This is part five of a five part series on becoming a better coach. Each article explores a different element of what it takes to help others accomplish more than they thought they could and become the kind of coach that can consistently build high performing teams and an unstoppable organization. You can start at part one by going here
I was coaching a business owner several years ago who seemed to get a lot out of our conversations but was making little or no progress because of them. Although she was saying all of the right things to me and appeared to be focused on the goals we had worked together to set, she wasn’t ready to let go of where she was, to get to where she could be. She simply wasn’t ready
There was too much comfort in the familiar. The familiar way of staying busy, of wrapping herself in urgent things and in feeling a sense of satisfaction with checking things off her to do list, even though they were the wrong things. There was security for her in spending her time the way she was used to spending it. Like a comfortable pair of jeans that are hard to throw away, even if there are one too many holes in them, we humans cling to what we know.
There is a point for anyone we are coaching where they decide. They decide to leave the comfortable, secure way that they go through life and reach for something better. They decide to stretch and learn and grow and yes, be uncomfortable. New sometimes means difficult. None of us like the feeling of not knowing what we are doing but in any new endeavor, some of that waits for us.
Our job as coaches is to take them to the spot where they have to make that choice. We can help them build the new path, to show them what could lie at the end of it and how they can achieve all that they want in life. Ultimately though, they have to decide to take those critical first steps.
We hope that if we make the new trail clear enough, help them move some of the obstacles, make the goal at the end compelling enough, they will move forward. But we cannot push them down the new path. And there are times when the comfort of the old path, while it leads to nothing better, is more attractive. The old trail is smooth, well worn and easier to walk.
As a coach, you cannot move people to a new place if they don’t want to go. It’s easy to get caught up in the potential that you see for someone and want so badly to help them achieve it. There comes a time though, where if they aren’t willing to take those first steps, you have to give them the time they need to wrestle with that choice and go spend your time with someone who is ready. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part of coaching.
I stopped working with that business owner. Six months later when we spoke again, she updated me on how things were going for her. She had finally decided to make some of the changes we had talked about. She had stopped surrounding herself with people who were enabling her old habits and started seeking out those who would push her toward new, and better ones. She had spent more time thinking about her goals, refining them, and crafting the steps that would help her reach them. She had finally broken free from the mindset that had held her on the old path and created a new one that would let her choose any path she wanted.
Spend your time helping the people you coach get ready to make changes in the way they work and live. Help them see the possibilities and envision the steps that will help them achieve their own picture of success. Work with them to deal with the challenges and obstacles that will inevitably line their new path. And then, if they are ready, help them go get everything they want. If they aren’t, walk away and give them time.
This is especially crucial in business. Coaching a poor performer who is ready to make changes is will improve the overall team performance more than spending time with a high performer who is content with their abilities. Once you have gained the ability to effectively coach others, you then have the responsibility to spend your time on the people who are willing to make the trip.
It’s hard when you help someone envision a new future for themselves and then they don’t want to go get it. Give them time though, and more often than not, if you’ve coached them well, they will decide to make the needed changes. They will always do it in their time though, not yours. And that’s ok, it’s their journey.