Excerpted from my regular column as published in, and reproduced with permission from, choice, the magazine of professional coaching. The column is called “Sticky Situations” and in each issue three master coaches respond to a scenario presented by another colleague seeking guidance.
Sticky Situation: How can I convince my clients to put a higher priority on coaching?
“In coaching business leaders, I am finding that they don’t take their development that seriously.
If their organization is paying for their coaching, they put business first and coaching comes
second or even last to their other day-to-day responsibilities. How can I work with my clients
to put a higher priority on coaching?”
It’s important as coaches to ensure that we are always in
service to our clients’ needs and priorities. It’s a fine line to
walk, because we have our own (often unconscious) biases
and judgments about our clients that can get in the way if we
are not consciously stepping outside of them in service to our
clients’ agendas. When an organization is paying you to coach
one of its leaders, you have two client agendas to balance;
that of the leader as an individual and that of the organization
as a whole. Your main priority may be coaching, because that
is your business, but it is not usually your clients’ main priority,
nor is it their business.
Notice your biases and judgments any time you have an assessment
about your client’s performance with respect to you,
as in the situation you describe. For instance, who says your
clients need to put a higher priority on coaching? Do they have
that need, or do you? If you put yourself in the shoes of your
clients – if you step into the mindset of a business leader – then
of course business would come first and coaching would rank
second or lower. Business leaders must lead the business first
and foremost, and their day-to-day priorities for leading the
business are absolutely more important than any development
or coaching they may have taken on. If you were a stakeholder
in the business, wouldn’t you want the leader to be focused on
leading the business? That’s their job.
The real question here is, why do you want your clients to
make coaching a higher priority? What are your judgments,
assessments, assumptions, or ‘shoulds’ that you are projecting
onto your clients? Does this way of thinking serve your clients?
How do you know your clients aren’t taking their development
seriously? Is it possible that your clients, like most business
leaders today, are juggling competing commitments? If so,
your clients’ commitment to their development may be quite
strong, yet other commitments take precedence given the role
of leadership and its demands.
What conversation could you open up with your clients to
explore whether or not a higher priority on coaching would truly
serve them? Or, alternately, what biases, whether conscious
or unconscious, could you release and let go to free yourself
to be more fully present with your clients? You can still create
tremendous value and results with your clients even if coaching
and development is not their highest priority.