A good friend of mine grew up on a family farm in Minnesota and, over the years, I have enjoyed hearing stories of a childhood that included planting and harvesting crops, and caring for livestock. I’ve enjoyed a bit of planting myself in year’s past—garden vegetables, and herbs now and then, but growing up in a suburban/light-industrial neighborhood pales against the stories of tractors and baling that my friend relates. There is one similarity, however, that spans both my world and hers: readiness.
Just a few days ago the morning’s news showered us once again with images of falling snow–eighteen inches in places like Minnesota. It’s April and most farmers are preparing for their spring planting which, by all accounts, should be right around the corner. But not this year. The ground isn’t ready. Wet fields and low ground temperatures will likely keep seeds out of the soil for another several weeks. This is frustrating, of course (or, as I like to think of it, an “opportunity for patience”). There is other work to do on the farm, after all: repairing and preparing equipment, for example. Still, planting is the most anticipated spring ritual; it sets the stage for the upcoming growing and harvesting season and controls the economic cycles of our family farmers. But you can’t help it if things just aren’t ready.
Farming and planting are good metaphors for coaching. We, as coaches, oftentimes plan a process that will guide the engagement. The process I typically follow covers these steps:
- Assessing the client’s situation
- Setting specific goals based on the assessment
- Designing an action plan for practicing new behaviors or skills
- Implementing the action plan
- Evaluating the results
These steps set into play a cyclical routine of assessing to be sure that we are on track with what is working, and to see what we might want to change. This sounds all well and fine on paper, but as I’ve mentioned before, humans and organizations can be messy; we don’t always fall into a neat and process-happy routine.
Coaching calls for a partnership in observation, care, listening, and noticing, along with the capacity to meet the client “where they are.” This, like the soil that awaits the seeds for planting, is not always timed just perfectly; where they are might call for us to stop, explore different options, and prepare for an alternate plan. Coaching often unveils inner struggles that may need to be addressed before moving into action. Just like when the farmer takes a step in another direction during what would be her planting season, needing to refocus on different activities for a while, a coach and a client sometimes take a step in another direction to focus on what’s most important in the moment. The coaching client’s soil may not be ready for planting, just yet, and such adjustments improve the readiness for future work.
Meeting the coaching client “where they are” is, in my opinion, the most important value that a coach can bring to the relationship. The thought-partnership that is the coaching engagement is one of readiness—for the coach as well as the client. The client’s growth will happen in due time, when he or she is ready and able to see what’s true for them. It is then and only then, that their insights will break through and take root.