Most coaching engagements begin when a client contacts a leadership coach to see if the coach would be a good fit or not. Leadership coaches typically offer a complimentary first session because they also want to make sure the client is a good fit and has goals that the coach can help the client achieve. The leadership coach usually discusses with the potential client what he or she wants to achieve, how and by when, and also invites questions from the potential client. This session is usually done in person, distance permitting. For examples of challenges and opportunities clients often bring to leadership coaching, see Common Topics in Leadership Coaching.
If both parties think the fit is a good one and decide to proceed, the coach usually then describes how he or she usually works with clients in terms of duration and frequency of coaching sessions. The coach will also set forth a basic contract regarding the coaching relationship, how it can be ended by either party at any time and reviews confidentiality agreements, either orally or in writing. Then, depending on the needs of the client and the client’s sense of urgency, the client and coach jointly agree on the frequency, length, and goals of the coaching sessions.
When an organization is paying for the client’s coaching, it’s common to start with a 360 developmental assessment in order to identify a client’s strengths and opportunities for development. This assessment provides a basis for setting priorities for the client’s coaching. In most cases, this assessment is shared with the client’s boss who also approves the priorities for coaching.
Typical coaching arrangements involve two one-hour sessions a month, or a session every other week, either in person, over the phone, by videoconference through Skype or Google Hangouts, or some combination of these. Coaches are quite willing to modify these arrangements to better meet a client’s needs. For example, a client with a more immediate need to address an issue at hand may want to have coaching sessions once a week, relaxing the schedule later on to every other week once progress has been made on the initial issue of concern.
Similarly, the length and pacing of a leadership coaching engagements over time can vary considerably depending upon the needs of clients and the challenges and opportunities they want to address. On one end of the spectrum, the coaching relationship may end after the initial challenge or opportunity has been successfully addressed. If the coaching relationship has been helpful to the client, it can continue as long the client wants to explore additional areas of concern and opportunity. On the far end of the spectrum, some coaching engagements can last years and even decades. Since managing/leading others are the two most crucial and challenging roles for anyone in a leadership position, addressing leadership opportunities, personnel issues and organizational climate and culture are frequent and recurring topics in leadership coaching engagements.
The structure of each coaching session can vary from one leadership coach to another, but generally follows a similar sequence. The coach begins by reviewing the previous session with the client, including any actions the client had agreed to take, and then clarifies the agenda for the current session with the client. During the session, the client and coach work together to determine additional actions for the client to take. Near the end of the session, the coach usually summarizes these actions and reaches agreement with the client that progress on these actions will be discussed during the next coaching session.
Most coaches usually review the coaching relationship with the client every three, six or twelve months depending on the type and nature of the engagement. The purpose is to assess what has been helpful and not, review areas in which the client has made progress, and reset priorities for future coaching. In coaching situations in which the company is paying for the coaching sessions, these periodic reviews usually include the client’s boss as well to make sure all parties are in agreement about what has been accomplished and the objectives for coaching moving forward.
After participating in coaching twice a month for a period of time, some clients decide to take a break from coaching for an agreed upon period of time. This can occur for a number of reasons. The client’s work cycle through the year may have extended periods of travel or particular busy periods during which it is difficult to focus on anything but work. In other cases, the coaching relationship may have generated a backlog of solutions for which the client needs time to implement. In another variant, clients who have successfully increased their leadership effectiveness and impact through coaching sometimes opt for continuing the coaching relationship on an as-needed basis, briefly checking in with their leadership coach on a pre-arranged schedule every month or quarter.