I declined a request yesterday from a woman who asked me to coach her. Over a "get to know you" lunch, I asked her about her goals for coaching. Her answer? "I am not sure." She described what was frustrating about her work and volunteer projects, but when I asked her what she would do if she were suddenly free from those obligations, she said, "I don't know. Vacuum the carpet?"
I stayed the course, asking several more rounds of "What's Up" questions. With each answer she gave, it was more clear that she wasn't unhappy enough with current state (or adequately motivated to explore a future state) to do the work of change. Even the task of identifying a small change that she'd like to make seemed in the "Too Hard" box for her. If we moved into coaching, I was clear that I would be doing all the heavy lifting, wanting more for her than she wants for herself.
I openly expressed my confusion about her goals, and told her that I didn't think she was yet ready to be in coaching relationship. She looked relieved. She said, "You know, I think what I really need is a friend."
Ahhh. So that's What's Up! Speaking my truth allowed her to speak hers.
Coaching must be anchored in a goal. The goal can be one which is only dimly seen, at first. It can be too big, too broad, too pie-in-the-sky. It can be too narrow--too much like a task or to-do. The goal can be "not quite it" but at least it is a starting point, a place from which to get to the real goal. Without a goal to center and structure the coaching conversation, you'll be setting in motion a conversation that goes in circles. If a person is stumped by the question "What do you want to change about you, about your life?" they are not, at this point in time, coachable.