Blog Post: Are Your Clients Running the Plays? 



Imagine a football team (American football not soccer) that has tons of talent, a great ownership team, excellent coaching, and all the potential to win lots of games and maybe even a championship.  Imagine the team’s coaching staff draws up plays that make the most of their talent while also taking advantage of the other teams’ weaknesses. Imagine that the play calling is always spot on, such that the play being called is the right one for the particular situation the team is facing.  Now imagine that the players on the field don’t run the play that’s been called but, instead, they just run around doing what each of them thinks could help win the game.  Imagine how frustrating that would be for everyone involved and imagine how many games they would lose – probably all of them! 

Too often in life, our behavior mirrors that of this frustrating football team – we know what to do and have a great plan for action, but when the moment is upon us, we don’t actually run the plays.   

One of my clients owns a small manufacturing business that struggled for years because she didn’t have the right people.  She even worked with one of our coaches for over a year but didn’t make much progress.  She re-engaged the coaching process about six months ago and her actions coming out of the first session were the right ones.  She even commented, “This is what I told myself I was going to do two years ago when I was working with the other coach, but I just never followed through.”   She said out loud what so many clients quietly experience. 

So why do clients not run the plays they help to call?  I see at least four reasons. 

First, they lack true clarity.  My client had decided three times to terminate her office manager, but she didn’t follow through.  When she finally broke through it was because we invested time designing the action, not just identifying it.  To be clear, she did feel like she needed to design the action.  When I asked her what exactly she was going to say to her office manager, she replied, “Oh, I don’t need to say it now, the words will be there once the conversation starts.”  I pushed her and reminded her that champions rehearse the key moves and prepare for the big moments.  Once she leaned in and tried to find the words, she realized that she’d always gone into those tough conversations expecting to be able to wing it instead of having a thoroughly designed action.   

Second, they don’t anticipate obstacles.  While every good plan has room for flexibility and allows for needed adaptation, too many times we go totally off script when we encounter unexpected challenges, obstacles, or conditions.  When I asked my client what could get in the way, she immediately declared, “Nothing.”  I suggested a few such as the office manager not being at work, saying she was busy, or an important crisis interrupting.  This got the ball rolling and she quickly recognized that the most likely obstacle would be the lack of privacy that characterized her office space.  Their open floor plan made it very difficult to have delicate conversations.  Once she anticipated this obstacle, she immediately determined to ask the office manager into the conference room.  She also admitted that asking her into the conference room would be awkward, but she embraced the fact that there is no way to fire someone without some degree of awkwardness.   

Third, they submit to the tyranny of the urgent.  A client can walk out of the coaching session with a foolproof plan, but when they get back to reality, all sorts of urgent issues, crises, and opportunities for immediate gratification can derail their plan.  As Stephen Covey says, they trade important for the urgent.  Many clients are addicted to the urgent.  The only way they can decide what to do is by reacting to what comes at them.  As coaches, we must help our clients recognize this as an internal matter, not an external one.  The issue is not the crisis or shiny object, it’s the client’s habit of reacting rather than acting with determined intent.  Coaches must help the client neutralize the tyranny of the urgent.  Coaching techniques that foster accountability and motivation work well in these situations.  

Fourth, they don’t truly believe the plan will work.  Low confidence in the plan will generate low follow-through.  In order for a plan to work, it must be carried out.  In order for the plan to be carried out, it must be trusted.  My client doubted her ability to hire an office manager who would be any better than the one she needed to fire.  She doubted things would, or even could, get much better.  She had become so conditioned to the way things were, she could hardly believe things could ever change.  We talked through the doubts, examining them without judgment and with full openness to things staying the same.  In place of certainty, she decided to exercise courage.  There was no way to know for sure the plan would work, but once she framed it in terms of doubt and risk, she was able to summon the courage to face the risk and step into the uncertainty.   

Coaching sessions occur during “time out” for the client.  The game is paused, they step off the field of play, and it’s time to imagine what needs to happen when the whistle blows and the game resumes.  Don’t settle for clients who create workable plays but then fail to execute.  Support them as they work through these reasons – and any others you may encounter.   

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *