If I knew then what I know now…

Melissa Rosenthal
3 min readSep 29, 2021


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Yesterday I had the opportunity to do something I love — to spend time with a small group of enthusiastic (and slightly nervous) new coaches. They asked me to talk about what I wish I’d known when I started coaching 13 years ago. There are enough things on that list to fill a book (💡), but I settled on a few key messages.

As I reflected on those messages, it struck me that they had applications beyond my life as a coach — that they could be applied to all of us as we attempt to lead ourselves and our teams through these strangest of times.

Here is the list I shared with the group.

  1. Define your quality — the first iteration of this item was “define your success”, but the more I thought about it, the more I shifted to the inputs rather than the outcome of the work. That way, I focus on things within my control. For example, I define my coaching quality by describing my level of focus, my effectiveness at recognising patterns and connections (or disconnections) in a narrative, my recognition of the importance of context, and my questions’ incisiveness.
  2. Know your capacity — quality and capacity are really closely linked in this context, and I debated the order for quite a while. Essentially, the critical point that I discovered (the hard way) is that if I want to maintain my quality, I need to understand and manage my capacity. (Sounds SO obvious in hindsight!) For example, if I load my day with too many coaching sessions, I can’t deliver the level of focus required to meet my quality standards. Constant vigilance and experimentation are needed to find my optimal schedule for each day and across the week. Just when I think I’ve got it all figured out, something happens in my world that turns it all upside down!
  3. Trust yourself — I remember being a newly-minted accredited coach and feeling like the governing rules from my training were constantly playing as a soundtrack for every session. One day I realised that the soundtrack was interfering with my natural style and confidence, to the detriment of my work. I’ve noticed that same sentiment with clients as they push themselves to develop new leadership skills. Frameworks and templates can be enormously helpful when building those new muscles — but the true power comes when we combine them with our strengths and style.
  4. Create support structures — whether it’s a coaching supervisor, a peer mentor, a friendship group or all of the above, we all need support structures around us to help us process the tough days. While ad hoc support is excellent, I’ve found that committing to my regular peer mentoring meetings has made an enormous difference to my resilience as well as my development.
  5. Learn to say no — not every opportunity is a good opportunity. Figuring out how to pick the good ones from the not-so-good isn’t easy at the best of times, let alone when we’re new to something. Ultimately I found that developing a set of evaluative criteria was a helpful first step. Of course, those criteria are useless without the discipline to apply them and the confidence to act on them. But take it from me; saying no to opportunities that don’t feel right upfront saves a lot of pain down the road.

So, now I have some questions for you.

  • What are your top 5 “if I knew then what I know now” tips? Who might benefit from hearing your hard-fought lessons?
  • Which of the items on my list resonate with you? How might you apply them to your current team?

Let me know what you think!