The Quiet Coach – 15

June 21, 2023

Holding accountability for our clients – what does that mean?

Consider this hypothetical coaching client of yours called Anish. He’s been working with you on taking the next step in his career. A month ago he had identified that he wanted to have a conversation with his manager to share his aspirations and ask for support. You’ve had two coaching conversations with him post that and both times he has said he hadn’t found the time or that she was too busy.

Take a minute (and perhaps write down) what you would say to Anish if you were helping him with being accountable.

Back? Good job if you did that practise! For those of you who were in a hurry, here are some options – which would you choose?

    – Why are you procrastinating about having this conversation?
    – Coaching is a process which works only if you’re actively experimenting with the awareness you’re having in our conversations.
    – Should we reschedule this meeting till you’ve had a chance to have that conversation?
    – It’s a little disappointing and I’m wondering if this process is really helping you

Ha ha, that’s a trick question and all those answers are wrong. So what would be a better way to handle this situation? Let’s look at what accountability in coaching is and is not.

First of all, it is not professional nagging. My mom (bless her soul) would have a running list of things I was supposed to do and gently remind me of them every day (when I protested, she would complain about being my unpaid secretary). There’s a lot of value in having someone like that in your life but that is not the remit of a coach.

Accountability, when understood well, is a powerful tool for a client’s self-awareness and growth and not just something that needs to be done at the end of a conversation. When we hold accountability well, it provides several benefits

  1. It increases the chances that clients will act on their plans because they know they have a partner (the coach) who will notice whether they act or not.
  2. It can make the client feel cared about – when the coach remembers what they had committed and follows up on it
  3. It helps clients slow down, take stock of what they have achieved and what they’ve learnt in the process.
  4. It can also be a useful way to deepen the client’s self-awareness – reflecting on why they’ve not done something they committed to themselves can bring to light some deeper resistance or issue that needs to be addressed

Doing it well looks like this:

At the end of the coaching conversation, when the client has made an action plan for themselves (another post coming up on that soon), the coach asks a couple of questions like these:

• What could possibly come in the way of you acting on these plans? How could you deal with those?
• What would you like to hold yourself accountable for? (or What would you like to share about these actions the next time we meet?)

And at the beginning of the next conversation, the coach remembers to ask what happened using questions like:

• You had made XYZ plans for yourself – how did you do on them?
• What did you learn about yourself in taking these actions?
• What are you happy about?
• What would you like to continue to work on?

On the occasions where a client does not keep the commitments they made to themselves (like young Anish in the case we started with), the coach is curious about where that behaviour is coming from and says something like

• You seemed to have a lot of energy about the plans you made but it seems like it’s been difficult to make them happen; I’m wondering what’s going on for you here
• I’ve noticed that you’ve made this plan to speak to your manager twice in the past and that has not happened – could there be a deeper block to taking action (than calendars and availability)?

It’s important here that the coach is completely non-judgemental, in words and in tone. This is not a “why didn’t you do your homework?” conversation but a “I’m genuinely interested in you” one.

I’ve personally found that exploring why a client did not follow through on their commitments to themselves has led to very interesting insights – some of them:

  • They made the action plan because they felt that was what I wanted (and were unconsciously complying with what they thought other authority figures in their lives wanted)
  • They felt overwhelmed by how much work they thought the action would take
  • They were scared about what consequences the change would have on their relationships/lives
  • The problem had deeper levels that needed to be explored

I’d love to hear what challenges you’ve had with this aspect of coaching and what has worked for you. Write back!

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    One response to “The Quiet Coach – 15”

    1. Vanshika Garg says:

      Hello myself vanshika here, i am a purpose and relationships coach for single parents working with as a single parent coach.
      I wish to expand by horizon by expanding my knowledge and skills through these articles.

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