By Barb McAllister, MCC

I have a suspicion that many of us coaches may be recovering rescuers.  I know I am.  In his new book, The 3 Vital Questions: Transforming Workplace Drama, David Emerald describes the rescuer role within the context of the Drama Triangle, a framework presented in the 1960’s Dr. Stephan Karpman. The genius of the Drama Triangle is that it helps us self-observe how we are managing our emotions because all three of the Drama Triangle roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer, are activated by our fears.

The reason I appreciate Emerald’s groundbreaking work is because he offers an empowered alternative to the drama roles.  For the rescuer, the empowered role is coach.    He doesn’t mean a professional coach, like me, rather he is referring to someone who uses coaching skills like questioning, listening and curiosity.   Any of us can be a coach in his model.

As a new professional coach, I was often attached to my clients’ success.  This led me to jump in on occasion with ‘helpful” suggestions.  Emerald explains that when we rescue, we are responding to our own anxieties.  My helpful suggestions originated from my anxiety that my client wasn’t making enough progress, or quick enough, so therefore I must not be a good coach.  I see now, in hindsight, I had put on my rescuing cape even though at the time I thought I was simply being helpful.  The irony is when I pushed too hard or didn’t listen deeply, my client may have viewed me as a persecutor.

Being a master coach means that I can be with my client wherever they are, and that I trust their process and pace.  In his first book, The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic) Emerald suggests that if we can catch ourselves wanting to rescue our clients because we feel anxious, we can choose to remind ourselves that nothing is wrong and the client is in charge of their pace and process.  When we are present, we can shift from rescuer to coach — create a space as our clients tap into their innate wisdom, and partner with them as they listen to what may be in their way.

Wanting to please others is an admirable quality for all human beings and an essential attribute for a professional coach.  At our very core, coaches must value being of service in order to be in a trusting relationship with others.  If over-used however, a desire to please may be the very issue that prevents us from being a bold and transformative coach.  This is the coach’s trap, and if not confronted and transformed will keep a coach small and unknowingly disempowering their clients.

I still sometimes get anxious when I am coaching, but it is less and less.  I have learned to follow my client’s lead.  The client gets to choose their baby steps and their pace moving forward.  What I have learned is that it is much easier to coach than rescue.  As I take care of myself, my job is to show-up, be present and grounded.  When I do this, I remember my deep belief that each of us are creators, and I can be with the bumps along the way not knowing how my clients will choose to make progress.


To partner with Barb, contact us for a consultation with her.