How often, how long, how's it end?

Say you've signed up for coaching and you're wondering...

Now what?

You want to make sure coaching works for you right from the very first session in the way you're hoping it will. So what do you do? How do you take charge of your coaching?

That's what this page is about.


1.  How do I get started? What's the key?
What matters, what makes your coaching your own, is to keep doing your best to...

Focus on what you need, and to

Keep saying what's true for you moment by moment.

These are the two most important things to do not just in the beginning but all the way through coaching.

And you won't be alone in this. I'll be paying close attention to you, just as you'll be paying close attention to you, and between us we'll make sure your sessions are working.

Of course over time what you want might change, might even change a lot. And sometimes what you want changes in a split second. So I recommend that you keep tracking yourself and be ready to step into new opportunities and moments of surprise.


2.  How do I prepare for a session?
You can think back over the previous week, your challenges, your struggles, your failings, your breakthroughs, your victories, your discoveries, and ask yourself: What's the thing I could focus on in this next session that would make the biggest difference for me?

Then you can tell me at the beginning of the call, "Here's what I want to work on." It might be a broad-brush desire or it might be a very specific agenda. But please ask for what you want. And then feel free to revise the plan in the middle of the call if another issue suddenly becomes more urgent. Sometimes you start with one issue, and in working on it, discover that the real issue is something deeper.

What if you come to a call and you have no idea what you want to work on? Not a problem. I'll just do my coach thing and start asking you questions and it won't be long before we're trucking. Sometimes a call without a plan produces the most unexpected breakthrough.

And always feel free to be pushy. If a session is going in a direction that's not working for you, just say that as soon as you know it, and we'll adjust and find what does work.


3.  How often are the sessions, how long are they?
If you're not sure how you want to set up your coaching, then I recommend starting with...

Half an hour once a week.

Coaching is intense so that means you can get a lot done in 30 minutes. And a weekly schedule keeps your momentum going.

But that being said, I have clients who prefer 45- or 60-minute sessions because they want to go deeper with their issues and make faster progress.

I have clients who set different times for different sessions depending on how big the issues are they're working on.

Maybe you'll find you want work intensively for the first few months, then move to a PRN or as-needed schedule, which means you just call me or e-mail me when you're ready for your next session.

So, the deal is this...

You get to design your coaching.

Some coaches require a set commitment in advance, like three months of weekly sessions. My preference is for you to decide for yourself...

I want you to be able to experiment.

I support you in trying out different frequencies and different lengths with your sessions if you like. Part of the value of coaching is for you to be able to make practical discoveries about what you need and what works best for you.


4.  How long do I stay in coaching?
Only as long as you need to and no longer.

Some people come into coaching to handle one or two specific issues, like:

Getting a breakthrough on major donor asks.

Making a decision about whether to stay in their current position or move on.

Resolving a difficult staff situation.

For people like this, coaching is short-term. Sometimes you think coaching is going to be long-term and you get surprised....

Jennie thought she was going to be in coaching for the best part of a year. By the end of the first month she was clear she didn't like being an executive director anymore and missed the direct client work so much that she got herself recruited as the program director of a brand new agency.

I met with Joselle for her first session. She had already put a bunch of coaching appointments into her calendar for the next four months. But she had a breakthrough, saw exactly the future she wanted, made a detailed plan, and realized she wasn't going to have any problem with motivation, so bim, bam, boom, she was done with coaching!

In the middle of his free intro session, Jared cleared out the block that was stopping him from applying to be an ED and he was all set. He got what he needed and didn't have to pay a dime!

I love these kind of surprises, but these examples are the exception. Usually the issues nonprofit leaders are dealing with are of the longer term variety. If you're doing a turn around of an organization, that won't happen in a month or two.

If you want to transform your operating system from sacrificial to sustainable or all the way to soaring, that kind of change usually, not always, but usually takes a good bit of time.

And then there are people who simply love personal and professional development. For them, development is a way of life. They are like the successful athletes, actors, and musicians who are at the top of their game but continue to work with their coach or mentor because achieving higher levels of mastery is such a pleasure for them.

This kind of leader can be in coaching for two, three, four, or more years. I love staying with people for the long term as they keep taking on new challenges.


5.  How does coaching end? Endings can be uncomfortable.
There are lots of great reasons for stopping:

You've reached the goal you set, so you're done.

You've been accepted into a special leadership program and you need to make that your priority.

You decide to stop coaching to see if you'll miss it.

You've gotten to a good stopping place and want to rest for a while. You want to take a vacation from self-development work and enjoy what you've accomplished.

You've decided to put your time and money into another part of your life, like dance lessons, hang-gliding, or writing your screenplay.

As always, the key question to ask yourself is...

What do I need?

That's where coaching begins and that's where it ends. You keep paying attention to what you need and when you no longer need coaching, then it's time for us to talk about what's next for you.

And time to celebrate—both the challenges you've met and who you had to be to meet them.

I know for myself when someone I've been working with stops coaching, I miss them. Coaching is a serious commitment on your part and on my part, too.

So I miss people when they leave. And I'm glad I do. I'm glad to have had that kind of connection.


6.  What about accountability? I need it but I don't like it.
I think the key question about accountability is this...

Are you be accountable to a should or to your heart?

I know what it's like to pick a goal and make a plan, but then somehow there's a wrench in the works and I end up procrastinating or rebelling.

Why does this happen? It happens because my inner critic picked that goal and made that plan. My choice was based on shoulds not genuine desire. And then I hammered myself for not following through: "What's wrong with you? Why can't you get with the program? Why can't you do a simple thing like this?"

If that's what accountability means, then who needs it? That's a destructive way to live. It's what I call forced accountability.

The opposite is positive accountability. Or compelling accountability. Or you can pick your own name for it.

What it means is that you discover the goals that call to you most deeply. It doesn't mean that there won't be challenges but that they will be compelling to you. They will feed you and keep you going.

So if you find yourself procrastinating day after day, it only means that you've lost touch with what matters to you. So you stop and remember and reconnect, which is worlds apart from forcing yourself.

Or maybe it means that there's something you need in order to find your fire again, and so you take a stand for yourself and make going after what you need a priority. And it might be something like upgrading your operating system.

Sacrificial leadership depends on forced accountability. Sustainable leadership thrives on positive accountability. And when you're soaring as a leader, you actually don't need accountability anymore because your life is so intrinsically compelling.

One more thing about accountability. Why is it that so many strategic plans are dead on arrival? All that work and all that money, and the plan sits on a shelf gathering dust.

Too often organizations ask, "What should we be doing?"

What if they asked instead, "What's genuinely compelling to us? What makes us feel so alive that we wouldn't miss it for the world? Forget all the shoulds, even the noble ones, what is it about service and advocacy that we love, just simply love?"

How would your life change right now if you had accountability with a heart instead of a hammer?


7.  What if I'm not being a good client?
I hope you won't be a "good" client, because coaching is not a performance. It's not about getting a good grade from your coach.

So if you're in a bad mood when you call me for your session, please be a "bad" client. Show up with attitude. Tell me: "I don't want to be on this call this morning. I don't want to work on anything. I hate coaching. I want to be in Hawaii!"

This is not the polite way to begin a call but it's what's true for you and that's the place to start. I've seen breakthroughs happen when someone is in a bad mood as often as when someone's in a good mood. Breakthroughs are not mood-dependent.

In fact, this morning a client called in a funk. She told me everything she hated about her week. Usually she says, "I should do something about this." Notice that should.

But today she said, "I won't live like this anymore, I won't." She had touched bottom. Her voice sounded different, like her soul was speaking. That's when she took the kind of stand for herself that she'd been needing to take for a very long time.

What a loss it would have been if she had put a happy face on her pain.

What matters is what works for you. For months now, a writer I work with has been picking a clear, focused goal at the end of each call. But then a week later, she can't remember what she agreed to. She doesn't have the slightest clue.

Is she a bad client? If there are rules about remembering, she is. But guess what? When she reports on her week, it turns out her goal has gotten accomplished on its own in the most creative way. It seems her subconscious is taking care of business for her these days and it's doing a great job. So we don't mess with success, we just enjoy it.

I think it's important to remember that something that looks like a failure might just be a sign. If you commit to an action plan and don't do it, then maybe that's a sign it wasn't compelling enough. Or something else needs to happen first. Or maybe your inner critic picked that plan and then hooray that you didn't do it. Or maybe you really needed to take a break that week, and now you'll be sure to take one this week.

Good client? Bad client. What kind should you be? Why not forget the rules and be your own kind of client? Why not just focus on what you need?


8.  I'm burnt out on challenges and coaching is going to give me more of them, isn't it?
If you're burnt out, the point of coaching is to change your relationship to challenge, not bury you ever deeper in even more challenges that aren't working for you.

I like to look at challenge this way:

If you have too much, you shut down.

If you don't have enough, your life goes to sleep on you.

So what you need is challenge that's not too big and not too little, but just right. You could call this Goldilocks challenge. Or if that's too cute, you can call it developmental challenge, because it grows you.

And all that sounds very nice, except you might be thinking, "But I don't get to pick my challenges. They just come at me fast and furious."

That's true for many leaders. And that's a hard way to live and one of the key reasons for burnout. Which is why I encourage you to not let that state of affairs go unchallenged.

If you're being overdosed with challenge there are strategies—not easy overnight strategies—but effective ones you can use. The quick rule of thumb for too much challenge is to gather a team around yourself so it's not just you up against the challenge mano a mano.

By contrast, there are actually some nonprofit leaders who are being under-challenged. Typically they've been in their positions a good while, they've mastered the job, and they're coasting along with an underlying, nagging feeling of boredom. I love helping them find what's going to reignite them.

In the meantime, though, if you're the classic nonprofit leader struggling with an overdose, then yes, coaching will add a challenge to your load, but a subversive one, one that can pull the rug out from under the status quo and give you a new way to lead.


9.  How do I make time for coaching? It's impossible. There's not one free minute in my schedule.
Coaching is what makes time for coaching.

In your sessions, you might work on setting boundaries and saying no to anything that's not one of your priorities. Then you actually start saying no. Now you're saving time.

Or let's say you focus on developing your negotiation skills. You're clearer with your staff about what you need from them. You get much better at delegating. You get good as asking for what you want from others so you don't have to do everything yourself. Now you're saving lots of time.

Here's something you can try if you want. Challenge yourself to use your half hour of coaching each week to save yourself half an hour of time each day.

Then turn that saved time into a treat for yourself. Take a walk at lunch time. Meditate in the middle of the afternoon. Leave early to go swimming. Read a chapter of that romance novel you've been wanting to finish.

For some leaders, coaching starts saving time immediately.

But for others, it takes longer. That's especially true for leaders who are caught in the sacrificial operating mode. That's a tough trap.

In that case, it might seem absolutely nuts to add coaching into your absolutely impossible week. And yet, is there anything else you're doing that will get you out of the trap?

If your job is driving you crazy anyway, why not go all out? Why not get really crazy and jam coaching into your week, too? At least it's something that has the power to break the spell and set you free.


Let me finish this page by emphasizing that the point is not for you to fit into some set model of coaching, but for us to...

Work together to make sure the spirit of coaching is serving you.

So please feel free at anytime to talk with me about the design of your coaching. This is your time. You're paying for it. You get to re-design it whenever you are so moved because when it comes to coaching...

The only thing that matters is that you get what you need.


Invitation to coaching

Shopping for a coach

What's it cost?

Stories: The power of knowing yourself and loving yourself


© Rich Snowdon 2008