking at a higher level of forgiveness when it comes to human error. I’ve seen my own coaches at the highest levels—the same ones who helped me create so much transformation in my life—slip up and say something that I received as shaming or insensitive. I’ve noticed my knee-jerk reaction is usually, I don’t need this anymore. Nobody’s going to say that to me. I’m going to draw the line—I can take care of myself.
Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, and other times we may be happier to forgive and save the relationship. It’s like with a restaurant. You have marvelous meal after marvelous meal and proclaim it one of your favorites. Then, after one lousy dinner or one bad oyster—you’re never going back there again. Fair enough. But those people in the kitchen? They’re just human beings too.
We need to learn how to be human beings on both sides of the fence. To be humble enough to apologize, and compassionate enough to forgive. As coaches, we can be leaders and set the example by allowing ourselves to make mistakes, fail forward, continue to have a huge impact and show how strong it is to say “I’m sorry.”
Ready to practice a higher level of personal mastery in your coaching? Check out our story on How to Speak the Truth in Love.