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Written by Dr Steve Barlow

How coachable is your perfect client?

Most people would probably say, “Very coachable”. Right?

Well, maybe. We all like clients who are intrinsically motivated, honest and open, self-aware and responsible, action-takers, self-monitoring, and super successful.

The not-very-coachable

Those in the ‘not-very-coachable’ group are more difficult to work with. They may say the right things, but often they don’t follow through. They make excuses, avoid responsibility, and don’t make much progress. Sometimes they smile and tell you how much you help them, but that’s not necessarily what they tell others.

The ‘not-very-coachable’ often leave coaches wondering what went wrong and why their coaching didn’t ‘work’. Not what they really want.

What makes someone ‘coachable’?

Before we go any further, let’s stop and consider what makes someone coachable. There are two main questions to ask here. One is, ‘Is the person change-ready?’ The other: ‘Is the person change-fit?’ Let me explain.

Imagine coaching is like hosting a marathon and you have four potential competitors. The first is a seasoned athlete with many marathon wins under her belt and she is very keen to compete in the marathon. The second is an equally successful marathon runner but he has prior commitments and is unavailable for the marathon. The third person is not athletic, is not a long-distance runner, but is keen to have a go. The fourth person is very unfit and sullen and is only there because he lost a bet.

Defining the terms

Let’s define readiness and fitness. Readiness means ready to start the race (the motivation to start). Fitness means ready to finish the race (the capacity to go the distance, and possibly win). The first of our prospective competitors is both fit and ready for the race.

The second prospective competitor is also technically fit but is not ready to start. He has more motivation to do something else. The third prospect is ready to start but is unlikely to go the distance. And the fourth is neither fit enough to go the distance nor ready to start. If the first prospect were a coaching client, she would be in the ‘very-coachable’ group, but where would you put the others?

Limiting clients

Let’s consider three points. First, if you only want to work with the ‘very-coachable-group’, you are limiting your potential clients. There are fewer people in the ‘very-coachable-group’ than in the other groups combined, and they may be harder to find. Even in this elite group, there is room for growth in how coachable people are.

Make them coachable

Second, even if clients are not in the ‘very-coachable-group’, there are things you can do to make them more coachable. You can help them build change readiness and change fitness and they can join the ranks of the ‘very-coachable-group’. Think of our four marathon contestants. They have different needs. Some could benefit from an athletics coach, but others are not ready for that yet. What they need is a personal trainer so they can get fit and not injure themselves.

The rewards

Third, coaching people not in the ‘very-coachable-group’ can be very rewarding. It is rewarding seeing people become more empowered as agents of change in their own lives.   You become a personal trainer for change, helping them become more coachable. As their change capacity grows, so your coaching adapts to their growth.

So, which group your perfect client is in depends on how you want to work with clients and who you want to help. The Change Gym specialises in helping coaches build the coachability of their clients.  This helps clients who are often not well served by coaching, yet who arguably have the greatest need. But it’s not only for the unfit and unready. Coaching is for everyone and, no matter how coachable we may be, we can all benefit from more change fitness.

The difficulty of identification

Before we finish, there is one more point to make. It isn’t easy to identify who is in which group. There are people in the C-suite who are not very coachable, and there are people on the ground floor who are. Some coaches claim to have the ability to discern a prospect’s coachability, but one wonders how accurate they are. What is needed is a robust and scientific method, not just a hunch.

Change readiness is easier to determine than change fitness. It’s a matter of how aware they are of their problems, how eager they are to find solutions, how much they trust in your ability to help them, and how compelling the benefits of change are to them. If they score low on these four areas, they are not ready to start coaching. As a coach, your first agenda is to build their readiness.

Change fitness assessment

A client’s change capacity will become evident over time, but you can’t afford to wait that long. You need to know how change-fit they are at the start, so you know how to approach them and how best to help them. We, at The Change Gym, have developed a robust psychometric test to measure a client’s change fitness at the start and end of the coaching engagement. This provides important information when it’s most needed and allows for an accurate measure of progress. We also have specialised coaching programs to enhance change fitness.

Dr Steve Barlow