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Since 2007 I’ve successfully coached a variety of clients from business owners, CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CTOs, Directors, City Managers, Deputy or Assistant City Managers, HR Directors, attorneys, and entrepreneurs. So far I’ve only had one – that’s right, one single exception – where the client experience (and my own) wasn’t as fruitful as it should have been. One isn’t likely a statistically valid number from which to draw a conclusion, but I’ve visited with other coaches and collected a variety of stories of failed experiences. They all sound similar to my exceptional singular experience where things just didn’t go very well. Nobody bats a thousand. I’m pretty pleased that I’ve only had one client who didn’t make the progress he should have.
Let’s start with what can go wrong. This is how you can make sure you don’t leverage executive coaching to your full advantage.
How To Sabotage Your Own Coaching Experience
I’ll list the steps you can take to ensure your executive coaching experience is a complete waste of time.
Step 1: Don’t open up with the coach.
Make sure you don’t share anything. Ever. Answer questions with a yes, no, or maybe. Better yet, regularly say, “What do you mean?” Do not share anything. Make sure the coach has to carry the conversation. Your goal is to say as little as possible.
Step 2: Don’t be honest.
Whatever you do, when you do speak, don’t be truthful or honest. It’s important – to make your coaching experience a complete waste of your time (and your coach’s) – that you’re never vulnerable. Your goal is to reveal nothing about yourself.
Step 3: Don’t put any effort into it.
Every time the coach tries to get on your schedule be busy. Behave as though your time is so valuable you can’t possibly squeeze in a session this week. Just make sure you don’t ever offer a reason. Go back and see steps 1 and 2.
If the coach asks you to do something, don’t. Ever. Just memorize this excuse, “I haven’t had the time.” It’s easy once you start making the excuse. Have some fun and get creative in your excuses, but only after you’ve mastered this one.
Step 4: Don’t commit to anything. Ever.
Your coach will try to find out what you want to do. Be very careful because if you reveal this, you may be held accountable. So avoid all accountability by refusing to commit to anything.
When asked about your goals or what you’d like to improve, be brave. Just repeat this statement, “Nothing really. I’m pretty happy with how things are going.” Your coach will likely be frustrated and may probe a bit more to find out if there’s nothing you’d like to work on. Stay the course by saying, “Nothing I can think of.” Just keep saying those things and whatever you do, do NOT admit that there is anything you’d like to improve. Your words and attitude must reflect that you have everything as perfect as possible.
Step 5: Just keep doing what you always did.
Change is hard. You don’t want to do any of that. You just want to let enough time pass so you can check the box that you had a coach for a period of time.
If your boss hired a coach for you, it’s really important that you work all this magic at a slow enough pace to let the coach have about 6 months. Otherwise, your boss may think you didn’t give the effort. And of course, you’re not giving it any effort, but you don’t want your boss to know that. So the main thing you must do is ACT. Fake it until you make it to the sixth-month mark, then you could be proactive and thank your boss for getting you a coach. Tell your boss how productive it’s been and what a wonderful experience it’s been. If your head isn’t already on the chopping block, then maybe you can get rid of the coach sooner than later. Honestly, you’ve got very little to lose because telling your boss those things isn’t going to save you if your head is on the block. But it may help you get rid of the coach. So you really have nothing to lose.
Step 6: Cross your fingers and hope for the best.
This step is self-explanatory. Come on, who needs help? You’ve got this. Keep thinking your delusional thoughts that high achievers don’t need anybody. And you are a high achiever. Feel good about yourself. Don’t worry about getting better. That’s a job for others, not you!
How To Get The Most From Your Coaching Experience
Let’s flip the script and talk about the steps you can take to maximize the experience (and the value) of your coaching experience.
Step 1: Be vulnerable. Trust the coach.
I tell every client, upfront, that I’m only here to help serve them. I have no other dog in the hunt except their growth and improvement. It’s not my job to establish the goals for their life or career. It’s their life and I’m not here to tell them what to do. I’m here to help them figure it out. Every session is private and confidential. And when the boss has hired me for them, the information flow goes only one direction – toward them. The sponsor who hires me for a direct report (meaning the boss who hires me for one of their leaders) is told upfront that the information I learn from the boss will be used for the client’s benefit. This isn’t a tattletale session though. I use the information to help guide the work. I also tell the sponsor (the boss) not to ask me to report anything the client says because I won’t. My work with the client is strictly confidential. The only exceptions – which have never happened so far – are if I learn things illegal, immoral, or unethical are going on, then I reserve the right to talk directly with the client about those things and I may be compelled to report those to the boss. Again, it’s never happened. Hopefully, it never will.
The point is confidentiality is critical to the process. Additionally, I show my own vulnerability in my first session with every client. It’s not a ploy. It’s completely genuine and honest. And I don’t script it. I say whatever I’m feeling at the time. It’s not about me, but it’s important that clients know I’m entering the relationship completely trusting them. I’m happy to earn their trust, but I’m going to give it to them free from the get-go.
Step 2: Be open. Share.
Volunteer information. This is your opportunity to share anything and everything because professional coaches are safe. They have only your best interest at heart. Keep in mind, your success and growth are a reflection of their success and growth. They want you to be more successful. They also want this to be among the most rewarding experiences of your life because people who are attracted to – and good at – coaching professional people enjoy seeing others reach new levels of success. Your coach is genuinely interested in helping you. Let them. Don’t squander this opportunity.
Step 3: It’s your life. Figure out how you want to improve it.
Great coaches aren’t people who tell you what you ought to do. They’re not there to tell you how to live your life, but they are there to help you figure out to improve your life. Put in the work to figure out what you’d like to improve. Don’t be afraid to pursue whatever it is you’d like to pursue.
Clients have told me they’d like to improve their faith, their relationship with their adult kids, their marriage, their ability to retain key employees, their ability to develop emerging leaders, their ability to spend less time in the details (and be more strategic), their ability to ready for retirement, their marketability to get a better job, and a host of other things. These goals are personal to each client. I’ve got nothing to do with what they want because it’s their life. My role is to help them figure out a path forward so they can achieve their goals. Imagine the loss these clients would have experienced if they didn’t assume responsibility for their own life…and if they didn’t put in the work to figure these things out.
Step 4: Accept the challenge and do the work.
Yes, you’re busy. But this investment is in YOU. Nothing is more important than putting in the work to grow yourself. Make your coaching sessions a priority. In fact, don’t wait on the coach, take control. Your coach will respect your proactive approach to making sure you’re on the schedule weeks in advance.
Dive into the work. Be ambitious about it because it’s your life! Don’t procrastinate.
Hint: the more you dive into the work the more you’ll want to dive into the work.
Go back to step 1 if you find yourself being reluctant. Do you not trust the coach? Tell them. You can’t avoid difficult conversations and move forward. Be selfish enough to make sure you’re getting all the value possible. Your coach will respect it. And your coach will do everything possible to remedy any obstacles or hurdles for you.
Step 5: Own it all.
I work hard to help clients paint themselves into a corner where there are no more excuses. I encourage people to accept responsibility (not the same as blame) for everything in their life. Why not? It’s the path forward because it empowers people to take whatever control exists in their life. When bad things happen (and they will), then we accept responsibility for what we’ll do now.
Don’t resist accepting responsibility. It’s liberating to take control.
Step 6: Be grateful.
List the things you have without being fixated on what you don’t have. You likely have tons of things for which to be thankful. Consider those things. Be thankful you had an opportunity – or you created an opportunity – to work with an executive coach. Most professionals will live their entire lives never having had this experience. Many will assume the people who are organically in their life can do for them what an executive coach can do. They’re wrong because those organic relationships have strings attached. We’re beholden to almost everybody in our life. A professional executive coach enters our life without strings. The only objective is to help us move forward. Be thankful you’re among the most elite leaders on the planet who experience such help. The highest achievers on the planet know what you’ve now learned – we all need somebody capable of helping us figure it out.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!