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How to Price Your Coaching

November 10, 2017

 

How to Price Coaching

Having met and gotten to know hundreds of coaches, I’ve come to believe that many of us suck at valuing ourselves. Personally, I find myself alternating, in equal measure, between the belief that I should be charging more and the belief that I’m charging too much already!  And idea of talking to other coaches about how much they charge for coaching just feels so taboo.

My belief that I should be charging more comes from my experience of just how challenging it can be to make a living coaching. (BTW, a huge percentage of coaches don’t make a living coaching. According to the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, on average, US coaches made $61,800/year. And unless you live in South Dakota, that’s simply not enough to thrive on.) I’ve coached full time (meaning as a focus for my career, not coaching 40 hours/week) for almost 15 years, have logged over 5,000 hours of paid coaching, completed three coaching programs, (two through Invite Change and one through Adler) and attained the PCC coaching credential (MCC proves to be elusive for me), and though I’m making a living, I feel that in any other profession (attorney, accountant, consultant), I’d be making a LOT more money for my level of experience/education/ability.

My belief that I’m charging too much already comes from this horridly guilty feeling that “OMG, what could I do in an hour that would be worth that?!” (Yup, I’m one of those coaches that sucks at valuing myself.) Logically I know that the value I create for my clients can be significant and meaningful and is, in essence, priceless. And that doesn’t keep me from having some emotional baggage around my pricing.


Taking the Emotional Baggage Out of Pricing

I had the good fortune to take a class on pricing during my MBA program at University of Chicago, from Nobel Laureate, George Stigler. He was a sweetheart of a guy and made pricing a subject that wasn’t just theoretical, but also logical. Even now, as I think about raising my prices and how I get my head around it, I’m grateful to have a framework for thinking about pricing that takes the emotion out of it for me, and gives me the distance to make a logical choice I can feel good about.

Factors to Consider In Determining Pricing

Obviously, there is no one answer to how all coaches should price. That said, there are a set of factors each of us can consider and use as guideposts in creating our own framework for determining pricing we can feel good about, or at least support logically. Below I offer up a way to think about pricing, examples of my own pricing, and other ways of pricing that coaches have shared with me. To be clear, I’m not presenting myself as an authority on this topic. My sincere intention is to help as many coaches as possible value themselves appropriately, make a living coaching, and capture more of the value they create for others.

Who’s Paying

For most services, who’s paying doesn’t matter when it comes to pricing. For landscaping, legal, cleaning, accounting, haircutting services, most everyone pays pretty much the same price (unless, of course someone has buying power that allows them to negotiate the price down). Not so true much for coaching. With coaching, who’s paying really matters in determining pricing (whether it should or not).

In general, companies will pay more (much more) for coaching than an individual will. By way of example, my target market is CEOs/Entrepreneurs/Owners.  I like to coach where business meets personal. So both the individual and the company are paying, as they are the same. A few years ago, I had a C.E.O. client that I was charging the rough equivalent of $250/hour. At the same time, I was coaching his wife (who worked for a Fortune 500 company who paid for coaching) and charging $500/hour. What I offered was the same and what the buyer was willing to pay was quite different. And I did not feel guilty about it, though sometimes I think I should.  🙂

Target Market

While target market is similar to who pays, it’s not the same. For example, the C.E.O. client’s wife I mention above, referred me to her best friend who worked at the same company in a similar role. Her friend didn’t ask or couldn’t get her company to pay for coaching. She couldn’t afford to pay personally the rate I charged the company, but could afford the rate I charged my C.E.O. clients, so that’s what I charged.

While I don’t have the data to prove it, I’m confident in saying that the 70% of coaches who identify as leadership, executive, business or career coaches make substantially more money than the 30% of coaches who identify as life, vision, health, wellness or spirituality coaches. (To be clear, I’m not in any way suggesting that is deserved or related to quality or ability.) It’s simply, IMO, related to target market and who’s paying.

Targeting individuals (or teams) at higher levels at companies with greater revenues will yield (in general) more than targeting individuals at mid-levels or at privately held companies or outside of a company setting. The more money people have access to, the more money they’ll pay for coaching. (I know, obvious, right? And sometimes it needs to be said.)

Years ago, I coached a woman who was a coach herself, had a best-selling book, and was a keynote speaker for Global 1000 companies. Her target market was Global 1000 CEOs and she charged them $95,000 for an annual coaching contract. (Yup and I was coaching her for $250/hr, 2 hours/month. Definitely something wrong there!).

Geography

Even though the telephone was identified as the delivery method 68% of US coaches use in the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, geography still matters, even if the coaching isn’t in person. There remains a relationship between coach pricing and the cost of living of the location in which the client resides/works. On average, clients in New York, DC, and LA will pay more for coaching than clients in Texas, Nebraska, or Colorado.

A senior coach who works with high level executives at Big Pharma companies in NY recently shared that she charges $18,000 for a six month coaching assignment. She works with her clients about one hour every other week. (Of course, it’s never that simple. There’s always discovery and development of the coaching plan and maybe a 360. And $18,000 for one client for six months doesn’t suck.) BTW, most senior coaches I talk with in the DC area charge $12,000 – 18,000 for similar six month coaching packages.

Packaging

Coaches package their services in many different ways, and those differences have some significant implications for long term revenue. Below are a few different ways I’ve learned that coaching is packaged. I’d love to hear from you what I’m missing.

Lump Sum for a Six Month Plan

I would call this a traditional ICF coaching packaging. It’s basically a single price (paid upfront or maybe in two parts, half as a deposit and the remainder at the three month mark) for the completion of the six month coaching plan. Coaching sessions are typically every other week.

The upside of this arrangement is that payment is made upfront for services performed over time. A downside is in six months you’ll be looking for another client, or your client has a big decision to make as to whether or not to spend that big lump sum again.

Coaching by Day/Week

When I was at the Institute of Coaching Leadership Forum last month, I met the CEO of a coaching business in Colorado. He has a staff of 30 employees, all coaches. Borrowing a pricing model from the oil and gas industry, he “sells” coaches to companies for a certain number of days or weeks per month. Those companies can use those coaches for whatever they want – coaching, facilitation, training, interviewing. And they are willing to pay a healthy price to have that coach “on staff.” (I didn’t get the pricing, but he told me his business was thriving and all 30 of this employee coaches were engaged and making good money). Of course, the coaches he employed were like Swiss Army knives, with a number of different tools for a myriad of applications. (That sounds pretty awesome to me.)

Membership

About 4 years ago, taking a song from the Vistage hymnal, I made the switch to a membership model for my coaching. My clients pay a flat amount every month (like a gym membership, which is drawn automatically each month using PayPal) for a package of benefits that includes a certain amount of coaching time. The benefits include: 1) invitation to a quarterly dinner/ workshop series – and they still pay for dinner, 2) 360 feedback every six months, and 3) one EQ Profile assessment per quarter (for them or one of their people, and it’s free to me since I own the company).

Coaching time within the membership is typically one or two 55 minute sessions. Most of my coaching sessions are conducted via Skype or phone. If my client prefers to see me in person, they come to me, either at a coffee shop ten minutes from my home or a Regus office suite that is 15 minutes from my home, which I rent by the hour.

The benefits of the membership model include: 1) keeping clients for long, long periods of time because there’s no big decision to make at the completion of a coaching package. (Of the clients on my current client roster, I’ve worked with them on average for four years.)  2) a steady, predictable income stream (I get paid whether I meet with my clients or not. My clients cancel A LOT. And I’m ok with that because I don’t have to pay the price for it)  3) coaching becomes for my clients, less of an event, and more of a habit/lifestyle.

While this model wouldn’t be attractive to some coaches, I love it. My client roster is always full and I have long term, meaningful relationships with my clients. Oh, BTW, I charge $399/month for a package that includes one hour of coaching and $699/month for a package that includes two hours of coaching. Sure, it’s a pittance compared with what I could make if I were working with executives in Corporate America. And having spent decades working in a series of Fortune 500 companies, ending up an SVP at Bank of America, I find working in that environment to be soul-usurping. That said, as I noted before, I am contemplating a price increase. What do you think? (BTW, if you have significant, first-hand experience coaching CEO/Owner/Entrepreneurs I’d love to get your thoughts.)

Performance Based Pricing


Marshall Goldsmith is well-known for his performance-based model of pricing. When I met Marshall last month at the IOC Leadership Forum, he shared a bit of his approach. He does some benchmarking work with his clients upfront, which includes a 360 to determine where they are in terms of their performance. Then he contracts to improve the performance of his clients, on the agreed upon benchmarks. If his clients don’t improve, he doesn’t get paid. Also worth noting is that his contract requires his clients to do what he tells them to do. And when they do, and they improve, he gets $250,000. From every client, every time. (This is where the mic drops.)

Hourly Pricing

Some coaches, usually newly certified, charge by the hour for coaching time, usually for the duration of a contract. Most senior coaches don’t ostensibly price by the hour, but any contract eventually comes down to price for time spent coaching. A direct (and perhaps obvious) correlation exists between how much a coach charges per hour and how much they make annually.

The ICF Global Coaching Study found that coaches making greater than $150,000/year charge an average of $607/hour. Coaches making $100,000 – $150,000 per year coaching, charge an average of $365/hour. That’s a huge difference! So you CAN make a thriving living coaching, depending upon who pays, what your target market is, where they are located and how you package it. (And of course, it helps a lot if you’ve written a best-selling book, have developed your own coaching model and/or have tons of relevant experience.)

We can package our coaching in lots of different ways. At the end of the day, the price for coaching is whatever the client will pay. And the more value we bring as coaches, the more a client is likely to find the experience of coaching and what they get from it, indispensable. What’s important is that we coaches value ourselves and respect the value we are creating for our clients. That way, we can all thrive, making a sustainable, bountiful living doing what we love. (I’ll keep you posted on whatever I decide to do with my pricing)

Would you like to know more about how comparable your pricing is? How other coaches like you price?  (Yeah, maybe it’s taboo to talk about money – and hey if it means that all of us can begin to make a better living as a result, let’s get rebellious!)


If so, complete this brief survey about you, what you offer, and how you price. Once the results are in, we will compile the data, keeping it all anonymous, and share it with you.


We’d love your thoughts on all of this and anything else you’d like to share. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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Posted in: Learning in Action

Coaching Outside the Lines

November 3, 2017

Even though I’ve been coaching for 15 years, I still sometimes ask myself, “Am I doing this right? Do I have permission to do this?”  (No doubt, that’s my doubt showing up.)  And yet, when I look at the World’s Top 30 Coaching Professionals for 2017, it’s clear, to me anyway, that they didn’t ask anyone for permission.  And apparently, they didn’t ask the question “Am I doing this right?” Instead, they opted for figuring out what was right for them and did it.  (And of course, wrote a book about it, got it published and successfully promoted it – which is nice. 😊 ).

The Secret Sauce of Coaching

I don’t know what “My Way” of coaching is, my “secret sauce.”  And I sincerely respect (and am somewhat pissed off by) people who do.   I barely understand my way of coaching well enough to do it, much less write a book about it.  That said, I don’t believe there is any ONE secret sauce of coaching.  There’s a secret sauce we make for and with our clients.  Perhaps if we each could figure out the recipe for our own coaching sauce, we each could bottle it and sell it.  And what feels important is that we coaches create that secret sauce with our clients in a way that brings out not only the best in them, but the best in us, as well.

Coaching Outside of the Lines

I’d only been coaching a few years, when I realized that one-to-one coaching was wonderful and awesome – and not enough for me.   I wanted to do more for my clients…and for me.   Fortunately, while I have my doubts, I’m not afraid to try things.  So I began creating unique coaching experiences that allowed me to express more of myself and granted me the ability to try things with my clients that weren’t possible in the traditional one-to-one coaching model.  

Here I offer you ways in which I’ve experimented with coaching outside-of-the-lines, in the hopes that it encourages you to create coaching experiences that you love and that reflect the uniqueness and wonder of YOU.

Experiences that Inspire

In 2009, the US was in the depths of a recession. My CEO/business owner clients were feeling the devastation of it.  I was desperate to find some way of restoring their hope, reconnecting them with the inspiration of why they do what they do.  So, I organized one of the first TEDx conferences in the US.

Luckily, I stumbled on to Simon Sinek, author of the then soon-to-be-released book, Start with Why.   I paid to fly him from New York to Seattle to be the opening speaker for my conference, TEDxPugetSound.   Simon gave what is now the third most viewed TED talk of all time.

In this TEDx Talk, he presented, to a group of 50 of my coaching clients and prospects in the Georgetown Ballroom in Seattle.  This conference, this experience I created, gave my clients something that traditional coaching couldn’t.  I went on to organize two more TEDx conferences as an extension of my work as a coach.

Expanded Perspectives

The question of whether or not my clients have all of their own answers is one that I’ve wrestled with for years.  And at one point, for better or worse, I determined that if I couldn’t or wouldn’t give them advice, I’d find someone who would.  😊  For many years, I ran peer roundtables through Vistage.   Peer roundtables gave me several opportunities:  to see my clients outside of the traditional coaching setting, to facilitate their receiving multiple perspectives on their internal and external challenges, and to provide them with advice -even if it wasn’t from me!  I still run a CEO roundtable in DC, and love the freedom it gives me to co-create a group coaching experience.

Deeper Learning

By the end of 2014, I’d completed my time with both Vistage and the TED organization.   I was coaching on my own, and acting as an advisor for a company called Netcito that created and supported roundtables for entrepreneurs in DC.   Once again, I found myself wanting to do more for my clients than traditional coaching.   I wanted to go deeper on essential topics, playing with them and exploring them in ways that my coaching didn’t allow.  So I’ve created a quarterly dinner/workshop series for my clients on both east and west coasts (DC and Seattle).

The purpose of these dinner/workshops is to connect people to an idea, to like-minded peers and to a deeper understanding of themselves.   We do that by exploring a single meaningful topic (like shame or anger or the ladder of inference or mindfulness), sharing and connecting through our fears, doubts, and vulnerabilities, and resting in a safe and creative space.  All while eating yummy food and drinking good wine.   It’s pretty much the most fun I have all quarter. (If you’d like to experience a taste of the workshops I do with my clients, and you’re in the Seattle or Boston area, please join us.  We’d love to have you.)

What about you?

My hope with sharing these examples is to encourage you to explore coaching outside of the lines, giving yourself permission to define coaching however you want.   Maybe you already coach outside of the lines. Bravo!   I believe that what the profession of coaching calls on us all to do is to create our lives in a way that we love and that expresses the fullness and preciousness of who we are.   Because when we do, we lead the way for our clients and they flourish as a result!

How do you coach outside of the lines?  How do you make your coaching yours?  What’s your secret sauce?  I’d love to hear it.

Alison Whitmire

President | Learning In Action


We have several upcoming EQ Profile certification courses. Check out our course catalog or click on the link below.

 

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Posted in: Learning in Action

Does the Client Really Have All the Answers?

October 27, 2017

I’ve been wrestling with this question for some time.  Must I only ask and never tell? Does the client really have all the answers? I recently completed a course intended to prepare me for MCC.  While it truly transformed my understanding of coaching (from an ICF perspective), I also found it frustrating.  When I tried this more MCC –like approach with my clients, many just didn’t want to play along.  (Likely because I had “trained” them to expect something different from me).  All the same, when I recently surveyed my clients about what works about our coaching and what they wanted more of from me, the comment most frequently made was “Tell me what you think!”

Does only asking questions work?

I attended the Institute of Coaching conference in Boston a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to get up close and personal with few high profile coaches to ask them this question.    I spoke with David Peterson, head of coaching and leadership for Google and asked him, “How much do you believe the idea that the client has their own answers?”  He responded “If you didn’t know where the bathroom was and said to me, ‘I want to figure out how to find the bathroom”, am I going to ask you how you feel about it, or why you want to go to the bathroom or what finding the bathroom is going to give you? No!  I’m going to tell you where the bathroom is!”  This pretty much summed up what I heard from a number of coaches who attended this very academic conference, focused on the research and study of the efficacy of coaching.  

Also, I had the opportunity to spend a day in a small group with Marshall Goldsmith.  I asked Marshall point blank his stance on the efficacy of the classic ICF-style approach of mainly just asking questions.  His response: “There is no scientific evidence of any kind that proves that approach to coaching works.  Mine works.  I have decade of proof that it does.”  BTW, Marshall requires all his clients sign a contract saying that they’ll do exactly what he tells them to do.  Neat job if you can get it. 😊

Do you break the rules?

Last, I had the good fortune to meet the funny and charming CEO of Coachville, David Buck, at a camp for entrepreneurs that we attended this summer.  We, too, got to talking about this question and he let me know that he had just written an article on a similar topic for Choice Magazine, entitled Breaking the Rules: Is it Time for the Coaching Paradigm to Expand.  In it, he compares the ICF model of coaching to yoga and  his model for “Real Coaching” to the Olympics.  The ICF Co-Active model as he calls it is not about performance and “Real Coaching” is.  BTW, Dave would love your feedback on his article.  You can email him at coachdave@coachville.com.

What is coaching?

Do my clients come to me because they want to perform better?  Of course!  Do my clients also want clarity and restoration of the essence of who they are?  Do they not only want to perform better, but also BE better? Be more of who they want to be?  Be self creating?  YES!  So, I think for me, coaching is about being with the tension of self-inquiry around what will serve my client best – advising them in a way that can improve their performance or coaching them toward empowerment, resourcefulness and self-authorship.   Or more likely, a delicate blend of both.

What about you?  What do you think?  What is coaching to you?  What model do you follow?   

We’d love to hear about it.

– Alison

 

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Posted in: Learning in Action

5 Signs Your Clients are Asking for the EQP

September 25, 2017

Do you use the EQ Profile with everyone you work with?  I don’t.  (Uh oh.  Maybe I shouldn’t admit that). I do use the EQ Profile with every team I work with because I want to know what I’m getting myself into when I challenge them. (See an example of our new EQ Playbook for Teams here).  And I don’t use the EQ Profile right out of the gate with every coaching client.  I want to look for signs that the client is essentially asking for EQ Profile before I introduce them to it.

When I say asking for it, I mean that my clients expect me to help them see what they can’t see about themselves.  And when a client’s blindspots become apparent to me (and not so much to them), I’ve found that is the ideal time to introduce the EQ Profile to them, to help them see themselves more fully.

 

Do you want to become an expert at identifying your client’s blindspots? As an EQ Profile Practitioner, you can take advantage of a special offer for our upcoming refresher course.
More details below.

 

Here are five signs or indications that a client is “asking” for the EQ Profile by how they are showing up in the coaching:

1) Their focus is outside of themselves. 

Sally was exasperated with her boss.  “He’s micromanaging my department.  He’s never available.  He leaves me out of meetings that affect me and my department.”  And I would ask Sally, “What do you want around this?” to which she would respond “He won’t let me do my job.  The board believes in me, but he doesn’t.  Other companies would love to have someone like me on their staff.”  And I would return to the question “And what do YOU want?” and she would continue with her latest grievance about her boss.

Her focus was almost completely outside of herself (a strong indicator of Other Orientation), to the point that she was nearly blind to what she felt, thought or wanted for or about herself.  This was a big billboard of a sign that she would benefit from the EQ Profile (and developing a deeper understanding of Other Orientation).  The EQ Profile provided the platform to discuss where we tend to focus under stress and how one can cede the locus of control to another without even realizing it.  With this new awareness, Sally has become significantly more empowered, more confident in her role and her boss has backed off, giving her more space to perform.

2) Their difficulty in seeing what’s possible.

Jeff was one of my most challenging clients.  We would start most every session by identifying what he wants to have come out of the session.  We would explore his situation, his relationship to the outcome he’s wanting and what his options are.   And one by one, he would explain in detail why anything we talked about wouldn’t work.  And I would ask “what else is possible?” And we’d explore another option, which he would meticulously dismantle.  And I would ask “So what is possible?”   And by the end of most of our early sessions, he’d talked himself out of every possibility we explored and was returned back to where we started the session.  Jeff couldn’t see or believe in what was possible (because of his strong Negative Orientation).

Jeff’s negative orientation served him well in his profession (as CEO of a professional services firm specializing in compliance).  However, it blinded him to any vision for the company.  If he couldn’t see it, touch it, feel it, it was “magic fairy dust.”

After the EQ Profile, Jeff gained some perspective about how differently he saw himself, others and the world, under stress.  He was able to reflect on how he had been successful in  situations of uncertainty in the past and came up with a way of framing the future that helped him get his head around it (e.g. we’ll probably never be able to do this, but if we did by some miracle in the future do it, here’s how we would have done it – kind of reverse engineering a vision).  It works for him and gave him the shift he needed to move forward.

3) They are not accessing their feelings.

Bill’s wife had “caught” him.  Bill’s business partner had “fired” him.  When I asked Bill how he felt, he said “Well, I think this will be a new opportunity to start over and do something new.”  And I asked “And how do you feel, using a feeling word?” (You can tell I’m persistent, like a dog with a bone).   Bill said “I’m pretty ok with it.”  Hmmmmm.  “You seem pretty disconnected from your feelings, Bill.”  “I don’t know. I feel pretty good.”

Bill didn’t have access to his feelings.  He didn’t know what he was missing.  And he was missing the essential information that his feelings would provide him.  Information that could help him save his relationships.

Introducing Bill to the EQ Profile gave me the platform to talk with him about the information that feelings provide and how not accessing distressing feelings can impair authentic relationships. The language of feelings is somewhat foreign to Bill and he’s slowly but surely learning to speak it.

4) Their Inner Critic is merciless. 

A serial entrepreneur, Randy’s life and career were like a roller coaster, with lots of ups and downs.  Randy had a merciless inner critic that shamed him relentlessly.  When Randy obeyed the Inner Critic, he was thin and buff and on top of his business game (while his sleep and relationships suffered).  And when Randy didn’t do everything his inner critic demanded, he felt like a failure, packing on pounds and doubting his business abilities.

When I introduced Randy to the EQ Profile, it gave us the opportunity to talk about shame and how it can be healthy for us in good measure and how it can make us miserable (as well as those around us) when we let the shame drive the bus.  Also, it gave us the opportunity to talk about the role of the inner critic, to give it a name and to discuss the role it plays in Randy’s life.   When we developed strategies for Randy to simply notice the voice of his inner critic and observe it as witness, he was able to find some distance from it and make more conscious and healthy choices.

5)  Their boss and subordinates love them – their peers, not so much.

Jane didn’t understand the mixed messages in her 360 feedback.  Jane’s people loved her.  They felt seen by her, supported and engaged by her.  To her boss, Jane was indispensable.  She always seemed to know what needed to be done and she was a problem solver, quick to step into action to fix whatever was broken.  Jane’s peers had a different experience.  They didn’t trust her.   They felt she was trying to compete with them, make them look bad.

Jane felt like she was the same person with everyone.  She didn’t understand how people could see her so differently.  Her peers just didn’t know her.  They didn’t understand her.  (And let’s face it, they weren’t that smart, anyway).

The EQ Profile helped Jane gain some clarity about her relationship strategies, the ones she was comfortable with and the ones she wasn’t.  Jane wasn’t comfortable depending upon someone else, especially when the chips were down.  If the going was going to get tough, she was going to get going.  She wasn’t going to wait for someone else.  And Jane didn’t really realize this about herself until the EQ Profile debrief of her relationship strategies.  And it brought all of her 360 feedback into perspective.

There you have it.  Five signs that your client is asking for the EQ Profile.

Are your clients asking you for the EQ Profile?
Are they missing some perspective?
Do their issues sound the same?
Is there a pattern to your coaching sessions?

If so, your clients might be asking you to help them see what they can’t.  The EQ Profile can support you in showing your clients themselves and what they’re missing.

With the EQ Profile, you can open up all new choices for your clients that would never have been available to them otherwise.  Wow!  What a gift you have to give them.

Many of our EQ Profile Practitioners have found that taking a retraining course is an excellent way to get clearer on how to use the EQ Profile to go deeper with your clients faster.

 

Our next virtual EQ Profile refresher training starts October 19th. 

Already a practitioner? For a limited time, we’re offering 2 free EQ Profile’s with the purchase of our EQ Profile Certified Coach Retraining Course. That’s worth over $300, which is more than the price of admission.

This offer ends on Oct 6th so be sure you register before then here.

Please email our team at liat@learninginaction.com if you have any questions.

 

Hope to you see you there!

– Alison Whitmire

President | Learning In Action Technologies

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Posted in: Assessment Tools|Consulting & Training Programs|Emotional Intelligence|Learning in Action

4 Things They Don’t Teach You in Coaching School

November 18, 2016

coaching school

Do you know the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? It’s a marvelous book written by a Seattle-area author. I wish I could write the same book about coaching school, All I Really Need to Know About Coaching I Learned in Coaching School. However, after 10 plus years of coaching, I’m realizing how much I didn’t learn about coaching in either of the two certified coaching programs I completed.

While I really could write a whole book about what I didn’t learn about coaching in school, I’m focusing this article on four key insights I’ve gained only from thousands of coaching hours, much of which has felt like trial and error. I’m hoping these four key concepts that coaching schools don’t emphasize will help make your learning curve steeper than mine was!

#1: How Both Challenging and Essential it is to Get A Clear Contract For Every Session

 

Sure, pretty much every coaching school provides direction on contracting. After all, ICF Core Competency #2 is Establishing the Coaching Agreement. It relates to determining the client’s desired outcome, both for the coaching relationship as a whole and for each coaching session.

What they don’t teach you is how difficult and sometimes slippery it can be to actually obtain that contract.

Clients frequently show up for a session with a turbulent mix of emotions, about a myriad of topics. Some are related to the coaching work and some are not. They want to dive into the safe space you’ve created, spill it out, and basically, get whatever’s going on off their chest. Because you are caring, warm and empathetic, you connect with them and share in their feelings. And if you’re not intentional, you can get caught up in the client’s emotional tide and come to the end of the session without having forwarded the client’s agenda.

coaching school

How do you establish a contract with an emotional client? First, acknowledge the emotion. Then determine if it’s something they would like to clear or if it’s something they’d like coaching on. If it’s something they would like to clear and not be the focus of the coaching, you can ask a question like “What would you like to say or do to clear this and be present for the coaching?” Usually, the client just wants to vent a bit more and after, is ready to move on. Then you can begin to establish the contract for the session.

You can begin to create the contract with a question like, “What would you like to focus on today?” or “What would you like to accomplish for our time together today?” Be prepared to ask this question two or even three times. Emotional clients can launch into one story after another, without actually naming their focus or what they want. And sometimes you’re helping them to sort through their emotions enough to name what they want coaching on is the highest value they receive from the session. Score!

Once you know what the client wants to focus on, the contract still is not complete. From there, you’ll want to complete the contracting process by anchoring it with 1) what makes the topic important to the client, 2) the outcome they want for the session and 3) how they would measure that outcome. Ideally, you want the client to recap all of that so they know and own what they want to have come out of the session. Once you have all of that, then and only then, do you have a clear contract for a session.

When a client shows up in an emotional or otherwise distracted state, they often don’t know what they want from the session. It’s the coach’s job to help the client get clear about what they want and secure the contract for the session. The contract is an essential element to moving the client forward toward their overall desired outcome.

If there is no contract, there is no coaching. Definitionally. A session without a contract isn’t coaching.

#2: How to Get from the Contract to the Desired Outcome

 

Coaching schools are great at teaching principles, frameworks, and competencies. And principles, frameworks, and competencies are set pieces while the act of coaching is fluid and dynamic. While coaching schools do everything they can to help you to develop your craft by providing you opportunities to coach, they leave it to you to learn your own way of navigating each coaching session from the contract at the beginning to the desired outcome, hopefully, at the end.

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Many new coaches get into the middle of a coaching session and get stuck, unsure what question will lead the client to their desired outcome. Even coaches with many hours experience will get to the end of the session having coached their client to a different outcome than the one they ask for.

Coaches with years of experience develop an intuitive sense for divining a dynamic path of questions that will lead to the client’s desire outcome. I call this the Coaching Path.

The Coaching Path is a sequence of the fewest, most robust questions that lead to the fulfillment of the client’s desired outcome. Any experienced coach will tell you, there is no one right path and no one right set of questions. (One of the joys of coaching is its creativity and the freedom to use intuition.) And one can learn the guideposts for navigating a viable Coaching Path without the trial and error of hundreds of hours of coaching.

The key concept here is that the Coaching Path does exist in every session with every client. We just have to know how to find it.

#3: How to Divine the Coaching Path – The Long Way and The Short Cut

 

Coaches with many years experience often develop an unconscious competence in divining the Coaching Path. They masterfully intuit the question, request, acknowledgment, reflection that guides the client to their desired outcome.

Coaches do this by inhabiting three states of being: 1) Being wholly present with the client, in the moment, attuned with their feelings, thoughts, and desires, hearing what is unsaid, seeing what lies beneath the surface, feeling the unexpressed emotion. (BTW, every human is designed to be able to do this. It’s a muscle.) 2) Being present with their own feelings, thoughts, desires and intuition (not because the coach is driving the agenda, but because the coach’s experience of the client contains information for the client) and 3) Being a detached observer of the coaching process, present to the moment, the desired outcome and the arc of the coaching session, planning the path of questions that lead to the client’s desired outcome. And constantly checking in with their sense of the client’s deep desire, comparing it to what they said they wanted and re-contracting as needed.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, right! And then I’d teleport to my next coaching session.” Yes, this is the long way. It requires time in the coaching saddle. And there’s a short cut.

“The client has the answers” – we hear this all of the time in coaching, including in coaching school. What we don’t hear as often is the corollary which is “The client is constantly giving the coach clues to help them find the answers they seek.” The client provides the coach with clues or guideposts that tell the coach where they want to go. The guideposts to the Coaching Path come in the form of energy and information.

The single, most reliable guidepost of the Coaching Path is the client’s energy. If the coach does nothing more than tune into the energy of the client, track it, attune with it, and ask about it, many times, the Coaching Path reveals itself.

Clients reveal their energy 1) in the tone, volume, and pace of their words 2) in their body language and facial expressions 3) in the words they use. (You know that). Example: Client: (words pour out, eyes are wide, a slight smile on the face) “I can’t believe my friend just quit. I had no idea. It came out of nowhere.” Coach: “And you seem excited about it!” Client: “I am. I want his job and now it’s open. But I’m struggling with how to talk with my boss about it so soon.” Coach: “What’s the struggle about?” The key to divining the Coaching Path is staying with, reflecting and inquiring about the client’s energy and emotion, without making assumptions of where you think it is going or should go. The client leads the way with their energy and information.

Everything the client says, does, writes, thinks, feels, is information for the coach. Whether it’s in what they say and how they say it about their weekend before the coaching session starts, or if it’s in the coffee they order and how they order it. (Yes, I do a lot of coaching in coffee shops. Sacrilege, I know!). Every client is consciously and/or non-consciously seeking answers to their own questions, constantly working on them in the background of their own experience.

The coach’s job is helping the client to connect the dots of their experience, using all the information the client provides. For example, I had a client who said she was running a bit late for our session as her routine eye exam ran long. My question to her, “What is it you’d like to see more clearly.” That question allowed her to connect with her desire for clarity, creating an opening to a breakthrough.

The client reveals the Coaching Path with their energy and information. Track the energy and information signposts and you’ll divine the Coaching Path toward the client’s desired outcome.

#4: The Importance of the Coach Understanding Their Own Hidden Patterns

 

Coaching school doesn’t teach you how you can unconsciously direct the coaching in a way that may be comfortable for you, yet doesn’t serve your client.

Coaching school curriculum involves training that helps you to understand yourself better. It also prepares you for the actual experience of coaching itself. This serves to help you to better understand both yourself and your clients. However, that level of training doesn’t delve quite deep enough. It doesn’t make you aware how your unique hidden patterns can inadvertently influence the coaching process. And if you’re not hyper-aware of your own patterns, they can dramatically affect your coaching as well as your client’s outcome.

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My hidden patterns were recently revealed to me by the EQ Profile. My EQ profile report told me something that I intuitively knew, but didn’t have conscious awareness of. When I’m stressed, what makes me feel better is to have a plan. For me, a plan is like salve on a wound. It makes everything better. However, I realize that’s not true for everyone.

The EQ Profile made me aware that I tend to diverge from the Coaching Path and non-consciously coach my clients under stress toward creating a plan. I suppose my unconscious reasoning went something like “If a plan makes me feel better, it’ll make my client feel better too.” And frankly, that’s just bad coaching. And I had no idea I was doing it before my EQ Profile report revealed it to me. Now I can notice my tendency and stay attuned to the energy and information provided by the client and continue to follow the Coaching Path toward the client’s desired outcome.

You will find that there are many concepts that aren’t taught in coaching school. Here I point out those that can impact you and your clients the most. Hopefully, these concepts will be like a coaching “hack” for you, allowing you to enrich your coaching without requiring hundreds of hours of experience to do it!

Are you aware of your unconscious hidden patterns? Do you know how they could be affecting your coaching? If you’d like to learn how to uncover them, you can learn more about them at Learninginaction.com.

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