When Does Coaching End?
When does coaching end? It depends.
Generally, it ends when the client chooses to end it. On rare occasions, when the client becomes uncoachable or stops doing the work, I will end the relationship.
Most clients get what they need from coaching in six to twelve months. I have phenoms who blast in and out in as little as four months, and I have clients with whom I have worked for years.
But most clients end coaching for one of the following reasons.
Clients hire a coach when they want support in achieving specific goals in their lives. Goals such as launching themselves on a new life path, moving into a leadership position, or creating more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Whatever their goals may be, once they’ve achieved them, the client is then ready to move on.
Perhaps one in five of my clients, after working hard and making substantial progress, will stall out. That is, they reach a point where they are unable to move any further forward. They generally stall or plateau when the next step they need to take is a big one—one that requires a major shift in their thinking, is too fearful, or because the changes they have already made in their lives need to be consolidated and “lived” before they can make more progress.
I’ve discovered that when a client plateaus, the best approach is to take a break—often for a year or more. During the break, the client uses and integrates what they’ve learned—developing themselves, improving the quality of their lives, practicing their new skills and behaviors—and when they are ready for the next boost, they come back.
Returning clients who had previously plateaued often stun me by the progress they made during their break. Their progress may be invisible to them as they develop day by day, but to me, after not working with them for a year or more, the changes can be substantial.
Usually, when a client returns, they are now able to step off the plateau and begin climbing their next mountain. Today, 10-20% of my current clients had previously plateaued, took a break, and have returned for a second round.
Run out of steam
When people start working with a coach, they are excited; they are out in the world generating breakthroughs weekly as they grab the low hanging fruit of personal development—but then, as their lives improve, they begin to falter. Suddenly coaching isn’t as interesting as it was when they started, and any of a thousand other things attract their attention.
When this happens, my client and I discuss what they are committed to. Are they committed to the goal they came to coaching with? Or is work, family time, or Netflix more important? Is getting halfway to their goal good enough, or are they giving up on themselves?
These can be difficult conversations as people come to realize that something they have been dreaming about for years may not be as important to them as they thought. They are like dieters who must face the fact that they prefer Twinkies to being thin and healthy.
Coaching ends, when they decide that their initial goal is no longer worth pursuing. At that point, we work to ensure that their decision to stop coaching does not lead them to second guess themselves, or become regretful or self-critical. Like those that have plateaued—they can always come back when they’re ready to give it another go.
Then there are two types of people who stay on for years and years. The first are those who achieve their initial goals and then take on new and yet more ambitious ones. These are the clients who thrive when they are growing and challenging themselves. These clients are tremendously fun and challenging to coach—professionally because they push me to expand and deepen my capabilities as a coach, and, personally, as I can’t coach someone into territory I haven’t already staked out myself. They require me to do my own work.
Ongoing maintenance and tune-ups
The second type of client who continues to work year after year is one that is looking for ongoing maintenance—that is, who want regular tune-ups, someone to bounce ideas off, or who will hold them accountable. These clients tend to reduce their coaching to one or two sessions a month but continue coaching year after year. Our sessions will most likely continue until either they or I retire.
Saying good-bye when coaching ends
It is bittersweet when clients finally spread their wings and take off. The coaching relationship can be very intimate. We’ve worked together for a year or more, and I followed them from their first hesitant steps to becoming powerful and effective people. It is often a tumultuous journey—full of highs and lows–and, like most journeys, you’ve formed a bond by the shared experience.
We spend our last session together getting complete: saying what we need to say, scoping out the future, acknowledging each other—and then, after saying our final good-byes, we hang up the phone for the last time.
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