• Teresa Carey

How Full is Your Cup? Creating and Holding Space to Make Coaching Count

When I entered the world of professional development, we would frequently use a metaphor at the beginning of the training day to convey the importance of teachability and readiness. The hopeful expectation was clear, “You may need to empty your cup to make space for new learning during today’s session.” Throughout the session the goal was to challenge traditional thinking and add new tools to the leader’s toolkit. None of which would be possible UNLESS there was room in the cup.


In coaching, we hold space to allow the leader to discover and create solutions. Similarly, if their cup doesn’t have or take space available for discovery and insights, here’s what often happens:

  1. The leader uses the majority of the coaching time to talk without pauses, preventing the space that might allow forward moving progress.

  2. There’s limited opportunity available for asking coaching questions that can potentially lead to a different way of being, thinking and doing. The coach may often have to redirect or even interject to make sure there’s actually a coaching component to the session.

  3. The walk away feeling for both the coach and the leader may be frustrating, knowing there was additional ROI from the session left on the table.

If any of these scenarios feel familiar, or you want to simply reflect on ways to optimize your coaching time, here are a few options for getting the most out of the experience.

  • Come with an acute awareness that the core of coaching is about taking current wins and losses and leveraging those to move forward to the desired place. Over-justifying or wallowing in former success can impede the ability to keep pushing forward in personal, team and organizational growth. Be willing to sit in silence when asked tough questions and hold space for the next step in the process and ultimately the answers that need to find you.

  • Be prepared to share at least one situation that isn’t going as well as expected, or proactively thinking about what may become an obstacle if it isn’t addressed. When a leader comes to the table saying everything is going perfectly well, there may be a blind spot or two. Rarely is rapid growth uneventful or challenge free.

  • As an insightful leader recently noted, “I can’t taste the water I swim in.” In other words, it’s really not possible to be objective with ourselves. A leader’s perspective is not the whole story – about themselves, the trust their team has toward them, the “greatness of their company culture” or anything within their ecosystem. When we have others who will hold space for us, it increases the likelihood that awareness will surface.

Coaching is that rare experience to be in a judgement-free zone with a thinking partner. It’s the one hour out of dozens that week or month you don’t have to be anything – but wholehearted, vulnerable and open. Trust your coach, trust the process and most importantly trust yourself.


Like Thomas Sowell, the great economist said, “When you want to help people, you tell them {and let them discover} the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.”

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