Stop Helping and Start Supporting your Clients

Did Jesus always help those he met?  You might be surprised to learn he did not.  Jesus knew there were occasions to stop helping. Here is such a time, when Jesus came across an invalid at the pool at Bethesda. Jesus asked him if he wanted to become well. (Great coaching question, by the way to get the client's buy-in.) 

"Then Jesus said to him, 'Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.' At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked." ~ John 5: 8-9

This bible story was as much about supporting a person to take action for themselves as it was about healing. You can read the entire story here. God wants us to take action on our own behalf. We need to do what we can and He will do what we can't do on our own.

As a coach or counselor, our job is to restore dignity, independence and confidence in our client that they are able to do for themselves.

Have you ever heard the expression that it is better to teach someone to fish, than to give them a fish? This is one of many foundational, biblical, life coaching concepts.

What is our desired outcome?

Our goal is for our client to develop independence and confidence in taking the steps needed in order to accomplish their goals, until ultimately they no longer require our help.

If we remain true to a coach's calling we should in fact be doing our utmost to work our way out of a job. More clients will come to fill our practice and often they will be referred by happy, successful, former clients.

This is where it becomes even more important to create a relationship of supporting rather than helping.

Your client will build confidence when they learn to do things for themselves. Your goal is to reinforce the behaviors and action steps that your client takes and thereby encourage them to stay on track.

To better understand this, let’s take a look at what helping and supporting are, so we can see the difference.

Helping usually comes from our mindset, when we believe that our client might not be capable of doing what needs to be done. Sometimes we tell ourselves it’s because the client is pressed for time or other times maybe they may be unfamiliar with the task. But for whatever reason, we convince ourselves that we need to act on our clients' behalf.

A key element of supporting our client is that we remain unattached to the result. With supporting we genuinely want our client to be able to make their own decisions and arrive at their desired outcome. And at the same time, we believe in their ability to take the needed steps.

The client will need to press through their comfort zone because transformation does not usually come from doing what they have done in the past. Change requires new thoughts and actions.

Taking on new methods will be easier for some people than for others. You'll see what kinds of support your client needs as they progress.

In a supportive relationship, the coach’s opinion is not relevant although their advice based on their training, personal experience, wisdom or idea-generation is welcomed.

The unintentional consequences of helping your client are that first, they may not develop independence and confidence toward taking their steps to reach their goal. And second, the coach may end up putting more effort into reaching the client's goal than they do themselves!

One of our brilliant, PCCCA master coaches, Jeff Deileman, MCLC, referred to this as trying to “drag your client to success.“ If you find yourself caring more than your client and working harder than your client, you will know that any outcome you achieve will be more your doing than theirs. This is a classic sign that coaching is not being executed correctly.

I get it. We care deeply. We want the best for our clients, but we need to ...

Support the client to feel empowered to help themselves.

Often when a client does not take action, it’s because they lack the confidence to do so. As long as we except their excuses, we create a form of enabling them and ultimately perpetuate their problems and patterns.

We are sacrificing the long-term feel-good for a short term feel – good.

So let’s take a look at how we can resolve this.

If your client fails to complete their homework assignments or take their action steps, we need to discuss it with them.

Here are some steps the coach can take:

1 - Request an explanation for why they did not follow through.

2 - Try to learn if there are deeper issues for their lack of action including a fear they may not be addressing.

3 - Ask the client if this is a pattern they have witnessed in other areas of their life as well as any negative impact that has resulted.

4 - Remind your clients about the importance of honoring their commitment to actions they agree to take. It’s not about letting you down. It’s about letting themselves down and can be seen as a self-sabotage behavior.

5 - Ask your client to review their goals for the coaching relationship and ask them why it matters to them.

If you discover the steps were too big, dissect the actions for smaller steps. It’s better that your client under-promises and over-delivers than the other way around.

Then, gauge their commitment and have them re-affirm that they are indeed committed to the coaching process and reaching their goals.

6 - Finally, at the end of your coaching session, ask them to state specifically what they will do before the next session, and why it matters.

After you have done everything you know to modify the steps needed and still can’t see progress, there is only one thing you can do. I know this will sound like tough love but I encourage you to establish a policy for those who fail to follow through.

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​3-Strike Rule

A coach trainer I know calls this her three-strike rule. Here’s how it works: 

If you need to address lack of follow through a second time, take the same steps as listed above and then remind them that if this happens a third time you will need to discuss ending the coaching relationship.

And if this does happen a third time, it could be your client is just not ready for coaching. Not everyone is. And it’s not your fault. You gave them every opportunity to succeed.

If your client is failing to act, it may be due to low confidence. They may also have developed a habit of putting responsibility for their life outside of themselves. This is not unusual.

If your client has low confidence, it could be your client is used to seeking approval from others first or avoiding action altogether because they are afraid of the judgment of others. They might even be unconsciously afraid of your judgment.

This might manifest by them often coming to you, looking for an ego boost or affirmation. If you allow them to come to you to get pumped up and feel good in the moment as though you were their personal cheerleader, you are actually creating a dependency. In this case, rather than helping them to gain empowerment and confidence, they begin to think that they need you in order to feel that way.

So if you find your client frequently coming to you seeking affirmation or reward, I have some steps you can take support the client while avoiding creating dependency.

Rather than only affirming the client, you need to respond with questions so that the affirmation comes from within them. That way, eventually they become equipped to experience this affirmation from within rather than from external sources.

Here are some empowering questions:

1 - Regardless of what anyone else may think, how do you feel about this?

2 - How do you believe God views your results?

3 - What else have you done in the past to address a similar situation that worked out well?

4 - Based on what you have learned here, what else could you do that may be uncomfortable but now you know you could pull it off?

Your goal with these questions is to redirect the client's experience back to themselves and what they know about God's plan for their life.  

God has already given your client the answers they need. So relax.

This is a beautiful way to observe God's plan in action and celebrate the victories. Because we did not step in to save the day, and instead let God be God in our client's life, we have opportunities to celebrate the success as well as give God the glory!

Take up the mat and walk.  Our client's job.
Be healed.  God's miracle when they do their part.

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