Stuck at Desire: Guiding Clients from Desire-Focused to Goal-Focused.
The value of the coaching relationship is in guiding our clients as they shift their perspective from a desire-focus to a goal-focus.
Goal vs Desire
Someone once said “anyone can play any musical instrument as long as they posses two things – desire and time”. Many people have successfully learned to play an instrument because they had a burning desire to play, and chose to spent enough time learning and practicing to make it happen. But perhaps an equal or greater number of people had that same burning desire, but fell short on what was needed to make it happen. It’s clear that desire is not enough. So, what is missing that held them back? Perhaps a change in perspective is needed in order to take the next step forward.
What is desire
The Oxford Dictionary defines desire as “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen”. It is said the root of all change is desire. Without desire, status quo prevails. But one of the hardest lessons we face in childhood is that no matter how hard you wish for something, it will not simply “come true”. So what is needed to turn desire into reality? The answer to this question may be why many people seek the guidance of a coach.
What is a goal
The definition of goal is “the object of a person’s ambition and effort”. This implies there are two crucial elements here – desire (i.e. ambition) and a determined attempt (i.e. effort). In the musical instrument example above, time represents the interval where the effort of learning and practice take place.
It seems the missing element between desire and accomplishment is the essential activity of goal setting and making a commitment to take action as part of the goal. We can encourage our clients as they reframe their perspective from a desire-focused one to a goal-focused one.
The coaching process and the continual improvement cycle
The coaching journey from desire, goal, commitment, to achievement is very similar to the Agile principle and practice of continual improvement that is commonly used by Agile organizations. The process is inspired by what is often referred to as the Deming Cycle, or Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) and is performed iteratively over time. Though the initial starting point is different, there are strong similarities between this iterative cycle and the coaching process:
Study – Explore the current situation through powerful questioning, active listening and direct communication.
Act – Leveraging the awareness created, actions are designed to move the client forward.
Plan – Goals are set and an effective coaching plan is developed.
Do – Between sessions the client executes the actions that they committed to doing and agreed to be accountable for. (The outcome of these actions are often the input to the following coaching sessions.)
Often a client will show up to a coaching session with a clear image of what is troubling them, and posses a strong desire to fix it. But they are lost when it comes to where to go from there. The value of the coaching relationship is in guiding our clients as they shift from a desire-focus to a goal-focus. This reframing of perspective is crucial for clients that show up with wants and desires, but have little or no evidence that they show any accountability for taking action in the past.
Sometimes clients show up to a session with a want or desire and expect the coach to fix it for them with no action on their part. This may present itself as commitments made in a previous session, but no progress reported during subsequent sessions. The client may have the belief that they are incapable of accomplishing their goals on their own, or the goals are too large or complex for them. Encouraging the client to design goals that are specific, achievable and realistic (i.e. SMART goal) can result in more consistent success and also boost their confidence when setting future goals as they shift their mindset to that of continual improvement.
Lessons can be learned from the Agile domain with its set of values, principles and practices. Adopting these characteristics is referred to as having an Agile mindset. One of the Agile principles is embracing change – that is, taking on the attitude that welcomes change rather than deliberately avoiding or rejecting it. As a coach, we see our clients as creative, resourceful and whole with a desire to make improvements in their lives. As a coachable client, one has a strong desire to change but doesn’t see a clear path to get there. Encouraging a client to find in themselves a mindset to embrace change rather than becoming overwhelmed with fear and a tendency to evade change is favorable.
Another applicable Agile practice is the Inspect and Adapt cycle. As the foundation for continual improvement, it supports the practice of inspecting what reality looks like, identifying opportunities for improvement, brainstorming alternatives, then adapting by adopting the preferred alternative. These adaptations are, by definition, experiments and are subject to future inspect and adapt cycles with the goal of continually improving reality. Allowing change to be considered an experiment by the client tends to take the pressure off of any one change being irreversible, and encourages the client to continue to experiment on an ongoing basis.