5:47 AM. A former monastery nestled in the heart of Germany. I am walking in circles.
I've spent the past few days in a silent retreat. It was a mini-escape that I desperately needed after weeks of traveling, attending conferences, and overcoming sickness.
My psychological buffer was entirely depleted. For me, this is particularly critical: In my work, I balance not only my psychology but also that of my clients - which is quite energy-intensive. So, I was incredibly excited to meditate in silence, yet in a community, and to dial down my mental chatter for some time.
The day began before 6 AM, with meditation lasting until breakfast at 7:30. After that came house chores, followed by more meditation until lunch. We finished at 9 PM. Exhausted, I fell into bed.
The retreat marked the high point of another reflective period for me. I had grown increasingly restless. I felt limited by the confines of my coaching model and the role of a coach. My time in the monastery proved an insightful, refreshing pause, a moment to reset my internal scales and replenish my psychological buffer. It offered me an opportunity to contemplate my evolving understanding of responsibility and commitment in my coaching practice. It reinforced the necessity to balance my energy, to maintain my well-being to better serve my clients, and to evolve my approach to coaching. In the ensuing silence, the cogs of my mind spun, reconsidering, redefining my role as a coach, and the journey I am taking alongside my clients.
I want to share a number of insights with you, and how they are going to impact my coaching practice. All of them circle the notion of fully committing and taking full responsibility for the partnership with my clients.
When you take coach training, you are educated to stand on the sidelines: many basic coach certifications primarily serve as risk mitigation measures. They teach us to avoid giving advice or straying into potentially traumatic areas, thereby reducing liability. However, it's within these gray areas that skilled coaches can make a profound impact. In the spirit of nurturing clients' development and success, it is critical to venture into these zones with great responsibility and caution.
Over the years, my confidence in my abilities as a facilitator and guide - not to use the word coach - has grown. I am feeling pulled towards more intense coaching mandates and more commitment my clients. I am aware this departs from the pure form of coaching as its being taught by the International Coaching Federation. But I’ve long struggled with the dissonance of what my clients (tell me they) need and what my training / professional standards mandate.
Clients Become Partners: The Other Side Of Commitment
I want to partner with entrepreneurs who are themselves highly committed to their own transformation and the outcome we want to achieve. I have intentionally not written “the work we set out to do”: “doing the work” implies that we are only committing to the process, where in actuality, we are both hoping to effect an outcome. I used to speak of my “clients” in the past; today, it feels more appropriate to call them “partners”. We are both committed to an outcome.
I have skin in the game: if entrepreneurs do not meet their expectations through working with me, my reputation will suffer, and business will ultimately dry up. Our ecosystem is too small to hide bad work.
As a result, I have become way more selective in choosing clients based on their commitment. And not only that: There used to be no minimum time commitment to work with me. I have made it really easy for my clients - they could always leave. I am starting to consider introducing minimum terms just to make sure that the right kind of people sign up. In a way, I am making it harder for entrepreneurs to work with me to incentivize commitment.
Effective Coaching Work Looks Behind The Scenes
One of the core themes that resulted from a feedback survey with all 150+ past and present clients of mine came back with one loud and clear outcome:
- Empathy to really be with the feelings my coaching partners struggle with
- An ability to see through complexity and distill what truly matters
If I want to lean into these strengths, I need to change the way I work. For the past several weeks, I have only accepted coaching mandates where I work with the CEO and their entire management or co-founder team. It is a new level of complexity: individual coaching, relationship dyads, coaching the team, and interviewing key employees are only part of the scope. (I will share more about my team coaching approach in a few weeks.)
This is the most effective I have ever been in facilitating change in high-growth companies. This new model also allows me to concentrate on fewer clients, and serving them with a higher intensity.
How My Retainer Model Sucks
I have been working in a rather inflexible retainer / recurring sessions model for years now.
I want to be more customer centric, and to take responsibility for creating the most value through my coaching approach. When I commit to facilitating a transformation rather than just committing to “I will meet you every second Tuesday at 9AM”, this puts a target on my retainer / recurring sessions model.
Don't get me wrong, for all the coaches and advisors out there, retainers are great!
- Your days are well structured,
- your downside is capped because you are being paid either way, and
- you can communicate a clear pricing to your clients.
After years of working in this model, here is the downside:
Retainers suck at optimising for upside. I cannot make time to double down on the value I could create with my clients.
When I say “doubling down”, I am referring to flexibility to adjust my model to what the client really needs. Just recently, I have started to work with a larger team with whom I needed to increase my standard retainer cost to correct for the larger scope of the work I wanted to do. A rigid set of recurring meetings does not serve the kind of work I need to do when it gets really juicy: I just spend way more time with different people in and around the company.
When I talk about the “value I am creating”, it is complicated. The long-term evidence for value in coaching is similar to the feedback loops of venture capital. It takes years. Only now am I finding evidence that value creation through coaching is real: One of my clients recently said, "We would not be here without your work" - a company whose valuation jumped from 15M to 850M USD during our collaboration. I can't claim to be the wizard behind their success, but knowing I played a small role in their journey - that's my version of hitting the jackpot. If this value creation is only remotely true, I am not capturing it properly with a flat rate pricing.
Not to forget, retainers are also really inaccessible for individual clients who do not come with a business budget. I want to open my practice to serve humans in transition and I am now finding ways to make that possible.
I am slowly moving away from a one-size-fits-all model and I am excited about it. As I continue to tread this less trodden path of coaching, I'm filled with an invigorating blend of excitement, anticipation, and a pinch of trepidation. I'm eager to see where this journey takes me, my partners, and our collective stories. So, here's to embracing the unknown, diving into the gray areas, and reshaping our coaching narratives.