One Surprising Way (That Nobody Tells You) a Coach Can Stand Out in a Sea of Wannabes

The term coaching means a hundred different things to a hundred different people. There are sports coaches, team coaches, performance coaches, life coaches, health coaches, and financial coaches. To many managers, coaching means giving feedback and offering clear instruction on how to improve. To the folks who are selling AI coaching, it almost always means skill building.

To most professional coaches, though, coaching means creating an environment in which an individual can see themselves clearly, articulate the gap between where they are right now and where they want to be, develop a reasonable plan to get there, and take action.

Ideally for the client it can include transformational epiphanies, but it doesn’t have to.

It can include the acquisition or development of skills, but not always.

It can include deepened and sharpened self-awareness, but it might not.

It should always, however, generate clarity about what needs to be done and why it needs doing, and a plan for how to get started.

Coaching must be a catalyst for action—action the client probably wouldn’t have taken without coaching. Clarity. Focus. Action. It is really that simple. And to date, only a human coach can achieve reliable results with other humans.

The mystery for many is how a coach can help catapult someone into action without telling them what to do and how to do it, which, of course, is the magic of coaching. Good coaches know how to do this.

The problem is that today, there are more people calling themselves coaches than ever before. There are more professional certified coaches who know what they are doing than ever before. And the competition is fiercer than ever before. Specialization of industry or field is one way for a coach to distinguish themselves. The other way is to add so much value that clients stay with them and refer their friends and colleagues. Here is a wildly underused way a coach can do just that.

Take Notes

Take notes and share them with the client after each session. Very few coaches do this—in fact, for decades I didn’t because I was taught not to. But now I think not taking notes is just an excuse for a coach to be lazy. I really don’t mean to insult the legions of experienced coaches I know, but the fact is that when I started doing this, my coaching became much more effective and my clients experienced the coaching as having way more value.

The big argument against taking good notes and sending them to the client after each coaching session is there is no legal protection of client/coach confidentiality (the kind that doctors and attorneys have). As such, if the client faces some kind of legal trouble, the coach’s notes could be subpoenaed. In my 35 years of coaching, the specter of this possibility has reared its head exactly once, with one of the hundreds of coaches who worked for me, and it ended up not happening. Unless you are coaching a Mafia don, honestly, there is no good justification for not providing this essential service.

The other argument against taking notes, which is taught in coaching schools, is that clients need to take full responsibility for taking their own notes. This made sense to me until I worked with a coach myself on some very big transformational things and was thinking so hard during the sessions that I found myself incapable of taking notes. It turns out that if the client is doing most of the talking (which is as it should be) it is almost impossible for the client to take good notes. Since I, as the coach, am listening intently, I can take excellent notes, even if they are my own doodly brand of shorthand. I then take the time to digest the notes and type them up as bullet points:

    • ·       Topics discussed, options considered, questions asked and answered
    • ·       Decisions made, homework agreed to
    • ·       How everything discussed connects to the overarching goals for the coaching

(Note: I cut and paste our goals into the top of every coaching notes email. Nobody thinks they will forget their goals, and everyone always does.)

“Oh no!” you’re thinking, “that is so consuming, I don’t have time for that.” I get it, I really do. And it does take time. One way I make it less time consuming is that I tell my clients from day one that I will send notes after most sessions, they will be in bullet point form, will not be proofed or formatted, and are simply a record and a reminder. If I felt I were being held to a high standard of professionalism to make the notes perfect, I wouldn’t do it. So the watchword on this is done is better than perfect. I make my clients promise not to judge.

The taking of notes is particularly critical at the beginning of the coaching engagement to capture the evolution of the goals for the coaching. I listen carefully, repeat back what I think I heard, and note what a good goal might be. When the client sees them in writing, it is much easier for them to edit the notes and get closer to the best possible goal. Many coaches would argue that it is the client’s job to do this. And in theory, that is true. However, over the decades, I have found that my clients barely have time to think, let alone write, between sessions. It is so much more efficient for them to edit than to originate the language. The blank page is as daunting to them as it is to anyone. In an ideal world, clients schedule time between coaching sessions to do the hard thinking work and writing, and guess what? It never happens.

Taking the time to type up notes has afforded several unexpected advantages:

    • ·       It allows me to add any ideas or questions we didn’t get to. We can review the notes together at the beginning of the next session to see if there are any thoughts or stitches we need to pick up.
    • ·       It reminds the client of how the conversation has moved them forward, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.
    • ·       It provides a way for clients to remember and digest showstopping insights. I knew I was on to something important when clients started to say, “Hey, can you put that in the notes?” When that happens, not only does it go in the notes, it goes in as a headline!
    • ·       It provides an extraordinary golden thread that both client and coach can refer to at the end of the coaching to track the journey. This is the ultimate key to making sure the client is crystal clear that they got what they came for.
    • ·       Finally, it allows the client to see the homework they committed to doing in black and white. They are less likely to forget and much more likely to do what they said they would.

Going the Extra, Extra Mile

I got the idea to do this from my pal Diana Urbina, who is VP of coaching and professional services at Blanchard. She once worked with a coach who trained at Hudson Institute. When she met with her coach (in person!) for their final session, the coach had lined her office with flip chart pages that mapped Diana’s coaching journey. Diana says it was an amazing experience and doubled the value of the coaching for her.

Since I rarely, if ever, see my clients in person, I create a virtual version of this map. When a client is reaching the end of our contracted time, I take all the notes and create a PowerPoint deck that outlines:

    • ·       The overall objective for the coaching (e.g., become a better leader, make myself eligible for a promotion, stop feeling like a hamster on the wheel, find my lost passion and joy at work)
    • ·       The goals we started with, along with the actions and milestones the client came up with along the way to move them toward the goals
    • ·       The way some goals were altered as we went along and as new information came in
    • ·       The goals we added along the way
    • ·       Themes that emerged from the coaching conversations—some are reoccurring and provide clues to things the client is going to continue to work on throughout their careers
    • ·       Questions the client can refer back to and use to self-coach once they have cut me loose.

I try to use graphics that represent the overall objective, but my skills are poor, so I keep things simple. One client realized her big motivator was to have a summer house on Lake Tahoe, so I searched online until I found a photo that came close to what she envisioned. That photo is the screen saver on her phone now.

In our final session, we review the deck. The client adds what I missed and tweaks the language to make it theirs. I take notes on what they say they learned and ways the coaching has been valuable to them. I add those to the final deck as “Coaching Takeaways” and I send them the edited deck after we say goodbye.

It is all well and good for clients to love their coach and leave coaching with the sense that something good happened. However, if a coach wants to charge the big bucks, it doesn’t hurt to ensure that clients leave with a tangible, concrete record of precisely the difference the coaching made. Humans are susceptible to innumerable unconscious cognitive biases, through no fault of their own. These biases can make it very easy for clients to forget that a lot of the good things that are happening for them are directly due to the coaching. Among these biases are misattribution of memory, source confusion, fading affect bias, implicit bias, availability heuristic—the list goes on and on. You can look these up and geek out on biases with this beautiful Cognitive Bias Codex if you like.

Think about it. As coaches we are competing like never before for our clients’ attention. This is the best way I have found to keep the coaching top of mind for people who are drowning in a sea of information, distractions, and mental stimulation.

Is it more work? Yes.

Does it make a difference? Undoubtedly.

Will it guarantee that your clients will remember the value of the coaching, and send you clients? You bet it will.


Editor’s Note: Are you a professional coach looking to take your skills to the next level?  Invest in yourself and your business—join us for the next Blanchard Leadership Coach Certification program.  Madeleine Blanchard is conducting a free information session on June 17. You can access complete information using this link.

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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