What Does an Action Coach Do?
If you have trouble getting yourself moving on your projects, you may find the idea of working with an action coach attractive. But what, you may be wondering, does an action coach actually do to get me into gear?
Note: Any coach who helps her clients get into action counts as an action coach, whether she specifically labels herself as one or not.
- help you come up with action plans to achieve you goals,
- give you assignments, and
- hold you accountable for doing those assignments.
Let’s take a look at each of these elements.
Firstly, an action coach creates — or help you create — an action plan to achieve your goals. An action plan is essentially a roadmap of the things you’re going to do to complete your project. Some action coaches get down into the nitty gritty with you and talk about every little detail. Others work at a higher level.
Should you follow your coach’s plan, even if it doesn’t seem right to you? After all, she’s the professional.
When it comes to your life, your judgment is what matters. You’re going to be taking the action. You’re going to be living with the consequences. A coach can suggest a course of action, but you have to decide if it’s what you want to do.
If a coach’s action plan seems clever, effective, and well-suited to you, great. If it doesn’t, no need to follow it.
Please don’t follow an action plan just because a coach gave it to you. A coach’s action plan isn’t necessarily wise or well-suited to you.
Over the years, I’ve observed many coaches giving action plans to clients. Some are brilliant and beautifully tailored to the clients. Most are perfectly reasonable approaches that are of about the same caliber as a thoughtful client’s. Some seemed to me to be impractical, ineffective, inefficient, or even harmful.
Also, you can almost always accomplish the same goal in many different ways. Often, coaches suggest action plans based on approaches they’re familiar with or that suit their personalities, when a different approach may be better for you.
I know a coach who insists that everyone who’s building a local business go to Chamber of Commerce meetings and network there. This coach is a vivacious extrovert who loves meeting new people, and she’s suggesting something that would be fun for her. For some people, attending a networking meeting is the stuff of nightmares, and almost any plan would be better than the Chamber of Commerce one. (Note: There’s also a debate as to how effective networking at a Chamber of Commerce meeting is, but that’s a different issue for a different time.)
Assignments are specific action steps that your coach gives you during a session for you to do by the next session. Especially when you’re overwhelmed, stuck, or clueless, having a few concrete steps to take can feel like a blessing.
Creating an assignment that’s a good fit for a client is a delicate art. The coach needs to understand the client’s personality, situation, values, and skills and knowing how much the client can handle. Not every coach has mastered this art quite yet, but even the most masterful coaches don’t hit a home run every time. As with action plans, it’s not wise, in my view, to blindly follow what a coach tells you to do.
Do you have to do an assignment your coach gives you?
You don’t have to do anything a coach tells you to do. Your coach isn’t your boss. The worst that a coach can do is refuse to continue working with you. In the unlikely event that that were to happen, you’d be fine. There are plenty of other fish in the sea. Over a quarter of a million of them.
Who wears the pants in the relationship?
Some coaches are complete dictators when it comes to assignments. These coaches choose the assignments without any input from their clients and won’t let their clients get out of them, even if the clients kick, scream, cry, and beg. (I still shudder at the memory of a client call I listened in on during which the client begged her coach not to give her a particular assignment. The coach completely ignored her and insisted she do it. There’s so much that’s wrong with that story.)
I can’t say I get it, but some clients seem to appreciate a firm hand. If you don’t, never fear. Many coaches wouldn’t dream of dictating to you or treating you in a harsh manner. Some work in partnership with you. Some even let you take the lead. And most will adjust an assignment if you tell them it doesn’t work for you.
The accountability piece is where the coach makes sure you do your assignments, usually by asking you each session about your progress since the session before. She also may lecture you or try to make you feel guilty if you blew off your assignment so you won’t feel comfortable slacking again.
Accountability can be highly effective. Many clients feel that accountability is one of the most valuable services their coaches provide them.
But I’m not a fan of it.
I discuss my perspective more fully in the What is accountability? article, but, briefly, accountability is basically glorified nagging that uses your fear of embarrassment to push you into action. Accountability can affect a coaching relationship negatively, which I discuss in depth in the accountability coach article.
Two of my biggest concerns of bringing accountability into coaching have to do with:
- coaching sessions’ no longer being a space of complete acceptance and support, and
- bringing parent/child dynamics into the coaching relationship.
I’m also not happy about the potential for conflict that’s introduced into coaching any time a coach tells a client what to do.
If, like me, you don’t like standard accountability, you may want to check out these creative accountability structures. They’re gentler, sweeter, and kinder than typical accountability.
If you want accountability, but not from a coach, you may want to work with an accountability partner, join an accountability group, or use accountability software instead.
Helping you overcome procrastination
If you’re stuck, a coach can help you get into action, using any of a number of different approaches. A coach may help you set up rewards and/or punishments to make sure to kick yourself into gear. She may help you focus on why you want to achieve the goal and what will happen if you don’t. She may also help you restructure your approach to your project so you find it inspiring and enjoyable.