Another coaching habit we need to watch for is taking responsibility for your client’s work. I recently mentor coached someone looking for help on this topic.
She explained that as an internal coach, she’s worked with this team in other roles, and they’ve often brought her in to facilitate and problem-solve. So now that they’d called her in specifically to coach them, they’re all struggling.
She said, “I know I’m trying to do their work for them. I’m trying to fix this or solve this for them. I know that’s not my role, but I’m being drawn into it.”
So part of this particular topic is that it’s not only challenging for the coach, but for our clients. A lot of them are used to professionals taking responsibility for the situation and telling them what to do, versus letting them decide what to do.
This is a common issue in internal coaching, with all the hat-switching that is part and parcel for them.
So part of what this coach was recognizing was that even if the team had asked her to help, in her coach role it is not her place to resolve the issue for them. Rather, it is her job is to help them figure it out.
External coaches deal with this challenge as well. When a client first starts working with a coach, they naturally look to the professional to tell them what to do and resolve their problems, more as a dispenser of wisdom than a partner or guide.
That’s why so much of coaching is about educating the client, especially in the beginning as you’re co-creating your coaching agreement. Clients need to learn how to use us and that includes what we do and don’t do.
Defining coaching never gets old
I don’t think it ever gets old to refer back to what coaching is or to talk about the coaching relationship, because it’s really easy to slip back into the mentality of the professional taking responsibility for the work and the client letting them.
I had to do the same thing in the conversation with this coach. She’s like, “I know I shouldn’t do it, but I keep getting drawn in, what do I do?” So my job here as her coach was not to tell her how to fix it, or fix it for her, but rather to model for her what she wants to do with this team: develop them to find their own solutions.
Not jumping into to fix or tell, even when the client seems to be wanting and waiting for that, can be uncomfortable. Coaches need to get comfortable sitting in silence and remaining curious with simple questions like, “Where do we go from here?” “What do you want out of this?”
This was all drilled into me early in my coach training, to resist this natural temptation to take responsibility for the client’s work. I remember a leader once saying, “I don’t have time for this coaching. I just wanna tell people what to do, and I want them to do it!”
You know what? That approach is really tempting sometimes because it’s often the quickest way to resolve a topic and move on. But that doesn’t mean it’s the most effective.
When we train our clients to take responsibility for their own solutions and outcomes, we’re developing them, and we’re helping them to be more confident that they’ve got this. Otherwise, we’re creating an unhealthy dependency.