February 2009


What an ominous sounding word!  And, for good reason.

Early on, a “dead line” was a mark drawn in the sand to show the absolute limit of movement allowed Civil War prisoners.  When combatants were captured on the battlefield, there were no stockades to hold them.  Guards simply scratched a restricting line on the ground with a sobering warning, “If you cross this line, you’re a dead man!”  

That line in the sand haunts us, especially if we’re compulsive types.  Consider your coaching client, Conscientious Cal/Callie, who lives by clocks, calendars, and checklists.   Cal/Callie is successful, a productive pacesetter in the workplace.  Conscientious Cal/Callie does the right thing in the right way at the right time, and sticks with tasks until they’re completed.  So, what’s the problem?  Poor Cal/Callie is overloaded and burning out from the inside.  Cal/Callie’s internal “to-do” list is too long with an inner timer set on fast forward.  Still, Conscientious Cal/Callie’s a “star” for one simple reason: workaholism is hard-charging organizations’ favorite addiction. 

To survive today and to thrive later, burned-out Cal/Callie is looking for relief now and for a new work style for the future.  Conscientious Cal/Callie wants to transform deadlines into lifelines.   How can you help compulsives untether themselves from unhealthy deadlines?

Fan the ashes in the direction of lifelines.  Successful folks rarely turn corners fast.   Their styles have helped them succeed in the past.  They may need to crash and burn—or nearly so—before they can ask for help.  With clear motivation from an infrequent failure, Cal/Callie may finally be primed to grow and change.

Plant seeds to grow new habits.  Compulsive types are creatures of habit.  Challenge them to plant new seeds of balance and sanity through new habits.  Help them use their strengths as habit-followers to re-new their lives—literally.

Add “fun” to “to-do” lists.  Cal/Callie will likely “have fun” on command.   However, some change-of-pace activities are probably healthier for Cal/Callie than others.  Remember that some avocations like golf are highly structured and metrics-oriented, just the stuff that both enlivens and kills conscientious folks.  Maybe fishing or gardening are better hobbies for compulsives, since the fish and flowers set the agenda.

Be alert for ways to reframe deadlines into lifelines.  Otherwise, Conscientious Cal/Callie may live by deadlines and die still looking for lifelines. 


Anxiously Searching . . .

Not long ago I was reading my Bible and came across the story of when Jesus was left behind by his family in Jerusalem (Luke 2).  After they had traveled an entire day’s journey away from the city, his parents noticed that Jesus wasn’t among their fellow travelers.  And after what must have been a frantic trip back, it took them three long days of searching to find him.

When they finally located him in the temple talking with the teachers, the Bible says Jesus was listening to the scholars and asking questions.  Wow!  As soon as I read this, my mind went into coaching mode.  Hmmm … listening and asking questions.  Intrigued, I read on.

Once Mary sees that Jesus is alive and well she declares, “Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”  When I read her words, I started thinking of all the people I have coached who have been anxiously searching for something.  They may be looking for perspective, clarity, or focus of some type, but often they are as anxious and uncomfortable as Mary and Joseph must have been.

As I read on, three additional phrases caught my attention—“didn’t you know,” “they did not understand,” and “Mary treasured all these things in her heart.”  And the coach in me perked up again!

 As coaches, we do our best to come alongside our clients, listening and asking questions to help them discover what they know or need to know about the situation they are being coached around. As they make discoveries and think them through, they begin to see from new perspectives and gain the clarity and focus they are searching for.  And, as their understanding grows, their new findings are pondered, tested through action steps, and finally treasured in their transformed hearts.

This story triggers at least four or five good questions we can ask those who are anxiously searching for something.  What are you searching for?  Where are you looking?  What have you already found?  How are your findings affecting you?  When are you going to apply what you’ve learned?

Know anyone anxiously searching?

Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez

The sports world (and much of the rest of the media) has been abuzz lately after baseball great Alexander Rodriguez revealed that he had knowingly used steroids earlier this decade.  Of course he didn’t just own up to using performance enhancing drugs in plain terms.  There was a lot of PR spin, most notably his oft-repeated phrase of having been “young and stupid” at the time.

Blaming his drug use on being young and stupid (he was in his mid to late 20’s at the time) has irked many commentators.  They see it as a way of taking the blame without really taking the blame. He wasn’t young and stupid, he was greedy and competitive – there is a big difference.

All this sports media buzz has me thinking about the power of words – specifically the power of words in revealing perspective.  The words we use for describing/explaining tell a lot about how we see the world and how our perspective might be askew.

As coaches, we listen closely to the words our clients use because those words reveal a lot.  And we can offer those words back to our clients as a way of helping them see more clearly how they see things.   With this greater clarity, they can choose to keep their perspective or shift it to something more useful.

A recent client was telling me about a major initiative  he was leading.  I asked him where things stood with the initiative.  He responded with, “Everybody is ready to go.”  I asked him what he meant by “everybody.”  That word (everybody) spoke deeply to him.  He said, “I don’t know why I used that word.  Maybe I wish everybody was ready to go, but that’s not true.  I’ve been acting as if it’s true, but it’s not so.”

After some reflection, he chose a new perspective, one that was more accurate and one that gave him a better sense of what was required of him.  He said, “Really, all systems are go – we have all the parts in place, but we still have to get some key folks on board.  And the reality is that some folks are not on board and will never be.  We cannot wait for them and I need to realize that.”

With a clarified perspective, this client now knew his course of action.  He needed to have some conversations with the key players who still were not ready.  He also needed to brace himself for some opposition.

A Chinese proverb says that the beginning of wisdom is to call something by its right name.  I couldn’t agree more.

What are you doing these days to help your clients gain clearer and more accurate perspective?

lightbulbmomentsI’ve been pondering that question over the weekend as I prepare for a webinar on the topic later this week.

Getting my mind around what that entails has led me to look at some definitions of the word “culture”, and so naturally I went to the internet. While Wikipedia begins their entry on “culture” by saying it is difficult to define, they did offer three fairly widely accepted uses of the term, and I’ve latched on to this one:

“The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group.”

That pretty well gets at what I mean by a coaching culture… a shared attitude, values, goals, and practices of an organization around the idea of coaching.

  • A shared attitude…. this might be the most critical of the four terms. When those in our organizations begin to approach people and issues from the posture of a coach… when they begin to see the worth and value of others, and begin drawing out ideas and solutions from each other…. that seems to me to embody a coaching attitude.
  • Shared values…. similar to the first, this idea also takes in the notion that those in the organization believe in and trust the coaching process. In addition to valuing each other, those in a coaching culture value coaching. They believe that the best results are accomplished through drawing out the best from those around them. An they model coaching for those they work with and for.
  • Shared goals…. In organizations with a coaching culture, each person in the organization is encouraged to use coaching as a means to move the organization forward. Coaching, in these companies or ministries is not just another tool, it is the primary tool for getting the most out of each individual. (Notice I didn’t say coaching is the only tool…. as my friend Chad Hall says, “Coaching is a great tool – it’s like a hammer, but not everything is a nail”). In a coaching culture, coaching is the tool on our belts that we reach for first.
  • Shared practices…In those coaching cultures, coaching is not only a concept… not only an attitude or a value…coaching is a common practice. Coaching is how we relate to co-workers and constituents. Coaching is how we get traction in our own lives and how we help others do the same. 

In organizations with a coaching culture we see each person as valuable, worthy, creative, and resourceful. And we see coaching as a great tool for drawing out that value, worth, creativity, and resourcefulness from each other. In fact we see it as the best practice for getting to the right goals and solutions for the organization. And we use it. We use coaching. With each other, with our customers, congregations, and others. We use coaching… because it is a part of who we are and because it works!


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If you watched this year’s Super Bowl game between Arizona and Pittsburgh, you no doubt saw the show stopping interception made by James Harrison moments before the end of the first half. There he was, 242 pounds of linebacker, doing what linebackers do, following the ball and looking for someone to hit. But Harrison caused a few million people to gasp, shout, jump or cry that day as his quick thinking and reflexes thrilled us all with the longest play in Super Bowl history. I doubt he woke up that morning knowing things would “play out” that way or that his own personal performance would turn the tide of the game in Pittsburgh’s favor.

#92 had something going for him that day and it was something more than 1) being in the right place at the right time, 2) the ability to seize the day, the opportunity, the moment, or 3) top notch teamwork. It was also more than a well-developed action plan or set of contingencies

Let’s break it down. Harrison got the ball at Pittsburgh’s 1, kept the Cardinals from scoring, decided to score himself, leapt to action, ran like crazy, navigated several tackle attempts by the Cardinals until he was finally taken down, just before the goal line.

How many of our coaching clients have shared a painful and frustrating story of catching sight of their goal and then, failing to reach it, stopped pursuing it all together? How do we best help them? What can be discouraging for us as coaches is to help them design actions and structures for their personal universe, and then see them fall short of the goal line anyway. What’s next? What’s missing?

James Harrison did fall before the goal line, but because of one powerful force, he came down, helmet first, in the end zone—and scored! No one chasing him could stop the incredible force of his momentum. Big Mo (as John Maxwell calls it) is often the missing ingredient. An action plan that doesn’t build momentum is a fruitless flurry of moves and countermoves that ultimately cause the client to dig ruts rather that lay tracks.

I’d like to feel the exhilarating exhaustion that Harrison’s photo evokes. And I’d like to see my clients experience it too.  How do you help your clients harness Big Mo for themselves? Will you share it will us?




He said it forty years ago, but I’ve never been able to erase the picture he painted on my imagination.  Bill, a member of my Dallas church and a professional counselor, told me that he ended each day by taking a monkey census.  He checked to see how many monkeys he had on his back.

Bill claimed that most of his patients came into his office with a Therapist-Patient-Problem triangle already at work in their minds.  In that triangle, they had one goal in mind—to transfer their Problem monkeys to Therapist Bill’s back and to walk out free of their Patient burdens.  So, Bill checked regularly to see how many monkeys he’d invited to take up residence on his back.

 I think of Bill’s cautionary tale often when I’m coaching.  I watch the “Coach-Client-Solution triangle” in my coaching conversations.  I intend to establish a strong Coach-Client relationship.  And, I deliberately try to clarify the Coach-Solution issue.  I have direct access to and some accountability for those two sides of the triangle.

But, I try to avoid taking responsibility for the “off-side” of the triangle.  It’s beyond my reach and obligation.  When I do take responsibility for willing the Client-Solution connection to work, I’ve overstepped, become a rescuer, and put myself on the road to burnout.  Most tragically, I’ve crippled my Client’s opportunity to grow and to move forward.

When I overreach and coach over on the Client-Solution side of the triangle, I’ve also invited an entire colony of monkeys to become my permanent houseguests.  That’s why I follow Bill’s advice and check during and after coaching conversations to see how many monkeys are now at home on my back.  (Apparently, I have been known to rescue clients.  It’s even rumored that I can serve as a great host for other people’s monkeys.)

Monkey census anyone?  Anyone?


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