Just Between Coaches
Dependency – Do Your Coaching Clients Depend on You Too Much? (Jim Wright)
July 17, 2021
The coach should equip clients with the skills and confidence to navigate their journey. But what if your client starts showing signs of dependency? Host Melinda Cohan and coaching colleague Jim Wright explore how to recognize and navigate this issue.
Episode summary: All coaches recognize that they should be helping their clients become more competent and self-reliant. If the coaching relationship isn’t doing that, it’s very likely that the client will become overly dependent. Coaches can, subconsciously, have an economic incentive to ignore the problem of client dependency, creating a potential conflict of interest. It’s natural for them to want to expand their business, but the best coaches put their clients’ interests first. 

A coach should equip their clients with the skills and confidence to navigate their own journey. But what if your client starts showing signs of dependency, and wants you to tell them what to do and how to do it? What then? 

Melinda Cohan, our senior coach and host, invites Jim Wright, a coach for course creators at Mirasee, to talk about how to recognize and navigate dependency. They’ll discuss what dependency is and is not, and how coaches can establish necessary boundaries.

In this episode we discuss:

“I think as a coach, probably the single biggest gift you can give someone is to let them know that they can do it, that they have that power.– Jim Wright

Resources or websites mentioned in this episode:
  1. Mirasee 
  2. Coaches Console 

Guest Coach Bio:
A writer, teacher, coach, and advocate for clarity in communication, Jim joined Mirasee as a course-building coach in 2018.  Through teaching, Jim has been coaching and supporting students for over 20 years, both online and in the classroom. 

An accomplished musician, he has been playing drums and singing in a career that has spanned over 31 years, performing in everything from marching bands and musicals to country and rock bands.

In his spare time, Jim speaks on a variety of topics including online and email marketing, WordPress website design, and search engine optimization. Jim’s hobbies and interests include sailing, chess, audio, and video production, trying to keep his French current, and learning Mandarin Chinese.
Jim lives in beautiful Perth, Ontario, Canada, with his wife Cindy and their two children Maxim and Madeleine.

Jim Wright


Call-to-action: If you don't want to miss future episodes of Just Between Coaches, please subscribe to Apple podcasts or Spotify or wherever you're listening right now. And if you liked the show, please leave us a starred review. It's the best way to help us get these ideas to more people.

If you have a question for Just Between Coaches, put the show title in the subject line and send it to podcasts@mirasee.com

Music and SFX credits: 

Track Title: Clouds
Artist Name(s): Acreage
Writer Name: Marshall Usinger

Track Title: Coastline Dream
Artist Name(s): Wild Sky
Writer Name: Adam Simons

Track Title: Coo Coos
Artist Name(s): Dresden, The Flamingo
Writer Name: Matthew Wigton

Track Title: Stars & Trees
Artist Name(s): Outside The Sky
Writer Name: Dustin Ransom

Episode transcript: Dependency - Do Your Clients Depend on You Too Much? (Jim Wright)
[00:00:01] Signature sound: Mirasee
[00:00:06] Jim Wright: as we get older we get more and I don't know if it's, you know, societal pressure or peer pressure, but we, we don't want to look like, we don't know what we're doing, we don't like to make mistakes, we don't want to look stupid so that freezes us I think and you just want somebody to give it to you or give you the solution or do it for you.

[00:00:32] Melinda Cohan: Hello and welcome to just between coaches, the podcast that tackles difficult coaching conversations. Head on. My name is Melinda Cohen and I run a business called the Coaches Console. The Coaches Console has supported more than 50,000 entrepreneurs and creating their own profitable coaching business.

Today we're going to talk about an interesting and important topic, a subject you'll have to dive into if you're a coach or thinking of becoming one, I'm talking about dependency, but first let's define dependency from my perspective. It's the inability to move forward without someone or something being present. Like a coach should equip their clients to navigate themselves on their own journey. Clients shouldn't require me to tell them what to do or how to do it. I actually tell my clients this when they hire me, I say if I do my job at the end of our, let's say, three month agreement, you won't need me anymore, you might need me for a different topic, but you won't need me for this particular topic.

And so I start out with the transparency so that they know right out of the gate that this is about empowering them to navigate their life to talk about dependency. Today I've invited Jim Wright. Jim has been helping and supporting clients for 20 years, he has also a coach for course creators at Mirasee.

But before I bring Jim: on, I'm going to read an email from a listener that reflects today's topic. As I've said in other episodes, unless you tell me otherwise, any email that you send me that we read on the air will be anonymous. We want to encourage you to be open about what's troubling you without worrying about what your clients might think. Here's what anonymous had to say:

Dear Melinda, I have a delicate question. One of my clients is innately insecure about how to handle the back end of his business. We are working on getting a structured management process in place. However, I believe he is becoming too dependent on me to reassure him on every decision he has to make. I've told him that I am not a business advisor per se. But I need your help, he says, when I bring it up. This situation got me thinking about the thin line between boundaries and dependency. I need him financially as a client and he needs me to hold his hand. There has to be a line somewhere, but it's blurred for me at the moment. Can you help me when is enough enough?”

Dear Anonymous, thank you for your email first. It is very important that we, as coaches understand. It's our responsibility to check our egos at the door before any meeting with any client team or group because our ego will love that they depend on us and think thoughts like, oh yeah, they need me and so they can become a long-term client. I'm going to make a lot of money like those kinds of thoughts, but that's not the space of coaching. We should be focused on empowering our clients. That's our job as coaches today. On just between coaches is our guest Jim: Wright. Jim: is a coach for course creators that Mirasee. Welcome Jim!

[00:03:56] Jim: Thank you. It's my pleasure to be here.

[00:03:58] Melinda: So great to have you here now. Jim, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background just to give our listeners a picture of who you are and where you come from?

[00:04:08] Jim: Well, there's a lot of answers to that question. I've been… most of my life has been spent as a professional musician. However, over the past 20 years or so, I've been teaching, coaching or instructing students of all ages, over many years in many different disciplines.

[00:04:25] Melinda: Now, to start off our conversation, can you give us your view on what dependency is and is not?

[00:04:31] Jim: My view of dependency, I guess is it's a function of the relationship really, and and a bit of the dynamic in there, whether it's kind of cooperative or kind of teacher student in a way. I always tell my students in my classes that I've never seen the teacher student relationship is adversarial. I always consider us to be kind of on the same team. And a lot of it is in the power dynamic I think of establishing the fact that you are there to help and not necessarily to, you know, provide the answer. So part of my job in a way is not to kind of foster that thing where there than, you know, they need something and I provided to them. But it's a question of discovering it together, if that makes sense?

[00:05:21] Melinda: Yeah, it does. And one of the things that I think is important that we know what hat were wearing right? Am I wearing the head of the coach to help guide and navigate them? Like you said in that self-discovery or am I putting on the hat of the consultant because they just need a piece of information that I already know and I'm just going to tell it to them or am I the teacher or a mentor? Like what hat I'm wearing really drives the like you said the function of the relationship.

[00:05:52] Jim: Yeah. It's it's interesting because one of the quotes that I think about is um and I think it's a baby and child care by Doctor Spock, you know and that's typically a book that you know new parents would read when they're expecting and they're worried they don't know anything. But I think the first quote in that book actually says trust yourself, you know more than you think you do. It's about setting the expectations right at the beginning um of of what the role is and how that dynamic is gonna work right? They are in the driver's seat and you are there to help and guide. And I think that dependency can come when they just look to you for the answers because that's a very, it's almost kind of if you let that go, it's kind of what they call that learned helplessness, right? And then they see that dependency of I need this person to do this for me and if that dynamic never changes then they'll always have that dependency.

[00:06:50] Melinda: So let me ask you this Jim, what are some of the indicators or signs that a client might be becoming dependent on you?

[00:06:59] Jim: Well, I think it's you can tell a little bit by the questions they ask. If you get questions like you know I'm thinking of doing this, what do you think or or this thing happened and you know, I was going to do this, Do you think that's the right choice? Write to me? Those types of questions are from somebody who's who's trying to figure out and it's just a little unsure when they just say things like what do I do here? Um you know, what's my next step to me? Those are real indicators that they're not trying to do it on their own, that they're coming to you first before they thought about the answer. And to me those are good indicators that perhaps they are, you know, in that dependency state.

[00:07:42] Melinda: Yeah. And that's, you know, when I opened up, I was talking about as coaches, we have to check your ego at the door because when that starts happening, if we're not mindful of this, that's when we will really enjoy that they're seeking our input and we will stop coaching and start telling and that serves nobody for the long term. Right? And I love what you said about the learned helplessness because that can be a pattern not just for whatever topic I might be coaching the client around, but it's probably a pattern, you know, one of my sayings is how you do one thing is how you do everything and so this is probably a pattern in other parts of their life as well and it's as a coach, I like to see where we can interrupt those patterns because it's going to help them create different outcomes in the future. What do you think the roots of dependency are?

[00:08:37] Jim: Well, I think it would be insecurity, I would think, you know, fear, it'll be fear of some kind fear of making mistakes, Fear of failure um that paralyzes a lot of people and moving forward, you know, that's why that's why I think kids are such great learners because they're not afraid to make mistakes. You know, they'll, they'll fall down, they'll get up and they'll keep going uh and they don't worry about that. But I think as we get older, we get more and I don't know if it's, you know, societal pressure or peer pressure, but we, we don't want to look like, we don't know what we're doing. We don't like to make mistakes, we don't want to look stupid. So that freezes us, I think and stops us from doing things that where you might have to take that risk and you're so unsure that you don't want a mistake that you don't even want to try. You just want somebody to give it to you or give you the solution or do it for you.

[00:09:30] Melinda: Yeah, that's like perfectionism. You're trying to aim for that and and get the answer so you can accomplish it. One of the things I love doing with my clients is acting as if as a way to research and it's like for the next 24 hours, if you were to make X, Y. Z. Decision act as if you've made that decision. And what are you noticing about the way you feel the way you think the way you're speaking, the way you're interacting with others and let that inform you before you actually make the decision. And that kind of gives room for research and discovery to uh squish that fear of making mistakes.

[00:10:10] Jim: Mhm. I think as a coach that's probably the single biggest gift you can give someone is to let them know that they that they can do it. That they have that power. I think it was was it the Wizard of Oz where they told Dorothy at the end you've had the power to go back the whole time, and she just didn't realize it, right? And I think part of the jobs, the coaches to make people discover that, and it may be that at the beginning, you know, maybe Dorothy wasn't ready to go back at that point, and maybe the people you're coaching are not ready to, you know, to handle that power right away, but to let them know that they have it and to let them know that they can get it together on their own and it's just as much teaching them to have faith in themselves and their abilities as it is providing them the solution to something. Yeah,

[00:10:59] Melinda: Now, I also think it's important to really define dependency because, you know, as a coach, you can have a long term client, they're not dependent, but their long term, right? I've worked with one of my clients uh for almost 2.5 years, right? And it wasn't because she couldn't get results in her life. It was because the coaching was going so well. She was like okay now help me over here in this area and then it's like okay now let's work on that Melinda and I was empowering her with tools and strategies, different resources and techniques that would equip her to navigate different areas of her life. But the danger comes when that client wants to be reassured on every decision. So the dependency happens before they take action. Not after. Have you ever found that with any of your clients?

[00:11:47] Jim: Um not in that exact scenario. And I think part of that too, it depends on the person, right? If you have a client who is a lifelong who considers them a lifelong learner and they're always looking to new things and to grow, then yes, they're probably going to need that coaching over a longer period of time. So to me, when you it it matters, I guess it matters what type of person you have and you know what their desire to keep learning is because to me learning as an adventure that never ends right? But it just depends, you know, how far you want to go down that road and how many new things you want to learn and master and you know, in that scenario, I think you can go on and on in a coaching relationship, but I don't think that's dependency at that point. That's just, you know, enjoying the relationship, enjoying the learning and just loving learning new things and just continuing to go down that path.

[00:12:42] Melinda: Yeah. And like you said, mastery. Your your deepening your ability to interact or be involved with the situation or on a topic. And so I like that distinction. It's not dependency, it's it's mastery.

[00:12:54] Jim: Yeah. Because some things you truly can never master, right? So, so there's an opportunity for that learning to go on. And then I think, I think that's okay and we talked a little bit earlier about the, you know, the signs where it starts to turn into dependency, where you see that they're not they're not trying to move the ball down the field themselves, but they're just, you know, asking you how do I do this? I'm you know, you know, what's the answer to this problem? You know, when you start to see questions like that creep in, then that's a sign that perhaps you're drifting back into that dependency.

[00:13:27] Melinda: Well, now let me ask you this, like, let's go back to what anonymous said about boundaries independency. What boundaries does anonymous need to set when when they start to notice that happening?

[00:13:39] Jim: Well again to me a lot of these things come with expectations. So ideally you know you would set those expectations down at the very beginning, But like they say the best time to plant an oak tree was 20 years ago and the second best time is today. So you can start to perhaps change your answers when they ask you things like what do I do now? Right? Instead of giving them the answer, you could say well what do you think you should do now? You know what do you see is the path forward and get them thinking, you know get them using that problem solving muscles in troubleshooting muscles because that's a skill like anything else. And it's and it's a skill you have to develop, you can't just say you know, do it this way from now on, right? It takes practice um like anything else and when you start to get into that relationship or you start to see those indicators or you start to think that there is dependency going on, a lot of it really, that in terms of correcting it is one to be aware that that's happening um and look for those indicators because they're going to be there, it's just a question of are you, are you looking for them, are you aware of them? And then really start to you know, communicate in the relationship as if they had that skill that you want them to have all along um and then start to ask them questions in a different way that gets them thinking about what they should be doing rather than just accustomed to getting the answer from you.

[00:15:12] Melinda: Well, I was about to ask you what tools could coaches used to help their clients become more confident, but I think you just laid it out like being paying attention to the indicators then you said as a coach, be aware that something is happening, communicate as if they already have that skill set and asked them different questions. Is that how you just described that, yep, are there any other tools that coaches could use to help their clients be more confident? Like as they're researching and discovering their own abilities?

[00:15:44] Jim: Well, one of the things I I found is people will, and this happens typically when there's a long road ahead. I I kind of call it the rear view mirror effect where there's a long road ahead and a lot of things to learn, I find that people don't take the time to kind of look back and see what they have achieved and and look at the milestones that they have reached. And I think putting a little bit of focus on that as well and making them realize that yes, they're they're not where they need to be right now, but look where you are and look where you were when we started, you know, let them evaluate and appreciate some of the milestones they've achieved. Let them appreciate and acknowledge some of the little winds and victories that they've had. And I think if you can highlight the successes that they've had, um you know, whether they're wins big or small, I don't consider wins big or small, I just consider winds to be wins. Uh and that will help give them confidence, you know, and because you want them to start having the thought of, well maybe I can do that, you know, maybe I, maybe I can figure this out, you know, I still need a little help, but maybe I can figure this out. And I think it's how you kind of feed them that input and put a little spotlight on, on what they have done, that's right on what they have done, that's that's um worthy of them having confidence in.

[00:17:07] Melinda: I love that, and it reminds me of like the steam engine, like at first, as you highlight those successes or you acknowledge a certain milestone, you're just starting to pick up speed, but that helps to gain momentum for the clients so that they keep going especially through even more difficult things. I love that analogy. I'm curious Jim:, have you ever found yourself dependant on a coach?

[00:17:31] Jim: Well, that's a good question, I think not that I remember, but that doesn't mean it doesn't, it doesn't happen or it hasn't happened. I think it's a natural thing. I think in a way to just want the solution to something you know to say, yeah, this is, this is all well and good, but what do I do? Right? Because sometimes you don't want to spend the time figuring it out. You just want that solution, you just want that victory. Um It hasn't happened to me too much thankfully because I'm I have this thing, I think one of the things that's made me successful as a teacher is I still very much remember what it's like to be the student and I always have considered myself a lifelong learner um and very curious and I like to try to figure things out on my own. So thankfully I haven't really experience that thing where I've been too dependent on a particular person or coach.

[00:18:28] Melinda: Nice. I know for me it's happened for me and the way it occurs is I will be working with a coach or mentor and for a short period of time, especially in the very beginning, I will put them on a pedestal and they're like, oh my gosh, they are just amazing at everything. And I keep them on that pedestal and there's this disconnect because I think they know better or can do better. Uh, but I'm committed to the learning process. And so it's if it does happen, it's very short lived and then I learned my way through and you know the phrase you said at the beginning, the self discovery. I go through that and really learn for myself what I need to know about a certain topic or situation or experience. But let's go back to the dilemma that anonymous is facing about the clients dependency and that question, When is enough enough? Well, I think that moment that you have this thought as a coach, that's the moment when enough is enough because you are now aware of it and it is your responsibility to do differently immediately. So you take it to your coach. If you realize this is going on, that's why I believe every coach should have their own coach that they work with so that you take this situation to your coach, work out whatever your own stuff is that's going on about it so that you can show up ready to serve and support your client Jim:. Where do you draw the line? When is enough enough?

[00:19:52] Jim: I think for me, as soon as I start to notice those indicators, I've always been a huge fan and proponent of setting clear expectations and communicating really well. I mean, if you look at why you're doing this, you're looking to serve the person you're coaching, like that's really what you're trying to do. You want to serve them, you want them to grow. And you know, if I see these kind of things happen, I will communicate that I will sit down with them and say, look at, well, I might not say look at, you know, you and just be just be brutally honest, you know, you can sit down to someone and say, look, we're working together because you're trying to achieve this, and I'm worried right now that you know what I'm doing for you is just helping you for one day. You know, I'm giving you the answers to this question and you're using that question, but that's not my goal for you. My goal for you is to be able to when we're no longer working together, that you can do this on your own right? I'm trying to empower you to, you know, to overcome these obstacles and not only overcome these obstacles but learn how to overcome these obstacles and this is what I think we need to do, going forward to do that. Does that make sense to you? And are you committed to that and and just have that frank, honest discussion with them?

[00:21:21] Melinda: I love it. There's nothing better than just transparent communication because that will lead to additional conversations so that you know how to serve and support them and they know how to take steps forward.

[00:21:34] Jim: If you do that in an honest way and you really are trying to serve them, that's going to be better for everyone involved, right? They're going to be better for it, You're going to be better for it. They're going to appreciate that even if it's tough medicine to swallow at the beginning, um they will appreciate that you're really trying to help them and and that's what you want to give them. Really. I I tell my students when I teach in the classroom, you know, because we have, you know, we have a course outline and we have a syllabus and I tell them on the first day, you know, the most important thing you have to learn in this course is not written in any syllabus of course outline, but it's that you need to be here to learn how to learn right there there because I teach a subject and they're there to learn that subject. But really what I'm trying to get through to them is yes, learn this, but learn how to learn. So that when you leave here you can learn something else on your own and you know how to do it and you have that skill.

[00:22:35] Melinda: Beautiful. So now anonymous, let's summarize a couple of the things that we've talked about today coaching is about empowering your clients to navigate their lives so they're not becoming dependent on you. Like Jim: said, setting clear expectations right from the beginning is very important and it's your responsibility to check your ego at the door because your ego will love that your clients depend on you. It's also vital to know what hat you're wearing as a coach, consultant teacher mentor and you have to make sure that your client knows when you're changing hats. So they know how you're navigating the conversation and I love what what you said Jim: about the doctor spot quote the trust yourself that your clients know more than they think they know and it's our job to serve them and help them remember that. And then your tool the rear view mirror approach where you look back at where you've come to celebrate those milestones and highlight those successes and finally the moment you wonder when enough is enough. That is the moment that you as a coach, you have the responsibility to do something differently. Have that transparent conversation to really serve and help your client Jim: Do you have anything else that you want to say to anonymous?

[00:23:59] Jim: No, other than, you know, don't be afraid to to have that discussion. And you know, the longer you're off track a little bit, the further away you're going to be from where you want to be. If you let that go too far right. If you're going from, you know, point A to point B. And you're off by a couple of degrees, if you can correct that early on, you're not going to be too far off the track. But if you wait, the more you wait, the more off track you're going to be and the harder it is, uh the harder it is going to be to come back. So I would think don't be afraid to have those conversations. Um you know, be honest and you know, if you didn't set the expectations from the beginning, there's no problem in kind of resetting the expectations and don't be afraid to have that conversation.

[00:24:49] Melinda: Beautiful. Well I want to thank you for listening to this episode of just between coaches and also a big thank you to Jim: right for this fascinating and important conversation. Jim:, let's do this again sometime.

[00:25:03] Jim: That would be my pleasure. Thank you.

[00:25:04] Melinda: Melinda. If you like today's podcast, you'll surely enjoy the inspirational episodes over at Course Lab. In each episode, Danny Iny of Mirasee and Abe Crystal of Ruzuku interview a course creator to shine a light on what makes their course so interesting and successful. It's a great opportunity to pick up some really cool tips.

I'm Melinda Cohen and you've been listening to Just Between Coaches. Just Between Coaches is a Mirasee FM Original production. This episode was produced by Cynthia Lamb. Danny Iny is our executive producer. I wrote this episode with Michi Lantz and Cynthia. Geoff Govertsen assembled the episode. If you don't want to miss future episodes, please subscribe to apple podcasts, Spotify or wherever you're listening right now. And if you like the show, please leave us a starred review. It's the best way to help us get these ideas to more people and if you have a question Just Between Coaches, put the show title in the subject line and send it to podcasts at Mirasee dot com. That's podcasts, plural podcasts at Mirasee --- m i r a s e e dot com.