Jason R. Waller
How to Choose a Coaching Topic
You are the only person who can own the agenda of your growth.
What follows are my top tips on how to choose a meaningful topic of focus for a coaching session. I say “coaching” because I’m a coach, but I believe this is a good place to start for other one-on-one development conversations, like mentorship or counseling. If you’re a coach, this could also help you guide your clients if they need a bit of a nudge.
So how do I think about this? I’m a generalist when it comes to my coaching practice. My clients are largely investors, executives, and startup CEOs, but thematically what we end up working on is all over the personal and professional spectrum. Many of my clients arrive with a clear agenda and what they want to work on. And still many are still bringing the details into focus, or maybe revisiting their goals with coaching as we progress.
For almost every coaching session, the topic of discussion is up to my clients. My coaching is process-oriented and my clients own the content of their goals and outcomes. I thought-partner and challenge along the way, but my clients’ growth needs to be important enough to them that they’re unwilling to delegate it to me and unwilling to settle for superficial results.
Every week, though, one or two clients will struggle to think of a topic to focus on. If it happens consistently, I’ll have the direct conversation about whether coaching is still right for them. Usually, though, it’s a one-off situation and I partner with them to find a good topic and use of time. Inevitably, it goes back to one of four four ways to “mine” for coaching topics.
1. Reflect on your original goals or learning plan
Think about the reason that you sought out coaching in the first place. What were you hoping to accomplish? How were you hoping to grow? If you built a development plan, check in on the main objectives and supporting actions or changes. Reflecting on this “north star,” ask yourself what area feels most important to work on right now — this or some component of this could be your topic.
2. Check in on progress since last time
Growth and development won’t follow a straight upward line, but it can be helpful to reflect on the activities since the last session. Ask yourself: with the homework or experiments I did, what setbacks or obstacles do I want to explore and understand? Ask yourself: with the homework or experiments I did, what success or progress do I want to double down on and take to the next level?
3. Slow everything down
A few minutes before the session starts, take a few deep breaths. Dial down the noise and distractions and just explore: what’s right here, right now? Taking stock of how you really feel is an amazingly simple and powerful entry point into a coaching topic. How we feel clues us into what we’re subconsciously focusing on. And what we’re focusing on determines what we do next. Note that you don’t have to hunt for “what’s wrong” and find something to fix; coaching can be a great platform for celebration and gratitude!
4. Think outside the coaching box
If all else fails, don’t be afraid to break the mold. Brainstorm new ideas based on different categories of professional (e.g. job, money, performance) and personal (e.g. family, health, fun) life. One really great left-field question here is “What is an important topic I would never dare to bring into coaching?” Or “What’s something I’ve always wanted to work on, but have been too afraid, embarrassed, etc.?”
In any case, remember that the topic is often just a starting point. Regardless of the topic that comes into any given session, my job as a coach is to tie it to a meaningful outcome for that session and tie it back to a “big agenda” theme for you and your overall goals for growth.
Don’t put too much pressure onto choosing a topic — you’d be surprised at how a seemingly small topic in one area of life can translate to profound learnings in another. Every learning fundamentally connects back to broader goals and growth. I like to say that every topic is just a different door into the same house.
Good luck on your journey.
Originally published in MindCafe