Posts on Jan 1970

How to Explore Alternative Views on Leading a Team

Coaching creates productive teamworkA client approached our coaching session last week with what he felt was a crucial confrontation that was just about to blow-up in his team. Here’s a little background and a new coaching perspective that we developed to deal with the issue.

He was directing a highly successful team and the more success they were having, the more the team was growing.  The team’s size (and responsibilities have doubled in the past year and were scheduled to do the same in the coming year.

The difficulty was that Robert, one of the team members, was constantly dragging his feet on highly urgent matters that range from new hires to team goals and individual responsibilities. Robert is a systematic thinker and is not going to be unnecessarily hurried through important topics.  Robert is a lone voice.  The other team members are all shoot-from-the-hip type of people who are getting more and more frustrated as the backlog of decisions keeps getting longer.

My client explained this background to me and then asked if we could use our coaching time to figure out what he should do.  Here’s how things went from my side.

First, I asked questions of make sure I understood what it was my client wanted.  Basically, he wanted to use our time to think aloud about this issue and to decide on a course of action.

Second, I asked permission to try something new. “Could we try something new?  I’d like to give you three different reactions to what you’ve told me and then, after each one, give you the opportunity to decide what you would do.  How does that sound?”

Third, I offered a perspective in a very excited voice. “Wow, this is great that you’ve got somebody who’s willing to offer a different opinion.  How are you going to support Robert?” We then talked through that viewpoint.

Fourth, I offered a perspective in a depressed voice. “This is a tough situation.  What will you do to get Robert in line with everyone else?”  We then talked through this viewpoint.

Fifth, I blamed my client. “Sounds like this is all your fault for letting it get this far.  What would you like to do now?”  My client laughed.  Awareness is raised. I again asked, “What do you want to do now?”  His answers were brilliant!

What other questions would you ask to support your client in situations like this?

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Four Easy Guidelines When Advising Like a Coach

Advising like a coachMuch as coaches try to avoid giving advice, clients sometimes are very good at pulling out of us.  Just when the client seems to be rolling along quite nicely, they will throw in a “I don’t know, what do you think?”  You, as the coach, are caught off guard and before you can help yourself, you have turned into a mentor and a font of wisdom.  Here are four easy guidelines to follow when in this situation.

Always ask permission.  When advice is permission based, you will keep ownership of the strategy with the client.  You will often have the opportunity to ask permission several times.  Think about using questions like:

  • Are you asking for my advice? (This is your real-time opportunity to confirm what you heard.)
  • My advice is offered from outside your activities, so feel free to reject it or tweak it to fit better.

The other key benefit of asking permission is that you prevent resistance. Unsolicited advice immediately generates a backlash.

Start with what they’ve done.  Want to appear foolish?  Blurt out your advice and then listen to your client say, “I tried that and it didn’t work.” Discover what your client has done before giving advice.  You will save time and ego.  Ask the simple and straightforward question, “What have you tried?”

Be clear on what is requested.  Sometimes clients will ask for advice and, while it may be clear in their mind, it may not be in yours.  Ask questions like:

  • Is your question about your goal or your strategy?
  • Are you concerned about your process or your point of view?
  • What’s the advice you would like me to give? [This sounds like a weird question, but you will discover what they want.]

Avoid being Directive.  The phrase “you should” is usually an invitation to trouble.  Alternatively, try phrases like:

  • Other clients have found that. . . .  You are the expert on this situation.  How does this fit you?
  • Here’s another option. . . .
  • What I’ve found helpful is . . . .

These four guidelines keep you thinking and acting like a coach while providing an opportunity to partner with your client.  What have you found useful?

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Should Your Client Quit or Not?

Iditarod Red LanternWe respect those who finish. A recent Seth Godin blog reminded me of this.  Seth wrote about The Red Lantern, which is the Iditarod reward that goes to the last person to finish the race.  The lantern is the reward for those who push through to the end. The Iditarod has found a way to recognize the value of hanging in to the finish.

As a coach, I’ve always struggled with finding the right balance for my clients between finishing what they start and moving on to a different goal.  Here are 19 key questions to sort through what is often a mixed motive situation:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it to you to hit this goal?
  2. Are you being driven by your courage or bravado?
  3. How do the costs and benefits look to you at this point?
  4. How do you feel about cutting your losses?
  5. What’s the win if you redirect your goal now?
  6. What’s the loss?
  7. How will you regain your sunk costs?
  8. What will you do to forgive yourself for stopping?
  9. How will you reward yourself for finishing?
  10. What’s changed?
  11. What hasn’t changed?
  12. Are you being internally or externally motivated right now?
  13. How would you feel if it was just you?
  14. How would you feel if you influenced others to do the same thing?
  15. What would _____________ tell you to do?  [Superman? Batman? Your mother?]
  16. What’s your gut reaction right now?
  17. What would happen if you put off deciding for 24 hours?
  18. How would you decide right now?
  19. If you couldn’t fail, what would you do?

The race is not always to the swift.  For Aesop, slow and steady wins the race. As coaches, we cannot decide on the right course of action for our clients.  Even more fundamentally, we need to do our best to avoid influencing their decision.

Think of a recent situation where you were coaching in a mixed motive situation.  What’s the question you would add to this list?

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Three Key Insights on Language and Coaching

Language and reality for coachesThree umpires are arguing about their role in a baseball game.  The most intense argument is about their role in calling balls and strikes. 

The first umpire says (matter-of-factly), “The pitcher pitches.  If he throws a strike, I call it a strike.  If he throws a ball, I call it a ball.”

Throwing fuel on the argument’s fire, the second umpire says, “I just call them as I see them.  If it looks like a strike, that’s what I call it.  If it looks like a ball, then I call it a ball.”

The third umpire puffs up his chest and ends it all. “It ain’t nothing until I call it.”

How do your clients express their view of the world in their language?

Is their world out there and their job is to reflect reality?

Maybe they realize that their mental state plays a role and their role is to select the reality.

OR, maybe your client wants to hide the reality that others see and play a role to deflect it through their language.

What is your role as a coach in working with your client’s reality as it shows up in their language?

As coaches, we often see our role as supporting our clients in seeing alternatives.  How will you do that if your client wants to hide from the reality you want them to see?

When we treat our words as simple vehicles to describe what’s what, we give up on the richness of our surroundings.  And in that richness are the grounds for the best coaching.

How will you coach your client on their use of language to reflect, select, or deflect reality?

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