Keep the Client in Charge

keeping client in chargeThe fact that coaches don’t direct the conversation in a coaching relationship doesn’t mean they are passive. Once the client sets the agenda, the coach takes responsibility to focus the conversation and push it toward action. It’s important to keep the client in charge. The coach’s job is to help the client think more clearly, to push him or her to go deeper and reach higher, to provide the structure they need to stay focused on the agenda they’ve chosen. A coach has three main logistical responsibilities during an appointment:

1. Ask for a progress report to provide accountability.

2. Manage the coaching conversation so it moves the client forward toward the goal.

3. Make sure they arrive at a set of concrete, committed action steps.

Keeping the client in charge of the coaching relationship can be a challenge. We are all prone toward giving advice and the gravitational pull of that habit tends to suck us back toward taking over in a conversation. A great way to reinforce the client-centered principle is to build structures into your coaching relationships that reinforce this ideal. Here are seven ways to do it:

1. Ask the client to set the main agenda during each appointment. I often ask, “What could we talk about today that is most important to move you toward your goal?”

2. Have them keep the list of action steps. When you do a progress report, work from their list, not yours.

3. When asked for suggestions, offer multiple options (instead of just one) and ask the client to choose which to pursue.

4. When there are multiple directions the coaching conversation could go, present the alternatives and let him or her make the call.

5. Use the words “action steps,” not “homework” or “assignments.” An assignment is something a coach gives out; the client develops action steps. Let your language reflect your values!

6. Ask them to develop options and action steps first before you offer any ideas.

7. Make sure the final wording for a goal or action step comes out of the client’s mouth, not yours. A statement made by them is their statement.

Tony Stoltzfus is a master coach, author and coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. More of his writings on the disciplines, skills and heart of a Christian coach can be found in his book, Leadership Coaching.