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Coaching the Coach: Time to Say Goodbye?

Susan L Reid

As a coach, how do you know when it's time to say goodbye to your client?

Do you have an exit plan for when your coaching sessions start drawing to a close?

Most coaches don't. They jump into relationships with clients without giving much thought to where they or their clients are in the process. They don't know when it's time to say goodbye because they don't know what signs to look for along the way.

That's just shoddy coaching.

Exit PlanAn effective coach has an exit plan in place the minute she says yes to taking on a new client. She neither wants nor intends to have a client for life. She has a clearly defined niche market, has developed a solid cache of products and services to meet the specific challenges and needs of her client group, and knows when it's time to say goodbye.

If you'd like to have clients who become successful, are grateful for all you've done, and generate a lifetime of referrals, then you'll want to know about the four stages of learning that occur with each client during the coaching relationship.

Four Stages of Client Learning

Stage 1 - Dubious

During this stage, your client tests you out.

The client knows something in her life or business isn't working. She’s tried figuring it out on her own and may even have hired another coach previously. Because of this, she is tired, frustrated, and cautious when it comes to accepting what you have to say.

In this stage, the client is goal-centered and outcome-focused. What she needs are easy steps and quick results. Don't make the mistake of overloading her with excess information and explanation. Instead, be practical and supportive.

Stage 2 – Optimistically Cautious

During this stage, your client begins buying into you.

With an initial success under her belt, your client is less frustrated and anxious. She seems more expansive and is open to more input from you. This is when you can begin giving her more information and adding further details.

Now your goal is to build up your client’s confidence and expand her thinking by developing an overall plan or strategy. Creating the opportunity for her to have a string of successes is important here, so make your tasks specific and doable.

By the end of this stage, you'll have a high level of commitment from your client. She will be feeling confident, enthusiastic, and, while still reliant on you, more trusting of herself.

Stage 3 - Expectant

During this stage, your client begins to sing your praises.

Having a series of successes under her belt, your client can now smell long-term success. She knows that what she’s doing is working, and she is grateful for your help. This is the time when she takes back control, demonstrates competency, and begins to think about moving on.

At this point, most coaches think their work is over. Clients often think so, too. Do not, however, mistake your client's excitement and success for mastery and sustainable change. Just because the client sings your praises, it doesn't mean the show's over.

Forego celebrating her success just yet. Instead, keep your client engaged and moving forward. Do so by giving her a more complex set of exercises and tasks—things that will require her to use her own thinking process to achieve results.

Stage 4 - Mastery

GoalDuring this stage, your client is ready to fly.

This is the exit stage. Your client has mastered a skill or made a beneficial change, and it’s sticking. This is the stage you've been working toward—the time when your client is ready to move on from you. Now's the time for review and celebration. This is also the perfect time to ask for a referral.

Knowing the four stages of client learning will help you determine when it's time to say goodbye. Keeping these four stages in mind will give you perspective on where your client is and help you understand what she needs when.

Managing your client through these four stages will be the key to your success as a coach and to her success as a client.

Copyright © 2008 by Susan L. Reid

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Copyright ©2008 by Susan L. Reid, DMA

Dr. Susan L. Reid is a business coach and consultant for entrepreneurial women starting up businesses, and is the award-winning author of Discovering Your Inner Samurai: The Entrepreneurial Woman’s Journey to Business Success. If you are ready to take the first steps in owning your business, then get instant access to your own free PDF copy of “Doing What You Love: Multiple Streams of Passion” at 

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