When it’s time to finish coaching

How to work with a coach, part 10

By Martin Vogel

When is it time to finish coaching? And how do you end the relationship elegantly when you feel it’s time to part company with your coach?

Often, decisions about ending are determined in advance. There’s frequently an understanding that the coaching is a finite arrangement. This is partly philosophical: an assumption (not necessarily valid) that a client risks becoming dependent on their coach. Partly, it’s budgetary: the number of sessions is determined by the funds available. Whatever the reason, your coach will likely have a well-rehearsed model for bringing the coaching to closure.

Sometimes, the end comes about in more unexpected fashion. The contract might not have been specific about the number of sessions. Or, it might have been, but you want to exit early.

If you’re thinking of terminating the coaching, it’s best to make sure your coach understands this in advance so that he or she can orchestrate an appropriate ending. You don’t want to miss this: its purpose is to optimise the value you obtain from the whole engagement. Beyond that, there’s an inescapable aura of failure if the coaching just peters out. The work of coaching may well concern communicating honestly and with respect. If coach and client can’t bring their work to a satisfactory close, that points to work still undone in the relationship.

Whatever model your coach has for endings, you could benefit from considering independently what you need as the process closes. Given the investment of time and money you have made, you shouldn’t put the coaching behind you without taking the time to understand what you have gained from it. This is pivotal to integrating the learning that you have been generating over the preceding period. If you adopt the learning into your worldview, it is more likely to remain accessible to you – to show up in how you think and act – after the rhythm of regularly meeting your coach falls away.

This isn’t just a matter of recalling the content of the coaching. It’s also about testing, with the benefit of hindsight, whether the learning you took from each session still holds up? What strategies did you try? What were the impacts? How did people around you respond? Are you still maintaining the commitments you made? If so, is there encouraging learning that you want to integrate? If you’re not maintaining the commitments, did they serve their purpose and are therefore no longer relevant, were the habits too demanding or were the outcomes disappointing?

Another aspect of reviewing the learning concerns not the content but the disciplines of reflective practice that coaching has facilitated. Some of the value you will have experienced in coaching will have come from the space apart it has provided from the busyness of your everyday routine. How can you preserve some of that once the coaching is no longer inserting it into your diary?

You shouldn’t regard the reflective space that coaching has offered as an isolated indulgence in an otherwise attenuated life. The orientation of openness, experimentation and development that you cultivate in coaching is a great foundation for thriving in the complex and unpredictable environments most of us inhabit. If you let the transition to this orientation subside when the coaching stops, you will lose much of the benefit of the work. It will have been like a holiday, the experience of which fades into memory, when it needs to be a catalyst to a different way of being.

When you review the coaching experience, try to recall each of your sessions and ask yourself simple questions. What did you learn? What did you think and feel at the time about the issue you were tackling and about anything you tried as a result of the session? What do you think and feel about these now? What might you do differently in future? What helped you generate an insight that seems helpful in retrospect?

Asking these questions as you close the coaching will help you create a model for self-coaching once you’re on your own. These are questions you can ask yourself of any experience from which you want to learn from here on.

Mark your farewell properly. Your coach might ask for feedback. This is gold dust for any practitioner so think about what you can offer: thoughts on what they could do better as well as appreciation. Coaches live by word of mouth, so they will be delighted if you can think of any potential clients to refer to them or if you can provide a thoughtful testimonial. Talk about how you might keep in touch: perhaps by email or the occasional catch-up over coffee.

Finally, give some thought to how finite an ending you want this to be. You are embarking on a new stage of your journey, not reaching your destination. In due course, it might make sense to return to coaching again. This is a particular consideration in executive coaching. For senior managers, leadership can be a lonely place. A coach might be their only source of disinterested and grounded counsel. Sometimes, after an initial coaching engagement, it could make sense to transition to a different kind of relationship where a continuing relationship is assumed. The intervals between sessions might become longer and the perspective more strategic.

This needn’t be construed as dependence. It would be fanciful for a top athlete to aspire to mastery without the ongoing support of a coach. Why shouldn’t be so in other fields of life?

Other posts in the series, How to work with a coach:

  1. Why use a coach?
  2. What do you want from coaching?
  3. How do you find a coach?
  4. Meeting a prospective coach
  5. Agreeing terms with your coach
  6. Your first session with a coach
  7. Working with your coach
  8. Your work between coaching sessions
  9. If your coaching isn’t going well
  10. When it’s time to finish coaching

Image courtesy Sichtweisen.

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