Be Curious

Part II of II

In order for a client to self-discover their real needs and the actions they’ll take to address them, it’s important for a coach to stay in inquiry – asking open-ended questions that allow the client to look inward for answers they haven’t yet covered.

Here are examples of powerful questions that work for me:

What do you need to focus on right now?
In the story you just told me, what led you to react that way?
What’s the impact on others when you do that?
What’s behind that?
What’s getting in the way?
What part of this do you control?
How would you prioritize the options you just told me?
How realistic is that timetable?
What If you decided to do it this month instead of next quarter?
Who could help you?
Who else is involved in that decision?
What else could you do? (pause) And then what?
What have you written down so far?
Which of these are you most committed to doing?
On a scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), what’s the likelihood you’ll do it?
What would it take to turn that 7 into an 8?
How will you hold yourself accountable?
How will you know when you’ve reached that goal?

It takes practice to continue asking powerful questions and not slip into a disguised suggestion: “Have you considered…?” While you never want to make the other person feel they’re being interrogated, remaining silent and allowing them time to think often leads to better decisions than you might have offered.

My favorite coaching sessions begin when a client says, “I don’t have much today.” I’ll say, “What’s one thing you thought about this morning that’s still on your mind?” That opens up a dialogue and usually ends with a “Wow!” or “Who knew I had so much to discuss.”

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Clear Role

Part I of II

I ventured out this week for a much overdue, pandemic-delayed trip to the eye doctor. Afterward, while being fitted for new glasses, the optician asked what I do for a living. When I said, “I’m an executive coach,” he responded, “Oh, so you’re a consultant.”

This is a common misperception, as many people consider the two interchangeable. However, the big difference is consultants give advice, while coaches stay in inquiry – asking powerful questions that allow clients to determine their own actions.

[Note: There are some coaches who never answer a client’s question; however, I don’t draw such a firm line. If a client says, “What color is the grass?” there are coaches who will respond, “What color do you think it is?” That seems like a waste of valuable coaching time, so I say, “Most people think it’s green. What’s the reason you asked?”]

To help others better understand my profession, I’ll use the analogy of a six-year-old asking to learn to ride a bike… and include a couple of other disciplines for fun:

“A mentor would say, ‘Let me tell you about the time I learned to ride a bike.’ A therapist would say, ‘What happened when you were a four-year-old that is preventing you from riding this bike?’ A consultant would take the bike apart, put it back together, create a multi-page document, hand it to the kid and say, ‘That’s how you ride a bike.’ Me? I say, ‘What have you seen other kids do?’ and ask some more questions to discover what the youngster already knows – then give them an encouraging push.

Basically, a consultant’s role is to solve clients’ problems, while a coach works with them to explore what they want and discover from within how they’ll get there.

Next: Powerful Questions

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Who Knew

When I put my workout facility membership on hold in March because of the pandemic, I began walking in our neighborhood weekday mornings. Those early efforts lasted about two miles. Slowly I built up the distance and since June am averaging more than five miles, including a few 10Ks and one 7.2 miler thrown in for fun. I’m focused on ‘Don’t break the steak,’ which, as of today is 107 consecutive weekdays and counting.

Since I’m no longer surrounded by the silence of the pool, I have increased my podcast listening. One new program I came upon is “Flashback with Sean Braswell.” It takes moments in history and suggests the unintended consequences – “stories of disastrous turning points, dangerous ideas, crazy coincidences, unsung heroes and forgotten villains” – that occurred because of them.

Some Season 1 examples:

How Henry Ford inspired the Oklahoma City Bombing
How the YMCA helped launch the tobacco black market
How a meth peddling doctor changed the course of WWII
How a baseball strike saved basketball

There are unintended consequences in many things. I’ve been thinking about them in my life. What are some in yours?

Note: Jerry Seinfeld is credited with saying ‘Your only job is to not break the chain’ about writing comedy every single day. He rejects coming up with the approach, which is apropos.: “This is hilarious to me, that somehow I am getting credit for making an X on a calendar with the Seinfeld Productivity Program. It’s the dumbest non-idea that was not mine, but somehow I’m getting credit for it.”

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Sun Rises

The final song of Act 1 in the long-running Broadway musical Les Miserables is a choral number with most of the show’s stars: One day more / Another day / Another destiny / This never-ending road to Calvary. Those words came to mind recently when a client said to me that his philosophy the past few months is, “Make it through today.”

Exactly four months ago, 500,000 people were diagnosed with Covid-19 in the world and 23,000 had died. Now, those numbers are 16 million and 650,000. For every piece of potentially good news, there seems to be a correlating, “Yes, but…”

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the lack of certainty in what comes next. Are we close to a vaccine, even though there is a long way to go with testing? Will public schools eventually have children in classrooms nationwide or is a virtual semester ahead? Do the leaders in Washington provide another round of financial support or has the national debt exceeded their willingness to prop up the economy?

The short answer: No one knows.

Thus, ‘Make it through today’ is perhaps the best approach to getting to the other side of this pandemic and whatever the ‘New Now’ turns out to be. It takes patience, discipline, a good bit of affirmation, and a belief that this, too, shall pass.

As the last words of One Day More say: Tomorrow we’ll discover / What our God in heaven has in store / One more dawn / One more day / One day more!

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Planning Ahead

Tim McGraw’s ‘My Next 30 Years’ – released 20 years ago today – is a reflection on a life lived on the edge (‘Try to forget about all the crazy things I’ve done’) that the central character hopes is different moving forward (‘Drink a little lemonade and not so many beers’).

After last month’s post on my first 60 years, I started writing down things to focus on during whatever time I have left on this planet. This isn’t so much a Bucket List as a way to ensure I don’t get to the end and think, ‘If only…’

Some items so far? Fund college for our grandkids (who haven’t been born… yet). Take one ‘mega’ trip every five years and smaller journeys in between. Read 50 books – historical fiction, biographies and self-improvement – every year.

While another 30 years might be a stretch – for a long time I’ve said, ‘85 and out’ – I intend to make them, as the country superstar sang, ‘the best years of my life.’

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