May 27, 2017

Leadership Coaching: How to Know When Your Client is Stuck and How to Get Them Unstuck

picture of woman who is stuck

Is Your Executive Coaching Client Stuck? Maybe It's Time for Some Radical and BOLD Coaching!

Over the past ten years, I have provided leadership coaching services for a large number of clients…I think over 1200 at this point.  I say this not to brag, but to give some credibility to this post.  Because of the number of clients I have coached, I can smell it a mile away when a client is stuck.  I can usually tell in the first interview when a client is truly stuck in an old pattern and not willing to work on, let achieve a big/audacious goal.

So, here are a few of the signs and approaches you can use to help “unstick” your leadership coaching clients:

Sign: The client comes in with a BIG goal that they have been trying to achieve for over three years with no movement.  This is often common if a client is in a corporate structure that dictates what they can and cannot do, so you have to do a bit of digging on the cultural side of things.  But…at the end of the day, if a client has been going through a revolving door for over three years and have not yet hit the mark…they are stuck.  I am being generous here…the stuck time frame is really more like one year, but I am giving some time knowing how the world works.

Coaching Strategy: Step up the goal/Play a bigger game.  The majority of the clients who seem stuck are just plain bored.  They don’t have a big enough game to play, so you have to bump up the game and make it meaningful.  It may be something as simple as challenging/directing the client to take on a brand new activity like improv or public speaking or coaching their teams using a new, fresh approach.  At the end of the day, if a client is stuck, and if they are bored, doing the same day in and day out routine will not result in action.  It just results in stagnation.  A brand new, challenging activity can often spill over into other life areas and build confidence around big game/big goal setting.

Sign: You and the client set a BIG goal, and you always seem to get off topic.  In the world of leadership coaching, we often describe this as the client pulling you down a rabbit hole or YOU are chasing the client down a rabbit hole, because you just really don’t know what to do.

Coaching Strategy: Reel the client back into the original goal.  Say something like this “You know, the initial goal was for you to bring in more networking partners for the company, and we are suddenly talking about your boss and his problems.   I can only coach you.   Let’s get back to the goal of bringing in more networking partners, and if your boss fits into this, we will address this sooner rather than later.  What is your next step, and how will I know you actually did it?”

Sign: The client starts dictating to you how the coaching sessions need to “go”.  I have seen this a FEW times.  The client comes in and says “Here is what I want to talk about today, and I really need to say a few things.”  I just don’t agree that the client always needs to dictate the coaching conversation.   To me, this is a big red flag that the client feels like he/she is being challenged, and they want to work on “something else that is more comfortable.”

Coaching Strategy: Shift!  If the client said in the initial interview that he/she wanted to build up a larger networking strategy, and then suddenly wants to switch to talking about their daughter’s overuse of text messaging or her husband’s financial problems, it is very appropriate to ask “How does this relate to the original goal of increasing networking partners in your company.”  If there is a legitimate reason, then go there.  If not, SHIFT the conversation or say “We are going to STOP this conversation…it has nothing to do with the original goal.”  If the client cannot demonstrate a clear connection to their personal challenges and the original goal, he/she is simply trying to get you off topic to avoid having to take on a big step.  This is the time to stop the conversation and go back to the original goal.

Sign: The client begins criticizing your coaching by saying things like “I don’t get that we are connecting or you don’t seem to get my issue.”

Coaching Strategy: Get bold…be upfront!   It may be true….that you and the client are not connecting and you are not getting it.  What I have found more often that not is that you are not “getting” that the client wants to take you way off into never-never land so that you can avoid the topic at hand.  If this is the case, you owe your client an obligation:  to be upfront.  You have to say something like this “I respect that you perceive we are not connecting.  May I offer up to you a few perceptions of my own?  You seem to switch subjects a great deal, I feel like I am being pulled into a rabbit hole and I am perceiving that you want to avoid taking on the big action steps I am asking of you.  So, here’s the deal…you hired me to help you expand your networking efforts, and we are now talking about your daughter’s excessive text messaging and your husband’s financial issues.  I still don’t clearly understand what this has to do with your original goal, so we have two options:  We can either end the coaching relationship or get back to the original goal you SAID you wanted to achieve.”

Sign: The client begins canceling coaching calls or is late for coaching calls.

Coaching Strategy: Ask the client this question “Where in your business or personal life are you canceling commitments or showing up late?”  This may be a sign to you that the client does not want to be confronted about not doing field work or not following through in other life areas.  Again…they are just stuck!

In closing…I don’t give up on clients.  I will try every strategy possible to get them to shift:  Interrupting them, calling them on their stuff, making a bold statement that they “did not do what was asked” or putting the coaching “on hold” until the client is really ready to move forward.  There will be times with clients when you simply have to end the coaching agreement (firing the client).  The client is not going to move into action, they just are not ready or they have not bought into coaching as a tool for growth.  As I say this, I encourage you to be as bold as possible for the well being of your clients.  We are not here to say what clients “want to hear”.  As coaches, we are here to ask tough questions and say what our clients “need to hear” in order to be the best they can be in their leadership roles.

Would so welcome your comments below.

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