How a tiny fix snowballed into changes that cascaded through a coaching client’s personal and professional life.

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A beloved client was late to our coaching session. This client, a senior leader at a large company you’ve heard of, finally arrived in my Seattle office flustered and apologetic. “Sorry, sorry!” he said, wiping sweat off his face.

For some reason, I decided to pin him down: “Why are you late?” I asked.

“I couldn’t find my car keys,” he said. “So I had to call Lyft, and that took longer than I thought.” He apologized again.

Again, I didn’t let it go: “Why couldn’t you find your car keys?”

He gave a complicated answer about not knowing which pocket he’d left his keys in — jacket, jeans, work slacks, raincoat — after walking the dog. “This happens all the time,” he said with frustration. “It’s actually really stressful — it throws my whole morning out of whack.”

I believed him. That’s a lot of chaos first thing in the morning.

“This sounds like maybe a problem to solve,” I suggested.

We talked through different solutions that he could maintain over time that would work for his personality and for his household. He decided he would designate a clay bowl on his kitchen counter as the official holding spot for his car keys.

He was never late to one of our coaching sessions again.

And that could be the end of this story, with an easy solution to a simple problem, except for the extraordinary ripple effect this small change had on his life.

My client slowly began organizing other aspects of his life. Once he eliminated the uncertainty of how long it was going to take to get out of the house in the morning, he started the day with a plan. That calm, predictable start cascaded through the rest of his day. He got more done at work with less churn. Colleagues noticed.

He began organizing his systems at home. “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?” his wife asked him when she caught him unpacking after a business trip. He used to leave the overflowing suitcase in their bedroom for days. Now he couldn’t stand the chaos.

I think about this client when I read about “transformational coaching” and coaching that “maximizes your potential.” Those coach-y catchphrases seem like a lot of work. They seem like they might be hard to sustain.

Sometimes transformation is just about having a place for your car keys on your kitchen counter.