Who are you asking for?

When I do coaching training, novice coaches often fall into the trap of asking for information from the client that they are interested in. More often than not, when we ask such questions, we get information that we may feel we need but may not be helpful to the client. Sometimes this looks like asking about third parties in a client’s story or situation or trying to diagnose what is going on. This is not the right behaviour as a coach.

What a coach should stay focused on is helping the client by asking questions related to information that the client needs as opposed to the information we want to satisfy our curiousity.  The way to teach yourself this discipline is to always ask yourself, “Did I ask that question because I want information or because it will lead the client to the information that they need?” In a recent training event, I shared a story with the participants and had them craft open and broad questions to help me dig deeper.

The story was an event in my early leadership where my boss gave me a job to do.  The job did not go well. Inadvertently, the participants were assuming something was wrong between me and my boss. They were looking for information that they wanted based on their assessment/diagnosis. I encouraged them to open up their question to allow me to have control as the client to discover the information that was important for me. The question they wanted to ask was, “What happened between you and your boss?”

As I addressed the problem with that question, I challenged them to open up the question and make it neutral so that it gave me the freedom to dig out the information I wanted. The broader question they came up with was, “Talk about your relationship with your boss.”  This broader, more neutral,  question gave me control over what I saw in that relationship rather than the assuming question that something wrong was up with me and my boss. To their surprise, by boss and I had a very good relationship. The job didn’t go well because the strategy was flawed, not the relationship.

As a coach, be careful to not diagnose. If you have a hunch or assumption as to what is going on – don’t diagnose it but ask the client about it. Or better yet, listen to what the client is telling you about what is important in their present situation and ask them more about it to help them get out the information they need to take their next step.

How to get the most from an Expert!

Experts are people who have accomplished what you are just now dreaming about pursuing. Such individuals have a wealth of knowledge to offer and most of them are all too happy to share it. Don’t shy away from asking someone who is farther ahead on their goal  to sit down and share their journey.  If you’re lucky, the individual you approach will have had some coaching experience and realizes that not only do they have information they can share, they can listen to your story and help you figure some things out too. That’s what we do at CoachLombardi.  Unfortunately that may not be your reality and what you’re stuck with is trying to ask just the right questions to get the answers you want.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask

Don’t be afraid to ask experts questions that relate to what you’re wanting to accomplish. If the expert is wanting to be helpful, they will talk about a slice of their experience that fits your question. You may get more than you bargained for but you may also get exactly what you’re looking for.  Your best bet is to understand why they took the path they did to get where they are. Somewhere in their story will be a piece of information that you can use.

Experts Who are Stuck on Themselves

When an expert is stuck on themselves, how do you get what you need from them? Well the one thing you can do is turn this into a fact finding mission. If the expert is too stuck on their own story to listen to your story then see if there is anything in their story that you can find helpful. Ask them the following:

  • What was the most important thing you did that lead to your success?
  • What decisions did you need to make along the way?
  • What obstacles did you encounter and how did you get around them or through them?
  • Who did you go to for help?
  • Who were the most helpful individuals?
  • What did you need to learn in order to keep going?
  • How did you stay positive?

Since the expert won’t shut up about themselves then leverage the information and their story with the types of questions just listed above and take away anything that might help you. One thing you can definitely count on is that if the expert can’t stop talking about themselves then asking more questions about their story keeps them talking about themselves! Apologies to all the experts out there!!

Do What Only You Can Do

Lists on paperThere are aspects of what we do on a daily basis that are things others can do. We do them because we have done them from the beginning. It was something that a previous person in the same role did and we picked it up or we just needed to do it to get things done so we have left it on our plate as part of our “to do” list.

Lists of things that you do that others can do can bog you down and use up time needed to devote to those things that you can do and no one else can. More often than not, we are so busy doing things on our list that others can do that the list of things that only you can do never gets done.

A good exercise is to start moving the things you do that others can do to someone else that can help or assist. Especially for those who have an assistant, chances are if you are handling everything yourself, your assistant is not busy and is looking for things to do. Meeting with your assistant and sitting down to make lists of what you do that they can do and then create a list of things that only you can do can bring clarity to your role and theirs in your supportive relationship. Most assistants want to see their supervisors succeed and knowing what your list is of what only you can do will help them with the motivation to take on those things you do that they can do to give you time and opportunity to do what only you can do. Sounds like a tongue twister but I guarantee you that you will be much better poised to be effective in your role if you take the time to do this.

If you don’t have an assistant, then spend the time yourself to sit down and make two lists;  first, those things that you do that others can do, and then a list of the things you do that only you can do.  Get to work on strategies of how to hand off the list of things you do that others can do to those in your organization and/or community. As you hand those off, then you will start to have time to tackle the things that only you can do. Making room for them will increase your productivity and move you and your organization forward.

All of this is an effort of getting to only the things you can do that you don’t have time to do.  Discussing this with an assistant or looking to others in your sphere of relationships to help will create the time you need to get to the things only you can do. I guarantee you that for your employers, getting to the things that only you can do is priority on their list; that is why they hired you so that you can do those specific things. If they don’t see it, then a conversation with your employer or direct supervisor working through your lists of what you can do that others can do and the things that only you can do will give them clarity and possibly their help and support.

Don’t remain so frustrated that you can’t get to the things that only you can do. Work with those around you and have the conversations that move others to help you gain the time to devote to those things that only you can do!


Do People Actually Take your Advice?

Man's hand pointing at the horizon and seasideWhen I think of the myriad of people I have had conversations with in the past and the advice that I have offered,  I wonder how many of them actually found that advice useful enough to implement?

The more I connect with people the more I realize that they don’t take unsolicited advice. In essence its a waste of time. Think about it for a moment, when was the last time you took the advice of someone who offered it without you asking? Most of the time I know what I need to do. The issue isn’t information but rather process: how do I get that done? where do I start? what resources do I have? These are the burning issues on my mind. More information will not get me there. Even knowing someone else’s process rarely helps, the reason being that my situation is related to what I’m going through, not what they went through.

Having someone help me by walking with me through my thinking process and helping me by asking questions that help me plot out the process is the kind of help I need. Learning how to do that for others takes a shift in thinking. We are wired to give information and we always default to it. We actually need to unlearn this behaviour and learn how to coach others towards their goal. What they know and what they see is what is most important. If we jump into situations and start spewing out our knowledge assuming we have the answer, it stalls whatever is going on with the person we are trying to help.

If we really truly want to help, we need to listen to the individual’s story and gain an understanding of where they are. Once we see what they see, then we help them by encouraging them with asking questions that keep them pointing toward their goal. This type of approach becomes a supportive process that encourages others toward more discovery. The more they discover during our conversation the greater their motivation to move toward their goal. Learning to do this takes a concerted effort on our part. Consider checking out Coaching Changes EverythingIt is a “how to” on supporting the people in your life who want to move forward. You can make the kind of difference in your work, school, family, or club that empowers others to achieve what they want!


Why You Need a Coach

There tends to be a fair bit of misunderstanding in regards to why people need a coach. Some leaders I come in contact with feel that coaching can be found among colleagues or friends with whom they have more relationship. Others wonder if a consultant is more in keeping with what they are looking for especially if its advice that they need. At times individuals wonder whether soliciting the help of a coach is really worth the investment in the long run.

A coach brings leaders clarity that is almost impossible to achieve alone. The reality is that we are so caught up in what we do that we can suffer from being too close to the action. Buried in the myriad of details that are scattered throughout our daily activity, we lack the “bird’s eye” perspective that brings clarity and focus to what we are doing.

Now friends and colleagues can help you to an extent since they know you well and can offer some added perspective but more often than not, they too are so close to you that they also lack a larger perspective on what’s going on. Consultants by nature and definition will come in and literally tell you what you need to do. If that’s what you’re looking for than its definitely money well spent.

What about a coach? What do they bring to the table as you struggle for clarity and focus? A coach brings objectivity! They know how to stay out of your way in terms of offering advice and capitalize on what you know. By listening and observing, they take what you know and offer it back to you in fresh perspective. Let me give you an example:

A manager approached me recently lamenting over the rift that existed between two workers in their department. The rift occurred while the manager was away on assignment. After returning from a month overseas helping the company establish a new office, she returned to find two of her team who were not talking to each other. Apparently one worker was offended at what their co-worker said to them in a meeting and they had not spoken since. Of course this created a very tenuous situation especially at meetings that involved both individuals. Having two of her team not speaking to each other and making no eye contact in crucial meetings regarding client strategy was not going to work in the long run. 

Knowing how valuable these two individuals had been to the overall success of her department, she wasn’t about to either discipline them or let one of them go. She approached me for advice on how to deal with it. As a coach, I wasn’t about to give her advice. Rather, I took what she told me and presented it back to her from a different perspective. I asked her the question, “If you could affect a positive outcome to this ongoing rift, what would it be?” [I forced her to stop thinking negatively about the situation and encouraged her to think positively about what she could do about it] 

She paused for a moment and thought about it. She then said, “These are two very passionate people that believe in what we are doing and have been supportive of me and our initiatives. I want to tap into that passion in each of them and drive it toward their reconciliation.”  

Okay, what would that look like?” [I wanted her to dig deep into creating a step that would move her two team members toward resolving the rift] She responded with the following: 

“I’m going to have a meeting with both of them to review a project that they collaborated on that created one of our company’s most significant client relationships. I want to ask them what made that deal work and outline what existed in their teamwork and cooperation that made it such a success. I hope by outlining the character of their past work together that they will realize they are better together than working apart.” 

I gauged her buy in by asking her how she felt about this step. She responded that she felt really good about doing this and very hopeful at the outcome. What was significant about this conversation is that it was a coach that helped her tap into what she already knew to create a step to resolving what was a situation where she felt helpless to do anything about it. 

A friend may have been helpful and a consultant may have given her more information but a coach actually helped her discover something that was in her power and ability to do. That could be why you need a coach as well – so that they can help you tap into information you already know to resolve something that is important to you. Why not give a coaching session a try and see what can happen?


Relieving the Pressure!

What would it be worth to you to relieve the pressure in your head of all the things that are occupying space in it? We walk around on a daily basis taking up space in our brains related to several things that we are pre-occupied with.  Sometimes these things are the regular everyday issues that need our attention but we fail to take action on them so they stay in our head, taking up space. These things aggravate us over time. We drive home and see that outdoor project that will help us make more room in the garage still lingering in our brain. The image creates anxiety because we haven’t done anything about it and now its winter and you so wish you had done something about it because now you have to leave the car outside and get dumped on by the blizzard going on just in front of your house! Continue reading…

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What does a Coach Do?

Some might ask what does a Coach actually do? In reality a coach doesn’t do anything; its the client that does in the coaching relationship.  The better question in terms of coaching is what does a coach provide? A coach provides a structure for a conversation that leads a client to take action.  A coach asks questions that help bring more awareness to the client about what is going on in their life and what they would like to pursue or accomplish. Continue reading…


How to Stay Focused on the Client

One of my certification clients just recently asked me about what I think it is that distracts us as coaches from focusing on our clients.  I thought it was an excellent question and I have posted my response here. Hope this helps:

I find that there are several things that take our attention off of the client and on to ourselves:

  1. Our sheer curiosity to want to know information for our benefit not necessarily the client’s benefit – to satisfy our curiosity rather than give the client room to pursue their curiosity.
  1. Our lack of confidence in what we have to offer.

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A Hunch should stay a Hunch

Part of the discipline as a coach is to remain on the curiosity side of a conversation with your client so as to be as objective as possible and let your client lead the conversation. More often than not, while we are engaging our clients, we get hunches related to what they are communicating to us. Those hunches, if entertained, sometimes lead us down the road of starting to diagnose and subsequently produce solutions for our client. At this point we have crossed the objectivity line and are no longer coaching but advising. Continue reading…

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Avoiding Backlash

When working with a client in a coaching relationship sometimes a sensitive issue arises in the conversation that the coach wants to ask more about but is hesitant to take the direct approach for fear of backlash. The last thing a coach wants to do is cash in on relational capital by touching on a sensitive issue that gets the client’s back up.

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