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20 Years of Coaching Changing Everything

20 years ago today, I discovered coaching. Well, more accurately, coaching discovered me.

20 years of coaching

I was two weeks on a new job, in a new city. Somehow, I got invited to an offsite meeting for only a portion of the staff.

Our team went off to a downtown hotel. This guy began working with us to brainstorm ideas for shows. He just asked a few simple questions, and before long, we had a list of things we were going to explore.

One moment in this meeting lit a fire in me. About 45 minutes into the first session on the first morning of a three day offsite meeting, I thought: “This complete stranger is helping us see what’s possible.”

I was hooked. The person next to me just nodded absently when I said “I don’t know what that guy is doing, but this is what I’m going to spend the rest of my life doing.”

Maybe you can relate.

My coach training began a little while later, and I learned that he made coaching look easy.

But there are 4-5 things I took away from that first encounter that still influence my coaching today.

Here are some things I wrote in my journal over the next few weeks:

  • Every conversation is different when it starts with a question rather than a statement.
  • The other person can’t answer your question if you’re always talking.
  • The best questions lead to action.
  • The best actions take you somewhere you’ve never been before.
  • There is a relationship between good questions and creativity.

I walked out of that room that day not sure whether listening or questioning was more important, but I knew they both had more to offer than any statement I would make.

I hope today, whether you’re a coach or not, you will evaluate how you initiate conversations. What questions are you asking the people around you? How comfortable are you in listening to what they actually have to say? And how easy is it for you to give the other person space to answer the simple focused questions that you’re asking?

10 or 15 years later, I would I begin to say that “coaching changes everything”. That meeting room 20 years ago today convinced me, and one of the things that has been changed is my professional career. Maybe even my adult life.

What about you? Are you open to the change coaching might bring?

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How to Coach Thanksgiving (Gratitude–NOT the Holiday)

At this time of the year, coaching clients have a pretty narrow focus. Your clients are either 1) focusing on their end of the year goals, or 2) starting to get ready for the holidays. Most people don’t think about much else as the last few months of the year tick by.

For coaches, this is both great thing and a challenge. Creating awareness of what’s actually happening during a potentially stressful season of the year is a great coaching strategy. A great way to steward that awareness is to focus on thanksgiving–I mean gratitude, not the holiday–for a few minutes in each coaching conversation. Over the next few paragraphs, I’m going to suggest five simple methods that can focus your coaching conversations on thankfulness or the practice of thanksgiving.What are you thankful for?

Each of these strategies begins with a question. The first one is What’s working for you? This is a basic exercise in thanksgiving. As the world gets busier and busier and moves faster and faster, it’s altogether too easy to take our eyes off of everything that’s going according to plan. Every single one of us has been given much to be thankful for, if only we can see it. Starting here roots your client in reality, and reinforces the trust and connection you’ve built with your client.

The second strategy/question is What’s not working for you? This takes a little bit more awareness work, because we’re choosing to start with the proverbial glass half empty. An effective coach will have to re-direct the conversation from deficit to what’s actually present for the client. I think a great Scriptural example is Jesus at the feeding of the 5000. He helps the disciples move from focusing on all the money they don’t have, to focusing on what they do have: five loaves and two fish. You can do the same with your clients.

The third question focuses on What are you learning? Every time a new insight comes for your client, that new awareness changes the way they look at the world. Even if it’s small, your client is now seeing a new slice of what’s in front of them. Changes in perspective naturally lead to thanksgiving or gratitude. Every time you realize something new, you have an opportunity to be grateful.

One of the things that drew me to coaching was the idea that the client already had everything they need to affect their situation. We coaches (and our clients) often struggle to realize how much of a gift that actually is. This leads to the fourth strategy, built around the question What needs to change? If a client can name something that needs to be different in their lives, they have taken the first step toward making that a reality. Celebrate that! A mindset of gratitude flows to directly out of understanding what you need to change.

The last question is What now? Asking your client what action they’re going to take, without expectation or attachment, is where change becomes real, and your clients begin to reap the benefits,. And reaping the benefits is where gratitude goes to a whole new level!

You can act your way into a new way of thinking or think your way into a new way of acting by using these five strategies. But building in a layer of thankfulness or gratitude makes these changes much more likely to stick. At this time of the year, that’s especially easy to do and effective coaches leverage everything they have available to them.

And you know what? I’m thankful for that.

Note:  This post appeared originally on the Christian Coaches Network International website.  Find it at this link.

Better Coaching. Less Coffee.

This post hits everything that comes up in an effective coaching relationship–the highs, the lows, pain, celebration, and change. But first a story.

Hello. My name is Jonathan, and I’m a coffee-a-holic.

Coffee came into my life in the early 1990s when I had to be at work at 3:30 or 4 AM. The caffeine jolt was the only thing that kept me going for those first couple of years. With an attitude of “There was no such thing as too much coffee”, when I started feeling a little bit worn out, I just had another cup. Before too long and my habit was living my life for me.
Coffee cup

Eventually, convincing myself that I only drank coffee because of the taste became pretty easy. Because it was true, java is one of my favorite flavors. The excuses became easy…just one more cup. What was going on in the background though, is that I became addicted to the caffeine…even after the rush stopped working.

The caffeine jolt lessened over time. Even though my tolerance must have been enormous, I could still tell when I hadn’t had a cup or two–or six. Instead of taking good care of my body and using a healthy energy management strategy, I relied on an artificial blast.

And it worked. For a while.

A few months ago, I realized I had probably had a pot of coffee a day every day for the last 25 years. Not good.

Finally, the acid in coffee started giving me stomach and throat issues. So even though it was painful I stopped, cold turkey.

After a couple weeks, a lot of headaches, and a serious caffeine detox, I can tell you that I still miss the taste but I feel better than I ever have. My energy levels are peaking. I’m saving money. A side of myself I had long forgotten–the healthy side–is coming back to life.

The decision was made for health reasons, but I really miss a cup of joe in the morning. OK, I really miss seven or 8 cups of coffee in the morning. But my habit wasn’t taking me anywhere helpful.

What had become a crutch has now been replaced by much healthier habits based around exercise, eating right, and caffeine free beverages. (BTW…the Oprah Chai Herbal Decaf Tea from Teavana is AWESOME.)

Here’s the coaching insight: It was pain or discomfort that got me to make changes in my life. And coaches can leverage pain or discomfort to help a client build new and more effective, healthy habits.

If a client is depending on short-term, quick fix tactics, the dependence is probably worth it (at least in the client’s eyes) as long as the desired results keep coming. But the minute those results stop, somethings got to change.

And now, both coach and client have a decision to make. Do you replace one short term habit with another? Or do you push for more lasting change?

As a coach, how do you help your clients see deeper key issues that lead to healthier habits and resolutions? Constantly taking the long view is a strategy that that will help clients change consistently and intentionally. It is OK for coaches to challenge a client toward a longer view and healthier habits.

It’s also OK for a coach to work with a client who wants a short-term, quick fix mentality.

How do you know which to pursue? Let the client choose. The client always gets to choose.

In fact, this is one of the ways that coaches are distinct from other helping professions like consultants or counselors. Coaches are open to both addressing the current situation, but also taking a long view toward implementation of the new habit. Don’t be afraid to challenge your client, especially if it leads to long-term more sustainable habits.

But always let the client choose.

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