When to Take a Fresh Look at a Client's Goal | Get "Heart to Heart" with Julie Johnson MCC

When to Revisit Goals

In this column "Heart to Heart with Julie", Julie Johnson MCC will be sharing sample coaching conversations and situations to help us grow. These are real coaching experiences that illustrate common issues we face as coaches, and Julie also shares her learning, ideas and practical tips to help you become a better coach.

Please share your thoughts, takeaways and your own experiences in the comments below!

These articles were first posted on Julie's blog, The Coaching Cube, and have been updated for inclusion here.

In this article we take a look at goals, and specifically the power of focusing on what is within our control...

What is within my control? When to take a fresh look at a goal:

Many of the people I coach are quite ambitious. They set significant goals for themselves that seem to fall into one of two categories:

  1. To change our own behavior
  2. To get someone else to change a particular behavior

And where it gets tricky is the latter. This is when we need to take a fresh look at the goal.

Here's my coaching experience:

A few years ago I was coaching a senior manager who was quite frustrated with her boss (a common theme in my coaching work), because he was not "being tough enough" with his team members (her peers) on meeting deadlines.

The lack of commitment from her peers was affecting the quality of her own work, because she was dependent on what they did in order to to fulfill her own responsibilities.

  • For a while the conversation focused on trying to find a way to get her boss to change his behavior.
  • Then I asked whether she thought her boss was able to change his leadership style and become more forceful?
  • After a significant bit of silence, she admitted that he probably wasn't.
  • At this point she realized she'd been "beating her head against the wall" trying to get someone to do something that they probably were not capable of doing.
  • The conversation quickly shifted away from what he should do, toward what she could do to motivate her peers directly.
  • Ideas were suddenly abundant, and she built up a (successful) plan to interact with her peers more effectively.

Here are my 3 takeaways from this coaching session:

  1. If our coachees seem to be complaining about people and things around them that they probably can't change, a fresh look at the goal can help them figure out what they themselves can do.
  2. When we shift the focus to what's within our clients' control, this removes all those blocks to action. Suddenly the brainstorming is energised and our clients get creative!
  3. A powerful concept to carry with us in our coaching is Reinhold Niebuhr' Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Now it's your turn:

  • What did you notice or learn from this coaching experience?
  • What takeaways do you have from this?

Share your thoughts with Julie in the comments below.

If you liked this "Heart to Heart" column from Julie Johnson, you may also like:

Julie Johnson

Contributing Author:

Julie Johnson MCC, MIM is an Executive Coach, Coach Supervisor and Author. Her purpose is to help motivated people be at their best. She's passionate about spreading quality coaching conversations farther and wider, impacting the lives of people she'll never meet. Julie helps leaders develop an authentic Coaching Leadership Style so they grow next-generation leaders - and scale their own leadership. She also loves creating synergies by connecting 'the right people' with each other. Meet Julie in this short video here and learn more about her on her website here. You can also sign up for her monthly blog The Coaching Cube.

Learn more about Julie & see all their articles here >>

Image of Client pondering goal with notebook by polkadot_photo via Shutterstock


  1. Wendy Buckingham

    Great article. I think the bottom line here is, when setting the goal, to check it doesn't depend on somebody else's "doingness" or "beingness" for it to succeed. And if it does, what are the chances of getting that person to change their behaviour? Or is there a situation that can't be changed, or they are not willing or able to change that could stand in the way.
    Is there a path to achieving the goal without these blocks.

    • Julie Johnson

      I so totally agree, Wendy. There is the (lack of) willingness that can make the goal not make sense. Sometimes the most effective action that the coachee can take is to communicate what the impact of that person's behavior is on the coachee. Then the person with that particular behavior can make a more conscious and informed decision as to whether to continue, with this new knowledge.

  2. Yvette Simonson

    This rings so true with any goal. My takeaway, as a coach, don't waste your client's valuable time, energy and money allowing them to think they can change someone else. Instead focus on what they can do to change the situation.

    • Julie Johnson

      I totally agree, Yvette! AND, sometimes it is a matter of the coachee working on his/her own inner and outer reaction when the particular behavior takes place. Maybe the coachee can approach it with curiosity - What feeds into this person behaving this way? Or self-management - How do I want to react when this behavior takes place - both outwardly and inside myself? Or in the direction of influencing - What could motivate them to change this behavior, if anything? What is the impact of this behavior on myself and others, and is this person fully aware of the impact they are having? So many directions to go - so little time 😀

  3. Janis

    Thank you this is very useful. I am still doing my coaching training and I find myself trying too hard to assist the client.
    I like this directing the vision towards the client and towards the attainable future.

    • Michela Phillips

      So glad you found this article helpful, Janis!

    • Julie Johnson

      Nice to hear from you Janis. I love the word 'assist' - and defining it, or redefining it could be a wonderful exercise. If it is assisting our clients so that they identify what they want to change, they check its feasibility and they move forward, then we're 'on a roll'!

    • Julie Johnson

      Hi Helaine - Thanks for the question! In short, I suggest you establish, through questioning, whether the person the coachee is frustrated with is able and/or willing to change their behavior. if the answer is no, shift to helping them figure out what they (coachee) can do - assuming that 'it is what it is'. I hope this helps!


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