There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven-
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 NASB
In the past month, two former clients reinitiated their coaching relationships after a six- month and two-year lapse respectively. I was pleasantly surprised that they were eager to reengage. My good-byes used to be more difficult as I would secretly hang my head in shame wondering if I had served my client well. Over time, however, I learned how to develop stronger relationships through the separation process with clients. In the two instances mentioned above, our former coaching relationships were strong and viable, ending with clear invitations to continue if and when they felt it was time.
While either the client or the coach can decide it’s time to say good-bye, through the years I’ve noticed a few clues that indicate the coaching relationship is nearing completion.
Clues from the client are:
- Coming to sessions indicating there wasn’t much new to work
- Pattern of not following through with designated
- “Life gets in the way of living,” such as family illness, where the client’s emotional, physical and/or intellectual is being maxed out from some ongoing concern.
- Sense of accomplishment and readiness to branch off on
- Specialized area of expertise required that is beyond scope of current coaching relationship.
- Situation arises that warrants consideration of counseling for a
- Financial situation
Clues from the coach’s viewpoint are:
- Relationship no longer fresh; rhythm turns to
- Not sensing ‘gaps’ the client can move into or the next steps they could
- Life gets in the way and circumstances hinder coach’s ability to be fully present when interacting with
- Unable, for whatever reason, to support the client in obtaining his or her objectives/goals.
- Sense client has come to a place of ‘completion,’ or that it’s time to encourage client to step out without the support and accountability of the
Each client is unique and I’ve learned to individualize my approach for each situation. I’ve also learned that I have to be willing to risk possibly losing the coaching relationship in order for it to have the best chance of flourishing. Sometimes I have to be brave with questions like “How well is this coaching relationship serving you right now?” or “What would you like to see different in our relationship?” or “You are able to bring more to the table. What’s stopping you from doing so?”
A Coaches’ Role is to Respect and Release
My coaching relationships have ended for myriad of reasons. One ended because we were not a good fit. He wanted someone to help propel his business forward using some tactics that I could not be involved in, even from ‘an-objective-coach’ perspective. It just did set not right with me. I was able to acknowledge that his approach was beyond my comfort zone and therefore I would not be able to support him in his endeavors. He agreed it would be good to find someone else who could ‘advance his cause’ with him. We had a mutually happy parting of ways and I referred him to a business coach who I knew had a much higher risk tolerance than I and who worked aggressively with his clients.
Another coaching relationship ended when the client felt she was at a place of ‘calm movement.’ We had enjoyed a celebration call the previous week and she felt a sense of ‘settledness.’ We closed out our relationship the following session. Several years later she called to begin again. We worked together for a brief three-month period to get her on track with a few more things.
One of the most awkward endings came with a client who was not following through with designed actions. Because he remained stuck throughout our sessions, I invested in sessions with a mentor to discern how I could better support this client. Eventually it became clear that the coaching was not serving him well. Whether it was my coaching style or there was something else not ‘clicking’ we both knew that coaching with me was not a good fit for him. We are, however, still in communication to this day.
Another time I said good-bye was when I needed a respite. I went through a brief period of significant health challenges. I informed my clients that, for a time, I needed to focus on taking care of myself to a greater degree. I did not have to end the relationships, but clients agreed to take a break or reduce to monthly sessions during this period of time. They appreciated and responded well to my concern for preserving the integrity of the coaching relationship on their behalf.
Celebration is a key component of the coaching relationship and the release. A coach’s role is also to acknowledge and celebrate. No matter what is happening, a client needs to be acknowledged for the investment and the work they did. Sometimes I was so focused on the next stage, the next area of growth, I would leave my client panting in the dust as they attempted to ‘whoa the horsey!’ Again–my insecurity of making sure the client was getting their money’s worth actually shortchanged the relationship. Less, I learned, is oftentimes better!
Celebration is equally important in releasing a client. Commemorate the challenges they successfully faced and the progress they’ve made.
An open door and trust brings clients back. For instance, ‘Christy’ shared during a call that there was less for her to work on and she was feeling pretty good about where she was at but at the same time she didn’t want to stop coaching. For the last couple of sessions, I felt like she was hanging on but that she had no current need for coaching.
I considered our options. What if she knew she could come back to coach whenever opportunity arose again? We could transition to once a month for a couple of months and then finish for a season. This proposal was appropriate in that as the coach I ‘manage the process’ while the client ‘manages the objectives.’
Christy seemed relieved by the suggestion. After three months she was off and running on her own. Two years later, she called and we were coaching again.
It is fun to walk with clients–some for a year and some for longer. But I can tell you there is still something special about a client calling me several years later ready to reengage in our coaching relationship.
Coaching the Coach Tip:
An open door and trust encourage clients to reinitiate their coaching relationship, as does the unusual policy of holding my current coaching fees stable for two years after the end of the last session. If, for example, a client’s fee was $150 a session and I’ve raised my fee to $175, his or her rate for the next two years, after we said good-bye, would still be $150.
Grandfathering in fees does create a bit of a bookkeeping nightmare, but I believe it is easier (and less expensive) to keep a client than it is to develop a client. I want my policies to reflect the value of returning business. Additionally, I do not have the preliminary work with a returning client. We step right back into coaching—another win- win incentive for the grandfather clause. Not all coaching practices share this policy, but I have worked this way for seven years and find it quite rewarding.
Cheryl Scanlan Former executive with a multi-million dollar firm, Cheryl Scanlan, PCC, CPCC combines strong business acumen with a passion for the Christian coaching industry, to facilitate the development of confident ambassadors for Christ in both corporate and ministry environments. She mentors coaches across the country and coaches Pastoral and Director teams to strengthen the core of church bodies. For more information on Cheryl Scanlan visit: wayoflifecoaching.com.
Georgia Shaffer, M.A., is a professional speaker, certified Life Coach and the author of four books including Coaching the Coach: Lessons from Christian Coaches. She is is a regular columnist for Christian Coaching Today and a board member of the International Christian Coaches Association (ICCA). Georgia is on the teaching team of AACC’s Professional Life Coaching Training. She specializes in coaching coaches, women and communicators To find out more, visit www.GeorgiaShaffer.com.