It’s Their Outcome, Not Ours

By Laura Lee

Each new client brings their own life experiences, expectations, and desires to the coaching session. The client is looking to uncover a future outcome that is different from their present state. The role of the career professional is to help the client identify their desired future, address potential concerns, and set goals to achieve desired outcomes. As career professionals, it can be easy for us to start inserting our own perspective but we need to keep our focus on our client’s vision. It is our responsibility to help the client determine what they feel are the right actions to achieve their goals. Career professionals do this by being outcome focused, staying curious about the client’s perspective, and only when asked, offer advice.

Outcome Focused: caring most about the what, not the how

The opening question for every coaching session is, “What’s your desired outcome from our time together?” The client will need to recognize and articulate the outcome they wish to achieve. This is the time for the career professional to listen, reflect, and ask probing questions to draw out answers while following a coaching process.

  • What pathways have you previously considered?
  • What take-a-ways have you gained and what do you hope to accomplish?
  • What does this accomplishment look like for you?
  • What do you look like in their career mirror?

The phrase, “Start with the end in mind,” generates outcome focus. Focus helps the client avoid distractions that would otherwise take them off course and also provides a gauge for identifying success. We need to stay curious by asking questions that help the client to uncover their own answers and to clarify the outcome.

Stay Curious: eager to know or learn

When we continue to use thought provoking questions, reflection, and empathy, we remain curious. When we stay curious, we journey with the client, guiding them in self-discovery. Open-ended questions are helpful in learning more about the client and allow for reflection.  It is important that our questions respect the client’s freedom to choose and not risk leading the client in any direction other than their own. For example, the client may not be looking for a new job but may simply want more out of their current position. Leading questions could distract the client from focusing on their true issue. We must learn all we can to help the client achieve clarity and focus on their personal goals. Clarity is knowing the desired outcome, while focus is knowing what needs to be done to stay on track and reach the desired outcome (Pollack, n.d.).

Obstacle: blocks one's way, hinders progress

There will be times when clients hit obstacles while gaining clarity. At that point it becomes natural for them to look to the career professional for answers. The moment we stop asking the questions, and begin answering for the client, we have switched to giving advice instead of drawing out the client’s conclusions. When we bring our own experiences,  expectations,  way of doing things and answers, it could lead to being our outcome and not theirs. We must be mindful to only offer “possible” actions that could assist the client; suggest possible alternatives and then allow time for the client to decide what feels best for them. Once we have nudged the client back on track, we leave our way of thinking and switch our focus back to the client, and continue with their personal discovery. Moving the client from “not sure” to “this is what I want” allows us to move on to the next stage. 

Achievement: thing done successfully, typically by effort, courage, or skill

Now that the client has attained clarity about their desired outcome, it is time to break the outcome into smaller, more achievable steps. There needs to be specific actions, a timeline and a measure of successful completion for each stage. The two factors that are most effective in helping clients achieve their goals are incentives and accountability. The client’s incentive comes from achieving their desired outcome and accountability comes from the client’s understanding that they are fully responsible for their own actions and consequences. Career professionals can assist the client in recognizing the advantages of completing each stage, gaining momentum and maximizing the likelihood of success.  As confidence builds it becomes easier for the client to maintain focus on their future state or desired outcome. Career professionals maintain an interest and support in the client’s success but keep in mind this is the client’s path to walk.

Clients hire us to help them recognize and define their desired outcomes, and to learn how to achieve those outcomes. As career professionals we work with them through the coaching process to:

  • understand their desired outcome,
  • find who they are from their own perspective,
  • help them through obstacles they encounter,
  • identify actions and become accountable.

The most important thing we need to remember throughout this cycle is that this is “their” story. There may come a time when their goals have been reached or there is a change in direction, this is when it is time to re-evaluate and redefine the desired outcome. There is no real starting point, the client can enter the cycle at any given point, but the steps that follow each stage will remain the same. As career professionals we must not get distracted by our personal view of the journey or what success looks like. We need to maintain focus only on the client’s desired outcome.


Pollock, S. (n.d.). Where to focus when you don’t know where to focus. Retrieved from



Laura LeeLaura Lee, CCSP, CJCD, JCTC is a Career Development Advisor for the Federal Government. She works with a combined population of both military and civilian employees. Laura has facilitated workshops and large-scale events targeted to develop career enhancing skills and opportunities. For over 30 years, supporting people with their careers has been her focus. Laura holds a bachelor’s degree in management from University of Maryland. She is certified in the Strong Interest Inventory®, a Certified Defense Financial Manager and Dept of Defense Financial Manager. In her spare time, she enjoys snorkeling, fusing glass, volunteering for the Hawaii Food Bank and caring for her husband & two rescue dogs.  LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauralee808/ 

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1 Comment

Linda M. Corrigan   on Tuesday 09/25/2018 at 01:10 PM

I believe this is crucial even when dealing with populations who find difficulties managing their focus, especially if they are special population and have a history of addiction and are either in recovery, or have been in recovery for about 1 year. I have added to my counseling skills another certificate and degree in Alcohol and Drug Counseling and presently looking at ways to treat many who have suffered from Mental Illness and Substance abuse.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.