short client story @ ethical leadership

A number of years ago, back in October 2020, I forgot about a client session I had scheduled.


This is TOTALLY out of character for me, and I can count on less than one hand the number of times in the last 22 years of coaching that this has happened. But it did that day. It was during an “off” hour for me, and I simply didn’t look at my calendar…and so I didn’t show up for the zoom call.

About 10 minutes after the hour, my client called me to see if we were still on, but I didn’t see my phone ring. About a quarter after the hour, she texted me.

I saw the text, and my heart sank – I felt badly, and texted back right away my apologies, taking full responsibility, and asking if she could still meet.

We got on Zoom, and immediately my client started crying. She was so, so upset, and I knew right away that this couldn’t simply be about me forgetting about the call.

As she sobbed, my client shared that my forgetting about the call was totally in line with the way her week was going. She told me about an incident that had happened the day before when she showed up for a chiropractor appointment, and the chiropractor insisted in a shaming way that my client had shown up at the wrong time, that my client never actually scheduled the session, and that she had to leave immediately.

I won’t go into all of the details of the story, but the bottom line is that my client had confirmation of the session time, and the practitioner had mistakenly double-booked, but instead of admitting the mistake (we all make mistakes sometimes!), the practitioner wielded her power as a leader (she is an incredibly gifted practitioner and healer, and she knows it), and gaslighted my client. And to make matters worse, she told my client that she could no longer be her practitioner because of the incident because my client was so irresponsible. She shamed my client and then rejected her.

My forgetting about the session just for a temporary moment poured salt into my client’s wound.

But here’s the magical thing that happened next:

Because I fully took responsibility for the scheduling mistake,  the way I handled it ultimately became a HUGE HEALING experience for my client.

Not only was she able to share about the gaslighting incident (which she hadn’t yet uttered to another person), but my leadership, my commitment to not wield my power in irresponsible ways, my loving holding of the space…..supported my client to finally see the previous incident for what it was, to process it, and to reclaim her empowerment inside of it.

If you’re reading this, a part of you might be thinking – “but why is Joanna sharing this? It’s so OBVIOUS the chiropractor acted reprehensible.”


But – I can nearly guarantee (even though I don’t know her) that the chiropractor is a good person and that she would never purposefully gaslight or shame anyone. Knowing and understanding human behavior the way that I do, my guess is that when the chiropractor saw the scheduling mistake she made, she went straight to fear – fear that she had done something wrong, fear that she would get got, fear that she was bad, fear that she would be blamed…whatever it was. And because of the fear, her survival instincts in this situation were screaming at her to defend herself quickly. She may not have even realized that she was lying or shaming.

The point is that even “good” people and even evolved people (you and me) can get triggered sometimes. When we are not deeply engaged in our own inner work, in continuously working through our own fears and our own trauma responses, we can slip pretty easily, sometimes without even knowing it. And then, we may inadvertently disempower a client or sabotage the strength and the vulnerability of the container

If you are a coach or therapist, or any kind of transformational practitioner, it is so vital for you to do the (consistent) inner work required to take responsibility for yourself and for your Energetics and to not bring your unrealized fears or trauma responses into the client container.  We must commit to never abusing our power. 

This is true leadership.

And this is the best pathway towards deeper transformation – for our client and for ourselves.

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