March 2009


Your phone rings.  It’s Anxious Andy/Angie, a former coaching client—back for a third series of conversations.  On the surface, Anxious Andy/Angie is a “perfect” coaching client—motivated and solution-oriented, on the move and in a hurry.   But, Anxious Andy/Angie may be too hurried.  When Andy/Angie is being coached, anxiety can propel the process and create an emotional sprint for a solution—a quick solution.  Later, when surprises and second-order challenges loom up, Anxious Andy/Angie gets overwhelmed.   One small pebble in the pond created big tidal waves that no one saw coming.

So, what can coaches and clients do together to make better choices?  Why not try a “more” approach?

Add more options to explore.   Futurist Joel Barker, developer of the future search device called the Implications Wheel, presses for five or more alternatives before we move forward.  Each alternative is then played forward to its second-order or third-order implications.  Extra options and their “waves” give us automatic Plan B’s, if needed. Decisions become more nuanced when we expand and explore more possibilities more broadly in advance.

Look at positives and negatives more thoroughly.  In every cluster of options, Barker also insists that both positive and negative outcomes be explored.   Negatives introduce new questions to optimists.  Positives provide leaven for pessimist’s thinking.  In tough economic times, looking at all angles and “getting it right” the first time feels even more critical. 

Weigh alternatives more carefully.  Explore all options slowly and thoughtfully.  Considering advantages and disadvantages is important.   One-sided solutions don’t solve much for long.

“Sin bravely” more faithfully.  The Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, understood the risks of moving into uncharted territory.  He once noted that, after all rational avenues had been exhausted, faith still had to be exercised.  Faced with unknowns, he said we have to trust in God completely, move forward, and “sin bravely.” 

There’s the phrase futurists use to describe second-order changes, or outcomes that weren’t anticipated in the early blush of change—“surprises we should have expected.”    

There are frequent “surprises” after anxiety rushes to judgment.  Explore what comes after what comes next.  Focus clients’ anxiety on “more,” and perhaps some false starts can be avoided.


I LOVE to coach! I haven’t always been able to put my finger on why it feeds my soul the way it does, but it has always been some mixture of:

– Satisfaction in watching others take responsibility for moving forward
– Excitement in knowing I was in on that
– Relief that I didn’t have to come up with solutions – nor carry them out
– Freedom in the fact that I was building capacity in others rather than dependence on me
– Joy in seeing what a little bit of encouragement can do in the life of another human being

To be honest, I used to just throw that last one in there because I thought I should. I spent my early days in coaching really focused on the listening and the probing questions that helped lead to discovery and actions. Certainly I enjoyed bringing encouragement into someone’s life, but the real pleasure for me was in getting someone to some new discovery or new action. Encouragement was a bonus…an add-on.

These days, however, I’m repenting.

I’m finding in my coaching over the last couple of years that encouragement is often THE major piece that leads to the others. It is sometimes a seemingly small act of encouragement that does the unlocking…that leads to the new learning or new action. 

While I used to focus on the cleverest of questions, I now look for those opportunities to offer an encouraging word….some hope…..a celebration. REAL encouragement. It has to be real…and I seldom am at a loss for finding ways to offer genuine and timely encouragement.

Here are some things I’m learning about encouragement:

– It can often be that catalyst that gives my client the “nerve” to suggest something risky.
– It is always well received – Is encouragement so rare in our culture that it warrants such appreciation?
– It helps my clients bridge the gap between actions…celebrating was has happened and what can happen rather than focusing on what isn’t happening.
– It never fails to be repaid.

I’m a new man when it comes to encouragement. I look for and find every opportunity I can to give real encouragement and hope to my clients….and I am finding those opportunities everywhere.

What more can you do with encouragement? What new discoveries and actions might that bring? Who can you encourage today?

thumbnailcatfh0e2   The Power of Being Heard…

While flying to Kansas City to facilitate a week of coach training, I was squeezed into my seat on a packed plane. The flight attendant said we would all have an “elbow buddy,” meaning that every seat would be taken. And after all the passengers had boarded, I found myself sitting next to a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army.

At first, we exchanged brief greetings and quietly settled in for the flight.  But once we were in the air, I pulled out my legal pad and started working on this blog post. When my “elbow buddy” noticed the title of my article, he asked me about it, and I explained that I was a coach and that I am reminded almost daily how important it is to be a good listener.

He asked if I would mind if he asked some questions about coaching, and when I gave him the go ahead, he asked one after another. Finally, he told me what his mission was–to train officers to encourage input from their subordinates.  Intrigued I kept listening and asked a few questions of my own.

A brief hour later as we began our descent into Kansas City, the excited officer had convinced himself of the empowering nature of being heard and had develop a new game plan for his training mission. In the whole hour, I had asked only three questions and listened for the remainder of the time reminding me once again how empowering it is to be heard—really, truly heard.

As coaches, we practice listening all the time. It is after all an absolutely essential skill to the process of coaching.  But how does being heard empower the person being coached?  Great question! Here are some observations gleaned from my conversation with the officer:

Being heard builds trust. As the person being coached realizes they are being fully heard, trust builds, and the conversation deepens. The officer said, “Wow, you are really interested in what I am saying, aren’t you?!”  And he opened up to tell me about his work.

Being heard promotes discovery. As trust builds and the conversation deepens, there is a greater opportunity for discovery. Dreams are revealed, insight is sharpened, issues and solutions come into the full light of disclosure, and “aha moments” are made. 

Being heard leads to movement. As revelations are made, next steps develop to move the person being coached from where they are to where they want to be.  The clarification of their goal enhances their desire and ability to reach it.

Being heard produces accountability. There is something that happens when someone hears their own words and realizes someone else has heard them speak those same words. It produces a sense of accountability. Articulating dreams somehow makes them “real” and requires an active response.

My “elbow buddy,” the Lieutenant Colonel, would agree.  There IS power in being heard—even on a crowded airplane over Kansas City.  What do you think?  Can you hear me now?