With the theme of this edition being “Count Your Blessings”, let’s begin with a moment of self-revelation. One of the things for which I am most grateful, and feel most blessed to have as a part of my wiring, is that I am very motivated to coach & teach others to coach. Getting out of bed every day to pursue this calling is rarely a challenge. In fact, I feel like coaching is one of the reasons why God put me on earth.
But I realize that clarity of calling and an internal motivation in life is not something that everyone has. So with an orientation toward building awareness of our blessings, let’s explore what motivates people to do what they do on a day in day out basis. We can understand ourselves, our clients and our prospective clients much more clearly, and as a result, coach more effectively.
One of the most challenging coaching situations is when a client admits their motivation is flagging. It’s natural to question the coaching agreement in these moments, and it will even get me to evaluate whether I should be coaching this person at all. It’s hard not to wonder about a client’s commitment–maybe even honesty–when this situation comes up.
We’ve all been there, facing the client…and wondering “I just don’t know if I can help this person…” What’s the coach to do?
In his excellent book Drive (Riverhead Books: 2011, New York), Daniel Pink describes the three main sources of motivation universal to every human being. Understanding these will make you more effective as a coach, especially in those situations where the client might sense their own motivation flagging.
The first drive is simply the drive for survival. People naturally do what it takes to stay alive. You’ve probably seen the Hierarchy of Needs. Abraham Maslow captured the basic things we must find, or else or survival is not a given. The search for shelter, food and safety provide plenty of energy to get things done.
Coaching a client in a survival situation can be tricky, as crisis can sometimes cloud our assessment of the situation and create deception urgency in our brains. If you’re working with someone on a survival issue, first assess the level of crisis and then help the client determine whether their perception of the situation is 100% accurate.
The second drive is minimizing the amount of pain we face, and the converse, maximizing pleasure. No matter who you are or what circumstance you’re facing, a person is more motivated to do something that they enjoy than something they dislike. When I look at my own life, I can see this pattern played out consistently.
As coaches, we can capitalize on both sides of this drive. Coaching someone towards survival is a pretty clear-cut task. AND coaching someone to choose things that they enjoy doing is a great strategy. We are naturally inclined to spend more time, energy and effort doing things that give us satisfaction. Choosing pleasurable activities over painful ones is a pretty effective (and easy-to-understand) coaching strategy.
The third Drive is not present in every human. When you find it, you’ve got an ideal coaching client. Some people’s make up won’t let them rest until they take on (and solve) difficult challenges. It’s intrinsic, and really not connected to anything external. If a client has this built in self motivation, they are more likely to grow, change, accomplish great tasks, and most importantly, be coachable.
The truth is, not every client has internal motivation enough to really overcome the challenge they’re taking on. The ideal client comes into the coaching conversation with plenty of motivation to accomplish things just out of their reach.
One of the keys to my coaching practice is to identify clients with this third drive BEFORE the coaching relationship begins. You can use informational conversation to take a snapshot of your client’s commitment to change. You might ask intake questions like “What is a story about a time in your life when you’ve changed?” or “What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever taken on (and conquered)?” Even “Who has been the most help to you in accomplishing your vision/dreams?” All of these questions point to that internal motivation that a client has to have to both make meaningful progress and be ideally coachable.
Don’t forget: If your client isn’t changing, you’re probably not coaching. At the very least you’re not coaching very well.
It’s not always the coach’s fault if the client doesn’t change, but there are things you can do to adjust your coaching style. I try to ask powerful questions in as direct-but-still-supportive way as possible. The target is to assess whether we’re going to get to the client’s outcome. Facing the possibility that the client may not achieve their goal is a hard coaching reality that only transparency and authenticity can address.
It’s a moment of a high vulnerability when a client is able to admit, “I just don’t think I’m committed enough to make this happen.” The ethical thing to do in that situation is to give the client an opportunity to wrap up the coaching relationship. Or renegotiate the coaching agreement to something that may be in reach.
But there’s one other crucial factor, and it’s one of the biggest blessings we all share. I would submit to you that there is a fourth motivation, that Mr. Pink does not cover in his book. This fourth drive separates coaches from the rest of the general population. Coaches are equally motivated to see themselves solve challenges and make progress, but to also see other people move forward towards their goals, their vision, their dreams, and even the thing that Jesus called them to accomplish.
What is it that you are most passionate about helping others achieve? That answer is an indication that you might be blessed with this fourth Drive. This is a beautiful gift that coaches offer to the world. Think about the people from your coach training or other coaches you know. I bet you were surrounded by generous individuals that wanted to see the purpose that Jesus had for someone else come to be a reality. The coach’s drive to help other people develop is what separates us from every other profession. Leverage that. Offer it to other people. Make it a strength of your coaching. Above all, steward it. It’s a powerful gift that makes the world all around us a better place.
This fourth drive is one of the things I am routinely grateful for when I’m with a group of coaches. This drive to help others live out their dreams is an unique identifier of someone who is born to coach. Using that drive is an unique identifier of someone who is coaching as a part of their calling.
Can you learn this drive? I think you can learn skills that supplement this drive but in my experience, this is an ability that you either have or you don’t. It’s God-given. If you’ve got it, well, you’re very privileged.
So tomorrow morning when you wake up, ask yourself who can I help today? What generous posture can I take on in my coaching conversations? And how will I know that my clients are living into their dreams?
Being able to consistently offer this gift to other people is a hallmark of a masterful coach. And that is a blessing I want to count every single day.
About the Author: Jonathan Reitz, Director of Training/CEO of CoachNet Global. He is also CoachNet’s primary trainer and the author of most of the training options that CoachNet offers. Jonathan is a member of the Cleveland, Ohio chapter of the International Coach Federation and holds the Professional Certified Coach credential in the ICF.