When goal focus is futile

By Jenny Campbell|January 8, 2018|Resilience Coaching|

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Much of the coaching industry lives or dies by the idea that coaching is focused on goals. John Whitmore’s GROW model, which leads from goals, is a bit of a rock within our world. There is no doubt it’s really useful, and indeed most other coaching models have been spun out from GROW.

However. Focusing on goals as the primary objective of a contract can sometimes be dangerous. Look at this next case study.

My client is a senior director of a large institution, running effectively one third of the organisation’s resources. They have a large team, they have a lot of complexity, work stacks are high, stakeholder management is never-ending, and so my client has got very adept at juggling, prioritising, getting time to learn, deciding fast or slow depending on the context, investing in the right things, taking time with his team. And more. In other words, they are a high performer.

They are asked to lead on the joint venture negotiations with another large institution. It’s not an easy one at all (none are), but it’s essentially an attempted take-over made to look like a joint venture. Mega. Only the life and death of what they have been leading in for many years, and in which their people depend for their livelihoods.

HUGE amounts to be done. Scoping the work, mapping the key players in the negotation, setting out a plan. Ensuring that someone else picks up the normal day to day running of the division. More and more. Lots and lots and lots of goals are easily identifiable. Lots of really interesting stuff for me as a coach, great work!

And yet I do not enter into this work, there is more data that is presented, and I know from resilience coaching that this is a show-stopper. The client is knackered.

How do I know? The client is tense. They lean back often in their chair when talking about all the things they have to do. Their voice is strong but tense and somehow has a tone of weariness. I sense overwhelmedness. Of course who wouldn’t be, faced with this huge task. And yet, and yet, there is something deeper. I am aware of my own sense of the coaching feeling unmanageable. There is too much stacked up here.

So what do I do? I ask permission to name this sense and ask if there’s any substance in it. Whew! Damn bursts in the room, floods happen. I state I ethically cannot work on the original goals of the contract until the client has re-energised themselves more.

And so we are in the work of resilience coaching. It’s about energy and perspective initially – and it will later, across the year, lead to inner work around balancing dependence-independence, connecting with inspiration, learning how to learn better. And although the goals of the joint venture start into the work 3 months in, every session includes time on resilience.

Two years of coaching. One mega goal. The goal gets delivered in the middle of this – the client often uses the coaching for reflecting on the stakeholders and negotiations, seeing it from all sides, influencing and nudging behind the scenes. It’s hard, sometimes it’s so new the client doesn’t know what to do, but overall, they perform well.

And the resilience coaching? They need this re-resource themselves, regularly, often, and with real support and challenge. In total, one of the best coaching contracts for me ever!

The key when facing your clients is to be open to all data – your own senses, the client’s data, and check out whether the client has indeed capacity for the work outlined in the contract. Resilience is your capacity for change. If there is little in the bank, forget about goals.


Author: Jenny Campbell, CEO of The Resilience Engine

To learn more about how you can become a Resilience Engine accredited coach, click here.

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