In the last in this series, Clare Norman looks at unhelpful mindsets in coaching and examines more helpful ones
Part 8: Mindsets we learned from coaching experience that we need to discard to be a more masterful coach


As we’ve practised coaching, we may have built some additional beliefs and mindsets. Some of those will be really useful, and some will not. Through my field research, I’ve discovered 12 mindsets that we learned from our experience as a coach that we need to discard as we step into coaching. I’ll cover three more of them here.


  • Old mindset: Start from the end of the last session
  • New mindset: They’re now a different person

In their practice, coaches re-read their notes from the last session to recall where the thinker got to, and particularly what actions they committed to. However, you don’t need to remember where the thinker got to at the end of the last session, or what the thinker said they would do next. It’s perfectly acceptable to have ‘amnesia’ – this is their stuff, not yours. They’re responsible for remembering (or not) where they got to, and where they’ve progressed since. They’ll have moved on since then anyway.

They’re a different person as a result of whatever they chose to do (or not do). They’ve made choices that brought them to this new place. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, as the saying goes. If you hold on to where they got to last time and ask a question from that vantage point, you’ll be taking them backwards, not forwards. Hence, ask instead, ‘What have you learned about yourself since we last met?’ as part of the opening of a new coaching session to move their learning forward.


  • Old mindset: Work on the presenting problem
  • New mindset: The presenting problem is rarely the problem

No matter how comprehensively the coaching agreement is taught by training schools, I notice that as coaches practise in the real world, they seem to skirt over the coaching agreement to get to the ‘real work’.

In discussion with one coach, she said she didn’t like pinning people down too much at the beginning of a session because she knew that what came up at the start wasn’t necessarily what needed to be worked on. She’s right – and we still need a contract for the presenting problem, because the clearer we get on what it is and isn’t, the more likely the real problem is to emerge.

If you were simply to run with the first thing the thinker says they want to talk about, you’d likely be working on something superficial and transactional. Indeed, without questions such as: ‘What will be different by the time we finish here today?’, and ‘How will you know you have got what you need by the end of our X minutes?’, you’re likely to get lost and meander because you won’t have focus – or you might each understand something different as the focus.

You also need to keep a constant eye out for changes to the contract, as the coaching rarely goes in a straight line: Where does the thinker’s thinking take them? Do the two of you need to recontract for a new direction? For example: ‘You said at the beginning you wanted to think about X; we seem to now be talking about Y… what path do we need to take from here?’ and if they decide to take route Y, ask them to recontract to establish a new focus.

In addition to checking the pathway that you’re taking, you also need to look under the covers. The presenting problem will be suffused with beliefs, assumptions, feelings and values. This may be where the transformational work is hiding in plain sight. You need to listen for tell-tale signals about how this thinker thinks, feels, assumes, what they believe and value. Maybe there are some limiting beliefs in there.

I’m currently sharpening my edge around noticing when a thinker is diminishing themselves. It happens more than you think. If they continue to minimise themselves, the demanding work of change will be even harder as they won’t believe in themselves, so this is where the real work is – the work that must happen before the presenting problem can be resolved.

The mindset here is not to rush to resolve the presenting issue, but to continue to listen for clues that the path is merging onto a different route, and/or that the two of you need to get under the covers. Meet the thinker where they are, and recognise that coaching is not all about productivity or task, which are often the presenting issues.


  • Old mindset: Building trust takes time
  • New mindset: Cut to the chase‘Don’t expect too much, too soon… Build trust gradually… Trust takes time’

These are just three of the expressions I found in an Internet search, which back up the mindset that trust takes time. There may be occasions when this is true, such as in the sales process. Building trust with new potential clients can take a number of interactions over a protracted period of time.

But in coaching, the thinker has chosen to work with you, so there is trust already. They’ll have checked out your biography or profile, and from that decided that you have credible experience – your authority, as Hawkins and Smith (2013) call it.

They’ll have met you for a chemistry meeting to check out your presence. And if you’ve included some coaching in that chemistry session, they’ll have checked out your
impact and ability to enable them to shift in some way – so, they trust you enough to make a decision to work with you. This means they trust you enough to cut to the chase, so that they can get value for their investment.

What does that phrase mean, ‘cut to the chase’? The saying originated from early silent film, and was one of film and television producer and director, Hal Roach’s favourite expressions to get the story to move along – to the chase. You can just imagine him saying, ‘cut that bit out and let’s cut to the chase’!

In coaching, ‘cut to the chase’ means:

  • getting really clear in each and every session as to what the thinker wants to walk away with
  • interrupting them to check whether their storytelling is useful to them, or if they might be better served by focusing on new thinking
  • asking them about their assumptions, beliefs and values
  • challenging them when they discount themselves
  • challenging them about their own agency when they fall into victim mode or talk about how others need to change.

In coaching, cutting to the chase doesn’t mean cutting to the action. If you go there too soon, you’ll be missing valuable data that informs better actions or experiments later in the session.


Series close
This brings the series to a close. In these eight articles, we have looked at 24 mindset shifts that we may need to make in order to step into coaching mastery. Mindset change is a prerequisite of skillset change, so I urge you to look at your own in-built mindsets with a view to updating them for your role as coach, where different mindsets are necessary.



  • Sought out as a master mentor coach by expert coaches and successful coach training companies, Clare Norman looks to continually sharpen individuals’ coaching edge and upskill mentor coaches so they deliver high quality feedback to their coaches-in-training: www.clarenormancoachingassociates.com



  • P Hawkins and N Smith, Coaching, Mentoring and Organisational Consultancy, Supervision and Development (2nd ed), Maidenhead, UK:
    Open University Press, 2013
  • This article is based on an extract from The Transformational Coach: Free Your Thinking and Break Through to Coaching Mastery, published by Right Book Press. You can order your copy here: https://amzn.to/3zulBch