How to be a great coaching client

Investing your hard earned dollars to engage with a coach could be a fantastic decision.

It could also be a waste of your time, money and valuable mind space.

Let’s assume you’ve selected a wise, seasoned coach. He or she is only half the equation. The other half is you. Are you prepared to be a good coaching client?

I can speak from experience having employed the services of various coaches over a span of 25 years. At times I’ve been a fantastic client. Other times I’ve failed in my client role.

For the last 15 years, I’ve been a coach to early-stage entrepreneurs, seasoned CEOs and accomplished business leaders. Sometimes my clients show up ready and willing to work. Other times they’ve made my job almost impossible.

Along the way I’ve found three characteristics lead to the most productive coaching experience.

A readiness to work

Imagine showing up at the gym for a session with your trainer. It’s 2pm in the afternoon on a clear, crisp winter day. You walk through the gym entrance, pass the front desk and head onto the rubber flooring that lines the workout space. Behind you is a trail of snow from your heavy winter boots. You announce to your trainer that you’re ready for your workout.

She looks at you quizzically and starts asking questions. Your answers reveal that you forgot your gym clothes, haven’t eaten all day and skipped the assigned stretching. How effective do you imagine this workout will be?

A good coaching session is to the mental/emotional self what a trip to the gym is for the physical self. Just as the gym session requires good prep— healthy eating, stretching, proper clothing—so does a coaching session. The best coaching clients arrive at sessions with an agenda or a clear desire to create one. A great coaching session starts off with the client saying something like:

“I’ve been experimenting with what we discussed last session”

“I need your help tackling a challenge I’m having”

“Did you receive the note I sent yesterday with thoughts on what I’d like to cover today?”

“I need the first 10 minutes of our call to get some things off my mind before we dig in”

“I’m not sure where we need to go with today’s call and am looking for you to help guide me”

In every case there is pre-thought and a clear intention to work. An experienced coach will jump in with you wherever you are at… and this is your time, your life, your intention. Come prepared and focused.

Truth telling

A friend comes to your house for a visit and, while you are making coffee in the kitchen, opens a closet to hang his coat. The closet is quite full so he reaches in to make some space. As he does so a hidden skeleton pressed against the back wall collapses into his arms. Your little coffee visit just became a bit more…. complicated.

We are social beings. Hiding our guilt and shame is how we strive to maintain a sense of safety in an otherwise anxiety provoking world. Having been a coaching client, I know how hard it can be to look at my own fears. Sharing those fears with someone else–even a trained professional–can feel overwhelming. As a coach, I’ve come to see how fears often vanish when given a safe space to step out from the shadows.

Seasoned coaches are both trained and prepared to help surface and work with hidden truths. Until those fears are allowed to surface, progress will be stifled. Get the most out of your coaching relationship by bravely sharing the fears that hold you back.

Decision making

You have $50k sitting in your bank account. That’s the full extent of your savings. A potentially lucrative high risk investment opportunity comes your way. The minimum to partake is $50k. If the investment works out, you’ll have $500k within 2 years. If it doesn’t, you’ll be broke. Unsure what to do, you call your coach.

A good coach will not make this decision or any other decision for you. Why? You (not the coach) need to live with the consequences—the good and the bad—of every decision you make. Coaches can ask helpful questions and share insights from their past experiences. Sometimes they’ll point you to helpful resources. They can assist you in creating decision criteria. If you need a sounding board, they can do that too. It’s helpful to talk through options. In the end you need to decide. If you desire to get the most out of your coaching relationship, prepare to make decisions. Decisions move us forward.  

My parting reflection is that not every coaching session is a home run. Coaching is a journey. Often the best nuggets come in the last five minutes of a call. It’s not unusual for one session to feel like a dud only to have the next be life changing.

Bring your best to each session and expect your coach to do the same.