Approaches to long-term coaching programs vary widely. Regardless of the approach, I believe that successful coaching programs have some characteristics in common.
This article is intended to help you frame the possibilities of a coaching program in your life (possibilities for work, fulfillment, relationships, performance…it is truly wide open) and ultimately guide your conversation with a prospective coach.
Coaching programs exist to help you become better at something. But what? A good coaching program defines and explores the outcome that is most important to you, so that it can be crisply stated and referenced frequently throughout the duration of the program. It is the beacon that gives your coaching program direction. In Integral Coaching, we refer to it as your topic. Other coaches may refer to it as your goal. Whatever word is used to describe it, it should be clear.
View this previous article to see some examples of coaching outcomes/topics: When is the Right Time to Invest in Coaching?
Once the coaching client and the coach both understand the outcome, every single element of your program, every session, every practice, every reflection – all of it – should be aligned to this stated outcome. It is the why behind your coaching program.
A word about your investment in coaching: I think it is useful to remember that coaches are not really selling their time – they are selling your outcome. I would invite you to focus on your prospective outcome and ask yourself what it is worth to you. I would further invite you to consider the cost of not investing in coaching.
Coaching should have a clear ending point. I step into each long-term coaching program with the intention of guiding sustainable transformation (embodiment of a new way of being). Stated differently, the goal is for the coaching client to gain independence in their new way. Once the client has achieved the outcome, there is no good reason to continue with the program. Sometimes clients come back at another time for a new program, but I recommend giving it at least six months before returning to coaching.
How long should a coaching program be, in order to achieve the outcome?
In my observation, the answer is five-to-eight months. If I could guide a client’s transformation in just one day, I would. And while single sessions (one-off coaching engagements not associated with a long-term program) can be extremely helpful for mediating a client’s thoughts and building clarity in the moment, they are not useful for sustainable transformation. Transformation requires deep illumination, practice, reflection and time.
Apologies for the less than professional testimonial on LinkedIn (though it might be my favorite ever); I had a coaching client once exclaim at the end of his coaching program, “If you had told me six months ago that a human being could change this much, in this short a period of time, without head trauma or a handful of mushrooms, I would NOT have believed you!” I highly recommend coaching over those other options…
Coaches should be able to recommend a length of time for your program (including the number of sessions) based on what you hope to achieve through coaching. Sometimes a client’s current way of being is a little stubborn and we go a few extra innings. And sometimes it goes the other way, and it is appropriate to shorten the program. But there should be a general sense of how long it will take, from the beginning.
I had a coaching client who stepped more readily into his new way of being than anybody I have witnessed. Once he saw the path to his new way, all the barriers fell away immediately (rare) and he stepped right into it. Very soon, he was more comfortable and fulfilled at work, and he received a nifty bonus. But more importantly, he found deeper fulfillment in all areas of his life; everything fell into place. Honestly, he exceeded the expectations for the program, and he did it in about two months (of a seven-month program). Between months two and three, I asked him several times if he was still benefitting from our work, and he felt strongly he was. But before month four, he acknowledged that he was fully established in his new way, and that he had surpassed his outcome and we terminated the program. That was the right decision.
-Levers of Growth-
It would be nice if we could just understand something in our minds and – once having made sense of it on the cognitive level – make immediate changes in our life. “Oh! I see it now! I attach myself to rules and policy because that makes me feel safe, but it also limits my creativity and initiative.” And voila…transformation!
Unfortunately, that is not how human development really works. And while there is certainly an important cognitive element to coaching, there are also necessarily levers that engage our bodies, our emotions and our interpersonal relationships. There may even be moral and spiritual elements that are critical to address in order to foster growth.
One of my clients wanted to be more assertive during interpersonal interactions and meetings. The first thing that we worked on was her posture during conversations; when she assumed an assertive posture, she became more assertive. For her, the body was the way into her new way of being, and it created a vessel for the remainder of her work.
I had another client who sometimes felt isolated and disconnected. One of his coaching practices was to step outside every evening, look to the skies and imagine how it all fit together. At first, this was frightening to him and made him feel uncomfortable. But then he reported something extraordinary: “When I was looking at the sky last night, I felt my feet sink into the ground, and the distance between me and the stars evaporated, and it was all one thing, and I was part of it.” He had a deeply powerful spiritual experience that became the foundation for his transformation.
Great coaching programs move beyond the cognitive realm and recognize that embodied change incorporates many levers of growth.
-Tailored to You-
Not only is each coaching outcome (topic) unique for each coaching client, but how that client shows up in that topic is also unique. Because every human being is complex with complex wants and desires, a coaching program should be designed specifically to meet an individual’s needs. A one-size-fits-all coaching program simply does not work.
What does tailoring a coaching program look like? It can take many different forms. As an example, I have been trained to understand a coaching client through multiple (six, specifically) perspectives and apply those perspectives precisely to the coaching client’s outcome. Behind the scenes, the reality is a time-consuming process that looks a little like the work of Russell Crowe’s character in A Beautiful Mind, but the outcome is a coaching program that is so unique to the client, it should feel like a perfectly tailored jacket.
Coaching can be expensive, and you should get your money’s worth. I think it is reasonable to ask your coach how your program will be designed specifically for you.
-A Proven Methodology-
A coaching program should be anchored to something substantial. Something based in science, research and demonstrated results.
On the surface, it might seem contradictory to suggest that a coaching program should be both tailored to you and based on proven methodology, but I believe those two elements are complementary.
The methodology serves as the deep foundation of a coaching program. It is the skeletal structure that supports the softer tissue. It is what allows the coach to be fully present and hear a client in the moment and to attach that exploration to a clear path ahead.
My training is in the Integral Method. Every coaching program I guide is unique – every client and every topic is different from any other I’ve coached – and I never feel lost. I am grounded in the Integral Method and it supports me. I’d even go a step further to suggest that I am unique as a coach, engaging with clients in my own way, which adds to the distinctiveness of the engagement. But as unique as a client is, and as unique as I am, there is a clear path based on the methodology.
I believe every coaching program is more effective when it is supported by something solid and proven.
As I have shared in each of my articles, I have personally benefitted from coaching as a client. As a coach, I have witnessed the power that coaching has to transform lives. As you explore coaching, I invite you to be thoughtful about the program that you purchase; ensure it is the right one for you by examining how it stacks up in the five key elements.
My next article will help you find the right coach for you.