The Motivation Check-up

The single most important success factor in a coaching relationship is the motivation of the client. So before you begin, stop and do a motivation check-up. Clients who are paying out of their own pockets to be coached usually have a high degree of buy-in. Those who approach you out of the blue and ask for your services are also usually well motivated. But that isn’t always the way unpaid coaching relationships get started. You may have approached an emerging leader and offered your coaching services. Or you may be coaching one of your direct reports at work, a team member at church, or even someone assigned to you as a client.

When a person says, “Yes,” to being coached, that response can mean many different things. If we’ve been asked by a leader to find a coach, “Yes,” might mean, “OK, I’ll do it if you want me to.” If we are offered free coaching, our yes might mean, “OK, I’ll do it as a favor to you.” We can also say, “Yes,” and mean, “OK, I’ll give it try and see if it’s worth doing.” None of these answers is a good enough motivation on which to build a coaching relationship.

Or we might answer, “Yes,” and mean, “I don’t know how to tell you ‘No,’ so I’ll agree to this and then never show up for the meetings.” Obviously, that kind of approach isn’t going to work either. What you want is an enthusiastic, well-considered, informed “Yes!”

To be coached, clients have to find a powerful reason towant to change from within, and they have to believe the coaching process can help them do it. You’re looking for internal inspiration as opposed to outward pressure. A good idea is to give them a motivation check-up.

You can sometimes convert a weak “Yes” into a strong one by helping the person develop a compelling reason to change. I call this approachconnecting with your motivation. The idea is to help people paint a graphic picture of the better future coaching could launch them toward. This technique also works great for times when a client has lost energy for a change goal or is ready to give up. The box below lists five questions that I use to help people catch a vision for change. If there is a spark of internal motivation in the client, these queries will help you find it and fan it into flame.

Motivation Check-up

  • “How would your life be different if you achieved this goal? Paint me a picture!”
  • “What would it be worth to you to get this accomplished?”
  • “What would it be like if two years from now you weren’t any further toward this goal than you are now?”
  • Have you been successful in the past in making this kind of change on your own? What do you need that you don’t have to make this change?
  • “What has God been saying to you over the last three months about this area of your life?”

Here’s another tip to use on a motivation check-up. I’ve often used requesting an action step before the first appointment as a test of motivation for non-paying clients. I’ll ask the person if they would read a few chapters of a book on coaching and then call me when they’re finished to set up the first appointment. The ones who are really motivated to work call me shortly thereafter. Those who aren’t motivated never call at all—and I’ve saved both of us the hassle and awkwardness of starting something we won’t finish.

To make sure your coaching client’s motivation for coaching is sound, make sure they have an accurate understanding of what coaching is all about. Most of us learn a new concept by association: we compare it to similar things we already know. So be aware that when you’re talking about coaching, the images in a person’s mind may actually be counseling or mentoring. Or they could be thinking of the NFL coach they watched screaming at the refs last week on Monday Night Football.

A person can’t make an informed decision about whether to be coached without understand what coaching is all about. Since it’s tough to describe coaching without demonstrating it, most professional coaches offer short complimentary leadership coachingsessions where they actually coach the prospective client for 20 to 30 minutes. Then the client can decide if coaching is the right way to go based on actual experience. Another way to educate potential clients might be to ask them to read the first three chapters of my book,Leadership Coaching, as an action step before your first appointment. I’ve intentionally included a lot of coaching dialog and first person stories in that book to make coaching easier to grasp. However you choose to do it, give a good introduction to coaching so the client knows what to expect. If they are motivated they will continue with you and reap the benefits that come with a coaching relationship.

Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach, master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on the role of a client’s motivation in the coaching relationship can be found in Tony’s book,Leadership Coaching.