Connecting the dots from session to session
In coaching training, we put so much emphasis in developing our skills on how to handle a single coaching conversation that we rarely address the topic of how to support our clients in the long-term progression of the coaching engagement.
The issue of continuity and connectivity of session to session within a whole coaching process is a frequent question I get from my mentees and students. If the very first step in the coaching conversation is to ask the client what would be the focus of that session, how do I make sure there is a connection between sessions? How do I make sure the client is progressing in the agreed upon direction? What if the client brings up a topic that is completely different from the overall objective of the coaching program?
This is particularly important when we have different stakeholders involved in the engagement and there are certain expectations around the results of the coaching program.
Regardless of the set up, the simple answer to these questions is always – stay with the client. Stay where the client is. The client knows best.
Coaching is a client driven process. The coach is there to provide the framework for the coaching conversation, but the client is the one who sets the direction. And it may be that the path chosen by the client is a bit more unpredictable than we expected. Nevertheless, the client is the one in charge. The client is the one who sets the goals and leads the way.
Coaching is about giving the client the responsibility for the process. Coaching is about believing that the client is able to take charge. Even in an organizational setting where expectations are set for the coaching, it is crucial that the client understands the importance for them to take ownership of the engagement.
Having said that, as a coach, it is also our role to support the client to stay on course and make progress towards their goals. Accountability is one of the most powerful benefits of coaching.
So, how do we reconcile these two ideas?
First of all, we must remember that what may seem disjunct or even contradictory to us coaches, may make perfect sense for the client. Even if the client brings up a topic that is apparently outside of the overarching agreement, we need to support the client in clarifying where this unexpected topic fits in the whole landscape of the client’s world. It may be that in the path to reach their destination, the client needs to make a few stops to be able to get to the desired outcome.
Remember, coaching is a human-to-human interaction and as humans, our journey is rarely a straight line.
We also need to consider the crucial role of transparency and authenticity in coaching. One of the foundational points of our craft is our ability to freely connect with our clients and to relate with them in an open and sincere way. As you are establishing the coaching agreement, if you sense a disconnect between the session’s topic and the overarching direction, ask the client. Perhaps they are not even aware of the disparity and that alone can be an opportunity for new awareness to surface.
I would also invite you to look at the whole coaching process as if it was one big coaching session where you have an agreement, you bring the client into a discovery mode, opening the space for new awareness and landing on a clear movement forward.
If that is the case, what would you do if in the middle of a single coaching conversation the client changed direction from the session’s agreement? Of course, you would ask to clarify and perhaps even change direction.
The same holds true in the big picture of a coaching program. If the client moves and keeps moving in unpredictable ways, ask them, clarify and support them in making sense of it all.
Bottom line, the client is always in the driver seat. The client is responsible for the coaching process per se. We hold the space. We bring our expertise in creating the environment for coaching to happen and for awareness to surface. The responsibility of connecting the dots is for the client to take.
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As a mentor coach, I am always giving feedback to my students and mentees helping them develop their coaching skills and prepare for their certification with the ICF. ForCoaches is a place where I can publicly share some of my insights and experiences. What does it mean to be a truly effective coach?