January 2009


I don’t know about you, but when I started coaching 14 years ago, I always felt like a fraud.  I hated when people would ask what my background was.  At dinner one night, during an interview to work with a Senior Partner in his firm, the Sr. VP of HR was outrageous enough to ask “What makes you credible?”  That was my most dreaded question. 

How many of you feel like a fraud, too?  I’ve learned that this syndrome isn’t from the Lord! It’s a ploy to get us off track and may even be a way of keeping us from fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives.  When it rears its ugly head, it needs to be addressed head-on. Here’s what I’ve done. 

·      Scripture—First I had to find the Scripture that could be my “sword of the Spirit.” I wrapped myself in that Scripture whenever needed to do battle (Eph 6).

·      Listen—I also started listening to what people were saying to me. They seemed to be seeing things more clearly than I was, and I started hearing God’s voice through them.

·      Focus on the Lord—Most importantly, I tried to focus on what God was saying to me through Scriptures, through invitations, through my “gut.” With several invitations to speak, I could almost hear Him saying, “Do it.” I kept stepping up, even when I was intimidated by the commitment.

Fast-forward 14 years. As I type this, I’m sitting in a hotel room getting ready to go into day two of a board meeting—I’m a trustee on a seminary board. Yesterday, as the board convened, I found myself looking at all the wisdom and experience around the table. And, yes, I feel like a fraud. Again. 

 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

John 14:27



The phone rang as I settled into my office for the morning.  When I answered, the voice at the other end said, “Hey, Coach!”  It was a man who I had been coaching around some new ministry ideas.  We talked for about thirty minutes, and by the time we said good-bye, he had come up with a priority list, two action steps to complete before our next session, and a sense of excitement that he was well on his way to reaching his goals.  After scheduling our next call, I hung up the phone and smiled at his accomplishment.  He had really made great progress in a relatively short time.

The interesting thing about that conversation and others like it is that this young pastor had come up with his own plan as he drew from what he already knew to discover new ways to achieve his goals.  How did he get there?  By answering questions posed to him by his coach—questions that helped him to identify his values and prioritize important areas in his life and ministry. 

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul admonished the church to “live up to what we have already attained” (3:16).  In other words, if we would accomplish what we already know to do, we would have enough to keep us purposefully busy for a lifetime.  The problem for many of us is that we aren’t really sure about what we “have already attained.”  Many things have gotten in the way and muddied our vision.  Coaching helps us to see more clearly, to make discoveries, and to take steps forward in life and in ministry.



Lord, I need a dream worth giving my life to.

I need a life worth waking up to each morning.

I need a mission bigger than me.

I want to believe for not only me, but also for this world.



(A Prayer by Erwin McManus)

I love the bigness of this prayer. To help someone paint a vast mural for their life and then help them get there is the stuff of this coach’s dreams. This is how I think about my own life – I’m a “big picture’ kind of person. But often my clients don’t aspire to this level. The issues they bring to the conversation seem mundane and small as I view them through my “BHAG” filter (big hairy audacious goal). I want them to want more. I’m locked and loaded for a coaching exchange that promises to catapult them to the stratosphere, and beyond. But to my dismay, that’s not what they are looking for. They want some smaller and, in my estimation, less significant outcome.

But who am I to determine that those small things aren’t able to clear the way to a new dream or make their life more worth waking up to each day? Zechariah 4:10 warns me not to “despise the day of small things” because the small things are forerunners of more significant things –missions that are bigger than me, bigger than my client. 

The road is paved with small things that will make or break us – those tolerations and obstacles that drain our hope, piling on stress and exasperation, but ultimately proving our mettle. It seems that all those “small things” just might serve a grand and divine purpose that I’m going to miss as I prematurely herd my poor clients toward bigger (but not better) goals.  What’s worse is, my client will miss it too.

I will be reminding myself of the Zechariah passage before my next coaching session – because the small stuff counts.

The Butler Bag

The Butler Bag

I bought my wife a new purse for her birthday.

Let me be clear — she picked it out; I paid for it.  The fact is that she insisted this purse be her birthday gift.

It’s called a Butler Bag.  Evidently these are all the rage.  The selling point is that these purses have a place for everything.  Simple little compartments in the bottom of the purse organize the contents and make finding stuff  much easier.  Very nice.

What’s this have to do with coaching???

Some coaching clients live a life that feels too full.  You hear such clients say things like I’m overwhelmed, I’m juggling too many tasks, or I have more things to do than I have time to do them.  And things to do aren’t the only clutter.  Relationships, priorities and direction can get cluttered.

These clients need a Butler Bag.  Not the purse, but the concept.  They need help taking out all the stuff, sorting it, throwing some out and deciding what’s worth carrying around.  They also need help with a system for organizing what they keep.  Coaches can help clients with all of this: unpacking, assessing, organizing and developing ongoing systems for keeping things tidy.

I remember my first coach aiding me with this sort of thing.  Scott Eblin (a corporate coach in VA) guided me through a process for unpacking all that I was doing, clarifying the three roles I really want to play professionally (coach, writer, trainer) and how I could use those roles as an organizing force going forward.

Ever since that coaching engagement (way back in 2002), I’ve known much better  how best to show up in order to get done what I need to get done.  Simply having these roles as an organizing force to apply to my work helps me: know what’s worth doing, get to my work more quickly, direct my efforts for greater impact, and know when I am done.

What about you?  When have you helped coach others toward a Butler Bag of their own?  When has someone coached you toward this?


Every parent knows the fright of having a sick infant who can’t tell you where it hurts. Thank goodness, pediatricians have creative ways of figuring out what’s ailing babies.

Being unable to describe “where it hurts” isn’t limited to tiny humans.Sometimes adult coaching clients can’t put words to their painfully stuck places either.So, when you’re in those occasional coaching relationships with people who can’t quite articulate the challenge they’re trying to move beyond, here are some options to try.

Plant seeds, and wait for germination – Introverted persons tend to rehearse ideas before they can share them.  Ask sharpening questions around the edges of what they can already put into words.  Give time for the picture to come into focus.  After all, timing is everything in comedy and coaching.

Draw the issue – Visual learners may have to “see it to say it.”  A former doctoral student of mine became so frustrated by his inability to describe his dissertation idea that he decided to drop out of his graduate program.  Playing a hunch, I asked him to make a last-ditch effort to sketch a picture of his dissertation.  He returned with an eight-sided mobile, hung it from the ceiling, looked at each side with me while detailing his writing plan, and then cruised through his dissertation without missing another beat.  Having visualized his paper, he wrote it easily.

Ask the Inner Circle – Ask stuck clients’ how spouses/best friends/workmates would describe the issue.  People who love us often can see where it hurts better than we can.

Dream the Question – If clients lock down, ask them to “dream the question.”  Guide them to prime their unconscious minds by describing as much of their situation as they can at bedtime, and then literally “sleeping on it.”  Some coachees, particularly compulsive types, can dream their question.  Even better, some of them will dream their answer as well.   Mystics believe our dreams are God’s purest communication with us.

Be Patient – It may take commitment over time to clarify the primary stuck place.  If necessary, ask, listen, and play hunches…over and over again.

In your own coaching experience, what opens up coachees who can’t quite tell you where it hurts?

shy_000I was coaching a client recently who talked about wanting people to remember her and being constantly disappointed when they didn’t. Her expectations were dashed repeatedly when she would see someone who didn’t remember her name.

This made me think of a time several years ago when I was hired by a new company as an employee and met a lot of people in a short period of time. One night I was in DC at a book signing, and someone from our company came up to me and asked if I remembered her name. I was horrified. I definitely recognized her but had no idea who she was. Because of the approach, both of us were embarrassed.

I shared this experience with my client and she realized that by shifting her approach, she didn’t need to be disappointed. Several weeks later, she told me that it wasn’t an issue any more. She was using a different approach, starting with, “Hi, I’m Sarah, and it’s great to see you again.” She was shocked when several people responded with , “Of course I know who you are….”

Isn’t coaching fun? And, as part of God’s economy, we get to help people make minor shifts to create whole new experiences, and we get to be reminded of learnings we’ve had from the past. The best part of this story is the reminder that God always knows our name. That’s not something we have to worry about. Ever.


Coaches are third.  And, third is natural for coaches who work from the values of Judeo-Christian faith.

Coaches provide third places
After our homes and workplaces, humans need a “third place,” an “I-belong- here” community.   In Applebee’s America (Simon & Schuster, 2006), the authors describe how Applebee’s restaurants try to position themselves as America’s comfortable “third place.” Applebee’s noble goal is to be America’s home away from home and work.

Coaches provide that treasured third place for clients.  In coaching relationships, a secure oasis for exploring life’s questions is basic.  In safe places, masks can be dropped and heart struggles can be laid on the altar.  Coaches and clients create protected spaces, “third places,” those sacred confessionals that can be catalysts for life’s next steps.

Coaches point toward third opinions
Most of us solve our problems predictably.  We weave together our own clearest ideas with “second opinions” from family and friends.  Enough?  Not always.  Not if we can’t get clear enough about our personal perspectives.  Not when others, especially staffers, fail to give us reliable enough information.  Then, coaches join us during those excruciatingly lonely searches.

Frequently, we’re mostly blind to gaps in our information, thinking, and experience.  That’s when we reach out for The Third Opinion (Portfolio, 2004), those relationships and resources needed for subtle and complex decisions.  Coach’s questions help navigate uncharted shoals with objective insight, thought partnerships, and truth in a world of “spin.”

Coaches relate from third circles
Picture your concentric relational circles.  Your inner circle likely contains your family, best friends, and closest spiritual advisors.  Your second circle is usually populated by current work colleagues and friends from earlier times. Coaches are appropriately among the folks in your third circle.  Coaches relate “from the edge,” that more objective emotional distance the third circle allows.  Third-circle coaches have three advantages—being less encumbered with yesterday’s history, today’s messiness, and tomorrow’s expectations.  Coaches can step in and out of client’s third circles as needed and invited.

Win, Place, Show
Western society stresses finishing first at all costs.  But, Judeo-Christian coaches show up, show a focus on futures, and then show ourselves the door.  We’re third.  As partners who help “fast forward” client’s life and faith, third is just right.

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