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Executive Coaches Share Openly and Unselfishly: Dynamic Panel Discussion at ICF Annual Conference 2003

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When Is It Time to Conclude

Moderator (Linda): How do you know when it’s time to conclude your coaching with a client?

Jeannine: There’s an internal measure that I use to get to this question of when to end. Am I still excited and eager to go to that conversation? If I’m not, then I’ve got to be looking at myself first. Has there been something on my side, that either I’ve used up the skill or the time frame or something here? So, there’s a constant check with me that I need to be eager to see each of these clients. I must be anxious to know the progress they’ve made or what they’re dealing with. So, my first calibration is with me. Then I would go back to the contract—-our agreements, what are our goals—how close are we to them? But I also look for a sabbatical. Cause some of our clients are one year, two year commitments. And there may be a rhythm—we simply need a time out. We may be working on something very intense and it’s time for my client to let it rest for a bit or let the relationship rest for a bit—with a commitment regarding when we’re going to pick it up and review where we are and move forward. So, the three dynamics that I’m looking at: first myself, second our stated goal and third the feeling of the rhythm (timing). Now the one caveat I add to this, given everybody’s international schedules and how complex things are. If I’ve not connected with an executive within six weeks, then I will do my best to track them down and become proactive—because so much happens.

Val: I think Jeannine said that perfectly. I think most of us do that. What I’ll speak to is the other side of the question: when do you fire a client? Luckily, I’ve had to fire less than five clients over the eight years but I have done it. It was not easy, and what I use as an indicator for firing is if the client’s not taking action. So if we’ve agreed on things, and remember the client is saying they’ll do this, not me telling the client what to do, repeatedly not taking action and we’ve talked about what’s in the way. They still don’t take any action. I would call that disengagement. Now I’m not talking about being blocked and we’re working on the blocks. I’m talking about not taking action. That’s an indicator. Another indicator is scheduling. I carefully watch the scheduling: how often does a client cancel, or reschedule? So, I’ve sometimes fired clients for that. I’ve said to my client: “You know, I’ve got to ask you. Do you think that coaching is the right thing for you right now?” So, I’ve sometimes had to do it. And then, the hardest client to fire is the one with whom I have felt I’m not being effective. That’s the hard one. Because they’re there, they’re willing to pay the fee. But I just know, myself, that I’m not a match or I don’t have the skill set to be effective, I have told them the truth about that and let go. And that’s hard on my own personal ego, it’s like, hey, I’m not the coach for everybody–99 percent of the people. But not everybody.

Klaus: I fire a client either when there’s absolutely no commitment and I definitely feed that back to the client. I just have the feeling we came to the end of the road. It’s a dead-end road. The client cannot benefit from me as a coach anymore. I put that on the table and usually I’m right and he or she has the same feeling. I also have a basic rule in the coaching contract with the client: we can both fire one another, but before we do that we meet at least one more time. As coaches, we sometimes have to be the devil’s advocate and sometimes our clients hate us for that. They may even be hurt, although it’s not our intention to hurt them. They say: “I’m going to fire this guy, I mean who is he?” They come back to the next session and we reflect on our working relationship and then decide whether it’s on or not.

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