fishermanFeedback gives us markers on how we’re doing in life and work.  It’s a portrait of our past.  Feedback, “the breakfast of champions,” is a fact of life in business, sports, and other performance-based professions. 

Coaches use feedback too—directly and regularly.  Identifying past patterns of success or failure allows us to glean lessons from the past for the future.  But, feedback alone doesn’t guarantee better futures.  Adding a new dimension, Marshall Goldsmith, the well-known business consultant, advocates adding feedforward to feedback.   

Feedforward expands opportunities by looking ahead, exploring and enhancing options.  Coaches use feedback to pave the way for feedforward.   Like fly fishermen, coaches use a back cast to prepare for a fore cast.

Feedforward makes the future the primary timeframe.  Feedback reflects how we have lived our pasts, those parts of our lives we can’t redo.  But, what we discovered yesterday and decided today can shape tomorrow’s directions. Feedforward spotlights how we can live our futures differently. 

Feedforward uses momentum from positive lessons.   No matter what those of us who offer feedback intend, those who receive feedback often experience it negatively and resist it.  Turn learnings toward positive directions.  Feedforward harvests the positive outcomes of feedback for forward movement in our lives.

Feedforward spotlights tomorrow’s possibilities and opportunities.  Without care, feedback can feel judgmental, accusing, or shaming.  Few of us enjoy being described as sinners or losers.  Feedforward transforms emotional messages into motivated first steps toward progress.

Feedforward provides partners and peers to walk with us into the future.  Critics intend to break us down first and maybe to change us later.  In contrast, thought partners enrich us as we grow into the best we can be.  Feedforward provides companionship  for the journey.

Feedforward makes life goals personal.  Feedback may carry “or else” instructions for us from others. It’s sometimes imposed, offered without either our permission or with good timing.  Feedforward launches  personal motivations.  Feedforward builds on our intentions—owned by us, gladly accepted, and voluntarily pursued.

The coaching guideline here is simple.  Use some feedback coupled with lots of feedforward.  It’s the smoothest road toward our best tomorrows.


picture-9Stuck!  Know the feeling? 

You can’t find a way forward, and it’s too late to go back.    You’re cornered in one of life’s cul-de-sacs.  Your wheels are spinning; you can’t get traction again.   You’ve driven off the edge of your map onto a slippery slope.

It’s way more than run-of-the-mill frustration.  You’re at a complete impasse.   You feel trapped in a blind alley, a situation with no exit.  Your mental maps don’t work now.  You don’t know what comes next, but you dread whatever it will be.  You have your toes curled over the edge of the ledge, deepening a “sense of abyss.”  You are stuck!

There are common reasons for becoming stuck. For example, important relationships have ended in death, divorce, or disappointment, leaving us feeling abandoned and off-stride.  Or, we’ve had big failures, and they’ve unsettled our confidence.   Maybe markets have shifted seismically, and the old rules of the workplace no longer apply.  Or, the economy has soured, and we feel trapped.  You’re on alien terrain.

 Usually we stall and plug along, hoping the impasse will pass soon.  Unfortunately, that tactic often just amplifies our negative inner voices to full shout.  But, impasses open new worlds to you by closing old ones.  When your maps no longer work, adopt a pioneer perspective.  Scout new territories.  Draw new maps to new places.

 Launch out to a new place.   You’re stuck, right?  You want to get somewhere else, right?  The time is right to risk drawing a new map.  Go. 

 Venture to the verge.  In Old French, “verge” described the brink or border where fields merged into forests or coastlines into seas.  It was clear a margin would soon be crossed.    The adventure of getting unstuck will take you past the verge.  Step over lightly into adventure.

 Exploration creates new maps.   Approaching new places invites learning.  With new eyes and ears, you will sense more possibilities.  With a pioneer’s innovative repertoire, you can map yourself to a place beyond your current impasse.

 Use the perspectives of low and high places.   Explorers prefer vistas—places with long views like seacoasts, middles of rivers, tops of mountains, outer space—for charting directions.  Position yourself to “see” a longer distance.  That larger perspective can get you unstuck.

Being stuck demands new directions.  Don’t give up.  Enlist a coach, and get past your impasses now.


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. 




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?



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?


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.