The topic of coaching contracts is not the sexiest chapter in any coaching book yet I have been reminded of the critical importance of this skill set through a number of recent events. Firstly, some weeks ago Fi Macmillan kindly sent me the dissertation she had completed for her postgraduate coaching qualification. It was titled ‘Creating the mandate for challenge in an executive coaching relationship’ and researches the nature of the contracting discussions required between coach, coachee and sponsor throughout a coaching assignment, particularly when the coach is seeking a remit to challenge.
Secondly, Ian and I facilitated a workshop at the UK ICF conference in London a couple of weeks ago. As part of this we asked the delegates to complete our challenging coaching feedback tool which enables a self-assessment of their challenging coaching skills. In the plenary discussion following this exercise it was clear that the most common gap in people’s skills was in the area of building coaching contracts that explicitly addresses the topic of how challenge will be handled in the coaching relationship.
Finally, yesterday I attended an excellent ICF teleclass hosted by Claire Pedrick MCC. Claire gave an example of coaching in which she highlighted the critical importance of contracting stating that it was the only part of her coaching which is fixed – she always asks the same five questions at the beginning of the coaching session. Questions such as ‘Where do you want to get to by the end of this session?’,’What is my role in this?’,’Where do you want to start?’.
So I am afraid that my job in this week’s blog is to remind us all that sometimes the most boring parts of a task are the most important! Sometimes we resist the discipline and the rigour that are an equal partner to the inspiration and spontaneity of great coaching. I doubt if this will be the blog I have written that will get the most hits yet for those who have valiantly read this far then maybe it has the potential to create the greatest change in your coaching habits.
So if we recognise this might be a gap in our coaching skills then what can we do to improve? Ian is fond of quoting a formula for performance improvement which reads ‘Performance = Motivation x Opportunity x Capability’. When we are faced with seemingly boring tasks then it is often the motivation aspect of this formula that needs our attention. Certainly, we can always improve our capability for contracting and reading Fi’s dissertation would be a good place to start for those who regard that as their learning edge. However, for the rest of us who know how to do it but sometimes can’t be bothered I would like to reframe the topic of contracting in order to create a greater desire and hunger in us for this important task.
My challenge to those who are bored by coaching contracts is to ditch the word contract and to dig up the word covenant. A coaching contract is a dry, intellectual notion whereas a coaching covenant is a solemn promise. Promises are exciting and valuable. It hurts us when we break a promise. It lifts up our’s and other people’s lives when promises are made and kept. What if you were to look upon your agreements with your coaching clients and sponsors not as contracts but as covenants? What would you be doing differently if you imagined making a covenant rather than a contract? How might the idea of a coaching covenant motivate you differently than the idea of a coaching contract? Do we need more contracts in this world or do we need more covenants? For me the word covenant is fresh, inspiring and intriguing. I hope that for you it may also be the same and therefore have the potential to light a new fire under your contracting approach.