What is Coaching?

People ask me what is the difference between executive coaching, corporate coaching, organizational coaching, life coaching, and other types of coaching.  In the dozen-plus years since I’ve been a coach, my answer to this question has gotten simpler and simpler!

What is coaching, really?  It’s all about getting out of your own way.  I work with people who want to assess the impact of their behaviors, and examine if their behaviors are reaping the results they want.  Then they CHOOSE to continue to do the same things, or to behave differently.

Consider a really smart person who quickly ascends the corporate ladder and now is the boss of a bunch of people.  This leader, however, is miserable, as are the folks on her team.  Essentially, she LOVED always being “the smart one” and never learned how to share the role.  She now is squashing the “smarts” of the folks on her team by hoarding information, micromanaging, and getting the last word.  Her efforts make her team feel insignificant and demoralized, and they are becoming passive and compliant.  How smart is that?

My job as her coach is to ask her provocative questions to illuminate the juxtaposition between where she is, and where she really wants to be!  As Marshall Goldsmith stated right on the cover of his book: “What Got you Here Won’t Get You There.”  The only professional feedback she’d ever received was praise regarding her individual efforts to figure things out.  The concept that the entire team could shine brightly was unfathomable to her.

The good news for her, and for her team, was her declaration to me that the discomfort of the current situation needed to end.  Through coaching, she saw that her new leadership position required not just the cultivation of new behaviors–developing others–but an END to her old behaviors!  She was willing to STOP behaving as the sole contributor, and committed to START creating an environment to bring out the best in all of her team members.

How about you?  Are you still employing behaviors that once served you in the past but now need to end?  What do you need to do (or stop doing) to get out of your own way?


Understanding gifts is the heart of coaching.

The first step is to understand that a gift IS a gift. Unfortunately, a lot of us have learned to “gloss over” what we do well, to minimize it, or even to deny it. Just because it comes naturally to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t special!

Blanchard and Homan (Leverage your best, ditch the rest) created an excellent process for identifying your gifts. Please answer the following questions:
 • What do I naturally, easily, and effortlessly do when no one is looking?
• What about me inspires others, even though it is easy for me?
• What did I learn easily and continue to develop effortlessly?
• What do I get compliments on that I never even have to think about? (Some examples include humor, perceptiveness, style, logical thinking, physical courage, a flair for design.)
• What about me makes people jealous?
• What do I know is special about me but try to hide?
• What about me gives me guilty pleasure?
• What is my secret vanity?

Do you feel too squeamish to do the above?  

If you’re timid, here is another approach:  What do you admire in others?  Appreciating that which is special is something we more easily do when we see it in another than when we see it in ourselves.   There is a GREAT BIG CHANCE that when you review the list of what you admire in others, some of the gifts you are endowed with are on the list. 

Now, go back and make a list of YOUR gifts, and begin to embrace the value they bring to you, to others, and to the world.

Less is More

I was in a training program all day. Devoting an entire day to a learning event takes a lot of planning: first to hold the day clear, and second, to KEEP the day clear! What added to the challenge was that it was a virtual training. I sat at my desk in Massachusetts, the trainer was in a studio in California, and the other participants were across multiple time zones, too.

Learning in this kind of environment requires additional devotion to being fully present, and to being an active rather than a passive learner. It helped that I am committed to the training topic, I have great respect and admiration for the presenter, and I was excited to get the chance to learn with some people I’ve never worked with before.

As I reflect on this very full day, my big “take-away” was the aphorism espoused by the trainer a number of times: less is more. Certainly, she stated it regarding the writing activity we were devoting ourselves to completing. At scheduled times, we would read our drafts aloud and receive feedback. Invariably, the writer would state that he/she wrote the feedback in the margins.

That’s my learning: we need margins. The trainer wanted us to write as succinctly and clearly as possible, hence her less is more advice. But in the frame of margins, I see less is more as a gift for other facets of my life, too. With margins, what matters is surrounded and protected. With margins, we can add, or expand, when needed. With margins, we can highlight what impacts us. This happens with the written word, of course. It also happens with the manner we schedule our days (is it too full?) or share in conversations (is enough time afforded for thoughtful response?).

From planning to devote a day to writing, to taking the time to talk to a family member, to delivering service to a client, do you have margins? Are you allowing less to be more?

Curiosity as a Navigational Device

One of the best ways to stay stuck, to be fussy, and to feel frustrated is to see life as a problem to be solved. An either/or or a right/wrong paradigm of perspective is quite limiting, and it guarantees stress. Unfortunately, many of us were raised to search for the one right way to answer a question, or the only way to address–excuse me– to solve a situation.

The ability to judge, to discern, to assess and to conclude are all essential qualities and they are important for adults to possess. However, maybe it is time to give some thought to how we think!

As they lament about their workplace struggles, some of my coaching clients have heard me observe, “The problem with being a good problem solver is that everything looks like a problem!” These good folks want to assist their colleagues and their direct reports by fixing what they perceive needs fixing. However, they are met with resistance, with defensiveness, and with non-cooperation.

Rather than as problems to be solved, what is another way to look at the issues and challenges at work, at home, and in life?

One of the best ways to extricate oneself from this dynamic of “I’m right, you’re wrong” is to shift from being the expert to being the curious learner. When you resist the impulse to fix, you immediately succeed in removing the other person’s fearful and reflexive defensiveness. When you address the issue (remember: address it, don’t fix it!) you can employ new language, too.

Some suggested new phrases for your curiosity lexicon include:
• “hmmmmm, isn’t that interesting!”
• “What do you think?”
• “What else is important to consider?”
• “I wonder what we haven’t thought about yet…”
• “Who else could help us address this?”
• “What should we be sure NOT to do?”

Trying to NOT fix things might be hard (or it might feel like a relief!). You may fear your value to your workplace may evaporate, especially if you have defined yourself as the problem solver. Remember, you are YOU, and being a problem solver is but a skill, not an identity. Additionally, “problem-solvers” can carry the additional reputation as “know-it-all” or “ridged,” so that identity could be more of a hindrance than you might have realized.

#Positivity at Work

The entire January/February 2012 HBR issue was dedicated to “The Value of Happiness – How Employee Well-being Drives Profits.”   Why? Because a whopping 69% of employees believe their employers don’t inspire the best in them…and only 5% of workers strongly agree that their organizations help them build richer personal relationships.

Because workers spend more time weekly with work peers than with family and friends, creating positive workplaces makes sense!  Positive workplaces enable life-long service, joy, and success.  What can be done to shift from dire to inspired?

Here’s the good news: Blanchard Colleagues Chris Edmonds and Lisa Zigarmi just published a “tweet book” filled with 140 ideas to help create a positive organization.  Built for speed, each page in the book has two or three nuggets of wisdom for the reader to consider. Lisa and Chris encourage us all to consider one tweet a day so as to enable positivity and to encourage the development of a new perspective. As they state in the book: Healthy work places happen by design, not by default!

Taking their advice, I opened the book and found tweet 35:
Start your meetings off right by getting people into a thanksgiving mindset. Have team members share one thing they’re grateful for today.
The shift that occurs is palpable!
•   It makes people SLOW DOWN and that in itself is a gift in a busy day.
•   Also, teammates need to really listen to hear what will be said—instead of “presuming” what a colleague will report.
•   Finally, an attitude of gratitude fosters goodwill, cooperation, and greater productivity.

Give it a try! For more information, please visit their website at: http://www.positivity-works.com/

Devil’s Snare

My oldest child was the perfect age when JK Rowling was publishing her Harry Potter books. Together, we began learning about Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with me reading the stories to her at bedtime. And as Harry grew up, so did my daughter. By the time the final books were coming out, she was finishing High School, and I’d have to wait until she had devoured the latest novel on her own before I could have my turn.

The characters each have their individual challenges but always have the need for one another, which is a great life lesson—not just a coming of age lesson. Naturally, some of my favorite themes from the series are appropriate in Coaching.

In the first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry and his best friends are new students at Hogwarts, and are on a quest to find the Stone. They are continually thwarted by unexpected enchantments, and they are just learning how to use their magical skills. After quelling “Fluffy” (a three-headed snarling dog!) they are enmeshed in Devil’s Snare:

This plant uses its creepers and tendrils to ensnare anyone who touches it, binding their arms and legs and eventually choking them. The harder a person struggles against Devil’s Snare, the faster and more tightly it binds them; if they relax, it will not tighten as quickly.

This encounter with Devil’s Snare illustrates the character distinctions of Harry’s two best friends which plays out through the entire series: Hermione is a studious perfectionist and Ron is ill-prepared and emotional. Because of her research, Hermione recognizes the species and tells her friends to relax to get out of the clutches of the plant. At first Ron fights, causing more distress. Finally, despite his fear, he follows her advice and is freed.

  • What are the circumstances you face in which struggling is increasing your distress?
  • Have you relaxed in the face of fear?  What occurred?
  • Do you have associates who have knowledge to share with you?  Are you listening to them?

As the venerable Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, told Harry:  “It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

Choose wisely!

Stop Adding Value

I was talking with a Blanchard Coach the other day about the topic of recognition. One leader she’s working with had noticed that although there were “formal” recognition programs in his company, he believed there was a need for informal, just-in-time recognition. I reminded the coach that Ken Blanchard calls that catching people doing things right.

As we continued on the topic, she told me how this leader wants to be very encouraging of other people in his company—and often joins team meetings to hear about the latest ideas, projects, and plans. In his enthusiasm to endorse the thinkers, he always adds value.

What happens when he “improves” on a decision? She’s going to ask him…but I’d say it’s a safe guess that when this leader speaks, others stop speaking. It’s pretty hard to disagree with the boss—especially when he’s not been part of the creative process.

This leader has a great idea—to recognize and endorse the good work of others. I’m glad he’s working with a coach to support him in this plan, because even the best of intentions can sometimes have the opposite impact! Rather than add his comments, the true value he could add in these meetings would be to really listen. Through listening, he could coax and encourage the ideas of others in these meetings. From his encouragement, better decisions can be added by members of the team.

By first stopping his own reflex to fix or improve, he will certainly then be able to catch people doing things right!

The Ethics Check

Given what is going on in politics, on (and off) Wall Street, and certainly at a once-revered college campus, I thought right now was a good time to pull out the Ethics Check. When Ken Blanchard and Norman Vincent Peale wrote The Power of Ethical Management in 1988, they eloquently stated that “the most difficult aspect of being ethical is doing what is right, not deciding what is right.”

Their model incorporates three questions:

  1. Is it legal?
    Will I be violating either civil law or company policy?
  2. Is it balanced?
    Is it fair to all concerned in the short-term as well as the long-term?
    Does it promote win-win relationships?
  3. How will I feel about myself?
    Will it make me proud?   Would I feel good if my decision was published in the newspaper? Would I feel good if my family knew about it?

Easy steps to follow, right? Unfortunately, I have observed that a preoccupation on a short-term “solution” is regularly what drives a leader’s decision. IF the issue is “tricky,” legal considerations might also be applied, for self-protection, of course. But sadly, a thorough consideration of the ethical behavior necessary from the responsible leader is often truncated from the decision process.

Ken and his co-authors are renowned for taking difficult topics and simplifying them. However “simple” the Ethics Check may seem, each of the three steps outlined above is necessary to follow. There are no short cuts in ethical behavior!

Make a PACT

Remember the One Minute Manager? Well, as his reputation grew for being so effective, so did the demands on his time. He was beset with requests for more speaking, for more leading, for more dinner appearances. Between his relentless travel schedule and the growth of his company, he found that his waist was growing, too. Success was really taking a toll on his health and sense of well being!  How’s that for irony?

Twenty five years ago Ken and Margie Blanchard, along with DW Edington, helped the One Minute Manager “get fit” in a publication now entitled “The One Minute Manager Balances Work and Life.” Certainly the book is filled with great suggestions for assessing and improving physical health and fitness.  But the authors go beyond the physical, and have tucked into the book a real coaching gem:  the PACT model.

When feeling out of balance, it is helpful to evaluate what is really important. When you re-commit yourself to what really matters, you can return to equilibrium more efficiently. That was what the One Minute Manager needed…not “just” to lose weight, nor to learn to endure more stress. He needed to see what would be BEST for him, and to keep those factors in mind and in practice.

What constitutes “best?” Well, after assessing the responses from 300 interviewees regarding the factors which contribute to a “best time in life” experience, Margie Blanchard noted four themes: Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, and Tone. In an acronym: PACT.

  • Perspective helps you appreciate what’s important and what’s not important in your life. Your perspective is informed by your mission, or purpose, or vision—can you name yours? What is your sense of spirituality? What do you stand for?
  • Autonomy helps you determine how much control you have in your life. Are you exercising your choices and options? Are you honing your skills? Is your schedule running you, or have you a sense of “time mastery?” What is your identity, apart from your titles at work or in your family?
  • Connectedness helps you determine where your support reserves are. Do you have quality relationships? Do you engage in activities with like-minded folks? Do you have friends in your workplace? In your neighborhood?
  • Tone is about your physical health. One dozen questions are listed in the book, including: Are you within 5 pounds of your ideal weight? Do you get 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night? Engage in aerobic and strength-training exercises? Drink fewer than 7 alcoholic drinks per week? Do you eat breakfast?

As you consider the PACT model to support your best, begin with tone, because it is the easiest of the four to assess, quantify, and then measure your changes in behavior.  Additionally, you can attend to the other themes as you improve your tone. For example: expand your connectedness by joining a weight loss group. Increase your sense of autonomy by choosing to get up early 3x a week and run. And when you arise, quietly welcome the day so as to expand your perspective.

The benefit of the structure of the PACT model is that it helps individuals get through hard times, and enjoy good times, with greater ease.  Is it time to understand and practice your PACT?

Order is the beginning of beauty

Transitions, transitions. I love summertime, and today is a beautiful “first day of summer” here in North America. However, saying hello to summer means saying goodbye to school schedules. I’m sure my teenager doesn’t find it difficult, but this working parent does! That which is predictable from September until June will end this week. Starting next week, we’ll have unscheduled time, sport camps, vacations and projects, big and small. The rhythm of activity will differ from week to week, and from day to day.

As luxurious as all the summer plans appear, I admit I feel distress. After a good deal of thought, I realize that it is the “gear change” that has me caught up—how apt! Shifting from one mode to the other, the literal and figurative shift, is what can seize me. This is despite that fact that I succeed in the school schedule of our family life, and I succeed in the summer schedule, too. It is saying goodbye to one, and hello to the other, that is the challenge.

I don’t think I’m alone.

Therefore, I offer you the wise words of my favorite High School teacher, Mr. Carlton McCauley. Mr. McCauley loved teaching, loved his students, loved his wife, loved his life. He challenged and supported us in class and out of the classroom, too. I benefited from his friendship for decades after high school, and still miss him, years after his death. Fortunately, his avuncular wisdom continues in a “Mr. Mac” soundtrack in my head. One of his favorite sayings was “Order is the beginning of beauty. Let us begin with ourselves.” I “heard” that aphorism as I tried to understand the distress I was sensing as the public school year ends.

What order can I enact that will allow for a satisfying summer? What do I need to schedule? What do I need regarding my son’s sport activities, be it equipment or transportation? What household chores can be given to my collegian now that she’s home on break? What summer fun can I be sure we have to look forward to? How will I shift the order of my work day to accommodate pleasant summer activities? What else can I shift into a more pleasing order?

Although Mr. McCauley was an English teacher, you’ll note that I’m not pulling out Invictus with Henley’s full throttle “I am the captain of my soul” declaration. This is quieter. The power of Mac’s “order is the beginning of beauty” mandate is that it is two-fold: “let us begin with ourselves.” Summer will not run rough shot over this working mom, her focus begins with herself. Knowing that I am putting things in order to maximize the enjoyment of summertime is responsible behavior, and it feels good. I won’t become derailed in this shift, and neither will the family.

How does “order is the beginning of beauty, let us begin with ourselves” resonate in you?