Most potential coaching clients do not understand the power of coaching. This is partly due to the loose use of the word coaching. Most consultants today call themselves a coach. They are not coaches. This has created a lot of confusion.
Coaching is a series of conversations that bring focus to a client’s concerns, generates awareness important to the issue, designs a plan of action to deal with the concern, and then builds strong support to implement the designed plan.
Let’s take a closer look at these four areas of the conversation.
A Focused Topic
The client brings a topic that is important to their ability to move forward.
Topics drive the coaching conversation. The coach will begin each coaching session with this question: What would you like to work on today? The topic is a singular issue that requires action to be taken. The topic will be the aligning factor for the entire conversation.
Topics generally come from one of three categories:
- Goal Oriented topics – These topics help the client gain clarity and confidence for next steps surrounding their work. (30% of coaching topics)
- Relational topics – These topics revolve around communication issues, unclear expectations, or the inability to give appropriate feedback. (60% of coaching topics)
- Personal topics – Even though these topics are not directly work related, the issue is causing work related problems such as distractedness, low energy, or lack of motivation. (10% of coaching topics)
The client’s topic will be the starting point of the conversation. The coach will help the client explore the topic to clarify the core issues. The coach and client will then agree upon a clear coaching topic. This clarified topic will serve as an agreement for the rest of the coaching conversation. Every aspect of the conversation will revolve around this focused topic.
The client expands their understanding of the topic by looking forward in time, exploring multiple perspectives, and considering the root causes of the issue.
Picture the topic as an iceberg. The client can only see the tip of the iceberg. The rest is unseen under water. Consider what we do not know: How deep is this iceberg? What’s on the other side? What direction is this iceberg moving? The client will be able to build much better action after a thorough exploration of the topic.
Awareness is often generated in three ways:
- Open-ended questions — The brain has two modes: discovery and regurgitation. The coach does not want the client to simply download information to the coach. The coach is not a consultant, who needs all the information. Instead, the client should be encouraged to discover a deeper understanding of the issue.
- Distinctions — There are many models and frameworks that give the client handles to organize their thinking. These distinctions are shared briefly by the coach and help the client to quickly sort their current information.
- Metaphor – “The way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” This simple truth communicates that the client is “biting off more than she can chew.” Yet these simple truths create pathways for new thinking. What part of the elephant should we eat first – the head, the tail? Suddenly, the client has a new thought about their issue that without a metaphor, they could not see.
Without new awareness, the client begins designing action without any new thinking. These clients feel like they are building a toy house with three building blocks. It’s hard to be creative with only three blocks. With new awareness, the client is open to multiple possibilities. The client now has a dozen or more building blocks. The designed action can then be more creative, powerful, and supported.
The client plans action that will create forward movement.
It’s been said that a leader without followers is only taking a walk. One might also say that coaching without action is only a gripe session. After the issue is seen through multiple perspectives, the client has a much easier time designing an action plan.
Actions often have three aspects:
- Plan of Action – The client will design a plan of action that will move them toward their preferred future.
- First steps – The client will have clear first steps since getting started is often the hardest part.
- Areas for more research –The client may need to do more research to better understand the issue or to explore possible action steps.
The client designs a plan of action that meets their goal, uses their resources, and emboldens them to take appropriate action. The coach will challenge various aspects of the plan to be sure that the client feels confident in taking every step. The plan should make sense and be documented to ensure client action.
The client builds support for their plan to ensure the plan is executed.
The distance between having a plan and executing a plan can be a chasm. I have lots of ideas and love to make plans around those ideas, but I often fail to take initiative on the plan. Building support for the plan guarantees client action.
Here are three ways to build support:
- Involve others – Clients often fail to consider who else could help. Adding others as a resource eases the burden.
- Build accountability – The best accountability is usually a “what” rather than a “who”. The coach helps the client ensure action by building rewards and reminders.
- Strengthen the plan – The client gets one last push to build the plan.
Proper support guarantees the action. I would rephrase a famous saying to read, “The difference between a dream and a plan is support.” Many clients want to achieve on their own or are hesitant to ask for help. A coach builds support for the plan that makes it hard to fail.
Coaching creates clarity and confidence for a client to take strong steps forward toward a preferred goal. The topic is focused. Awareness is generated. A plan is designed. Support is built. The client leaves the conversation knowing exactly what steps must be taken and the consequences of not taking any action.
Coaching is not consulting. The coach makes the client work hard and think through their own issues. This work not only solves the current issue but informs every issue going forward. Coaching helps clients learn and mature while solving issues as they go.