Performance coaching

"How do I become the best version of myself?" is a question I hear regularly in my work as a coaching psychologist. 


Many of us question our performance at work, in relationships, or in response to challenging circumstances. We often find ourselves deploying debilitating strategies or displaying unhelpful patterns of behaviour in certain situations, making progress slow and exhausting. 

So, what can we do about it? The good news is – quite a lot! 

What is performance coaching? 

Performance coaching is a specific form of coaching devised to help tackle performance-related issues and their associated consequences. It is defined as an opportunity to fine-tune existing skills, clarify desired goals, and develop clear and achievable action plans to enable us to meet our performance goals (Auerbach 2001). By facilitating awareness, coachees learn how to understand the difference between their actual and desired performance.

Coachees find that, through performance coaching, they can unlock their potential, increase motivation and move towards what Maslow terms self-actualisation – the drive within each of us to realise our true capabilities and unleash our natural talents.  When we are doing things to the best of our ability, the associated feelings are positive – success, happiness, and fulfilment – performance coaching is a great way to progress toward optimal performance and helps us to achieve those coveted feelings of satisfaction (Teasdale&McKeown 1994).

What issues does performance coaching address and why is it useful? 

The usefulness of performance coaching has been well documented. How many times have you left writing that important document until the night before presentation day? Or missed a deadline because you couldn’t motivate yourself to complete a task effectively and on time? 

According to Dryden (2000), procrastinating is a common stumbling block for many of us. Combine that with zooming hastily through tasks rather than completing them to the best of your ability, or berating yourself for not being good enough, and you have some very unhelpful strategies! 

Performance coaching helps us understand why we might be placing blocks in front of us and find alternative ways to tackle something we might be dreading. Perhaps the very thought of presenting to a large audience leaves you fighting for breath with your heart racing? Coaches work alongside individuals to tackle unhelpful, self-defeating or inflexible thoughts, in turn leading to greater resilience and access to better coping strategies (Palmer and Williams 2014). This can prove hugely beneficial when we need to tackle those sweaty-palm-inducing moments! 

The benefits of performance coaching can often be found rippling their way through a company too. Leaders with high-performance skills and strong coping strategies are likely to adopt a high-performance culture that fosters trust, learning and sustainability, embracing and sharing helpful ways of working and coping with those around them and reducing the likelihood of long-term sickness (Whitmore 2017).

Excellence does not require perfectionism.

Henry James

As well as addressing unhelpful strategies such as procrastination, performance coaching helps individuals struggling with the pressure to perform perfectly. 

Who hasn’t met a colleague who just seems able to "get on with it"? Who doesn’t stress too much about the outcome and appears to achieve effortlessly and without failure? We can be very quick to label these colleagues as perfect while berating ourselves for never quite living up to expectations. 

This concept of perfectionism is important to understand when coaching individuals due to its potential adverse effect on performance. 

Whilst some people have a healthy attitude to perfectionism, striving for excellence, creating realistic goals, and displaying good time management skills, others tend to display maladaptive attitudes to perfection. They are often rigid in their thinking with a tendency to catastrophise and procrastinate. Whereas adaptive perfectionists experience healthy levels of satisfaction with their sense of self-worth less likely to be impacted by a negative performance (Enns and Cox 2022), a maladaptive perfectionist will be more susceptible to the impact of negative events and find it difficult to produce more flexible patterns of thinking (Palmer 2007).

The good news is that those colleagues who appear to make it all seem effortless, experience just as much failure as those whose daily tasks seem akin to climbing Mount Everest (without oxygen!). They just think about the situation in an alternative way. Instead of beating themselves up about all the little things they could have done differently, they accept the situation as it is, always aiming to do well but not crumbling when things don’t go to plan.

For those with maladaptive perfectionism, setting such high expectations can very quickly and easily lead to stress-related burnout. Performance coaching is useful because it enables coachees to build awareness of unhelpful behaviours such as procrastination, slow decision making and poor task management, and works to find healthier, more sustainable attitudes in the quest for optimum performance. 

How do we know if we are performing well? 

This is such an important question! Sometimes we are underperforming, perhaps we lack motivation or have become lazy in our approach to working tasks. Other people are maintaining high performance but feeling the effects of working at such a fast pace and suffering from fatigue, stress and burnout. 

So how do we help coachees to find that balance? There is a really useful tool called the performance/well-being matrix which I use regularly to allow coachees to identify where they sit on this continuum.

Devised by Grant (2017), this framework is both dimensional and dynamic. He argued that most of us fall into one of the following categories: 

  • high performance/high well-being (flourishing)
  • high performance/low well-being (distressed but functional)
  • low performance/low well-being (distressed and dysfunctional)
  • low performance/high well-being (acquiescent, the happy non-worker)

Understanding where a client sees themselves on the matrix can become a pivotal cornerstone for change. Performance coaching provides the necessary tools to understand and address the root causes relating to the client's current position on the matrix; often seeking alternative ways to reframe a specific thinking pattern.

For example, an over-performer with impossibly high standards might be struggling with low levels of satisfaction due to unrealistic expectations and a pursuit of perfection. An inability to feel satisfaction impacts negatively on a person’s well-being (Corrie and Palmer 2014 ); so, through gaining a thorough understanding of the cognitive biases in place, the client is helped to overcome a fear of failure, learns to challenge irrational beliefs and gain strategies for dealing with low frustration tolerance, thus increasing those much needed warm and fuzzy feelings associated with fulfilment.

Working together to set realistic goals

One of the key goals of performance coaching is to help individuals increase their ability to perform under pressure (Kaiser 2019 p130). It can be distressing for clients who continuously fail to reach their potential despite working diligently and I often tell my clients that setting a goal is the first step toward eliciting positive change. 

“I set myself goals, I just never seem to achieve them!”

“I can never think of any goals I want to set, or that seem possible”.

Perhaps one of these statements resonates with you? Setting goals is not always as simple as it seems! 

Performance coaching helps an individual to set goals that are measurable, realistic, positive and specific. Goals that will affirm self-worth through healthy attainment. And, if in-depth understanding is required, it can be helpful to use guided discovery and socratic questioning to unravel goal-blocking thoughts or resistance to change. 

A huge variety of benefits

Whatever goals you might like to achieve, or skills you hope to fine-tune, performance coaching offers a variety of techniques to aid with positive change. 

It can help individuals and organisations understand psychological blocks and build resilience, enhancing performance and consequently maintaining well-being.   

Optimal performance without a detrimental impact on our emotional and physical well-being is what many of my coachees are striving for. For more information on how performance coaching can help you, contact me


  • Auerbach, J. (2001) Personal and execute Coaching: The complete guide for mental health professionals. Venture, CA: Executive College Press.
  • Corrie, S. & Palmer, S. (2014) Coaching individuals with perfectionistic tendencies When high standards help and hinder Coaching Psychologist, Vol 3, Edition 1, July 2014, p 53-65.
  • Dryden, W.  (2000a) Overcoming procrastination. London: Sheldon Press.
  • Dryden, w. (2000b) Invitation to Rational-Emotive Psychology, 2nd Ed., London: Whurr.
  • Grant, A.M. (2007) A languishing-flourishing model of goal striving and mental health for coaching populations. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2, 250-264.
  • Grant, A.M. (2017) Solution-focused cognitive-behavioural coaching for sustainable high performance and circumventing stress, fatigue and burnout. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 69(2), 98-111.
  • Maslow A.H. (2013) A theory of human motivation. Wilder Publications
  • Palmer, S. (2007) PRACTICE: A model suitable for coaching, counselling, psychotherapy and stress management. The Coaching Psychologist, 3(2), 71-77.
  • Teasdale, E.L & McKeown, S. (1994) Managing stress at work: the ICI-Zeneca pharmaceutical experience 1986-1993 In C.L. Cooper &S. Williams (eds) Creating healthy work organisations. Chichester: Wiley.
  • Whitmore J (2017) Coaching for Performance The principles and practice of coaching and leadership. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, HP13
Written by Dr Jana Jenkins, Clinical Psychologist, Coaching Psychologist and Supervisor
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, HP13

Dr Jana Jenkins is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the BPS. She has recently applied to have a chartership in coaching psychology. She is accredited as a coach by the Association for Coaching.

Show comments

Find a coach dealing with Motivation

All coaches are verified professionals

All coaches are verified professionals