The best and fastest way to lose invitation to coach is to show up ready to tell your client what you think they should do.
When we are asked to coach, the invitation takes several forms. The best is when a leader recognizes they have a challenge or opportunity that they won’t be able to fully address on their own. They invite a coach to be a thought partner to help them unpack their ideas and shape them into action. The leader with the need requests the help.
A common but less effective invitation comes when a leader wants you to fix something within their organization. They invite you into their organization so they can give you orders on what they want you to do. “This team isn’t working well, go fix them.”
A variation of the above is when you are invited into the organization as part of some transformation effort and you are told as a coach that you are responsible for ensuring that leaders, teams and individuals adopt a certain way of working.
In the first scenario, the person with the need requests your help. They acknowledge that they need to change and that they will need assistance and support in doing it.
With this type of invitation you can truly be a coach. You show up curious about them and their needs and you partner with them in thought provoking dialog to help them move forward.1
Clarity and alignment…a powerful combination.
With this type of invitation, there is little chance of misalignment of goals. The leader requesting coaching wants help achieving their goals and the coach’s only goal is to help the leader achieve their goals.
If we are engaged as professional or executive coaches by the leader or executive that wants the help, things play out as above.
However, many times we find our coaching engagements and invitations are less formal, less structured and don’t begin with such clear terms of engagement.
Many times we (as coaches, consultants, or other type of change agent) are brought to an organization as part of a larger transformation effort. Maybe we are expected to teach, train, or set up systems or processes.
Behind all of those transformation efforts that focus on explicit, tangible, and visible change (such as restructuring, forming teams and working groups, establishing new routines for tracking work and communicating progress, etc.) there are usually two types of expected outcome.
The explicit outcome that is stated out-loud is that the organization will look and operate differently after the transformation.
The implicit assumption and hope that both the mindset of the executives and leaders and the culture of the organization will change. (I don’t know that transformation efforts ever get support and buy-in from executives and leaders if the stated objective of the transformation is to change the mindset of those executives and leaders)
As a result, we find ourselves asked to do one job (teach, train, and transform) with a hope that we will also accomplish another job (change leader mindset and organization culture).
Many coaches and consultants simply focus on the explicit part of the request. They teach, train, establish process, create teams, document standards, support planning, and increase transparency. These are all good things, but they don’t necessarily lead to mindset and culture changes.
A few coaches and consultants fulfill the explicit requests, but do it in a way that allows them to achieve greater invitation to work on the implicit request. They perform the visible, easy to measure work while developing relationships and gaining invitation with executives and leaders.
When a coach or consultant is able to generate invitation with executives and leaders (and they weren’t originally invited in specifically to coach those executives and leaders), the coach or consultant has to navigate that relationship very carefully.
Many a well meaning coach/consultant has gotten invitation to work with an executive or leader and taken the same approach they took with the explicit transformation work. They show up as the expert like it is their job to guide and educate the uninformed. They show up with their wealth of experience and know that they know better than those they are coaching what the real problems are. They act as though they know the most important problems, and they know the best solutions, so the only challenge is to get everyone else to agree with them.
If you try that with executives and leaders when you haven’t been specifically invited to tell them what to do, and you’ll be dis-invited to the conversation after your first meeting.
To achieve success when coaching executives and leaders in this situation, don’t show up with a list of problems you see and a set of prescribed solutions.
Instead, show up with curiosity. Show up interested in them and what they see as the highest priority challenges and opportunities. Understand their needs, and help them to better articulate the nature of the challenges and opportunities. Help them explore new possibilities and uncover ideas and understandings that were already within them, but just needed some help being drawn out and made visible.
Some may argue that the executives and leaders may be ignoring the real problems. Maybe the things they want to work on are not the biggest challenges that you see within the organization. Some may feel that unless we are confronting them with the uncomfortable truth, we’re not fully doing our jobs.
But I’d rather be effective than right.
We help the leaders we support when we share things other people are thinking but aren’t saying.
However, if you confront an executive or leader with something they are not ready to hear, and you do it before you have developed the trust of that person, they may decide that they don’t want to work with you anymore.
Sometimes we do need to be willing to risk the relationship to share something uncomfortable the client needs to hear…but the key there is ‘risk the relationship‘. If you haven’t yet established trust, you haven’t yet established the relationship. Establish trust first.
And the way you establish trust is by being curious, listening ,and helping them to solve their greatest challenges and opportunities…not yours.
If you are fortunate enough to be invited directly by an executive or leader to coach them on their needs, then you will need to be curious, listen and help them identify and address their greatest challenges and opportunities. It is clear from the beginning that you are there to help them achieve their goals.
I’ve found the path to success is exactly the same, even when you haven’t started out with the invitation to coach an executive or leader. Even if you’ve been brought in as part of a transformation or other change effort, you still have the opportunity to coach executives and leaders…provided you earn the invitation by being focused on their needs, not yours.
- This is consistent with the International Coach Federation’s (ICF) definition of coaching: “ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” ↩︎