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Does your coaching really make a difference?

Coaches, have you ever wondered if you really made a difference to a Client? Not that Client who is full of enthusiasm, commitment and exciting news each session – it’s easy to see what a difference Coaching is making for them! I mean that quieter Client who is a little less enthusiastic, seems a bit less committed. That Client who is undertaking Coaching with a sense of trepidation: “Will this really work for me?”, or obligation: “I can’t believe my boss is making me see a Coach”, or even downright disbelief: “I’m sure you’re a great Coach, but I don’t actually have anything wrong in my life”!

It’s easy to get addicted to the pleasure of obvious, positive outcomes in our pursuit of Coaching Excellence. Let’s face it – it feels good and fuels our Coaching Fire! The glowing testimonials; the heartfelt praise from someone moving ahead at lightning speed; the buzz of seeing a Client rising to the top of their game and shining bright after only a few sessions – it’s what keeps us going.

And of course, Professional Coaches value the data too – it’s really important to measure and report Client progress and outcomes as well as we possibly can. I do so using several different methods, including subjective happiness and wellbeing measures, the use of validated Psychometric profiles where appropriate, and measuring internal change paired with external behaviours in a measurement called the Goal Attainment Scale. So, my Clients and I have the numbers locked down – and we measure our progress, celebrate the successes, and adjust where necessary based on evidence.

But what about the deeper stories of success, beyond the numbers? Can we ever truly know the deep impact of our coaching over time?

One of the first Coaching Clients I ever worked with was also one of the toughest. This beautiful Client was undertaking Coaching as a favour to a mutual friend, helping me grind through my required first six terrifying Coaching sessions for the first written assessment in my Coaching studies. She was pleasant, polite, and generous with her time – and also firmly believed that she didn’t “need” Coaching. Each week, my stumbling, bumbling exploration of my new calling as a Professional Coach centred on an area the Client selected – where she didn’t need anything to change – but would be “fine” to discuss. After each session, I hung up the phone with disappointment again, feeling I was not making much of a difference at all for this lady, who openly said she was not noticing anything in her life changing but was happy to keep being my test subject. We covered the basics – making time for one’s self in a busy schedule, navigating challenging relationships, committing to personal and professional goals. At the end of our engagement my Client said a polite “thank you” and promised to send a testimonial in the next week (although she confided she wasn’t sure what to write as she felt she had made no progress). I felt flat as a tack – wondering if this new Coaching venture was really for me – and resigned myself to the fact that I would probably never see that testimonial.

And I was right.

Well, for 18 months anyway.

Then, I received a surprise email from my Client; two pages of all the things that had changed in her life since those six strange, uncomfortable, seemingly useless beginner Coaching sessions. Many areas of her life were significantly improved because of the actions she had taken – better relationships with precious family members, more self-respect and self-care leading to greater health and vitality, an enormous shift at work including a promotion with exciting international opportunities, and a renewed sense of happiness and fulfilment with life. She poured her heart out, saying that everything was better, because of the time that we spent together. And I admit, I nearly fell off my office chair with surprise!

In that moment, I learned my most valuable Coaching lesson of all: ultimately, my success as a Coach has nothing to do with how I feel at the end of a session. I can look for all the outward signs of change in a Client in the moment, and it’s possible that absolutely none will be obvious. The Client can even feel doubt that anything is changing, and express that, too; but now I know, for SURE, that something has changed.

Every time I have a focused, intentional Coaching conversation, something has changed; maybe not now, but in the future.

Every time I share that sacred Coaching space with a Client, a safe space to explore what’s important to them, a shift is coming.

Every time I have the blessed chance to connect, observe, and be a part of a Client’s life, I know that the very act of being present causes something to be different.

Every time a Client walks away from a session, there is possibility crackling, sparking in the air all around them, whether they see it in the moment or not.

I’ve come a long way since those early days and I know now that it’s impossible to see the magnitude of changes that can happen over time, starting with one little Coaching conversation. I’ve learned that the responsiveness of the Client and my feeling about the session have very little to do with the ultimate outcomes that can be achieved. And I’ve picked up hundreds of Clients, and thousands of Coaching hours since then too – and found it’s always the case.

So, if you’ve ever wondered, “Am I really making a difference to that quiet, less responsive, more closed-off Client? Is this thing really working? Is it worth the effort to keep going?”, I would like you to know:

YES.

Keep Coaching.

This post was written by Catherine Bell from Bell Training Group.

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