7 ways to be a brilliant coaching client and achieve your goals
Coaching can be a transformative experience, but there is one side of the coaching equation that is often neglected for clients – how to get the most from the coaching experience.
In this article, we will cover:
- The kind of coaching relationship that can best serve you.
- Developing goals and outcomes that you want to achieve from coaching.
- Identifying the time and energy you want and can commit to the process.
- Learning to be more coachable.
- The power of commitment.
- Optimising how you use your coaching session.
- Taking action between sessions.
1. Explore what kind of coaching relationship will best serve you
Finding the right coach for you is, of course, very important and I always encourage potential clients to ‘shop around’ in the search for the right chemistry and connection to lay the foundations for a powerful coaching partnership. It may seem obvious, but it is important to say it: you want to create a partnership with a coach that will bring out the best in you.
Below are some pointers on how to shape the partnership to align with your personal style and needs.
Many of my clients talk about using the coaching relationship to help them stay accountable for their taking of action and ‘doing the work’. From my experience, there can be a tendency for clients to ask the coach to hold them accountable, as if they are a parent or boss. I always turn this around and ask the client how they want to be accountable to themselves – coaching is all about taking greater responsibility for ourselves and there is a direct relationship at play.
The greater the change and the deeper the impact we desire equals a radical up-levelling in the level of responsibility we are willing to expand into.
Yes, that can be scary. Yes, it can take us out of our comfort zone, but if we are not willing to get even a little bit uncomfortable in our quest for change and growth, that is in itself telling us something about the fears and beliefs that may be holding us back from living the life we want or from fulfilling our potential.
Intensity of the coaching
One coach I know of asks potential clients how ‘high flame’ they want the coaching to be on a scale of one to 10. That is, up at nine or 10 the coaching is intense, extremely direct with a high degree of challenge, whilst down at a two or three the dynamic will be gentler, softer and more relaxed.
Of course, not all coaching needs to a be a nine or 10 on the Richter scale! My own coaching takes a different shape according to the personality, needs and circumstances of my client, and ‘where they are at’ on the day of a session.
Questions: What level of intensity will work best for you? What kind of dynamic are you looking for?
Regularity and session lengths
How long and how regular your coaching sessions will both be shaped by what you want to achieve as a result of coaching and the preferred approach of your potential coach. The most common coaching session length is 60 minutes, either weekly or fortnightly.
For some people, 30-minute coaching sessions are ideal to help them maintain their focus and attention. Even a 10-minute laser coaching session (arranged at short notice) can be extremely powerful.
Level of contact and availability
A key area that makes coaching different to counselling and therapy is the degree of contact and flexibility between sessions. For example, some coaches are happy to provide additional support via email or instant messaging such as WhatsApp, with an agreement of how quickly the coach will respond and in what format. I like to send short voice messages as well as written responses to anything that my client is sharing.
Most of my clients are on ‘unlimited’ coaching packages of three to six months which means this includes correspondence between sessions and where the client would benefit, opportunities for additional sessions.
Question: What level of contact and flexibility will best serve you?
In-person vs online
I love seeing clients face to face in my home practice here in Manchester. But. of course, for my clients further afield, or where schedules don’t allow, this is impractical, online coaching is preferable – and we use a combination of Zoom and phone. Sometimes my clients prefer to have the camera off on Zoom and without having to maintain visual focus on someone else, working camera off or via phone can free up our thinking.
2. Be clear on the goals you want to achieve as a result of coaching
Some clients are crystal clear on what they want to achieve as a result of hiring a coach e.g. to grow their business, to gain a promotion, to enhance their relationships, or to improve their performance in a specific realm of their life.
Specialist areas of coaching such as career coaching can offer a very structured process for helping you achieve the outcome you want e.g. a new job. This can make measuring the success of the coaching relatively straightforward. However, in my experience, whilst achieving a specific external goal is where coaching proves itself as a brilliant and worthwhile investment, the coaching itself may well explore wider areas of one’s life.
This is where coaching tools such as the wheel of life can be really helpful for taking stock of where you are in the different dimensions of your life (e.g. not just career but relationships, health, money, social contribution, passions and hobbies, spirituality and meaning).
Indeed, coaching can help with both what we want in the external and physical world and our internal, psychological, emotional and spiritual world. It may seem trite, but when we enquire about what we really want, most of us simply want “to be happy.”
Drs. Ron and Mary Hulnick, co-authors of the book Remembering the Light Within have identified these two realms as follows:
- Soul line – focusing on inner growth and cultivating greater inner peace, which are harder to measure but are where meaning and a sense of purpose live.
- Goal line – outward and measurement goals, whether based on specific metrics or changes in behaviours that can be observed.
Powerful coaching usually works in both realms – to achieve our external goals there is usually a shift or transformation in our being that occurs, reflected in our beliefs, thoughts and feelings and general outlook on life.
Indeed, it is always worth asking ourselves when identifying a specific external goal, the extent to which our sense of self-worth, and our sense of being ‘enough’ are attached to the achievement of the goal. This can be an enlightening line of enquiry as we explore what is often called the ‘goal behind the goal.’
Questions: When identifying an external goal, what kind of person would you need to be to achieve this? How do you expect to feel as a result of having achieved this goal?
3. Identify how much time and energy you are able and willing to commit to the coaching process
Those newer to coaching can sometimes believe that the change work occurs only inside the container of each coaching conversation. Whilst the sessions are indeed where we have those ‘aha‘ and breakthrough moments, the real magic happens in between sessions where the rubber hits the road of life; where you are taking action you may not have taken; you are putting your energy into something new; you are acting and behaving more consciously and experiencing a fresh way of thinking about life.
Whilst spending time between sessions reading, consuming other content, journaling, or meditating can be hugely beneficial to the process of growth and developing self-awareness, they have to be aligned to your preferences and how you best learn. This can be an area of tension as, for some people, always being on the go, living life at 100 mph, and never stopping to pause and reflect, this is actually a symptom of the deeper issues they are seeking to be resolved through coaching. This is where an honest and open conversation with your coach can really help, and indeed, you can use the coaching relationship to trial and experiment with new ways of being and behaving.
Questions: How much time and energy are you willing and able to commit to the coaching process outside of the formal sessions? If you knew that you would gain more from the coaching if that was to increase by a factor of two or three, what do you need to do differently in your life to prioritise coaching?
4. Learn to be more coachable
Karen Davis and Alex Mill, authors of the excellent book How To Get The Most Out of Coaching identify several traits and habits that make it more likely you will use coaching as a catalyst for achieving your goals and making the progress you desire.
Below is my take on how you can activate and tap into these traits and behaviours in your quest to be your most coachable self.
Action orientated – those who gain the most from coaching have an action orientated mindset; they are willing to try something different immediately, to tackle challenges quickly and directly.
Openness to a fresh perspective – coaching in its purest form is non-directive and you the client are always in the driving seat. What a great coach will do is offer observations and insights based on what you share and how you are showing up. This reflective process may also include suggestions and laying out of possibilities (whilst not constituting advice). Be aware of any tendency to put your guard up, how quickly you reject new ideas and how open you are to doing something differently than how you’ve done it until now.
Openness to experimentation and testing – a key role of a coach is to bring a degree of challenge that will shake up your thinking and move you from your default path (your life trajectory without coaching) to towards the ‘created path’ you desire, where you live and act more consciously. Often it is only habitually fearful thinking that holds us back. I often refer to the qualities of fearlessness, curiosity and openness of small children to demonstrate how we accumulate layer upon layer of conditioned thinking and behaving over time – coaching helps peel back these layers. What have you got to lose? (The answer to that question, if it is not ‘nothing’, can help expose your fears and what is driving you.)
Self-awareness – all powerful coaching supports us to become more self-aware. But what does that mean in practice? I often use the metaphor of sitting at the top of a mountain with my clients as we look down on their lives. From this higher vantage point, we create distance from our habitual patterns of behaving and thinking. From a more neutral perspective, we remove ego from the equation, which means we can be honest with ourselves.
This process of becoming more consciously aware of how you are in the world also creates space for insight into how your behaviours and ways of being impact on the people around you. At the same time, it becomes easier to see the world from other people’s perspectives.
Expressing yourself – the personality and style of your coach will influence how you show up in your sessions and it is important you are able to fully be yourself. Professional coaching in its purest form is completely non-directive and you the client are always in the driving seat. Indeed, it is against the core competencies of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) for a coach to give advice or offer opinions without the express permission of the client.
If you find yourself disagreeing with what your coach is offering you or you believe that your boundaries are being crossed in some way, have the courage to bring this up with your coach – it is your absolute right. A good coach welcomes feedback and this can only serve the coaching relationship going forward as the coach seeks to better meet your needs.
Curiosity – being coachable is being willing to explore new possibilities, to be open to learning. Often clients come to coaching feeling stuck or wrapped up in a bunch of limiting beliefs and thoughts. I help my clients tap into their innate curiosity which may have been dormant for some time. Cast your mind back to when you were a young child, full of wonder, free to explore, learning as a natural way of being (whether you knew it or not) and curiosity about your very nature. Yes, we are built for learning and growth and the coaching process is an invitation to step into a world of possibility.
Optimism – if we enter the coaching journey anticipating the process to be smooth and linear, we can end up struggling when we hit the odd bump in the road. Similarly, when the inherent challenge of the coaching process reveals something inside of us that causes discomfort it can be easy to lose heart, or discount the considerable progress that has already been made (what I can ‘back to square one’ mentality). Maintaining hope and optimism is key to sustaining momentum. As often quoted, one of the secrets of success in life is showing up. Thus, staying in the game, taking action when you don’t feel like it, and deeply knowing that any feelings of discomfort and discouragement are not permanent, can help accelerate your progress towards your goals.
Sense of humour – I sometimes joke that the one thing I am deadly serious about is not taking myself too seriously. Lightness and humour we all know are powerful antidotes to the heaviness and seriousness that life can sometimes feel. Coaching partnerships are like any relationship – as trust, rapport and mutual understanding develop, candidness and humour are a natural part of the dynamic.
Think of a friend or family member that you always find yourself enjoying the company of – what do they bring out in you? How can you tap into that energy as part of the coaching process?
To note, this is not about being jokey, which can be a behavioural device we use to avoid addressing difficult topics or situations. Seeing the humour in life, and not taking yourself too seriously relieve the pressure we often put ourselves under, particularly when we are striving to create change or make meaningful progress.
5. The power of committing to the process
Less than a full commitment to the process of coaching will limit the potential benefit that it can generate. Half-hearted clients usually get disappointing results.
A man known as The Ultimate Coach, Steve Hardison, (search ‘TBOLITNFL’ for a flavour of his work) talks of making powerful Personal Internal Commitments. This is being so committed that it is in the fabric of your being, you are crystal clear and focused on why you want something and who you need to be to get it). Well within a coaching context, this can mean prioritising all aspects of your time and energy to the process, which may mean making conscious choices, stopping certain things or changing how you live your life day to day to best maximise your chances of success. Thus, the coaching process is a huge opportunity for personal growth in itself.
To paraphrase what Steve himself might say:
Who do you need to be, to be the best coaching client you can possibly be?
This quote sums up the power of commitment perfectly:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:
“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
- W.H. Murray
6. Optimise how you use the coaching sessions
The session time with your coach is sacred. There are many ways that we can hinder, derail or even sabotage ourselves. Indeed, the issues that we are often seeking to address through coaching can end up preventing us from truly experiencing the power of coaching.
Below are some ideas to help you get the most out of each session:
Be prepared – There are many ways we can end up not being prepared for a session. Even spending five minutes before a session to reflect on where you are at and what would be most valuable to focus on in the forthcoming session can be hugely beneficial.
Be willing to share the real issue – A powerful question from international coach and author Michael Bungay Stanier is “what is the real challenge here?” Coaches use this question when there is a sense that the client may be holding back in some way. It can take real courage to share what you do not what your coach to know, but that is probably what you most need to be willing to share.
Focus on you – Sometimes we do need to get something off our chest about something someone has said or done, where we feel aggrieved, disappointed or resentful in some way. But your coach cannot coach the person who is not in the room. Powerful coaching transforms how you see other people, situations and circumstances, helping you see through a clearer and more honest lens. This helps you step into your power as creator of your experience, and away from the mindset of victim of your circumstances.
Become clear on your priorities – As the coaching relationship develops, there can be a tendency to bring a huge bucket list of issues to the coaching conversation. However, this can distract you from what is most important, and getting to the heart of the issue that coaching can most help you with. To help you, simply ask yourself, “if I could gain clarity on just one thing in today’s session, what would that be?”
Avoid getting lost in your stories – I have had clients that can go into a 15-minute monologue. Some people have truly never been listened to in their whole lives. Whilst some people do speak to think, and I have witnessed the emergence of powerful insights in my clients by simply holding the space and listening to them. However, you are investing time and money in coaching to create change. If you fall into the camp of storytelling, ask yourself what you most need your coach to know, or what the key point is you want to share from a story.
Create an environment where you can focus 100% on the coaching conversation – Powerful coaching conversations can only occur when you are absolutely focused and in the moment. Taking five to 10 minutes to simply breathe, and get into a comfortable place in mind and body can help you start the session in the right way.
7. Taking action
The formula for achieving a return of investment on your coaching can be very simple:
Clarity and insight + action = transformative change and results*
*Adapted from the Clarity© Results Formula by Jamie Smart.
The sessions with your coach are one piece of the transformational jigsaw. What happens between sessions is fundamental to whether you make the progress you desire. Whilst you may experience magical insights and lightbulb moments in a session that change the fabric of your whole being, it is where the rubber hits the road of life that change really occurs.
Yes, without taking intentional action, change is far less likely to be sustained. For many people, the coaching partnership is a container for creating new ways of being in the world, for living more consciously and installing new habits. As such, there are many different ways to approach what happens in between sessions that can accelerate your progress, as set out below:
Co-create your actions – Towards the end of a coaching session, it is customary to discuss what actions you will be taking and how you will keep yourself accountable. Discuss what actions you would like to commit to, identify which are most important, what resources you will need and explore what might interfere with or sabotage the execution of the actions.
Create time for reflection – I often send my clients an A5 journal where they can capture their actions, thoughts and reflections. Sometimes journaling around particular themes that arise in the coaching session can be a powerful way of processing and integrating the insights you are having, thus helping embed the change. For many people, meditation, taking walks in nature or simply sitting quietly and daydreaming can all facilitate the process of growth. Some clients like to have a recording of the coaching session they can revisit.
Timeblock your time – Whether it is journaling, reading, watching or listening, it can be immensely helpful to block out time within your calendar that you can earmark as ‘self-coaching’. With so many other responsibilities and competing distractions for our attention, creating a sacrosanct time for you is demonstration of your commitment to yourself and your coaching journey.
Track your progress – Whether you are fond of a handwritten list or like to track your progress with a spreadsheet, consider how best you can keep track of your progress. I often use WhatsApp with my clients where all the external links, notes and their own accountability updates are easily at hand. Others prefer email and saving documents in an electronic folder.
Be intentional each day – Whether you choose to have a specific morning ritual or you build time in your day to slow down and to prepare and reflect, coaching invites us to be more intentional and conscious in our day to day. Powerful coaching asks you to take a step back from living on autopilot and even building in five minutes breaks between your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities can make a big difference to how you think and behave.
Coaching can be a life-changing and transformational journey, so why not consider what you can put in place to make the most of the time, energy and financial investment you are making in yourself? What have you got to lose?
Powerful coaching opens you up to a world of possibility, helping you step out of your comfort zone in your quest for change and personal growth. Whatever you want to be different in your life can only be created through you stepping into your power and taking action from a place of clarity and focus. To be a brilliant coaching client is to road test the version of you that is you at your very best. The coaching process is a journey, and I hope the above has given you some insight to how to get the most out of coaching.
About the author
Laurence Knott is an ICF accredited (ACC) Coach and Facilitator working with a wide range of people to help them be happier, healthier and more fulfilled. As a coach with 10 years of experience Laurence deploys a wide range of approaches to facilitate change and growth aligned to his client’s goals.
He draws on my extensive training and knowledge in Pure Coaching, Positive Psychology, Humanistic Psychology, Jungian Archetypes, Neuroscience, Transactional Analysis, Human Givens, Cognitive Hypnotherapy, Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) and the Inside Out understanding (aka the 3 Principles).