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I have always had an interest in the first day of summer, aka, “The Summer Solstice.” You see, I was born on June 20th, the last day of spring and what turns out to be the second longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. I still recall being a kid and looking at my grandparents’ calendar from the hardware store, the one detailing the times for sunrise and sunset for each day.  The longer the days, the closer we got to my birthday.

I love summer because that’s when things grow.  Long summer days bring enough of the sun’s energy to earth to make crops flourish and turn water and nutrients into good food, green trees, and lush lawns. It’s the time of year of when the earth produces enough for the rest of the year.

What’s all this have to do with coaching?  Well, this is really just a chance for me to recount my love for summer, but I suppose there are also some things about summer that are analogous to the coaching relationship.  I don’t think coaches are “the sun,” but I do think coaches can serve an important role in the lives of folks who are experiencing a summertime season.  What I mean is that we all go through cycles of flourishing and floundering, and that as coaches we can be one of the ways God helps others flourish during times of growth and change.  Here are some other thoughts on how coaches serve during these summertime spells:

  • Light and Heat.  These are the signs of energy, and sometimes a clients needs one, or the other, or both.  Light is awareness and coaches facilitate the creation of new awareness for the client through our inquiry and our observations.  It is with new awareness that  perspectives shift, possibilities pop up, and new actions emerge.  Heat is challenge.  As coaches, it is oftentimes our role to challenge a client to push forward and reach beyond what she thought possible.  Challenge is a positive stretch forward, upward, and beyond so that what was out of reach becomes the new normal.
  • Work to be Done.  I don’t know who started the myth of lazy summer days, but I do know from growing up in a farming community that summer = work (and lots of it!).  When a client emerges from a winter season and is energized by a fresh vision, excited by a new project, or stimulated by a new relationship, it’s a sign that there is work to be done.  I know some clients who get so giddy about the initial wave of growth (the seedling stage) that they fail to cultivate the new growth so that it can bear fruit later on.  As coaches, it’s out role to consistently push for action because actions produce results.  I think one of the best things we can do for a client is to give him space to dream about what could be, time to marvel at the new realities emerging around him, and to then ask, “Now, what actions are required of you?”
  • Take a Break. The flip side of work is taking a break.  Smart farmers, gardeners and other summer seasonal workers know that working in the early and late parts of the day (while taking a siesta during the hottest and most dangerous part of the day) is smart and efficient.  Each summer day is long and so is the season itself, so it’s important to pace oneself.  Sometimes a client is so enthusiastic about a new endeavor that he loses sense of his own capacity and works too hard for too long.  Coaches often need to remind clients of the need for pacing and the value of breaks so the client doesn’t burn out, stroke out, or pass out.  We need to ask questions of the client about how he knows a break is needed, what a break needs to look like for him, and when he’ll know it’s time to get back to work.

Enough about serving our coaching clients, so what about you?  What’s growing in your garden this summer?  What new thing is emerging and needs your attention?  Are you now in a season of growth and change, or are you still staring at the calendar longing for those long summer days?  What do you need most during this season in your life?  Where could you find it and who could help you?

Blessings on you this summer!

Chad Hall, PCC, is a seasoned coach and big fan of summer.  He’s also Director of Coaching for Western Seminary, a Principal with Coach Approach Ministries, and a Partner with iNTERNAL iMPACT.

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Not long ago I had a conversation with a frustrated leader. He was having difficulty with employees not performing well because of struggles with assignments that fell outside of their strengths. He wondered how he could help his employees deal with their struggles and realign their efforts.

The simple answer would have been to tell them to learn to work within their strengths and let go of the tasks that fall outside of that base. However, I have discovered that in the real world this answer is not always an immediate possibility. There are always those tasks, responsibilities, and assignments that “come with the territory” and fall outside of our strengths.

Maybe these “outside assignments” were inherited from an old job description. Maybe they were handed to you after being on the job for a while. Maybe you gained the responsibility or task after downsizing of the organization. Whatever the origin, the reality is that you have this task, and even though it is outside of your strengths, passions, and desires, you have to complete it.

Most of us face this predicament at some point in our career. Even a Strengths Finder guru such as I am knows it to be true! So when the inevitable happens, what do you do? Good question, right?

Back to the frustrated leader … during our conversation I asked him how he had dealt with this issue in the past. Who could he think of who had done well in a similar setting? And he immediately thought of a great example.

This person was the best he had ever seen at taking a task, no matter how important or menial it appeared, getting it done, and moving on to accomplish great things as he continued to work out of his strengths. Sounded great so I asked my friend what he had learned from this person?

First he learned to minimize the tasks that drained him. He did this in several different ways: by delegating the task to others, by pulling people around him who could help with the task, by prioritizing the task–doing whatever he could to finish it and get it out of his way, or by getting rid of the task completely.

Second he learned to discipline himself to get the job done and move on. Remember there are those tasks that are outside of our strengths but absolutely must be done. This man’s motto was “just do it.” Sometimes, if we are not careful, we can let those unpleasant tasks pile up and become a serious logjam to our productivity. What is not important to you may be very important to others and could cause some real issues if you don’t get the job done. It probably won’t just go away so the best solution may be “Just do it!”

Third he learned if the task went undone, it could damage his integrity. If you accept the job, you accept all that goes along with it. In order to hold up your end of the deal, you need to do it to the best of your ability.

Not bad! Minimize outside tasks. Discipline yourself to get the job done. Guard your Integrity by doing good work. Pretty good steps to making it through those real work struggles that we all face from time to time.

What do you think?

Naked Coaching

All right, all right…. relax! I’m not suggesting THAT!!! (Although coaching over the phone does afford one the opportunity to…… oh never mind!) Actually, I’ve just finished reading Patrick Lencioni’s newest book Getting Naked and it has got me thinking.

As you know Lencioni writes some of the best stuff out there about managing, working together, teamwork, and so on…. And he writes from the perspective of a consultant. Patrick is not a coach, however a lot of coaches I know use his principles in the work they do with others.

I promise not to give away all the good stuff from Getting Naked – you’ll want to read this yourself – but in it I found a lot of the same principles coaches use with their clients… vulnerability, generosity, servant leadership…. coaches use these principles every day in helping their clients move forward to the life/goals/dreams they are pursuing.

Vulnerability is a common theme in Lencioni’s books. The idea that it’s so rare that it warrants such attention may seem odd to coaches. Most coaches I know use this principle to build the kinds of relationships that lead to powerful results. Rather than damaging a relationship, willingness to look wrong or silly or uninformed can actually deepen the relationship between a coach and her/his client. When we let down our guard and act real with those we are trying to help, it can provide the strength a relationship needs to yield big results.

Generosity is a concept I have come to recognize as key to the coaching mindset. Those coaches I’ve known who “give it away” as a regular part of their coaching life are sending a message to their clients (and prospective clients) that the coach has the client’s agenda and best interest at heart. I must confess to sometimes seeming more concerned with the “contractual” rather than the “relational” nature of my coaching agreements and I am learning from other coaches how much a part generosity plays in coaching.

Servant Leadership is the one principle of the three in Lenocioni’s book that surprised me the most. It didn’t surprise me that it was identified as an important characteristic for those wanting to help others achieve their dreams…no, what surprised me was that it needed to be said at all…. that the idea of leading by serving others is a novel concept. Coaches have always known this…haven’t they? Don’t we always lead from a posture of service? Don’t we put serving the client at the top of our agenda…in fact, isn’t that our ONLY agenda?

As I read Getting Naked it occurred to me that some of the principles that business leaders and consultants are learning are those which coaches have been using regularly for years. Perhaps that’s one reason coaching is proving to be so effective. Patrick Lencioni has given coaches some valuable resources and ideas over the years for working with others….maybe this time coaching has returned the favor.

The Joy of the Journey…

 When it comes to traveling I always have two tensions with which to deal. There is the tension of enjoying traveling, meeting new people, and going new places and then there is the tension of enjoying staying home and enjoying the comfort of the familiar.

 Through coaching and being coached, I have discovered that these two tensions also exist as we try to find movement in our work and lives. I like to blaze new trails, do new things, and start things. I also like to sink back into the familiar at times and pull the safe comfortable things of life and work around me.

 At times these two tensions pull at me and cause what I am trying to accomplish to get out of focus or become foggy. I get stuck! Coaching has helped me and those I coach to find focus and clarity. It helps to balance the two tensions.

 I find real joy through the process of coaching. I call it the joy of the journey. It is exciting and refreshing to gain focus, watch the fog lift, and see the clear or clearer route of the journey begin to form as the coaching process does its work.

 The powerful questions that a coach asks help to bring this focus and movement. Question such as:  Where are you headed? How will you know when you get there? Who can help you get there? Who needs to take this journey with you? How can you prepare to take the journey? What are the road blocks to your journey? And more…

 The listening and encouraging skills of a coach make the journey even more pleasant. To be heard and genuinely encouraged allows the PBC to express openly and clears the way to a better view of the journey. This new clarity aids the PBC to take a more decided and focused journey.

 As the coach partners with the PBC, he or she makes observations and maybe even delivers a concise message or two that helps to create additional movement.  Sort of a virtual “bon voyage” party for the PBC.

 For the coach, the joy of the journey comes from the discoveries the PBC makes that reduce the tensions of either staying put or moving forward. For the PBC, the joy of the journey comes from the clarity, focus, and movement they can celebrate as they arrive at their destinations.

 The joy of the journey…how does that happen for you as you coach or as you are being coached? I would love to read your response.

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“You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give” (Exodus 25:2).

I read through The Daily Walk Bible every year.  Call me predictable, but I enjoy the continuity and even reread the notes I’ve made on previous passes.  It is funny to me how often I think the exact same thoughts and make a move to pencil them in only to find I’ve already written the words.  That’s why it was interesting that yesterday’s reading struck me anew.  No old underlinings.  No thoughts scratched in the margins.  Must not have been much to ponder, I thought.  It was after all only a description of God’s plans for the design of the tabernacle:  Exodus 25-27.  I’d probably never found much of interest in those chapters before.  But this time was different.

Right away it struck me.  God told Moses to have the Israelites bring an offering and only those whose hearts prompted them to were to give.  I wondered if I was one whose heart would have prompted me to give?  In fact, does it prompt me now?  And, if it does, what is it that I am to offer?  I underlined Exodus 25:2 and jotted these questions in my journal.  Good thoughts, I mused, and I read on.

Oh boy.  Now I remembered why I hadn’t paid close attention to these chapters before.  Forgive me, but pretty boring stuff.  It sure could have used some illustrations to keep me interested.  But in spite of myself, I started to pick up on something.  At the end of each section of His description, God said something like, “See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain” (Ex. 25:40).  Or “Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you on the mountain” (Ex. 26:30).  Or “It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain” (Ex. 27:8).  God had a plan, a pattern He wanted the Israelites to follow, and He was more than willing to show it to them.  Again, I underlined these thoughts and wrote in my journal:  Does God have a similarly specific pattern for my life?  Am I following the plan as He has laid it out?

It was something worth pondering.  In this example, God had laid out a pattern.  He even specified the materials, dimensions, and designs.  But then He gave the work to those whose hearts were willing to complete them.  I wonder were the embroiderers, metal workers, carpenters, and other artists allowed to work through their gifts with freedom of creativity and artistic expression?  Did their work feel restrictive or liberating?  Was God glad to receive their visions and innovations as long as they stayed within His specifications?

And finally I asked Him.  Lord, what is your plan for me?  With what materials do you want me to work?  What is my heart prompting me to give?  My answer, of course, is words.  Words to study.  Words to write.  Words to ask powerful questions through coaching.  Words to instruct and teach.  Words to encourage.  Yes.  For me, it’s all about words, and my pattern to follow is The Word.

Wow.  Amazing to find these treasures previously concealed but now shining like gems in what I thought was dull and only worth a skim.  And true to my conclusion, I want to pass them along to you.  What is God’s plan for you?  What materials has He given you to work with?  What is your heart prompting you to give back to Him as an offering?  The answers to these questions may not hit you right away, but I’m sure they’re waiting for you to discover when the time is right—if your heart is willing.

Face it, sometimes the coach does have an agenda.

When you are a manager or leader in an organization, striving to coach your direct reports is a great way to increase performance and impact morale.  AND the kind of coaching you do as a supervisor is different from the coaching done with paying clients.  After all, when you supervise you have a responsibility to the organization, to your team, to yourself, as well as to the employee you are coaching.

So how do you make the most of coaching within a supervisory role?  Here are three best practices I’ve picked up through the years:

1. Make a distinction between outcomes and process.  Outcomes are often non-negotiable (make X number of sales this month), while the process or approach for reaching the outcome can be different from employee to employee.  Coach process, and manage for outcomes.

2. Know the developmental stage of each employee.  New employees often need lots of direction as they learn the job, while experienced and growing employees have more room for benefiting from coaching, which aims to pull out their accumulated experience and expertise.  When it comes to coaching new employees, the coaching can focus more on factors for motivation and commitment, less on the knowing how to do the job.

3. Don’t be a lid.  Too many managers and leaders surround themselves with employees who are less capable than the manger, figuring that it’s best for the manager to be the most capable person on the team.  This practice severely retards the performance of employees, the team and the organization.  The coaching manager knows he adds value by bringing out superior performance among direct reports, not by outshining them.

What else have you found helpful in coaching those you supervise?