Releasing the pressure to help our clients win

Releasing the pressure to help our clients win

As coaches, part of our job is to help clients see their wins which often starts with expanding how they define them. Our competitive, success-obsessed culture loves winning tied to outcomes, deliverables, and bottom-line profits, so winning is almost always performance-based. Winning is defined as not losing.

That’s fine if we’re playing a game, but life isn’t a game or a win/lose performance. Performance in that sensethrives on pressure, and while some people thrive under some pressure, my experience is most of us crumble under it and miss out on wins while we go down.

Lately, I’ve been playing around with helping clients focus more on tension rather than pressure. Distinct from pressure, creative tension is the sustainable sweet spot that drives learning. It’s the low-to-moderate heat that takes clients from awareness into action – where the learning happens – and where we, as coaches, know what the wins are.

I celebrated a big win with an executive coaching client this week, but it wasn’t a typical win for her. She’s a high-achieving scientist who thrives on results and outcomes, but due to Covid, the last few months have been about managing a remote team with a two-year old boy on her hip and one eye on her 7 and 9 year-old girls in the other room. Keeping her family afloat along with a high-risk hubby and unyielding project deadlines had pushed her way past the point of creative tension and into full blown pressure.

Performing under pressure wasn’t working, and she was indeed crumbling. On our call, I requested we move our conversation away from project outcomes and drop the focus on metrics and deliverables. After we both paused and took some breaths, I offered her the observation “you can be difficult to help.” It was a stretch for me to say that, but in an instant, her demeanor changed. I could tell she felt some relief, and that what I said had landed. She smiled a knowing smile and said “thanks for that. I know I’m not easy to help. I can see how that’s frustrating my team right now and how I’m making this harder on myself.”

In those few minutes, my client won. She’d known she needed help and that she didn’t like asking for it, but she hadn’t realized how she was getting in her own way and sabotaging her success. She became aware that letting herself be helped was her new learning edge, and the awareness of this was enough to bring her relief, clarity, and the bandwidth she was desperately seeking. The only “outcome” was how she was now seeing her situation, and that was the win she needed. Planning, actions and improved performance flowed from there.

P.S. Buck also writes for his coaching website. Here is a page from his "Gay Men's Life Lab". I checked it out and there's a lot of great content!

submitted by Buck Dodson, LCSW, ACC