We live in an “exclamation point” world.  High-volume sound bites from talking heads, pundits, and know-it-alls are everywhere.  There are more and more days when I long for one good question rather than another barrage of over-caffeinated demands.

I like the humility of coaching questions.  I want to give them center stage and let them channel my conversations with others into deeper waters.  I prefer the discernment and discovery of questions to the decibels and din of the shouters.

Questions have near-magical powers.  Lawyers’ questions are called interrogatives, literally meaning “to ask between.”  That’s what I hunger for—asking between persons.  Questions invite an open quest for clarity.  In our English language, questions introduce a note of wonderment, a taste of possibility.  Questioning exchanges have miraculous powers to open new, unexpected discoveries in our lives.  How exactly do questions create magic?

Questions command attention.  They are the stop signs and “pause” buttons of conversation. In a “full speed ahead” culture, questions bring the action to a full stop.  Direct questions interrupt word flow, put it in freeze frame, and may even reverse it.  You can almost “see” questions’ brake lights.

Questions raise expectations.  There’s a change of direction on the way. We can actually hear the impending shift audibly.  Questions end with raised vocal inflections, right?  Their distinctive slide up the tonal scale catches our ear and focuses our attention.  Like a blinking turn signal, questions alert us that a new road lies ahead for our choosing.

Questions signal handoffs.  They call out to the listener, “It’s your turn in the conversational relay.” Questions give three implicit gifts to conversations.  They make an admission, “I don’t know this answer.”  Then, they welcome a response, “But, you know answers.  What are they?”  Finally, they make a promise, “You talk.  I’ll listen and learn.”

We recognize our coaching conversations are in magical territory (or on holy ground) when our questions trigger a long pause.  Then, we hear our exploration partner say “I never thought of that,“ or “I’ve never said it like that.”  In the first case, the question has illuminated a blind spot or made us sort beyond our autopilot of mental responses.  In the second case, we’ve discovered unexplored edges or found ourselves shocked by the surprises of the unanticipated.  In both cases, we arrived at this junction on the magic carpet of questions.

Welcome. Ready for the magic of discovery?  Your question?

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As I mentioned in my earlier article, I am relatively new to this side of coaching.  Although I have spent a couple of years as a PBC, the experiences of being the one to help guide the discussion are still new and sometimes perplexing to me.  One common and inevitable occurrence that I don’t feel fully prepared for is the ending of a coaching relationship.  Happily, none of my associations to date have ended on a negative note–although I’m sure that time will come.  But just the normal fulfillment of a contract has been surprisingly full of unexpected thoughts and emotions for me.

To begin with, I have formed a connection with the PBC.  Although I may have never laid eyes on the person’s face, I have been privy to some of their deepest thoughts.  We have talked for hours and hours, and I feel invested in their accomplishments.  We may have cried together.  We definitely have laughed.  We have pushed through times of indecision and discouragement.  And we have celebrated both small and gigantic successes.  A bond has formed, and I am sad to let it go.  What will happen to their plans?  Will they follow through on these last steps?  Will they call me again if they get stuck?  I feel like a mother hen sending out her chicks … and worrying about the foxes.

Even harder is the PBC who simply fades away.  He cancels appointments or just doesn’t show.  He may have made some great progress but then suddenly appears to lose interest.  Or it may be that the challenges seem too great or that he doesn’t want to do the work.  But, because he just disappears, I can never really know what happened.  Was it my fault or was he not ready to move?  The lack of closure frustrates and leaves me hanging.

And, finally, how do I evaluate the time I’ve spent?  Did I do all I could to be the best coach for this individual?  I’ve considered various ways to approach this topic:  email an evaluation form, ask during the last few minutes of our final conversation, or just let the experience speak for itself.  Mostly, I have used the second method counting on the PBC to be honest and guiding them to give me the good, bad and ugly truths from their perspectives. But I wonder if writing their responses would allow them more freedom to be open with me.

So … will you give me a hand?  How do you handle the resolution of your coaching relationships?  Do you experience some of the same emotions I’ve mentioned?  How do you deal with the PBC who just fades away?  Or the one who responds negatively to your approach as a coach?  And how do you get the appropriate amount of feedback to insure that you are doing your best work and growing as a coach?  My inquiring and inexperienced mind really wants to know.  And thanks in advance for sharing your experiences with me.

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"DOGGONE!" (winning caption)

And the winner is. . . . (and this is totally subjective and “partial”)

Chuck.

Enjoy the glory all day Chuck!

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This last Thursday evening was week 4 of a 9 week Women’s Leadership Coaching group that I am leading. Also this last week, the local mega-church held their annual Leadership Summit, complete with all the big names (even Bono for crying out loud – so big he only needs his first name!).

It got me to thinking about the difference between a “coaching” program for leaders and a typical leadership conference. As a leader, I find tons of value in both (and any other type of learning, training venue for leaders). My personal observation and experience is that while a coach approach may offer less “content”, it offers a focus on, well…. focus! A training/teaching venue can flood our mind and imagination with fantastic new and more current ideas and methodology (ever taken a drink of water from a fire hose?) – and all that exciting input puts new fuel in our tank to approach and embrace our leadership roles in more effective and influential ways. With a coach approach, the end goal is to narrow ideas, thoughts, and information in order to promote a few, or a single powerful action.

A coach approach venue is about focus.
A coach approach venue doesn’t deliver content, it delivers a question.
A coach approach venue results in new personal actions.

Another distinction between a leadership conference and a coach approach leadership event is. the former provides resources to the participant — and the latter discovers the resources that already exist within the participant.

What else do you see that a coach approach produces in participants? I’d love to hear even more ideas.

It was one of those ‘aha’ moments you hope for in every coaching conversation. You know… when a truth hits home so hard and you can almost smell the smoke from the new fire that’s been lit? Only this time, the ‘aha’ was mine. Oh, I think my PBC caught a glimpse of it too, but the real learner in that conversation was me.

The conversation was one I’ve had many times. I coach a number of pastors – many of whom have a good bit of experience under their belts. And one theme that emerges with some regularity is the idea of significance. Many are beginning to focus on how they can best spend the remaining 5, 10, or 15 years in ministry to have maximum kingdom impact. They’re looking to end well….to have some significance in the world.

This particular conversation shared that theme and what seemed like a simple, but probing, question yielded a treasure trove of meaning and significant meat on which I’ve been feasting ever since.

In response to a statement by my PBC, I asked him “So what is the difference between being rewarded for what you do, and what you do being rewarding?” At first I wondered if the question had been heard and understood for it was followed by some extended period of silence. Then slowly, as if in one of those war movies where time almost stops…. the truth of the question hit me like a ton of bricks.

Am I more focused on being rewarded or doing something rewarding?

If I were honest, I’d have to say that at least as much attention is given to the first part as the second. Is that good enough? Does that reflect my values? Is it realistic to shift more of my focus to the second one?

I suspect that my PBC has spent some time wrestling with this since our conversation. I know that I have. How about you?

What would have to change in order for you to focus more on doing things that are rewarding… personally, spiritually rewarding? How will that shift make a difference to those with whom you share life?

Here’s to many more ‘ahas’!

Recently I was talking with a new coach about elevator speeches.  We agreed that a good elevator speech is tough to come up with and can sometimes seem unworth the effort.

This new coach asked a great question: “What good is an elevator speech?”

As we talked we came up with three levels of impact, each level higher and and more powerful.

First, your elevator speech can impress would-be clients.  Sharing a compelling and accurate summation of what a potential client can expect from coaching can help the person better understand you, your coaching, and what there is to gain from your coaching.  Indeed, this is the sole reason why many a coach crafts her elevator speech.  But the elevator doesn’t stop there.

Second, your elevator speech informs each coaching session.  The elevator speech doesn’t just convince clients to enroll in coaching, it also helps them (and you!) know what to expect from each coaching session.  An elevator speech should guide both client and coach to make the most of each session by serving as a vision for what can be accomplished. 

The third and highest level of impact is that your elevator speech should inspire you.  That’s right, your elevator speech should set before you what it means to be a coach and why you coach in the first place.  The first and most important audience for your elevator speech is yourself.  If your elevator speech doesn’t resonate at a deep place with who you see yourself to be, how you wish to show up in the world, and the craft of coaching that you are compelled to practice, then it’s useless (or worse, it’s a lie told in order to solicit business). 

A great elevator speech aligns all three levels and speaks strongly at each level. 

So rather than invest your time coming up with an elevator sales pitch, come up with an elevator soul confession – a simple way of describing who you are at your core, how you wish to show up with others, and what impact you long to make on the world.

Anybody want to share their elevator speech??

 

I come from a long line of hardworking German immigrants with a little splash of Irish independence thrown into the mix for good measure, so it was really no surprise while on vacation in an unfamiliar town that I refused to stop and ask for directions when I couldn’t find a particular restaurant.  My friend who was riding shot-gun said, “There’s a great place to get some help” and sadly watched out the window as I drove right past.  Several miles and about twenty minutes later, my hungry daughter who was in the back seat and knows me well decided to take matters into her own hands and texted her Daddy to get the right directions.  A little miffed, I said, “I knew that’s where it was!”  And we turned around and drove right there.  I admit it now–I needed some help.  But we’d probably still be driving if I hadn’t had some friends to help me get on the right track.

I arrived at coaching in a similar way.  It was becoming pretty obvious to those who love me that I was feeling terribly frustrated by a lack of direction.  I felt like the cow pond out in the middle of our pasture—green, stagnant, and more than a little stinky!  Lots was going into me, but not much was coming out.  But, I could handle it myself, thank you very much.  What did I need with some New Age, Oprah-esque experience called coaching?  Thankfully, a friend showed me that coaching wasn’t what I thought, and after more than a little bit of grief (for my poor coach as well as myself), I began to experience the flow of genuine movement as I rediscovered my long forgotten interest in writing.  Whew!  And what a huge relief it was.

A couple of years later, I am seeing that familiar resistance to asking for help in others.  Acquaintances casually ask me, “So … what is this coaching stuff all about?”  Or mention a “friend” of theirs who they think might benefit from coaching.  I do my best to explain the process.  That it is driven by the person being coached.  That it is nonjudgmental.  That it is a safe place.  But it’s a tough sell for some folks.  Here are some of the issues I see as standing in their way:

  • A fear of being too transparent
  • A belief that asking for help shows weakness
  • An unclear understanding of what coaching is
  • A presumption that a Christian who has enough faith can handle it all on his own

The list could probably go on and on.  And I am new to the role of coach.  (Don’t be shocked. But, yes, I admit that I could use some help here.)  What are the oppositions to coaching that you have had to help your potential clients overcome?  How have you dealt with some of the items I have listed or others that I have failed to list?  As a fledgling coach, what can you tell me that will help me to help others see that it’s not a weakness to ask for help?  To borrow from a familiar hymn, how can I help others see that it’s okay to “Come just as you are”—even if that is as a stagnant, stinky, manure-filled (but very stubborn) cow pond?  Help!