The end of the affair

As a coach a lot of your life is spent in transition, beginning new coaching relationships, the client changing and evolving and then the day when they no longer need coaching. It’s actually fun being in a role where you are trying to do yourself out of a job.

Yes you heard me right there. As a coach you have to factor in your own redundancy. Now in some ways it seems counterintuitive to look forward to having no work but in actual fact it’s what you should be striving for with a client. To close that relationship and enable the client to “fly solo” is its own (very special) reward. Some clients – and indeed coaches – seek to prolong the relationship, not least because it is safe and comfortable but this does both parties a disservice. It’s a bit like those people you see in movies who have been with the same psychiatrist for years – that’s not therapy it’s a chat!

Of course like all endings it needs to be carefully managed. I make it explicit at the start of the coaching engagement that we build towards a final session. That session will be a summary of themes, learning and achievements over the life of the relationship. Clients often say that this session is the final part of the jigsaw for them, making them realise how far they have come, how much they have developed. Also if well handled this can act as a springboard to far greater achievements.

So where else can you use an opportunity to formally mark the end of something? Well many of my clients now hold “wash up” sessions at the end of projects or pieces of work. This sense of closure, of properly ending something allows teams and individuals to move forward more quickly. It doesn’t have to be a formal thing either. I recently had a client who had taken on a role with a title which no longer fitted the job. This was confusing to the business and frustrating to my client who also had to overturn the poor perceptions around the worth of the role. Her solution? A wake to mark the death of the old job. That enabled her colleagues to let go of the old associations and start fresh with her on the Monday morning. She even got a card welcoming the “new arrival” just like a new child!

So my call to action. What haven’t you ended in your mind? What project or work-stream haven’t you let go of yet? And how will you mark its passing? Please drop me a line in the comments.

As ever you can find me here or on twitter and at

My thanks are due to Margaret Burnside for prompting this line of thinking. Check her out on twitter, she’s a great coach.

17 thoughts on “The end of the affair

  1. perrytimms Reply

    Refreshing to see this reminder and ALWAYS a philosophy of mine too. It adds drive, a self-resourceful state of thinking from the start and enables progress to have a truly “I’ve moved on” feel. It needs to be managed – as you rightly put it – so due care comes in. It is one of the most puzzling (to non-coaches) but ultimately rewarding measures of success. Well put Jon – keep making yourself dispensable.

    • Project Libero - coaching, musing and exploring Reply

      Hi Perry

      Thanks for checking in. As you say its a challenge for people to see the value of ending (particularly in these days of constant change) but I’m convinced of the necessity.

      I also really like the fact that you allude to planning at the start to mark the end. If people are working towards a deadline it always helps focus.

      Hope to see you back on the blog soon

  2. Amie Crews Reply

    I like this. Agree that its so important to address this in the early days, but also (both as coach and client) to have the conversation about bringing things to a close.

    This prompted some thoughts in my mind, I’ve had to let go of a few things recently, and one in particular which was really important to me. Sometimes its just time to move on and in some cases let someone else take things to another level.
    It’s not always easy!

    • Project Libero - coaching, musing and exploring Reply

      Hi Amie, thanks for stopping by and adding both coaching and personal perspectives.

      I know I don’t always mark the end of things in my personal life and I’ve had to remind myself to take stock and leave some things alone in order to move past them. As you say, it’s not always easy.


  3. Meg Peppin Reply

    I like this; the first rule of consultancy was given to me “get in, get on and get out”. Doesn’t mean it can’t be difficult, but the minute an external person becomes part of any system, your offering changes. I’ve never forgotten it, and it informs all my decisions. Sometimes too much!!

    Working with a client on a knotty issue last week and we reflected that In order to move forward, you have to leave something behind. Whenever we make a change, I believe that we do lose something be it a negative thought pattern, a comfort zone, a protective behaviour – something that in someway has offered us a kind of security. It is good to have an explicit recognition of what is ending so that new beginnings can be uncluttered otherwise that pain can linger. (Or is that my “FJ” at work – sometimes I wonder).

    As for your call to action; gonna give it some thought today.

    • Project Libero - coaching, musing and exploring Reply

      Hi Meg, thanks for adding to the debate. I’m a firm believer in that if you take something away (such as a negative behaviour) you need to add something in to the void. Of course generally that will be the new belief / behaviour but its easy to forget. I also find that a “future pace” as to how life will be with the changes made is really helpful.

      Excited to hear how your thoughts develop on the call to action…….

  4. kNOELedge Reply

    Great post Jon 🙂 I agree building a dependency as a coach is not coaching, and for me it is deeply unethical. My primary motivation as a coach or change agent is to help people. For sure I take money for it, yet, when my desire for income ever overrode the needs of my client – something would be wrong.

    Really like the idea of a formal closure too, rituals are so important, for both parties. As for the call to action: I am with Meg, definitely going to give that some thought too.

    • Project Libero - coaching, musing and exploring Reply

      Hi Noel

      Great to see ethics making an appearance in the debate. I also like the point about the aspect of ritual in this process. It helps people understand their position and sort their emotions.

      Do check back with what you come up from the call to action.


  5. Kev Wyke (@kevwyke) Reply

    I think all new beginnings have to start with some endings, and good endings help great new beginnings.

    Like moving house, the ending starts when we decide we want to move, we think about the things we are going to leave behind, like friends and neighbours, the familiar commute, the tiny kitchen. But usually we don’t chuck it all out, we also think about what we want to take with us into our new beginning, the comfy sofa, the beautiful pictures, the playstation 3. So the ending helps to shape our new beginning and helps us to decide what we let go of and what we keep hold of.

    Also brill thoughts on planning our own redundancy, always good to remember who is on the stage when we are coaching our starlets, and they’ll still be on the stage when we leave the theater.

    • Project Libero - coaching, musing and exploring Reply

      Hi Kev

      I really like the metaphor about moving house, discarding what we don’t want and leaving it behind or indeed throwing it out.

      From a coaching angle I love the idea about us leaving the theatre whilst our starlets remain on stage. That’s an image which will stay with me, thank you.


  6. coachingtomorrow Reply

    Thanks for acknowledging my Tweet yesterday as a prompt to write this – it’s a really good read and echoes my thoughts, experiences and fundamental philosophy! I rarely encourage anyone to have a second (or third!) package of coaching with me. We usually work with around 5 or 6 sessions and as you describe , work towards that final session and important outcome (which may have changed a little along the way …).

    There has, however, been a recent coaching relationship that is having a second ‘term’ and that was because of several major changes. Part way through the first piece of coaching the client was promoted (unexpectedly but willingly!) and her team size doubled – a major transition to deal with in itself. This happened around the time she also found out she was pregnant with her first baby! Some emergency coaching helped her to plan how and when to tell the boss … We then worked on how she could establish herself in the new role before she went on maternity leave, worked on the specification and recruitment of the interim (who did a great job) and picked up again prior to her coming back and now as she transitions back into the role whilst maintaining a good family life. That isn’t dependancy, that’s several coaching challenges coming along at once!

    Planning for and managing the endings is an important part of the job – I will have to be careful with this one as it’s been a longer relationship than usual, I’ve been on a big part of her life journey with her and seen pictures of her beautiful daughter at various stages! We have a couple more sessions to go and I’ll usually use the penultimate session to start the process of ending.

    All of this reminds me of work I do on Change Leadership workshops around William Bridges -Managing Transitions model which recognises that psychological transitions need to go through three stages – Endings, Neutral Zone and Beginnings. The ‘Endings’ phase is usually the most neglected in many change programmes and prevents the change from being fully embraced. Fully supports the comments above about rituals. Good book – I recommend it if you haven’t come across it.

    Sorry Jon – mini blog on your blog! I was in the car a lot today (final coaching session with another client) so after reading your blog this morning it occupied my mind in the car! It was a great ending – happy client, happy coach …

    Thanks, Margaret

    • Project Libero - coaching, musing and exploring Reply

      Hi Margaret

      Well, no need to thank me, look what you prompted, I’m very grateful for the stimulus.

      Your point about your second term client is illuminating. I have had two clients where I worked with them twice, in both instances several years apart and the follow up sessions were shorter, tighter in focus and to address specific challenges. Each time I made sure to end the relationship inclusively and openly, exactly as I hear you are doing. I think it’s both respectful and energising. In fact I often encourage my clients to think about whether they would choose a different style of coach the next time they want to invest. That gets them thinking and focussed on the next part of the lives.

      Thanks also for the book recommendation. I have really fallen behind in the reading stakes recently. I’ll pop it on the wishlist.


  7. David Goddin (@ChangeContinuum) Reply

    Great post & comments! One of the elements that I don’t think is explicit above but personally I feel is important in coaching is how we feel about endings, especially in coaching.

    In a consultancy role, Megan’s “get in, get on, get out” resonates really well. Yet with coaching I believe that the human relationship between coach & client (coachee) is one of the most important factors. Generally speaking, we don’t like ending human relationships that work well…

    So endings should have something to celebrate but they are also a time of deliberate separation. They should in their own way feel both happy & sad – a bit like the “wake” you mentioned Jon. Sometimes perhaps we need to “mourn” the passing to move on properly? All healthy I think but perhaps not discussed much… Perhaps peer groups of coaches should have regular “wakes”?!?

    Anyone have any further thoughts / reflections on post separation processes?

    P.S. “The Five Stages of Grief” E.Kubler-Ross (On Death & Dying) may have some relevance although the language is in a different context.

    • Project Libero - coaching, musing and exploring Reply

      Hi David, thank you for adding your comments.

      I agree about the human element, I guess I am lucky in that the majority of my clients (at least individual coaching ones) have stayed in touch loosely, sometimes updating me on progress or sharing a link / piece of useful research. They have seen the end of the formal relationship and honoured that separation but also tend to “pay it forward” which means that I remain a part of their journey rather than a destination.

      I like the idea of peer groups supporting each other through a wake. Feel like there is valuable insight there perhaps……. anyone?

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