As an executive coach, I love the work I’ve been doing for over a decade. And part of what I love the most is the fresh challenge of helping people break down barriers and achieve their goals, no matter how diverse and complex those people and goals may be.
But this is work that can look confusing or intimidating from the outside, so I get a lot of questions about my process and philosophy. I’m frequently asked whether or not I’m disappointed when my clients don’t achieve all they set out to accomplish in their work with me.
Here’s my answer: No.
I can answer that question unequivocally and honestly because of the way I see the work I do. Don’t get me wrong: I have aspirations for all my clients – sometimes, even loftier aspirations than the ones they have for themselves. But as an experienced executive coach, I’m neither their fairy godmother, waving my wand of magic so as to fix the rut they’re in, nor their boss, setting performance expectations and tying goal achievement to salary increases. A good executive coach is more like Glinda the Good Witch, she of Wizard of Oz fame, reminding clients, “You’ve always had the power, my dear. You’ve had it all along.”
So while I definitely work hard at connecting deeply with my clients, trying my best to see the world from their perspective and therefore often serving as a guide and a cheerleader for them to reach their goals, I don’t have expectations that they will necessarily achieve them. I have too much respect for my client’s right to choose what’s best for them: the risks they’re willing to take, the courage they’re capable of mustering, the myriad number of ways people can move forward in their own unique ways when they are ready. And those things don’t always manifest during the time we have to work together.
I’ve been challenged by some in the corporate world who think this philosophy is a contradiction in terms when it comes to measuring success. As a former corporate executive, I’ve certainly had experience setting expectations and employing a performance management process to optimize the likelihood of success regarding ROIs for employees and team members. But after working with over 300 different individuals one-on-one in a coaching capacity, I find joy in opening the door for my clients to explore the meaning of success relative to their personal, lifelong trajectory of growth. My goal, as a coach, is not to magically fix problems or to check off boxes in a performance review. It’s to help my clients have the courage to delve deeply and swiftly into identifying personal barriers that might be impeding progress, then give them the space to make a meaningful, personal decision about what they are ready to tackle – or not tackle.
So when people ask me if I’m disappointed when my clients don’t always achieve everything they set out to do, I still say no. When people haven’t reached their goals yet (that yet is optimistic in its intent!), I’m still happy for them if, in the process of coaching, they’ve been able to see what they couldn’t see before, then decide with intentionality what they are or aren’t ready to do or change.
If you’re on board with my philosophy, I’d love to work with you as a coach. In the meantime, see if you can apply my perspective to your own life – right now! If you’re struggling with a barrier or conflict, ask yourself:
- Is the pain of not doing anything worse than taking a small step in a new direction?
- Can you imagine setting an aspiration for yourself, then giving yourself grace and compassion for both the steps you do take and the ones you don’t, knowing that you had good reasons for your choice?
- If you’re ready to make big, transformative changes, can you see that those around you may not be ready? And can you give them the same degree of grace and compassion when they don’t achieve all of your expectations?
If you’re ready to take a small step in a new direction or make a big transformative change in your life, good executive coaching can open the door to exciting growth. After all, it’s my job to help remind you that you’ve had the power all along.