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.


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.

“Local news, weather, sports…. then Leno!  

All the entertainment food groups!”

I heard that voice-over last night at the end of a television show I was watching. It made me wonder, what are the most important coaching food groups? Or, should we go with the new-fangled, “Food Pyramid”? 


Tony Bourdain travels the world in search of cool food and the cultural influences that make them possible. What can you think of to add to the standard coaching fare that may be a bit unconventional, extra spicy or even . . . an acquired taste?

cakeI recently heard a story about Gandhi and a mom who brought her little boy to see him. The boy was overweight, and his mother hoped that Gandhi would tell her son to stop eating sugar. During the first meeting, Gandhi asked the mother to bring her son back in 3 weeks.

Three weeks later, the mother and son returned to Gandhi. Gandhi looked at the little boy and said, “If you want to be healthy, you need to stop eating sugar.” The little boy nodded and walked off.

As soon as the boy walked away, the frustrated mother turned to Gandhi and asked him why they had been turned away the first time, why they had to wait 3 weeks before Gandhi would speak to the boy. Gandhi replied, “Because 3 weeks ago, I was eating sugar.”

The story hit me hard. I had an instant realization that there are areas where I say one thing and do something else. It made me realize that if I want better communication with my husband, I need to be a better communicator.  If I don’t want to be judged, I need to stop judging others. If I want people to be open to change, I need to be open to change first.

This really brings the Scripture in focus about getting the log out of my own eye before trying to remove the speck from the other person’s eye. Lord, help me to listen to Your voice, to be honest with myself and with You, and to make the changes so that I “walk the talk.”


I experienced a new awareness this week. It was a huge surprise and I thought I’d bring it up here to see if anyone else has experienced something similar. After a terrific coaching appointment this morning, I drove away super excited, inspired and fulfilled. I like feeling that way and it is the spice of my coaching life. I quickly contrasted that with various other coaching conversations that seem to tax my coaching abilities to the limit. This client and I were so in sync that I exerted very little effort and felt the greatest freedom to create a “playground” for us both to ask “what if”. We played well together and it was the perfect representation of the kind of coaching partnerships I’d love to experience all of the time.

Reality check.

I guess in coaching, like in all of life, mountaintop experiences are notable because they are so infrequent—and we appreciate them all the more because of that. But my new awareness is not that great coaching moments can sometimes be rare. My awareness came as I took a closer look at my precious client. What she brought to the table of herself was a gift—to both of us. Her willingness to be vulnerable, to sound silly, to think out loud without editing her words, to hope like a little girl in the body of a grown woman, made ALL the difference. As I drove back to my office I thought, “THAT is what ‘coachable’ looks like.” Frankly it’s a relief to realize that while sometimes it is my need for improvement, insight, humility or experience that is called for, other times, a coachable client is simply . . . magic!

Coachability. I like it. I want more clients who possess it. And I want to learn all I can to encourage and inspire it in those I work with.

So I’ll ask you two questions:

1. How responsible are we as coaches to foster coachability in our clients?

2. What can we do to educate them, encourage them, coach them toward coachability?

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.