Judo Coaching

Redirecting the Coachee's Energy Toward the Goal

by Tony Stoltzfus

Over the last month or two, you’ve been coaching John toward his goal of rethinking his work flow, time-management and getting more work done with less stress. He’s been working diligently to make a change, but today he has something completely different on his mind: a great new job opportunity. It’s an exciting thing to talk through, and John is passionate about the opportunity. But your concern as his coach is that you are two thirds of the way through making a very important and needed change in John’s life, and suddenly he wants to jump completely off the bandwagon. What do you do?

Two choices immediately come to mind in this kind of coaching situation: either we try to drag John back to focus on the original goal (when he really wants to talk about something else), or we go with the flow and let the original goal wither on the vine. Neither sounds very attractive (at least from a coaching perspective!) But there’s a third way—what I sometimes call the judo approach to coaching.


The Judo Approach

Take heart: this is not about body slamming your coachee! Instead, looking at judo and karate can give us a clue to this third way. A martial art like karate is about striking your opponent. In essence, you are taking the initiative (striking out) to impose your will upon the situation. It’s force against force. In our coaching situation, a karate approach would be trying to redirect John back to the original goal. We’d be imposing our own will on the situation—which isn’t normally an appropriate coaching strategy.

The other choice (going with the flow and letting go of the goal) is essentially running away from the fight. Sometimes flight is a good thing, in life as well as in coaching! However, in this situation, to back off completely means ceding something important: allowing the client to lose focus on his goal.

Judo differs from karate in that it is based on using the opponent’s own strength against him. If your opponent tries to strike you, you redirect the energy of his thrust to take control of the situation. For instance, you might step to the side of a punch, and use the blow’s momentum to throw the person past you and to the ground. Judo redirects the other person’s force and energy instead of going force against force.

A Judo approach to coaching this situation would start by evaluating: where is the client’s force? Where is the momentum and motivation that are driving this situation? And next would come the crucial question: how can we redirect that force so it compliments and reinforces the pursuit of the client’s original goal, instead of distracting our focus from it?


Making the Application

Here’s how that might work in John’s situation. John’s momentum and motivation is around the new job possibility. He’s passionate and focused about working toward it. Our judo technique as a coach is to take that force and bend it back around so we don’t lose focus on the original goal. So we may choose to go with the job conversation for a while, asking questions like “Where will this position take you? How will you make this decision?” Or “What is God saying to you about it?” But eventually we’ll want to bend the conversation back to John’s goal. Here are some examples of judo coaching questions you might use to do that:
  • “You’ve been working for a few months on time management issues. How is that effort preparing you for a new position like this?”
  • “If you knew you’d get this job, what would you want to continue doing with your time management goal to fully prepare you to take it on?”
  • “Would this position increase your responsibilities? If so, how do we need to keep preparing you productivity-wise so you are ready to shoulder that burden?”
  • “Why do you think the Lord has had you working on time management for the last while? How do your efforts there connect with this new opportunity?”

In all these questions, what we are doing is taking the energy and passion connected with the potential job shift and bending it back to apply it to the time management goal. If John can see a connection between the two, or see that completing his work in this area is a key to engaging this new opportunity, he will go back and attack that goal with renewed energy instead of letting it languish. The beauty of this approach is that it honors both the new agenda the client has brought to the table today and the previous agenda you were working on together. As a coach, you leverage the client’s energy to work at both instead of letting one fall by the wayside.

So the three steps to the judo coaching approach are:

  1. Become aware of when the client brings a new passion or energy to the table
  2. Identify it clearly: what is most motivating to the client here? Where is the client’s force?
  3. Bend that force around to integrate it with the rest of the client’s agenda, instead of dropping the original goal.

Tony Stoltzfus is a long-time coach, author of 11 coaching books and founder of the Leadership MetaFormation Institute, a innovative training school that teaches coaching the heart.