Coaching is More Than Just Action Planning

People will do something – including changing their behavior – only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interest as defined by their own values. – Marshall Goldsmith, in What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There


Over the last several years, organizations have spent an increasing amount of money on coaching for their executives and other key leaders.  When done well, leadership coaching can have a dramatic impact on the development of those being coached.  This is due in large part to the relationship established between the coach and client.  Through this relationship, and the ability of the coach to uncover what motivates their client, sustainable results can be achieved.  Unfortunately, not all coaches work with their clients to get at the drivers of behavior, preferring instead to jump to problem solving and action planning too quickly.  In doing so, the client may not be able to sustain the change in behavior that they desire.


Uncovering the internal drivers of behavior

In order to create a sustainable change in behavior, it is necessary to not only identify the external goal one wants to achieve, but also connect this goal with an individual’s inner motivation for achieving the desired result.  Stated simply, when a client offers an external goal (i.e., obtain a promotion, make a career transition), there is often an internal motivation for wanting to achieve it (i.e., prestige, working for a company with similar values).  By helping a client see the inner motivation they may have for pursuing a goal, you allow them to connect purpose and passion to its achievement.  

But why is purpose and passion critical to sustainable results?  The answer lies in what drives an individual forward toward action or motivates an individual to sustain effort – emotion. Think about your own life.  When presented with a difficult challenge either at home or at work, what spurs you on to continue to face the challenge – emotion.  Love, anger, pride, fear, trust, joy, anticipation, all can be triggers for action.  Without an emotional connection to a goal, all you are left with is planning.  Planning is an objective, analytical exercise that provides a blueprint for next steps.  But planning alone does not produce action.

Connecting to an individual’s inner motivation can also help when difficulties arise in achieving a goal.  For some, the process of goal setting and action planning may be clear, yet accomplishing a stated goal remains elusive.  Or, having tried over and over to reach a goal without success, an individual may reason that the goal is unachievable and become apathetic. In both instances, there may be a disconnect between the stated external goal and an as-of-yet identified inner barrier that is preventing a move forward.  By exploring an individual’s thoughts and inner motivations for achieving a goal, a coach may find that the two are in conflict.  Once an awareness of the conflict arises, a client is better able to decide whether or not to continue to pursue their stated goal. By uncovering the inner motivations for goal achievement, a client can move their planning from “have to’s” to “want to’s”, thereby using emotion to drive action.

While helping a client establish clear, measurable goals is an important part of the coaching process, it is not the only skill set a leadership coach needs to assist clients in achieving sustainable results.  By connecting a challenging goal to a client’s true passion and motivation, a coach allows the client to tap into an internal source of energy that will sustain effort over a longer period of time.

A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason. – J.P. Morgan

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