“It’s a long journey, with lots of twists and turns. But it’s all about the ride, not the destination. Enjoy the ride!”
That is the dedication to me in Executive Crumple Zone, a novel by Michael A. Sisti. Mike is an expert in branding, marketing, and creative thinking. His words resonate with me as I contemplate the value and joys of coaching as a profession.
Our personal and professional lives are indeed a journey, with detours, accidents, and challenges. A coach has a responsibility to respect the journey that the client is on, and not redirect that path in a way that is counterproductive, nor disruptive. That places a burden on me as a coach in as much as I find most clients asking for advice, versus them discovering the answers via my facilitation.
In my coaching experiences, I have encountered three types of individuals. The first is the executive who lacks a balance between their personal and professional lives, yet they are unwilling to make any changes. They are usually unorganized, stressed out, and cannot grasp that there are better ways to achieve success. One of my earliest prospects was such a person, and he was fired from his position recently. I have no way to prove it, but I feel I could have helped him.
The second is the person who is in a position of power and is too busy to make the time commitment a needed for effective coaching. One such person asked me to coach him, and I told him I didn’t think he would be a good client for the simple reason that I didn’t believe he could commit to the process. I relented and took him on as a client. That has proven accurate as he has broken several appointments and does not respond to my calls or e-mails. The effect may be an unsatisfied coaching client that doesn’t provide me a satisfactory reference, even though the situation is of his own making. Or worse, he gains no value or change in his personal or professional lives.
In that same perspective, another coaching client was a wonderful student. She read the material more than 5 or 6 times and always called on-time. The disengage came when she refused to participate in establishing critical goal categories or draft her life’s purpose statement. Her response to my questions was that she wished she had undertaken to coach when she was younger and had a longer working future. She acknowledged the value of coaching and promised to make a referral to her replacement as her retirement date is near.
The third example is the client who participates fully, calls on-time, does the hard work and creates their critical goal categories and life’s purpose statement, however, their performance and effectiveness to the employer that funded the coaching process are not improved. This example is the most puzzling. In my conversations with three clients employed at the same organization, with one being the supervisor of the other two, it is clear that he cannot make decisions and is at risk of losing his job. The CEO of that organization hired me to coach him, and the two others, with full knowledge that one or more of them may seek employment opportunities elsewhere.
The last example is the most frustrating and creates an awareness that developmental coaching does not produce right action for its participants 100% of the time. Acceptance that coaching can improve problem-solving, and produce right action in persons who voluntarily engage in it, leaves a feeling of failure when the client demonstrates no real change.
The payback, other than a financial reward, is to help another person and add value to their life. Should that person not transform in a significant way, where does the fault lie?
If we as coaches made an emotional connection with the client; established a commitment from that person; and were clear about the issues that surfaced, how can failure to create significant change be an acceptable outcome? Our responsibility as coaches is to do exactly that. We have undertaken professional development and acquired the skills and knowledge to become masterful at our profession. We clarify and gain commitment from potential clients that this will be a mutually voluntary interaction. How then can it not result in positive change?
The answer may be as simple as the client mouthed the words that they had the intent to achieve better performance, and take the right action, however, that was not their actions. Coaches, regardless of how experienced, have no real leverage over a client. That is, coaches, don’t sign the client’s paycheck or conduct their performance evaluation.
My experience with corporate clients, those for which the employers paid the fee, are very appreciative of the opportunity and profess that they got a lot out of it. None have elected to continue coaching on a month-to-month arrangement, and none have made a referral to friends. Almost all corporate coaching clients found value, however, with no personal investment of their own, was there really a commitment to positive change?
Trust has been an issue in several cases. That is, the CEO told me that the management team was not a cohesive unit and they don’t trust the organization or its senior leadership. One team had been cobbled together as a result of mergers. Each member of the team brought prior experiences with them and was so distrustful that some refused to take any of the assessments typically administered to help identify areas for improvement.
In the case in which the CEO informed me that one or more of the participants may seek employment elsewhere after coaching, or if the economy improved, there was a lack of confidence exhibited by all participants in each other. With an appreciation for the confidentiality of the coaching relationship, and avoiding becoming a "consultant”, it places the coach in a dilemma.
Help may have been at my fingertips if I could have shared or used the information given me in confidence. Do I risk my integrity, and lose the faith of a corporate client, or remain silent? Those are not attractive choices, and there has to be another.
Coaching is rewarding personally and financially. It fulfills an altruistic need to help others and elicits praise and appreciation from the clients. It is a limited undertaking that fails to create right action every time and leaves both parties with a longing that it did not meet each other’s expectations. And that may be said for all forms of human interaction.