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As coaches, we want to attract clients whose coaching goals fit with what we offer. We also want to work with clients with whom we feel a strong interpersonal connection. I refer to this as ‘goodness-of-fit’: the fit between the coach’s niche, knowledge base and coaching style; and the client’s personality (including temperament, energy and pace) and overall coaching goals. Goodness-of-fit is determined by both the coach and  the client.

When there is goodness-of-fit, a flow exists that is characterized by ease and spontaneity; a graceful dance between coach and client.  When it is missing, coaching feels more effortful, and the coach may question whether the relationship is truly serving the client.

In most cases, coaches can determine goodness-of-fit in the initial contact with a prospective client. The client is motivated to move forward in his/her life; there is a connection between the coach and client that feels right; and the services offered by the coach fit with the client’s goals.  The coaching proceeds successfully.

Sometimes, it is not until the relationship has gotten underway that either or both parties recognize that something isn’t quite right; the goodness-of-fit is missing. There may be one or more of the following circumstances present:

  • The client is uncertain about what he wants to get from coaching.
  • The client’s goals have changed, and the goodness-of-fit is no longer there.
  • The coach experiences a difference in style, pace and energy with the client.
  • The coach questions her effectiveness in coaching the client.
  • The coach questions whether the client is ‘coachable’.

Case Example:

Diane, a career coach, has been coaching Susan for approximately one year.  When their coaching relationship began, Susan was in a career transition. During the first six months of coaching, she accepted a position that she quit three months later because it was not what she had expected.  Diane does not look forward to her coaching calls with Susan. She feels drained at the end of the calls. Susan rarely shows up with an agenda, and she seldom follows through with fieldwork. Diane wonders if the coaching relationship is working for either one of them.  

There is a lack of engagement on Susan’s part that causes Diane to question the benefits of the coaching.  Two important questions for coaches to ask themselves are, “what’s getting in the way of my effectiveness?” and “what are some options that are in service of my client?”

Here are some suggestions to enable you to assess and respond to the situation:

  • Seek out a trusted mentor-coach or peer coach: It is extremely helpful to have an objective sounding board to air concerns, ask questions and get feedback. Discussing the situation with someone who can listen objectively provides coaches with a rich opportunity to gain clarity, uncover blind spots, and feel empowered to proceed in a manner that honors themselves and their clients.
  • Check it out with the client: Simply ask your client the question, “how is the coaching working for you?” Our clients are creative, resourceful and whole. Hopefully the relationship is based on open and honest communication. Asking the question invites the client to not only reflect on the coaching for him/herself, but also gives the coach an opportunity to share his/her perspective as well.
  • Speak your truth: If you are clear that the coaching relationship is not a good fit, tell your client. At times coaches are attached to keeping clients, or they may be fearful of coming across as ‘uncoach-like’.  Chances are if the relationship isn’t working for you, your client will sense that something is off.  Our clients deserve to be coached with integrity.  See this as an opportunity to stretch out of your comfort zone and have a frank conversation.
  • Coach your client in planning for what’s next: Should you and the client decide to end coaching, you can assist the client in creating a plan for where he/she wants to go from here. Perhaps the client wants to seek out the services of another professional such as a therapist or career counselor. You may have resources on hand to offer the client.  Or, the conversation might lead to a change in focus in coaching. This is an opportunity for you and the client to redesign the coaching alliance with a new direction.

Case Outcome:

In the case above, Diane decided to check out with Susan how the coaching was working for her. They had a meaningful conversation that resulted in Susan’s decision to take a break from coaching. She recognized that while the coaching had been helpful for her initially, she was feeling stuck in her life.  Diane assisted Susan in getting support from a therapist.

About the Author

Philadelphia-based leadership/executive coach Lisa Kramer, PCC is founder and president of Leading with Intention, a coaching company that partners with organizations to achieve greater business and personal success through leadership and executive coaching, and coaching skills training. For more information about Leading with Intention, go to: www.leadingwithintention.com and follow Lisa at www.linkedin.com/in/lisagkramer.