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You know what you want. You know what to do. So why is nothing happening?

There are thousands of texts and approaches in the productivity & success universe. Many of them are good, some are great. Some, like the writings of Marcus Buckingham approach genius in their rich simplicity.

So why, if there are so many great ways to become more productive and more successful, are so many of us still struggling to make real change happen in our businesses and lives?

I believe we consistently miss one key element is undertaking a change process: the coaching relationship.

Change is an abstract idea until it is made real in three ways: what you are committing to must appear on your schedule, have a line in your budget, and be supported by a coaching relationship. I have seen no evidence that it is possible to successfully conclude a change process without commitment through these three constants.

Of the three constants that must be brought to bear on a change process, the most important is the coaching relationship. I want to be clear that I am not talking only about professional business or personal coaches, but any person or group that meets certain criteria in order to play a coaching role in your process.

Coaching relationships are distinct from others in your life. A coaching relationship is one that fits the following criteria:

  • Coaching requires fearless honesty. Not brutal, not abrasive, just consistent, unflinching honest feedback about your goals and your progress.
  • Coaching has a mentoring component. While it is possible to be in a coaching relationship with an individual or group that is not an expert in the area you are working on changing (health, finances, employee relations, etc.), the risk of making errors that may derail you will increase.
  • Look for commitment. The coaching relationship is a formal one, with a clear commitment to a particular process. If you have hired a professional coach like a personal trainer, a business coach, a re-designer, a financial advisor, etc. the commitment on their part is built in. The commitment is that you will work with them for a specified period of time to reach a specified goal. That same commitment can be made between friends, collegues, mentors at work, or other team members. The more clearly the nature of the coaching relationship is spelled out (preferably in writing) the greater the chance of success.
  • Look for ease and openness. A great coaching relationship has one additional hallmark: an inter-personal ease that encourages openness, honesty, and trust. Keep this in mind when seeking or establishing a coaching relationship. Mentoring is possible between people who do not share that ease that is also found in great friendships, but coaching is made more difficult without it.

When you have established a coaching relationship, what role will it play in your change process?

  • Outside perspective. We all have blind spots. The best coaching relationships allow the perceptions and voice of another person to help us avoid old patterns or see things in ways defined by our existing prejudices. Great coaching relationships allow us to break truly new ground in our journeys.
  • Scaffolding. A good coach will provide a manageable approach to the change process by creating a structure to follow, and by breaking down a huge task into small, daily or weekly pieces. This is the mentoring component of most coaching relationships, and why they should be knowledgeable in the area they are coaching you in. They erect the scaffold for you based on what they know about what needs to be done. You do the building.
  • Accountability. A coach will help you be accountable for your commitments. A coach will monitor your progress and encourage you to complete the tasks you have committed to.
  • Unconditional support. Change is hard. Sometimes change is deeply disruptive in unpredictable ways. There are always moments where everything feels like it is going backwards, and things are worse than they ever were. In those moments, coaching provides support, encouragement, comfort, and the confidence that you need to refocus on your journey. Coaching support is unconditional. It is without judgement, without expectations other than your success, and is unshakeable within the timeframe you have committed to.

As you can see from this list, sustained success without coaching support is almost impossible. Without the outside perspective, scaffolding, formal accountability, and unconditional support, the likelihood that a change process will stall or go off the rails is unacceptably high.

Without a coach, a plan is only a possibility. Without a coach, a budget and a timeline only signal good intentions.

When you rely entirely on your own perspectives and habits there is a good chance that, like someone lost in the woods, you will find yourself where you started again, after months of hard work. When you work without a scaffold assembled by a knowledgeable mentor, the task becomes overwhelming, its foundations weakened by flaws right at the start. When you have not made yourself accountable to someone, in the darkest moments it is too easy to walk away, because no one will know. When you hit those those deeply disruptive setbacks that come out of nowhere, there are few of us who can keep moving forward without someone providing that steadying hand on our shoulder.

When you begin the next change in your business or in life, consider it truly started once it has a place on your schedule and budget. But most of all don’t start without identifying the one relationship that will make the difference between getting lost and getting there: the coaching relationship.

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