Help me help you: How to get more from coaching

Organizations are increasingly retaining coaches not only for the leadership development of top executives but also for building better functioning teams. This shows the realization that providing coaching opportunities to employees at all levels creates a more productive work culture, helps shape tomorrow’s leaders, and serves as an effective employee retention tool.

Leaders, too, are hiring coaches as an investment in their professional development or to take a more strategic approach to career advancement.

Whether your company is sponsoring your coaching or you’re paying out of pocket, you want to get the most out of your investment of time and money.

As with many things in life, the more effort you put into coaching, the more you will get out of it. Drawing from my own practice and from the wisdom of my coaching community, here are four ways you can get more from coaching.

Get what you give

First and foremost, to get more from coaching, take time to plan and prepare. It starts with setting clear goals for the coaching engagement. While there are many reasons to hire a coach, having specific goals and priorities will keep you focused.

My clients have recently had goals such as increasing visibility and executive presence; dealing more productively with stress and pressure, communicating more effectively, and being a better sponsor for themselves and the team.

With overall goals as a guidepost, your coach should help you navigate the way. It’s your role to set the agenda for each coaching session. Ask yourself questions like:

  • “What would be most useful to work on today?”
  • “If I could only address one issue, what would it be?”
  • “What would be the most valuable outcome from our coaching conversation?”

Sarah-Nell Walsh of The Wayfinders Coaching Collective adds, “Even if you didn’t have time to work on things between sessions, you can review your notes, think through what got in your way, and set an intention for what you’d like to get out of the coaching session.”

Along those lines, I love the idea of blocking 30 minutes before your coaching session to mentally prepare. You might also block 30 minutes after your session — or during the following morning — to reflect on what you’ve learned and to get started on actions.

“The real work of coaching happens between sessions and a commitment to reflection solidifies that learning,” says Anna Alvarez Boyd of Executive Horizons.

Make notes and keep track

Make note of your insights and ah-ha moments, which may come in between sessions more so than during. Equally important is to keep track of your action items.

I recommend journaling to my clients as one way to pause and reflect on light bulb moments and also on actions. Too often, we focus on what we haven’t done and forget to give ourselves credit for our achievements. When you look back over a coaching engagement, a list of action items serves as a pleasant reminder of how tiny changes compound to create remarkable results.

Be coachable

Chances are you wouldn’t have hired a coach if you were happy with the status quo. You want to make progress, learn and grow. To get more from coaching, you should try new things, experiment with new approaches, and be willing to step out of your comfort zone. You want to remain open to experimenting and testing.

As coaches, we call that being coachable. What does that look like?

Amy Scialdone of The Empowerment Key puts it this way: “Stay present, curious, and open to new insights/perspectives as you learn some amazing things about yourself that were actually there all along. Your coach can help you explore these things and guide you as you begin to put them into action.”

Her Bold Voice’s Kim Boudreaux Smith says, “You want to be willing and open to change, try new things, and show up for yourself 100%!”

I love the way Michele Saunders of Thrive365 sums up what it means to be coachable: “This includes so many things from being open to being willing—and the great thing is you don’t have to know how to be “coachable” from the get-go, it is a dynamic process that can be cultivated and nurtured as the coaching partnership evolves.”

(Re)design your coach

Most coaches spend some time during the kickoff session designing the coaching relationship. We might ask what we can say to help you get unstuck. And, we want to understand what motivates you so we can spark that motivation when you stall. We also want to understand your values, your strengths, and your blind spots.

If you find yourself wishing your coach would do something differently, you should share your thoughts early — and often, if necessary. It allows your coach to adjust to better meet your needs and style. Just like you, we want to grow and improve, so your feedback helps us do just that.

Many of us come to coaching thinking that the coach is there to give us answers, and tell us what to do. The truth is that it’s you who holds the keys. You’re in the driver’s seat. Your coach is there to help you break down actions and see things from a different perspective — and consider new possibilities. We are an accountability partner, a thinking buddy, and a cheerleader for your growth.

My hope is that you’ll use some of these ideas to make your work with a coach more meaningful.