March 05, 2015

Winning the Battle for Initiative: 3 Questions for Coaching Success

In our last article we addressed means or methods for helping coaching participants to accept and own the need for change. However, merely getting the participant to own the need for change does not keep the participant fully engaged in the coaching process. Frequently, even great employees do not stay actively engaged in their development and the implementation of their development plans. In my experience, there is an exceedingly high correlation between real growth (coaching success) and how dedicated the participant is in the coaching process and the execution of their plan. The more accountability the coach has to apply, the poorer the ultimate outcome will likely be.

A successful coach employs a strategy upfront to create an environment in which a participant stays engaged and wins the Battle for Initiative. I’ve found the best approach is to confront the 800 pound gorilla of accountability and initiative as quickly as possible following the participant’s acceptance of the need for change. While the coach and participants are establishing clear conditions and terms for the coaching engagement, the coach needs to bring up the subject of accountability and follow through.

Here again, constructive questioning produces very good results. The coach encourages the participant to reflect and contemplate about their own commitment level. She asks questions to get the participant to actively articulate what full commitment to the coaching engagement looks like on his part.

Questions to Foster Initiative and Commitment to Coaching Success

Article 3- Battle for Initiative Part 2 A1. Impact – Open-ended questions facilitate introspection and mental focus regarding how the developmental need, if not addressed, will impact the individual, their team, their family and their clients.
2. What does “fully committed” look like – Open ended questions regarding whose responsibility it is for the employee or participant to: 1) be prepared for the coaching session, 2) have completed assignments, and 3) allocate sufficient time to their development. The coach can also benefit from a frank discussion about how the consequences of lack of follow through impact them and their perception of the participant’s dedication to developing themselves.
3. Discuss common breakdowns in the coaching process – The coach covers with the employee / participant the typical breakdowns that derail the coaching process. As a team, the coach and participant agree on how they will avoid those breakdowns. Some of the most common breakdowns are: 1) inadequate improvement feels like a big change to the participant and thus the participant stops short of fully mastering the target skill or behavior, 2) cancelled coaching sessions – that kills momentum and signals lack of commitment, 3) unprepared participants, 4) the participant declares success prematurely, and 5) the new skill or behavior doesn’t produce immediate results.

Using constructive questioning to drive commitment and accountability is an indispensable “tool that enables problem solving practice and can empower [the coaching participant] to assume responsibility for their impact on the world.”1 By confronting the issue of “commitment” early in the process, and by supplying guidance and feedback, coaches help participants feel motivated to win their Battle for Initiative.


1 Stratford Sherman & Alyssa Freas, “The Wild West of Executive Coaching,” Harvard Business Review, November 2004, 3.

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