In coaching, as in many parts of life, the subject of “fit” is an important one. Coaching when the client and coach are not right for each other wastes time, money, energy, optimism and good will. The client may interview several coaches before choosing one. But how does the coach figure out as early as possible in the relationship when the client is not the right one for him?
Everyone likes to share their success stories. You know the ones where the coach is brilliant and the client makes tremendous progress and everyone lives happily every after. What you almost never hear about are the ones that don’t work out well. I believe that there is much to be learned from what doesn’t work and sometimes even more. So I’d like to share a case with you along with a few of my lessons learned. And because I’m a coach, the questions that still linger in my mind…….
I’d like to share the story of a particular client I gained and let go of within a month, and ask you to consider how you know when you have your own squirrelly client. How do you decide what to do about it? Do you have a plan? Or do you just wing it?
In reading this you’ll probably have thoughts of what YOU would have done or of how to coach me through this challenge. But that’s not the point. There are many ways the situation could have been handled, I certainly understand that.
So please direct your attention to the fit problem and consider what I learned — and hopefully what you might learn — as the focus for discussion.
Here’s the back story:
I had a client; we’ll call him Gene, an interesting man with ADHD, an interesting business and money to pay for coaching. I am making no suppositions that he may or may not be coachable.
He made an appointment for the Discovery Session which he changed twice. He rearranged the regular sessions several times. He’d call at his convenience but not at appointed times because they had always seemed too far in the future or inconvenient or we’d just talked.
He seemed to think things would happen for him immediately, just because he wanted it. He’d send me emails saying, literally, “I need coaching now.”
Repeatedly he remarked that he was a “kind, loving and strong man.” And when the stories began repeatedly referencing his childhood, I told him he should talk to the therapist he had been seeing for some time.
The only thing he did follow thru with over the couple of weeks of our relationship was to start taking medication. He’d had a diagnosis but had resisted medication, which had been successful for him as a child.
But the list of what he did NOT do is much longer:
- A divorce is very important to him because his wife is “crazy,” his word. He longs for a loving wife and children before he is 50. (He is now 46.) The first task was to download divorce forms from the internet. Not done.
- He had agreed to write a letter for an employee. He expected the task to take about two hours. Completing this task would ultimately make Gene’s life much easier. But over several weeks he was never able to get to it.
- He invented a way to manage the paperwork due to his clients. Although it was complicated he believed it was the “right” way to do it. But no matter what different perspectives we considered, only his way would work. And then, it didn’t.
He decided that more regular contact with me would be better for him. So he proposed to call me each morning at 7:30 for a short 5 minute check-in. We discussed what that would look like: an accountability for his own plans, essentially, tell me what you accomplished yesterday and talk through your plans for today.
First morning went fine. Second morning, it sounded like he rolled out of bed and picked up the phone. I believe he wanted me to help him sort through all the possibilities of his day without the benefit of knowing what’s on the list – and before he was awake! Man, I don’t talk to my own husband before he’s awake.
I told him if the short conversations were to work he’d have to think about them before he called. He had to either figure out what he wanted to do on a given day either on the afternoon before or at least before he called me. I don’t think you can’t do much more than that in 5 minutes.
He did not call me the third morning. I sent him an email. The next day he sent ME an email saying that he had carefully considered our relationship and that it was not meeting his needs.
He did some reading on the ICF site and described his “belief is [that] a coach’s contribution to coaching is to carefully reach into an individual to understand what makes a person operate…” etc. etc. with all the right, although way too many words.
He told me that he had found another coach he thought would be a better match.
Sometimes it takes more than one shot to find the right coach. I wished him well and told him I would invoice him for the rest of our time together. Nope, he hasn’t paid. And I don’t expect him to.
So is this about Gene or about me?
On one hand, I think Gene had unreasonable expectations for change. Perhaps I should have been more clear during Discovery–or maybe before–that coaching takes time. I might have specifically asked, “Are you willing to spend time each week and for several months to affect these changes?” Maybe it would have tipped me off more clearly. Or maybe it would have helped him to understand the process better. How are you clear with clients about your expectations?
On the other hand, I wonder whether maybe I misunderstood. Maybe he thought coaching could take place in just 5 minutes a day. Or maybe he supposed he would have both the five minute sessions AND the hour (or half hour) time slot. That could have been an option, perhaps for an extra fee, but we didn’t discuss it. (That was surely my fault!) But I thought he was longing for accountability around the stuff we’d discussed in the regular session. (And perhaps this was my mistaken judgment.)
In addition, the squirrelly radar was beeping in my brain and I didn’t listen. On paper he looked like my ideal client. But my gut was saying otherwise.
Is this my dirty little secret? That I really can’t work with everyone who comes my way. Really I know that. I can’t and I don’t want to. But in the blush of the new relationship when everything seems possible, do I forget?
I’ve been pretty successful at naming the clients I do want, for example: business owners, people who can pay, and technical types. I’ve also found it useful to decide about the clients I don’t want: children and people who just want to figure out what ADHD means to them. But I haven’t learned to identify the squirrelly ones quickly enough to suit me.
What have I learned?
Use my contract more effectively.
- I’m getting more clear about my contract, what is says and what I expect it to mean. My contract recommends a three month commitment, but it doesn’t require it. Maybe I need an automatic speech about the contract like the one I have for my fees. Then I wouldn’t be tempted to judge the client able or unable to accept my deal.
- My contract says that quick phone calls and emails between meetings are part of the service. Until now, I hadn’t really had anyone take particular advantage of that. I need to decide now about how I want to manage this kind of relationship. With a plan in place, I wouldn’t be blindsided when the situation just sorta sneaked up on me. Michele Novotni has a separate fee for people who want this kind of more regular touch. $X for regular sessions PLUS an additional fee for those daily accountabilities.
Watch for the early warning signs that this client is not right for me.
- What behavior can I identify that will make it clear to me quickly that a client either perseverates, keeps doing the same things over and over even when it’s not working?
- Clients get to interview coaches before deciding on the right one. But does that mean I have to take every client who thinks they can work with me? I wonder what would happen if I said to new clients, “You can come for the Discovery Session and then I’ll get back to you the next day if I think we can or can not work together. If I think we can’t I’ll recommend someone else.”
What do you do? How do you get out of sticky situations with clients who just aren’t meeting YOUR needs?
I’m sure open for suggestions.