I’ve heard that a few times, mostly in the first meeting with an executive or a skilled professional who I have been asked to coach. The reasons for the coaching are often varied, but usually occur after a company has attempted addressing performance or engagement issues with a valued leader or skilled worker. What it can mean is that we have a “block” or an “inhibitor” within the employee, and as the company sees value in the person, they offer them external coaching to resolve.
On top of a block, the client usually has a blame mentality and a capacity to judge. Blocks, blaming and judgement are not characteristics you read about in successful leadership books. Experience tells us that these are often difficult to successfully deal with in the corporate world.
Coaches talk about “ideal clients”, and of clients being “coachable”. These clients are challenging but incredibly satisfying when breakthroughs are achieved, but needless to say the client starts the process unwillingly and is far removed from being coachable.
I was asked recently to detail my process in how I would coach a person in this situation. Now I don’t subscribe to formulas or processes believing each coaching partnership is unique and evolves quite naturally, however with reflection my methodology follows a similar path most times.
The first coaching session is usually the toughest. We have a client who doesn’t believe in a coaching process or has a negative connotation behind it. Their agreement with reality, tells a different story to what others are telling them. They are the hero in their story and everyone else is the potential villain. For me to argue against that, especially early in the relationship is a sure fire to creating opposition or even worse, lip-service. You cannot change a persons’ perception of reality by arguing against it. It can only be changed or modified with influence. Attempts to argue against it causes pain, and that is what we often see in the corporate world. Pain. You need to follow a process designed to build trust and rapport and change their agreement of reality by influence.
The process I outline below, once again is a process that has evolved naturally from experience within the workforce and now within my own coaching practices.
The first stage is to build rapport. I don’t work to a process or a system, I work on a genuine desire to get to know the client and to build genuine rapport. Authenticity and being genuine are the keys. If I cannot build rapport, the remainder of the process is almost impossible. This can be challenging, as I have an mistrusting client, who is often cynical on the process and the need for the coaching. I allow some time for this and explore gently.
During the process of building rapport, I am looking for common ground, shared values and interests. From these I work to create a connection. Again, if I haven’t built genuine rapport, this stage becomes difficult as the unwariness of the client creates a block toward connection, but you need a connection to move through the process.
The above two stages, may for some, appear a tad long-winded from a coaching perspective, but the benefit is I become a trusted ally. This is needed for me to build into the next stage. I am external to the inner politics, the inner agenda and to be trusted by the client ensures a belief I am there to help them, not hurt them.
When a person has a view of the world, or specifically of their performance, that is different from what is expected, any argument with that creates pain. This culminates in a defensive reaction or a drop in performance. That is why traditional in-house coaching or performance management doesn’t work effectively. You may see short term improvement, usually to “appease” but long term behaviours and actions tend to return. When this happens the company may try being more persuasive, or sometimes they effectively give up and accept the productivity of the person (as it stands) and not the ongoing engagement. In the second case, they are left to their own devices and left to slower wither on the vine.
The ability of a coach to create a trusted platform, from which the seeds of influence are sown, is vital. These seeds are sown by asking relevant questions, looking for answers which are unpacked and explored. What this then creates is, the opportunity for the client to visualise and mentally create a better place for themselves. From this visualisation, desire is created and this becomes the catalyst for positive change.
I usually see action from the client as the next step and before we have planned anything. From a pure coaching base, some may shake their head at that, as we are missing the more traditional planning stage. However my experience dealing with this type of client, tells me action usually precedes planning.
The actions are derived from the seeds of influence I have sown and the client’s visualisations of their better place. When the client starts a session telling me of a positive result from a changed behaviour, I understand that the seeds are germinating. This is always exciting from a coaches viewpoint and sets a strong platform for ongoing success.
These actions are often occurring within the first four weeks of the coaching relationship. External coaching is designed to achieve sustainable, long term improvement of performance and changes the thought structure of the client. Four weeks in the long term scheme of things, is a small period of time and a small cost comparatively. Compared with the ongoing negative costs of dis-engagement, non-performance or the costs associated with recruiting a new team member.
On rare occasions these actions may be negative. This is usually the direct result of fighting the influence and reverting back to their agreement with reality. This is almost a final attempt to validate their own agreement with reality. Real pain comes from these actions, but the positive is that this creates a strong foundation for change as the client finally realises that change is needed.
Either way, these actions create the platform to start planning. The simple difference here, is that one is working with momentum from previous positive actions, while the other becomes the base point for forward actions.
Map out an Action Plan
Our more traditional model of coaching starts to take shape as we use start mapping out actions for sustainable forward movement. We start exploring actions that align with personal goals and vision and how they can purposefully align with the objectives of the company and departments. The key here, is aligning the personal ambitions with corporate and company strategies and then keeping them in sync.
Identify and Clear Roadblocks
Continuing on we start exploring the roadblocks and obstacles that have occurred for the client in the past, and then “mapping” our way around them. Failure to do so, leads to trouble as the client encounters the same roadblocks and obstacles and reverts back to type.We need to openly explore what has stopped the client in the past, and come up with strategies to move around those very things.
Maintain Clarity and Monitor for Success.
The final stage is setting gauges to keep the client clear on their progress. Just as we need gauges while driving a car to tell us how the car is performing, gauges are designed to keep us on track and moving.
The difference is these gauges are built from the visions and the dreams of the client and use the power of conscious thought to keep the client moving forward, when other times they may get stuck or fall backwards.
These gauges help build a sustainably effective team member, engaged and driving success for themselves and the company.
Many executives or key skilled professional team members would benefit but don’t need a process like this one. They are able to work effectively within teams and are productive. It’s when they falter or disengage that this process can help support them in their career especially if the internal coaching or performance improvement processes haven’t achieved success.
The costs of recruitment are high and increasing. The investment in coaching will help you maintain your most powerful resource. Your leaders and your skilled professionals
Tony Curl is a coach that helps his clients take the right steps and actions towards their desired outcomes and goals. He is the founder of Leadership, Life and Style and his programs build better leaders and drives better results for business owners and executives alike. He can be contacted from his webpage or by phoning +61 417 197 149.
Leadership, Life and Style is part of the Stronger, Braver, Wiser publishing stable. We empower leaders to be powerful.
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