Are your clients ready to be coached?

Whether you're coaching individuals, groups, or teams, is important to discover before the start of a coaching relationship if your clients are ready to be coached. This can often be hard to assess. Listed below are five traits I pay particular attention to when seeking to discern if a client is ready.

I look for clients that exhibit energy. They are willing to dive into conversation, ponder questions being asked, and eager to see some form of transformation materialize in their life or ministry.

The client exhibits a sense an urgency make something happen and they know that they must play the primary role. They own the results of their words and actions - both the successes and failures.

Coachable clients acknowledge that they are the source of the wisdom that is generated. They recognize that the coach is going to follow their lead and ask thought-provoking questions that honor the client's intentions. They avoid seeking to turn the coach into a counselor, a consultant, or a mentor.

The best clients have the energy and fortitude to "tough it out," do the hard things that get different results. They recognize that their preferred future requires different approaches, different practices, and different conversations than they've had in the past and are willing to faster and more frequently in order to succeed sooner. They are sufficiently hungry for a different way of being and doing that they are willing to do whatever is needed to get a different result.

Clients who are ready for coaching are humble.  They are open to new ideas and approaches. They recognize that they don't have all the answers and can learn from other people and situations. They acknowledge, perhaps even expect, that there is a better way for moving forward.

What are some of the traits you look for to determine if a client is ready to be coached?
If you feel that a client isn't ready, when and how would you share your reservations?
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Mike Marsh - April 22nd, 2021 at 7:56am

In addition to what is described in the post I also look for the following:

- A willingness to change and grow;

- Ability to be self-reflective;

- A desire for more than just fixing a problem;

- Some sense of or openness to an interior life;

- A willingness to work at least as hard as I will;

- Not taking themselves (or me) too seriously;

My first thought about how to share my reservations that someone is not yet ready for coaching is a question and contradiction. Is it possible to coach someone to see that they aren't ready for coaching and then help them find what might be appropriate help. I also think a conversation about the distinctions between coaching, mentoring, consulting, counseling, and spiritual direction might give them more insight as to what would be most helpful. I might also consider a brief follow up letter confirming that there is no ongoing relationship and providing resources and referrals.

Jessie Bazan - April 22nd, 2021 at 11:09am

The ownership point is especially important. I can imagine coaching scenarios where the client is expecting the coach or other colleagues to take on the brunt of the work. Without a strong sense of ownership and drive, the client will likely not be successful. At the same time, I'm glad humility is listed as an important trait. There needs to be a balance between claiming the issue as one's own and being open to growth.

In determining if a client is ready to be coached, I would look for flexibility, adaptability, good listening skills, and an eagerness to enter into the process. If a client is not in this space yet, I would have a direct conversation with them to talk through next steps.

Bill - April 24th, 2021 at 1:45pm

I guess my thoughts about if a client or person is ready to be coached would be....

1. Open to a journey rather than a quick "fix it' type approach.

2. Someone who is certainly thoughtful and self-reflective.

3. Open to change

4. Excited about a new future or at least changing things up

5. Is a go-getter or at least energy to pursue change

My reservations would be....

1. Someone who is a "know it all" and who thinks they are experts but in a harsh way not in a thoughtful way.

2. Someone who is very negative and or too cynical

3. Not willing to explore new possibilities

4. Someone who is "too needy" or at least someone who assumes that I will do all the work and follow up and research for them.

I think I would go through a few sessions and if I notice some major red flags I guess maybe have a conversation along the way. But I would hope that an initial conversation or interview at the outset would help prevent any problems later.

Carl Horton - April 27th, 2021 at 7:28am

This is a really helpful list and these five areas really cover it. In my own words I would look for this in client readiness: motivation, self-awareness, knowledge and appreciation of the coaching relationship, determination, and a willingness to take risks, fail and learn. In my work with cohorts I have found the initial one-on-one meeting as a helpful way to ascertain client motivation and investment.

One thing that has helped me in our training is when we have talked about "dialogue partners" and made this distinction from coaching. I think a lot of people just want someone to talk to and don't necessarily want or intend to set or achieve goals. Watching for signs of being a "dialogue partner" is a good "red flag" to whether this is someone who wants a coach.

Kate Dalton - April 27th, 2021 at 12:59pm

I like Mike's - sense of or openness to an interior life. I think so much of this is being willing to shift perspective and self-narrative and if someone doesn't seem to have a sense or curiousity about that, I think it would be hard to coach them. The ability to articulate and explore what they want to achieve or change I think is important. If we can't come to some clarity to help guide us, it will be hard for coaching to be effective.

In terms of not being ready, I think having introductory conversations about what coaching is and isn't is important to do in the first meeting or pre-meeting. I think also addressing any lack of engagement or ability to take responsibility quickly (if it comes up) is important.

I disagree with regards to Carl's comment about conversation partners. I think someone can be receiving coaching in a conversation partner like relationship if I remember that my role is to ask questions that prompt self-awareness, discovery, new knowledge. My experience of coaching is that I don't always have a concrete goal outside of myself that I working on but I am still evolving during our sessions.