Coaching Techniques

7 Ways to Hold Your Coaching Clients Accountable Without Shame or Judgment

Holding your client accountable in coaching is not about control -- it's about helping them take ownership and building the skills and tools needed to flourish.

As a professional coach, one of your essential responsibilities is to help your client stay accountable for their actions, decisions, and the changes they desire to implement in their lives. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

This is actually where things can get sticky.

When a client finally decides to hire a professional coach, they are highly motivated – they’ve made a big decision to get guidance and help with reaching their goals!

Unfortunately, many of us have had bad experiences with trying new things or setting big goals – we’ve experienced pain and sadness when we fail to live up to our own standard. It’s important as a coach to be mindful of this all-too-real collision of what we thought would happen and what actually happens.

Once the client is actually in the process of coaching a whole slew of issues can sometimes arise – resistance to change, fear, defensiveness, avoidance, lack of follow through. 

This tension in the coaching process can be difficult to navigate for the coach.

Building empathy for your client is paramount, and keeping in mind the difficult change process they find themselves in – even when it’s change they are seeking!

Providing accountability within the coaching relationship is not about shaming or judging your client (or anyone!) for their choices or mistakes. Instead, it’s about supporting them in a consisten, positive and authentic way on their journey towards growth and fulfillment. 

Here are seven actionable strategies you can adopt to hold your clients accountable without veering into shame or judgment:

1. Build a Trusting Relationship 

Building a trusting relationship with your client is the foundation of any coaching engagement. Having a level of trust between you gives your client a safe space to share their genuine challenges, fears, and aspirations. Clients who trust their coaches are more likely to be open, honest, and accountable. Spend the time necessary to win your client’s trust, and take good care of it once you have it.

2. Set Clear and Measurable Goals 

At the start of your coaching relationship, work with your client to set clear, measurable and achievable goals. While they can have audacious, big goals, the action steps to get there should be more manageable. 

These goals should align with their own genuine values and life aspirations, because if goals are not in sync with what's most important to your client, they may be less interested in trying to reach them. Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals can help provide a tangible target and a clear path forward.

3. Develop an Accountability Structure

Collaborate to develop and agree upon a structure or system to measure progress. This could include:

  • Creating a strategic action plan: outlining what tasks need to be done, who will do them, and when they should be completed. (It’s a good idea to brainstorm strategies to overcome potential challenges or obstacles.)
  • Regular check-ins: Weekly, biweekly, or monthly, you and your client can pick – depending on the nature of the goal and the preferences of the client. You’ll discuss the client's progress, address any challenges, and adjust the plan as necessary. 
  • Progress reports: Show a visual representation of the client's progress. This could have charts, graphs, or lists of completed tasks. Helps to see progress and identify areas where more work is needed.
  • Setting milestones: Once the overall goal is clear, create intermediate milestones that can serve as markers of progress. These should be concrete, measurable, and realistic steps towards the larger goal.

An accountability structure not only tracks linear progress but also gives you both an opportunity to celebrate progress along the way.

4. Empower Them to Take Ownership

As a coach, you're a facilitator and guide, not a problem solver. As you continue the coaching engagement, encourage your client to take responsibility for their decisions and actions. Helping clients see themselves as empowered in this way helps them build resilience and self-confidence. 

If a client is to build their own efficacy over time, they will need to establish and build these skills. Set clear expectations, make sure there’s shared understanding and then recognize and appreciate when a client takes ownership of something. 

5. Encourage Self-Reflection

Taking a look at where we’ve been can give us so much information about how to move forward. Encourage your client to engage in regular self-reflection to assess their progress, recognize their achievements, and identify areas for improvement. The coaching engagement is about providing a safe space for these moments of reflection to occur, along with questions to bring these insights to light. Self-reflection fosters self-awareness as clients can take time to see how their actions align or deviate from their values. 

See Also: has a wonderful resource of 13 Self Reflection Worksheets.

6. Celebrate the Wins

Whether big or small, it’s important to celebrate your client’s wins – this reinforces the behaviors that your client wants to develop and has set goals around. Offer up genuine praise for your clients on their accomplishments and progress – even if it’s incremental. This can motivate them to stay on track, reinforcing their commitment to their goals.

7. Maintain a Non-Judgmental Attitude 

As a coach, one of our own non-negotiables is non-judgmental listening. We don't have all the answers! Our role is to support our clients, not to pass judgment on their actions. Showing up in a non-judgmental way creates an open and honest communication environment where clients feel safe to discuss not just their wins but also where they’re struggling. This created coaching space of non-judgment is part of building trust with your client and also one of the unique and powerful experiences within coaching

Remember: Accountability in coaching is not about controlling your client's actions or thinking process or even their outcomes. 

Rather, it’s about guiding them to a place where they have built the tools and strategies to achieve their goals, and take responsibility for their own growth and development. 

Used all together, these strategies will help you create and maintain an atmosphere of positive accountability, giving your clients the space to make meaningful and lasting changes in their lives.


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