If you’re coaching someone, they at least say they want change. Whether it’s leadership development, life coaching, or discipleship, people desire change. The reality is so much harder than the concept. That’s where you come in. What can you do—as a coach—to help that change along? How can you more proactively coach people through a healthy change process?
How change really happens
Most leaders attempt change. They can see what needs to happen, they plan for it, announce it and start the process. Even if it is well received and has some energy around it at first, most of the time that energy fades. Without it, things eventually slide back to the way things were. Without these basic principles in place, change won’t happen.
Much of the sticking power of change lies in how people respond to circumstances. That includes obstacles, opportunities, and everything in between. For instance, if someone provides constructive criticism, will we examine it with an open mind? Or will we become defensive and shift the blame? Something is always happening in the worlds of our clients—good, bad, or otherwise. How people choose to respond to what is going on around them has significant implications for their change and growth.
Long Game Strategies
Change is a lengthy process. Even when someone starts out with a big aha moment or sudden insight, real change always takes a long time to live out. How long does it take for a new behavior to become a habit? Research indicates anywhere from 18 to 254 days, depending on the complexity and/or difficulty of the new behavior.* That’s going to be a lot of practice, and a lot of ups and downs along the way.
The Right Team
We all need help along the way. Unless a person lives on the moon, change is never done in isolation. Your clients live in real worlds with other people and circumstances beyond their control. They’ll need help and involvement from other people, especially if they are trying to make systemic changes that impact others.
* According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology: How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world – Lally – 2010 – European Journal of Social Psychology – Wiley Online Library
A Biblical Example
Let’s look briefly at the example of Saul, who later became the Apostle Paul. How did he change? Struck by lighting and a miraculous turnaround, right? Not entirely.
Saul was faced by a sudden flash of light and a confrontation. It was the ultimate “come to Jesus” moment. But how did he respond? He didn’t have to repent, but he did. He could have said no. He could have run away and kept going in the direction he had been moving. He could have refused to admit he was wrong. (The more fervent we’ve been in our wrong beliefs, the harder it is to admit that were wrong.) But he didn’t, and he was humbled. Humility breeds sticking power.
Then there is the impression we often have of sudden change. First he was blinded for three days, during which time he was probably trying to piece together what had just happened to him and how he was going to respond to it. There was a lot he didn’t know and a lot he had to reflect on. He was ready for the long game of being transformed.
After that? He spent years learning from others before embarking on active ministry. He got help, from a lot of people. That was the time needed for Saul to fully internalize the change and his new reality. Surrounded by the right team, Paul was able to fully commit to the change that God initiated in him.
5 Coaching Strategies for Effective Change
So what about you? As a coach, what can you do to aid the process? What can you do that will help?
1. Point to possibilities
Help them see the opportunities. More important than their present circumstances are the ways they choose to respond to those circumstances. Many challenges can be opportunities if viewed in the right frame of mind. When your clients focus on all the things that aren’t in their control, remind them of what is: their own responses and choices.
2. Reframe setbacks
Remind them that’s it’s okay to admit being wrong. No one likes to be wrong, and especially no one likes to admit it. But it is the first and necessary step toward change. We all need to repent sometimes, and none of us should expect to be right all the time. Encourage a frame of mind open to new ideas and perspectives. Difficulties, setbacks, and negative feedback from others can all provide chances for growth given an open and humble state of mind.
3. Create opportunities for wins
Help them set clear and achievable goals. Clients like to set lofty goals—a big achievement, something fit to trumpet on social media. But that’s not usually how real change works. It’s a little bit at a time. Instead of them saying, “I wrote a book!” what if they could say, “I wrote five pages today!” or even, “On three days this last week, I wrote five pages!”
4. Celebrate the little things
A bit of progress is still progress! Even if your client downplays it: “I only did X,” shift that perspective to a celebration. That’s one more thing than they would have done last week! This one little thing can really help clients stay on track; it’s more powerful than you might think. A trajectory in the right direction—and someone who takes notice of it—is the most significant indicator of real change.
5. Work on resourcing
Encourage them to gather and make use of a support network. Who can they rely on to keep them on track between coaching sessions? What resource people do they have connections to? Who can provide personal encouragement when things are difficult? Don’t forget the people directly impacted by the change they are trying to make. How can they help make this change beneficial for their family members, their coworkers, or their ministry team?
Goal-Setting Coaching Guide with Storyboard– This resource helps you come alongside your client as they prepare, organize, act, and monitor the steps necessary to reaching their goals.
Change Management Effectiveness Profile– Whether your client is preparing to initiate change or is struggling to see results, this assessment can provide insight to blindspots that could be holding them back. Use the results to target development with simple but effective exercises in the Change Management Skills Builder.
Note: Resource links will reroute you to the Logan Leadership website.