I ask clients to read this before we begin working together to allow you to better understand my approach to coaching and to help you get the most out of the experience.
We'll discuss this document in our first session, which is one of the few times (and possibly the only time) that I'll begin a session with a specific agenda item. The purpose of that conversation is to set the parameters of our relationship and to clarify how we'll work together within them. Although we'll also define the terms of our coaching engagement in a separate letter agreement, which covers issues such as how often we'll meet and the duration and cost of the engagement, I view this document as the more meaningful "contract" between us.
A) Key Elements of Coaching
1) You have the answers, not me
Coaching isn't mentoring, therapy, consulting or career counseling, although it's related to all of those disciplines. The key difference is that in those relationships you're typically seeking answers from an expert.
My expertise is in building meaningful coaching relationships, but I'm not an expert on you or your goals, and I don't have answers for you. I have questions, and you will ultimately have to discover the answers that are right for you.
You may feel as though you don't have those answers, but our work together will be designed to help you find them. Our emphasis on identifying the answers that are uniquely right for you not only insures that our work will yield sustainable results, but also helps to ensure that you're accountable to yourself in this process, not to me or anyone else.
2) You set the agenda
I won't determine what issues are to be addressed, and I won't determine the solutions that will be right for you. My role is to help you articulate your aspirations and clarify your goals, to develop a process to meet your needs and to guide you through that process.
3) A coaching relationship is an equal partnership
I'm not an authority figure, nor am I simply a service provider. You and I will work together as equal partners in this process and will share responsibility for its success.
4) Choice, fulfillment and effectiveness
Within the guidelines above, my approach to coaching typically focuses on helping people feel more fulfilled and effective in their professional lives. Our choices make us more or less fulfilled and more or less effective, and in part coaching is intended to help you understand how each choice you make affects these aspects of your life.
Fulfillment is uniquely defined by each of us for ourselves, but a useful starting point may be "Achieving your fullest potential in the areas that are most important to you." Effectiveness is also individually defined, but a useful starting point may be "Achieving your goals consistently with a sustainable level of effort."
B) Key Characteristics of the Coaching Relationship
I will not disclose your identity as a coaching client, any information that would identify you as a client or any details of our work together without your permission.
2) Trust and accountability
We need to do what we say we'll do. Within our coaching engagement you're accountable to yourself, not to me or to anyone else, and our success will depend on building trust over time by fulfilling our commitments to each other.
While our coaching relationship must be one in which both of us feel a sense of caring and appreciation, it must also be one in which both of us feel free--and even obligated--to be honest with each other. I will always speak professionally and with respect, but I will also strive to be as candid and direct as possible in order to be as helpful as possible.
C) Things to Expect in a Coaching Session
1) Interruptions and pointed questions
I may interrupt you, and I may ask direct, pointed questions. It's important that we find the communication style that's most effective for us as a team; it's essential that you feel heard in our discussion; and I don't want excessive politeness to get in the way of real communication.
2) Requests and responses
I may make suggestions, and you always have at least four responses to choose from: You can say "Yes," say "No," suggest an alternative, or ask for time to think about it further. In a sense, any feedback or data that I provide can be thought of as a suggestion, and you should always feel that you have the ability to accept it, reject it, modify it, or defer it.
3) Getting stuck
Prepare to get stuck from time to time, particularly one or two months after we begin. Coaching clients sometimes become excited by the potential for change that appears in the first few sessions but are then disappointed when actual change doesn’t follow immediately. Bear in mind that it will take time to identify desired changes, put them into effect, and experience sustainable results.
Effective coaching will at some point run into your fears or concerns and generate resistance to change. This is expected and actually desirable, because it's an important indicator of progress. Both of us will need to learn to identify and recognize signs of resistance and discuss them explicitly.
D) Getting Started
Consider the questions below. We're not obligated to pursue any of them, but they may serve as a useful starting point in our work together.
1) Questions to understand you and your current situation
- What activities have the most meaning for you?
- What works for you when you make changes successfully?
- Where do you get stuck?
- How do you deal with disappointment or failure? How do you deal with success?
- What helps you fulfill your commitments? What gets in your way when you don't?
- What's satisfying about your work today? What's unsatisfying about it?
- What one thing could you do immediately that would make the greatest difference in your current situation?
2) Questions that will allow you to help define my role
- What does "coaching" mean to you? What does it not mean?
- How would you advise me to coach you most effectively?
- If you seem stuck, how would you like me to help?
3) Questions to understand where you want to be in the future
- Where do you want to make a difference?
- What would make your work so compelling that you would do it without compensation?
- If a goal is an external, visible outcome, what are your most important goals?
- If a commitment is an internal force that drives you to set and achieve goals, what are you committed to?
- If a habit is a small sign of a larger process, what helpful habits do you want to encourage? What counter-productive habits do you want to break?
- To build on your success or achieve lasting change, you will have to explore and better understand your assumptions, mental models and beliefs. Which assumptions, models and beliefs support your success? Which ones are getting in your way?
- Who do you want to continue being? Who do you want to become?
The following books have informed the ongoing development of this document.
- The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business, James Hunt and Joseph Weintraub
- Co-Active Coaching, Laura Whitworth, et al
- Helping, Edgar Schein