When I was first being taught to coach, on the BBC’s highly respected Coach Foundation Course, there was a long running debate between the tutors as to what the most important part of coaching was: Questions or Goals. Other answers are, of course, available.

I’ll leave Questions for another day, but one of the course leaders made a good case for Goals to be the most essential part. Even if it takes the entire first session of a coaching programme to get a clear goal for the series that’s time well spent, she explained.

Some people dislike goals. They say that it can be constraining to set rigid goals for how you want your company to grow (or anything else in life). Instead, they say you should approach your ambition day-by-day, making sure you keep doing work that helps to develop whatever your company is going to grow into.

I agree completely that flexibility is important; that it’s vital not to be wedded to a single approach. Instead, you need to be able to pivot if things aren’t working. For me, though, rigidity isn’t what a goal is about.

“I want to run a company that supplies the ten biggest manufacturers in the region”

…might seem like a goal, and therefore fairly rigid. After all if you can’t reel in one of those ten you’re stuffed.

In fact, however, this is just one way of achieving an underlying goal, which might be something like:

“I want my company to grow so that it has a profit large enough to support my family’s needs, but to remain based in this region that I love and whose workers I want to employ”

Again, even if it takes a whole session to get there, understanding the core goal the client is trying to achieve and the values that underpin it, isn’t just essential to knowing where they are aiming. It also gives them criteria by which to evaluate progress so they have the flexibility to change their approach if they aren’t getting to where they want to go.

Which brings me to the importance of a goal. To me, it seems that a clear goal is essential because it answers the question of ‘Why?’

This is a question coaches don’t often ask directly. In uncovering the client’s goal, the coach helps them to be clear not just where that are aiming, but also how they will feel when they get there. It provides not just direction but also motivation. An energising goal often makes the difference between a client blandly feeling they should want to achieve X and them feeling very excited and passionate about achieving Y.

And from that motivation everything else flows!