No gap No coaching

Over a decade ago, I worked for a leadership consulting and coaching company. I was a coach inside an organization where clients had four coaching sessions to integrate and implement concepts from a two-day communications workshop they had attended.

Participants were asked to come to each coaching session with an idea of the outcome they wanted, with the intent they close a ‘knowing-doing’ gap they had from what they learned in the workshop.

There was a saying we adopted which was, “No gap. No coaching.” Oftentimes I’d start the coaching by asking, “What’s the gap you’d like to close today?”

This saying is one that has stayed with me, in terms of remembering that coaching is about, which is supporting our client to close a gap from where they are now to where they want to be.

The simplest coaching model….

…Where are you now (current), where do you want to be (future), and closing the gap to get to their desired future.

It’s like the photo I took recently from the aircraft window as we were descending to land at London Heathrow Airport. I had a vision of landing smoothly. First there was full cloud cover. Then as we descended, there was a gap and land became visible. Now, at least I knew we were near the ground. My vision of landing smoothly was now in sight! And to my delight, the pilot landed us smoothly!

There are at least two types of coaching gaps:

  1. A challenge gap where the client is stuck or challenged by something they perceive as negative. For example, receiving feedback, often from a company sponsored assessment process, that says the person needs to change something about their communication approach. Or it could be a challenging life situation the client wants to move away from.
  2. An opportunity gap where the client has a desire or vision for something they want to create in the future. This could include changing jobs, starting a new business, moving to a new location of their dreams, envisioning a new life after divorce, and so on.

ICF Core Competency #2 is, “Creating the Coaching Agreement.” Every coaching session has a session agreement, meaning the coach seeks to understand the gap the client wants to close.

The Topic is not the Outcome

Another way to think about the gap is to inquire further into the client topic, to understanding the outcome they want to have around that topic. Alternatively, you could think of it in terms of how PCC Marker 1 for Creating the Coaching Agreement is posed, “Coach helps the client identify, or reconfirm, what s/he wants to accomplish in the session.”

Let’s say the client comes to the coaching session saying, “After 25 years, I’m finally ready to leave corporate life. I’m ready for a change. My kids are now finished with school/college, and it’s time for me to start on my dream of having my own business.

That’s the topic, yet what is the gap they want to close in this session?

Example questions to ask include:

What about this topic do you want to move forward today?

What outcome are you seeking to have by the end of this session?

If this session was a success for you, what would you have by the end of this session that you don’t have now?

What do you want to accomplish in this session around this topic?

Open the Gap by going to the future

One way to support the client to get in touch with their gap, is to ask future oriented questions that support the client to get as clear as they currently can on their ideal future state.

Example future state questions:

If everything was exactly how you want it to be with your [job…], what would you be experiencing?

How would you be feeling?

What would others be noticing about you?

What would you be saying to yourself?

What might a ‘day in your life’ consist of?

These types of questions might be easy, or challenging, for your client to answer. If the latter, then perhaps the gap to close is getting clear on their ideal future state. Yet for other clients, this is not something they’ll want to do; it’s not right for their process. For them, success might be thinking through all the options for possible future scenarios. Or maybe it’s to get clear on what values will drive their decision-making process.

In closing….

Our job as coaches is to help the client identify a meaningful the gap they want to close, and then ensure we support the client to discover what they need to in order to close that gap.


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