I prefer to hold coaching sessions with my clients and students every other week. My standing joke is that I have the easy job--I get to just sit around and talk--while they have to go back to their lives and do all the heavy lifting. Meeting every other week allows enough time in between sessions for them to actually do whatever needs to be done, reflect on their experiences and bring that data back to the next session. Occasionally I do meet weekly with clients, if their lives are moving particularly quickly, but the goals is always to ensure that there will be sufficient time for things to happen between sessions.
So right from the start in a coaching engagement I strive to put the emphasis on the work that my client or student will be doing on their own, without any support for me. And I'm returning to this theme of self-coaching (and will do so regularly going forward) for three reasons:
1) Better Coaching for Current Clients
As I noted a few weeks ago, my clients and students typically spend just 1% of their working hours talking with me, "so 99% of the time they're managing interactions, making choices and responding to situations on their own. While those actions may be influenced by our coaching conversations, at most I'm a distant echo in the back of their minds, and in the moment my clients and students are coaching themselves through these experiences."
The more explicit and deliberate a client or student can be about the self-coaching practices they're employing and experimenting with, the more clearly they'll understand which practices comprise effective self-coaching for them as individuals, and the more they'll get out of their work with a personal coach like me.
2) Sustainable Support for Former Clients
A personal coaching engagement is typically a short-term, intensive experience. My goal as a coach is to help someone make meaningful, lasting change in their life, and the intensive nature of the experience (which supports the change process) also insures that it's relatively short in duration (as it should be.)
For example, I see clients for three-month engagements, and while a number of them re-commit for a second or third engagement, I rarely work with clients for more than a year. A 2009 Harvard Business Review report found that 91% of coaching engagements last less than 18 months, 73% last less than one year, and 28% last less than six months. And by definition my work with my students at Stanford is always short-term (10 weeks to 6 months) and intensive (it's Stanford.)
The more experience with self-coaching that a client can develop while they're working directly with a personal coach, the more likely they'll be able to continue these practices on a sustainable basis after the coaching engagement is over.
3) Greater Access for All Others
Despite the increased acceptance and understanding of coaching in recent years, and the accompanying growth in the profession (over 40,000 active coaches and a nearly $2 billion global market, according to the International Coach Federation [PDF]), direct access to high-quality personal coaching is still a rare commodity, typically available only to an exclusive population. (The 2009 HBR report cited hourly coaching fees ranging from $200 to $3,500, with a median of $500, and annual tuition for the coming year at Stanford's business school, where I'm a Leadership Coach, is over $57,000.)
In most industries and organizations today coaching is viewed as an investment in helping high-performers be even more effective and fulfilled, and yet some people who could afford personal coaching may work in setting where it's still viewed as a sign of underperformance or career trouble. They may fear that working with a coach will carry a stigma.
Whether the cause is cost or culture, it's clear that many people who could benefit from coaching lack access to a coach, and that's not going to change anytime soon. While self-coaching in the absence of an ongoing or prior engagement with a personal coach is unlikely to have the same impact, I believe that the right resources can still play a meaningful role in helping people be more effective or fulfilled as professionals.
All of which begs the question: Just what do I mean by self-coaching (and what are the right resources)? I started exploring this issue in 2009, and I realized that I'd already been writing about self-coaching for several years without even using the term; the results at the time were my initial Self-Coaching Guides, a collection of posts organized around the topics of change, communication, happiness, leadership, learning and motivation. I've published 116 additional posts since then, and my perspective on coaching has evolved in many ways during that process. So while I still view those 2009 Guides as a useful starting point, my current goal is to develop a completely new set of resources, building on the writing I've done here in recent years, sharing as I go, and ultimately compiling it all into a more coherent body of work.
I want to note that I started this project in 2010 but had to set it aside when I realized that I needed to take a break, recharge, and recover from a number of challenges before being able to write again on a regular basis. I was overwhelmed by the loss of Richard Wright, my father-in-law, and Roanak Desai, one of my students at Stanford, that Spring, and by Amy's experience with a second shoulder surgery and chronic pain that Summer. I needed to focus exclusively on my clients and students, on Amy and on myself, and I wrote almost nothing for a year from June 2010 through June 2011. I finally returned to writing in earnest a year ago, and since then I've been building the momentum I think I'll need to see this project through (thanks to a lot of work with my own coach and even more self-coaching along the way).
For an overview of my self-coaching framework, see A Self-Coaching Guide for Leaders at All Levels.
For all my posts on this topic, see my Self-Coaching category.
Photo by swanksalot. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.