Do You Make This Common Mistake in Coaching?

We’re working through a series of blog posts that define what coaching is. So far, we’ve unpacked that coaching is a relationship and that the coaching client has to show up for every session ready to work with their coach.

In this post, we’ll explore the single most common mistake new coaches make: Coaching without a clear purpose. Yes, coach and client have to come to a coaching conversation ready to work, but work on what?

target on purpose

Great coaches always target what their clients are working toward.

When I was first involved in denominational coaching more than 10 years ago, we missed this point. Coaching, through Natural Church Development, had been introduced to my denomination.

We had immediately seen the power of coaching. The power of the right question at the right time was so crystal clear you couldn’t avoid it. Coaching worked, and the denomination would never be the same.

I remember sitting in a meeting with the other members of coaching leadership team and deciding that coaching had a future for us that was far beyond just Natural Church Development. We decided to explore coaches for church planters (which we called mission developers), turnaround congregations, stewardship & generosity, congregations in conflict and a host of other things.

We even dreamed about what the denomination would be like if every pastor had a coach.

But it didn’t happen. In fact, we didn’t see any measurable growth or any distinguishable difference in the churches or ministries that had coaches. The people being coached consistently said they liked their coach and thought the coaching was helpful, but we couldn’t point to much by way of significant, measurable change.

The common theme through most of these relationships was that after a while, the coaching just seemed to peter out. The energy and enthusiasm for coaching fell by the wayside after a few sessions. One leader even said to us “Why am I being coached again?”

The craziest part of it all was that the leadership team couldn’t really answer that question. We fumbled around and said things like “Because coaching is helpful.” or “because coaches make a difference, at least in NCD…”

We didn’t even know what we didn’t know.

Here’s the lesson in all this: A coaching relationship has a specific, defined purpose that is clearly understood BEFORE the coaching relationship begins.

So here’s a key question to ask about all of your coaching relationships: Why does this coaching relationship exist?

X arrow X

This illustrates a coaching relationship.

A simple illustration of what coaching actually is is two Xs connected by an arrow, like the one in this illustration.

Think about the X in the lower left corner as the client’s starting point. The other X is where the client wants to end up.

The arrow shows the path the coaching relatonship will travel over time to help the client end up where they want to be. (Notice it’s not straight, because life doesn’t follow a straight, linear path!)

Generally speaking, the purpose of every coaching relationship is to help the client end up where they want to be. The details of that process get negotiated between coach and client.

You might work with a church planter to develop their launch plan. Or with an executive to develop their time management skills. Or with a mom who wants to start using coupons more effectively to save their family money.

Coaching can be used to effectively help another person (or group of people) accomplish just about anything. Don’t make the common coaching mistake of building a healthy relationship with your clients, only to leave out WHY the relationship is being built.

But what makes a coachable topic? There are really only two rules:
1. The client MUST articulate what they want. That means the coach doesn’t guide the client toward a particular outcome or suggest what the client should do. It’s got to come from the client!
2. The second piece is that the coach has to decide if they can be helpful. If the client is naming their purpose and the coach is confident he/she can help, you are teed up for coaching effectiveness.

Having a big picture focus on where the client wants to end up also frames how each individual session plays out. Reminder: the client must be able to name how each individual session is moving him/her toward the purpose of the relationship. As long as you’re making that kind of progress, the likelihood of an effective coaching relationship is MUCH higher.

What are some of your best strategies for drawing the purpose out of your clients? I’d love to hear about them in the comment section!