Leadership and Life – Walking the Fine Lines


Travel around the sun a few times and you learn things. If I’ve learned anything traveling my journey around the sun (I’ve done it 65 times), I see people all around who trip on the fine lines. What do I mean? I am talking about those oh so subtle differences between things that are very good and those that are just plain bad.


Life requires us to walk fine lines every day. Leadership demands great execution on walking fine lines.

Here are a few examples.

Coaching clients occasionally ask me how to become more confident. This is particularly true in younger, less experienced managers who have been promoted into bigger jobs. They think they have the experience it may take but are easily embarrassed when sitting at the “bigger table”. Having confidence in your own ability is important.

By building your confidence, you can represent your team or your cause with greater authority and thus increase your influence. However, too much confidence crosses the line and becomes arrogance.

Not long ago I received a note from someone in my tribe who shared his concern for getting hired by the right company. He proceeded to tell me all about his accomplishments and his attributes. The list turned out to be a long one. The more he explained the more arrogant the tone became. Clearly, there was some emotion tied to the message. What could have been an appropriately confident message became a rant of arrogant nature.

I advised the young man to check his motives and emotions, sharing directly with him the way the tone turned me off. The logical presumption was that if he spoke with hiring managers this way, it would be easy to see why he doesn’t get offers.

Be Like Mike

Another fine line is the balance between aspiring to behave like certain people versus becoming them. If you identify with a particular person and say to yourself “I’d like to be more like them.” you can grow and learn. But if you cross the fine line and decide “I will BE them.” you fail. You can never be someone else; that job is taken.

You can, however, learn from others’ behaviors and add to your own skill sets and values.

Yet by trying to be someone you are not, you lose your own identity. Going too far away from the core of who and what you are can be detrimental. In our world of rapid response and social media, we get bombarded with FOMO messages. Fear of missing out clouds our lines of sight for the true and essential people we should be.

Making Adjustments

When you think you need to make an adjustment, often there is another fine line. Correct too much and you veer out of control.

I learned this training for my pilot’s license. Most aircraft are designed to fly. Strange concept right? But seriously, they fly very well, almost without a human pilot. When I get behind the stick, I may have a tendency to over-correct for adjustments in need to make in pitch, trim, and speed. Learning how to fly straight and level is harder than you might think. Yet if I can get the plane positioned on the course I choose, I can trim the flight controls and take my hands off the stick. It runs much smoother that way.

But if I am constantly chasing the horizon or turning off course, I waste precious flight time. Too severe an adjustment up or down, left or right and the flight is not as smooth as it could be.

The same is true in life. Make tiny adjustments when you think you need to make any adjustments. Let the change you make take hold. See where you’re going.

Make Your Own List

I’m guessing I only scratched the surface of fine lines you can think of. Share a few more in the comments. Hit the like (or not).

PS – As I am wrapping this up, I had another example of making small adjustments. I was out pulling my small utility trailer which I use helping folks with odd jobs. It’s a smallish trailer so backing it up can be tricky. The motions to back it in a straight line are ever-so-small. Too much correction and I can jack-knife the trailer in a heartbeat. Try it yourself one day. It’s a great picture of how over-steering can lead you way off course.

If Serving is Beneath You, Leadership is Beyond You

servant leader

What a quote! “If serving is beneath you, leadership is beyond you.”

servant leader

If you ever struggle with being willing to serve a greater good and another human being, you should reconsider any desire you have to become a manager or a leader. Being in a position of authority has a great responsibility. If you are already in a leadership role and you shirk the notion of service to others, please resign.

This concept was instilled in me during my freshman year of college. I had enrolled at Texas A&M and joined the Corps of Cadets. In the Corps, freshmen are called ‘fish”. The sole purpose of surviving your first year as a fish was to learn one principle.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#d98310″ class=”” size=””]You will never be a leader if you don’t know how to be a follower.[/perfectpullquote]

As a fish, I endured all manner of pressure from the upperclassmen. Yes, it was a different time back then, so the physical and mental challenges we were given were much more daunting than today’s politically correct standard, but it taught me something. Actually, it taught me a lot. By contrast, any training I was later subjected to in the regular Army (both basic and advanced individual training) seemed easy compared to being a fish.

At the hands of upperclassmen I was introduced to a full spectrum of leadership ability; ranging from very good leaders to not good at all, and everything in between. Most of all I learned the original principle. To be a leader, you must first be willing to be a follower.

Servant Leadership

Take a look at this video. I had the opportunity to interview an old friend and long-time colleague, Louis W. (Bill) Weber, U.S. Army Brigadier General (retired) [see bio below].

Our discussion centered on Bill’s observations about leadership and management, with a special focus on young, aspiring professionals who are put into action for the very first time. Our topics include:

  • Making the move into leadership for the first time
  • Working through the first 6 months
  • Servant leadership – what is it, where does it work?

Join me for my visit with Bill.


Bill Weber, headshot, 2015, US Army BG Ret.

After soldiering for 32 years as a U.S. Army Armor officer, Bill retired at the end of 2007.  He has extensive experience in leadership, training, organizational management, budget management, and operations.  He worked as the Vice President of Business Development for McLane Advanced Technologies, as the Chief Operations Officer for three years with Advanced Concepts and Technologies International, and with Knowledge Point as an advisor to the United Arab Emirates Army leading reorganization and transformation efforts.  From September 2012 through July 2013, he worked for the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) as the Associate Director for the UTA Research Institute.  He is currently consulting with several organizations, including the Department of the Army.

Bill commanded numerous units and organizations throughout his military career and is a veteran of combat operations in Iraq during Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.  His last Army assignment was as the Vice Director of the Army Staff, preceded by serving as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Sarajevo, Bosnia and a two-year assignment as the Director of Training on the Army Staff.

He earned a Bachelor’s Degree (Business Management) from Texas A&M University and a Masters Degree with Distinction in National Security Affairs (Middle East Studies) from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.  He also attended Georgetown University as an Army War College Fellow, served as an Army Congressional Fellow, and has over 25 years of experience related to the Middle East.

He attended the Moroccan Staff School for a year of immersion in French and Foreign Area Officer in-country training and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East.  He maintains currency on events and social, economic, military, and political situations throughout the Middle East.

His decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Armed Forces Service Medal, UN Medal, the NATO Medal, the Presidential Unit Award, and the Valorous Unit Award. He was also Ranger and Airborne trained and qualified.

He served as Mayor of the City of Woodway, Texas from May 2010 through October 2011.

Married to his wife Robin for 32 years, their daughter is a 2011 Baylor graduate and USAF pilot and their son is a 2012 Texas A&M nuclear engineer graduate.

Hey Guys – Stop Chasing Your Tail !!!!!!!

Ever watch a cat or dog chase their tail? To be sure, it is quite humorous. The real question is when was the last time someone watched you chasing your tail?


As I reflect on various chapters of my life I know I was chasing my tail. I also hear friends and colleagues share various experiences from the lives, it strikes me that some of us are just as guilty of chasing our tail as our beloved four-legged friends. While cats and dogs literally chase their tails for no good reason, we humans figuratively chase ours. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

Look at the Circle

Are you running in tight, crazy spirals? The kind that feels fast, frenzied, and dizzying? It does not take long in that type of tail chasing to recognize you are, in fact, running in circles. So it becomes easy to identify the pattern and attempt to stop the cycle.

The tougher challenge is those large, slow, looping circles that may actually lull you into believing you are gracefully gliding through the current chapter of your life. If you return to the same place and outcome multiple times, you are chasing your tail.

Wise Ones

Seldom in the animal kingdom will you see an older, wiser creature chasing its tail. In contrast, the human race is not immune to repeating old habits regardless of age. The truth is, we never really stop chasing our tail in one area or another until we finally agree to learn from past experience. Input from trusted friends and loving family can certainly help us break old habits, but each of us must come to our own understanding of the forces that drive us to chase our tail in the first place.

Don’t Get Involved

It’s not wise to stick your hand into the middle of someone else’s frenzy while they are running at full speed. I did that once when one of my cats was so engrossed in chasing his tail that he seemed to have forgotten all other things. What I did not know was that the cat was intent on biting the catch as hard as he could once he found it. My hand substituted for the catch. Wow, that hurt.

Yes, I stopped the cat and saved him from who knows what, but I paid a big price. As noble as trying to stop someone else’s frenzy may sound, there is a point at which outsiders must stay out of the way. It’s far easier to intercede and assist with helping someone stop a cycle in the early stages before the momentum builds.

Break the Cycle


Attempting to stop running in circles is to agree to make a change. Change a habit. Change an attitude. Change a belief.

That said, one of the toughest things about embracing change is getting stuck in the cycle of convincing ourselves that our past habits have been successful and, due to that success, there is no need for a change.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#d98310″ class=”” size=””]In business, the market has a funny way of showing us we are foolish to NOT embrace change.[/perfectpullquote]

For many senior business execs and managers agreeing to change a business model, marketing approach, or sales delivery message is painful, almost blasphemy.

They insist on using old, stale ways to get their message across and wonder why sales have dropped or business is going to the competition. It’s change my friend. If you are one of those owners or managers who believe in operating that way, you know, saying “we’ve always done it this way”, you may just be chasing your tail.

Question: In what ways have you discovered you have been chasing your tail?

coaching call

The Surf is Up Before the Tsunami v2.0



There is an old Beach Boys song with this lyric. “The surf is up before the tsunami.”


It makes me think of a phenomenon I have seen time and again in business. After almost 20 years in commercial banking, I saw a lot of highs and lows with my business customers. Companies on a good, perhaps even great, growth track are sometimes headed for a big storm. I am not talking about the tide shift when the economic conditions go bad. No, I am talking about having the success of the company outpace the change within.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]When the company’s leadership fails to recognize and act upon the things that need to change to sustain growth and prosperity, the company may ultimately fail. I’ve named this condition “The Paradox of Success”.[/perfectpullquote]

All companies will go through various life cycle stages. As they mature from start-up to being a going concern, there are critical changes that the leadership and management must execute. These are things like capital investment in equipment or facilities, people, and process. The thrill of riding a wave of early success can obstruct your view of things to come.

A Sad Tale

I once knew a company owned by a very successful husband and wife team. Their little baby (the business) grew mightily. First, they dominated a local market. Then they branched into statewide operations. That too was very successful. It seemed they had a Midas touch for turning everything they touched into gold. Eventually, they went national with their service offerings. That’s when the trouble started.

At the local level, it was easy to keep the owner’s hands in all things. Even at the state level, it was more difficult to control but relatively easy to expand the support functions by adding a few key people, still keeping the owners involved in virtually every key decision required to run the show.

However, once they launched nationally, the business challenges grew exponentially.

  • There were state regulators with different requirements.
  • Remote operations were needed to expedite the timing of service deliveries.
  • Cash flows were more complex.
  • Worst of all, some of the key staff members who helped build the original business were just not capable of handling the diverse nature of all the new problems the national market created.
  • The business outgrew its team.

The Big So What

Sometimes the leadership team itself needs to grow or change. Founders often fail to see these things coming. Often with entrepreneurs, the business gets bigger than their own management ability. The wise founder will accept advice from consultants, coaches or investors and allow the reins of control to be handed to other, more qualified leadership.

A talent management friend likes to remind owners “If you want to grow your business from $5 million to $10 million, don’t hire more $5MM people to do it. Hire the guy who already operates with a $10MM mindset. Let them bring their system to you.”

It is this kind of change that is most difficult for entrepreneurs to recognize and adjust. Just because things are going well, be ready for the next growth spurt. Embrace the change that is needed, make plans, seek wise counsel, and deal with making the right change.

Question; Is your company on the brink of a growth cycle? Are you really ready for it?

coaching call

In Decision Making: Is It Requirement or Desirement?

There’s a decision to be made. You weigh the options and ask for more information. Then it’s time to choose. But wait.

Is the thing you have to decide a requirement or a desirement? Decision making can get clouded by issues or priorities that are more a desire than a requirement.

To oversimplify the argument, think about buying a car. You need transportation. The requirements include a motor, wheels, steering wheel, seats of some sort, and safety equipment. You can get those in a wide variety of simple and economic solutions. Yet your desire for style, comfort, and even luxury complicate the choices when it comes to car buying.

Henry Ford only made Model T’s in black. General motors started as a new car maker by offering the first alternative colors on automobiles. The competition has been fierce ever since.

Needs and Wants

It can be as simple as needs versus wants. Teaching children about the difference between needs and wants is a daunting challenge. My 5 year old grandson often points out things he thinks he “needs”. What he is really saying is he wants that. Every time he starts down the “I need that” routine, I tell him, “No, you need clothes and food, but you want that toy/object.” By the way, he’s not amused by my logic.

The Entrepreneur’s Bind

If you own your company, decision making can become more difficult  due to your own biases. Your pride of authorship/ownership can cloud good decision making. The thing you desire for success of your business can obstruct solid management principles.

I know an owner who should have closed his business long before it folded. The model made sense on paper, but was not being well received in the market. His own pride of creating the idea blocked his ability to “see the forest for the trees.” The company was bleeding precious investment capital; the burn rate was far faster than the growth of revenues.

He should have recognized the problem by analyzing his actual cash flow including a focused look at the sales pipeline predictions for actual receipts. The math wouldn’t work. Yet his gut feel for just knowing this idea should work kept him chasing new deals and borrowing way too much.

The Corporate Mindset

When we shift to look at executives in a more corporate role, the desirement factor is more about bonuses and performance ratings. If your bonus is tied to particular standards for budget or cost control, your decision making can be skewed. The economic aspects of a particular decision can be tipped by the mere fact that a soon-to-be-awarded bonus is at risk.

Or in company cultures where performance ratings are force ranked, one’s ability to make the right choice can be compounded by the perceived impact it may have on the next ranking cycle.

The Fix

To become a better decision maker you have to objectively weigh the forces around you. Eliminate the desirement factors and stick to requirements.

Question: When was the last time your own needs and wants got in the way of making a good decision?

coaching call

Here’s a Powerful Formula for GREAT Success

minds attention hearts affection

In the fast-paced world of business, it’s easy to lose sight of your most valuable principles. Even the best of leaders get overwhelmed with progress happening at what seems like the speed of light.

As I visit with leaders at all levels, I find a need to return to a couple of very basic ideas. For me, the greatest truth I find is the notion of “harnessing the power of your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection.” The repetitive urgency of this message has me re-posting it annually. Perhaps I should do it even more often.

Learning Styles Debunked

It’s All Around Us

For quite some time, I have been a student of management and leadership. The topic is not limited to just the business world. Rather it is all around us. I believe our world is in serious need of solid, meaningful leadership. I don’t mean the kind that wears red or blue, but the kind that truly inspires us to do more and be more.

Yet the “more” is not only about corporate growth. I mean ‘more’ in terms of life; seeing those around us thrive and prosper intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually as well as financially. A real leader can help do that. It doesn’t matter whether the leadership role is formally appointed as in head of some community group, or informally ordained for a bunch of well-meaning volunteers.

Leadership can raise the bar of success regardless of the domain it influences.

We need leaders in all sectors of life. Yet what distinguishes some leaders from others? From my observations both being a leader and working for great leaders, I find one common bond. The best leader has found a way to harness the power of harnessing your mind’s attention with your heart’s affection. This is a phrase my Pastor taught me a few years ago. It sums up so much. But what does it mean? And how does it apply to make you a better leader, right where you are?

The Mind’s Attention

Much has been written about the power of positive thinking. For decades we have heard about “you are what you think”. No doubt a positive mental state adds much to one’s ability to focus and thrive. Likewise, a bad frame of mind can draw you down into a deep depression and even suicide.

Don’t get me wrong. I am an advocate for working on positive thinking, eliminating limiting thoughts, and building your mind muscle for more positive thinking. A wise old farmer called it “getting rid of stinkin’ thinkin’.” The Bible calls it renewing your mind. I’m all in favor of that.

As much as having a great attitude about your outlook and the daily regiment is powerful, it can only go so far. Someone once said, “If thinking the right thoughts is all there is to the final outcome, we’d all be brains on a stick.”

No, the best outcome takes more. Your mental ability to reason and apply teachings from the past builds knowledge and wisdom. Putting your brain in gear to run at its optimum capacity is a force all by itself. Yet recurring demand on the mind without a passion for what you are doing ultimately leads to burn-out.

The Heart’s Affection

Our heart must be engaged. Our passion must be summoned to give fuel to the fire. It is the fire. When a person becomes passionate about their cause, there is little anyone can do to deter them.

Passion gives us the energy to climb mountains, cross great divides, and leap tall buildings (ok yes that sounds like Superman). This heart’s affection for a purpose gives almost unstoppable energy to any situation.

Workers who have not had their passion for the job tapped into will only perform at a modest level. This is why making employment selection is so critical for employers and employees alike. Make the wrong fit, and your passion will never rise up. Yet by finding work where you can become passionate, you can inspire others.

Passion alone though will not sustain your effort. You must have the power of your mind to process the steps and actions necessary to thrive.

Harness the Power

Binding both parts together can achieve great things. Great minds don’t go very far without a heart filled passion. Conversely, passion can be wasted without a clever mind to design a solution.

The best leaders know how to do both. They are driven by a sense of purpose which fuels the passion. Their heart’s affection is a dominating force. In conjunction, they have their mind’s attention fully engaged, finding solutions to problems and devising great alternatives to the hurdles that come up.

Leaders leverage this power, catching lightning in a bottle so to speak. You can hear and almost feel the power of the passion in their voice. There is an overwhelming understanding for the wisdom in their mind’s vision for things to come. You can more easily buy-in to their ideas and direction.

Leaders build this kind of inspiration in their team.

Here’s the Test

If you are in a management or leadership role, do you have both parts engaged and fully deployed? Is your mind flowing with ideas for ways to go to the next level, solving the problems of the day and offering great ideas? Is your heart in it? Do you feel passionate about your cause, your purpose where you are?

One without the other is a broken, unbalanced equation. You might find temporary success, but it will not last. Usually, it will not be enough to get to the next level.

Make an evaluation of this amazing blend of your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection. If you have been operating too heavily with one and not the other, look around. You might be missing some achievement. You are likely not to be your best.

Take a moment to think about what it would be like to harness this power, with both spheres in better balance, overlapping at the center for amazing results.

PS – I like this reminder so much, I even had it put on a coffee mug. Leave a comment if you’d like one. $10 plus S&H. To order yours, click here


Leaders: Feeling Isolated? Maybe You Dug the Moat

lonely island

When I hear executives or entrepreneurs say they feel isolated, like standing on an island, I often ask how did you get there? Sometimes you may be the one who dug the moat providing the divide between you and everyone else.

A Story

I know a very successful executive who runs a thriving subsidiary enterprise that contributes about 30% of the parent company’s gross revenue. Yet this executive constantly complains about being isolated, undervalued, misunderstood, and neglected by peers. The peers will tell you this person is a pain to deal with. So who put whom on an island?

Isolation can be caused by your own behavior toward others. You may say you need help, but when help is given you find ways to undermine the effort. How silly is that? Or you may find ways to annoy others merely by being so self-effacing that you become the lone voice no one wants to hear.

There is no doubt that being in charge can cause a natural loneliness, but you never have to be alone. When assistance is volunteered, find ways to accept the help. Sure, you can discuss the exact impact an outside source may have on your business, maybe even negotiate for something slightly different, but in the end, graciously accepting the help can ease the sense of loneliness.


One of the most valuable characteristics a leader must have is the ability to influence others; in positive ways. If you repel those around you, you are not being much of a leader. You might be an effective manager, but a leader? No.

Real leaders draw others in by inspiring a sense of purpose. The accomplishment of business or organizational goals becomes a secondary effect of good leadership. When dynamic leadership is working, no one feels stranded on an island, and certainly not YOU.

Sure, you may have to make tough decisions, taking hard stands on certain issues. However, if the people around you have bought into you first, then understanding the decision you made becomes easier for people to accept.

The Fix

If there is a moat, deep and wide around you, the ditch needs to get filled in. Start building bridges with others. Repair relationships with your peers and colleagues who could otherwise support you. Ask for candid feedback. When the answers start to come, don’t deflect! Embrace the input and adjust your approach.

I also knew about an executive who was ahead of his time in terms of writing out goals and objectives for himself. Yet he struggled with peer-to-peer relationships. He hired a coach. He was proud to show the coach his list of goals, the chief of which was impacting his team so he could become “the best boss ever”. The coach wisely observed “I don’t see any goals about your relationships with your peers. Why not be the best co-worker ever?”

In companies with two or more employees, the interaction with those around you can make or break the effectiveness of your unit and the company as a whole.

coaching call

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 

~John Donne 1620

“No man is an island”. Why should you want to put yourself on one?


One Hurdle Some Leaders Can’t Overcome

people skills

Cracking the code on effective leadership includes a wide range of attributes and considerations. With all the combinations of factors making a great leader, there is one set of personality traits that I find the most challenging for some clients to adjust.

people skills

You seldom hear the words “introvert” and “leader” in the same sentence. The common perception is that great CEOs are very outward going, good public speakers and powerful networkers; things that introverts are not known for doing.

In fact, a poll conducted by USA Today cited 65 percent of executives who believed introversion to be a barrier to leadership.

Interestingly, the same article highlights that roughly 40 percent of leaders are introverted — they’re just better at adapting themselves to situational demands. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Charles Schwab are just a few “innies.”

Social Proof

The use of a 360-degree review is common when beginning a coaching assignment. The 360 gives the coach and the coachee a baseline from which we can work. The presence of an introverted executive gets called out in 360 reviews time and again.

The one prevailing observation is that those who report to this kind of manager are hungry for more personal interaction.

As an example, I know one very successful executive who is quite introverted. He is widely respected in his field of expertise, yet those who report directly to him confess a need to “know him better”.

What does that mean? His people say he seldom shares personal info. They have no idea about his view of the world beyond the exact tasks they work.

He is known for being very hard to read. Even coaching with him was difficult because it took a long time for him to really open up about his inner concerns for the changes he thought he wanted to make.

As you might guess, the walls he keeps guarding are the primary factors we needed to focus upon. None of his other desires could be achieved without first breaking through the outer skin that protected his deep introversion.

Busting the Barrier

What I’ve found effective is to discuss the subtle difference between being personable rather than personal.

While some may think this is a detail too insignificant to talk about, I’ve found introverted managers and leaders tend to thrive once they embrace the nuance.

Here’s why it works. First, being personal is a threat to the deeply introverted individual. Voluntarily divulging details of one’s life outside the workplace is a bridge too far. Yet this is exactly the material that fellow workers want to understand.

It’s not about prying into their boss’s life, but rather it’s about getting to know them as a person. From the employee’s view, it’s about answering the question, “can you even relate to me?”

Next, because of the former, the introverted leader tends to shy away from asking relatable questions of his/her employees. Exchanges are all business. That comes across as cold and calculated, nothing more.

As cliché as it sounds, we all still work with people; it’s a relationship thing. By becoming aware of the hunger most employees have for hearing their boss relate to them, the introverted manager must find ways to feed this beast.

This principle applies to all people in positions of authority. You must be able to relate to those who may be following you.

  • Simple, relatable questions are:
  • How was your vacation?
  • How was the weekend?
  • Did you see that game?
  • How is ___________ doing with ______________? Fill in with family members dealing with life changes; illness, moves, step changes, etc.

Then as you get answers, tie it to something in your life. Respond with “Yes, I remember when ____________ was ______________.”

Slowly begin adding your own life experiences to the mix. Let the momentum for having more personal interactions build.

Soon colleagues will feel more comfortable around you. Also, don’t shy away from making statements like “Well, here’s what I am thinking.” You can open up by sharing thoughts. You have thoughts, right? As business unfolds and interactions happen, share your thoughts specifically.

By doing so, you reveal the world inside your head and inside your heart. That makes you far more relatable.

coaching call

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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How to Be a Good Coaching Client

Executive coaching is growing in popularity. Former stigmas associated with having a coach are evaporating. There once was a time when Boards only hired coaches to “fix” someone. Now, very successful executives are hiring coaches to grow even further than before. Companies are embracing coaching as ways to leverage their investment in senior managers and leaders.

When executive coaching comes into play, it’s only natural that potential coaching clients (coachees) research the coach. Who is the coach? What kind of coaching does he/she practice? How do his/her clients rate the experience? What coaching certifications does the coach have? How deep is the professional experience? And then, once enough blind trust has been established, the coach is selected and the first coaching session is booked in the calendar.

However, in our conversations with coaching clients, we’ve learned that very few people actually research how to be a good coaching client. How should one approach coaching, from the client point of view?

There is a widespread belief that the coaching experience is entirely the responsibility of the coach and little to no preparation is undergone by the client. And this is interesting. While there are many definitions, types, and methodologies of coaching, coaching clients are aware, at some level, that the coaching experience will be about themselves, their problems/goals, their behaviors/feelings and what to do or who to become to change them, against given goals.

If this were true, as a coaching client, are you naturally ready to go there; diving into your behaviors, your feelings, your identity? How aware are you of what you really want? Are you naturally ready to reflect on your deepest inner workings, your belief system, your values? Probably not so much and it’s OK.

Finding the Edge

We’re not inclined to reflect on the deeper levels of ourselves. At least not as a general habit. But hey, that’s why we have the coaching profession, for those of us who are inclined to do these life searches and, having done it ourselves, we make it our mission to support others in this endeavor.

The thing is, having a good coach does not, by any measure, guarantee you’ll get where you think you want to go. Yes, good and experienced coaches will most likely help you spark some light that you never knew was there and you’ll use that light to shine in new and unforeseen ways in your life. Nevertheless, the road to getting ahead is neither easy, nor comfortable, nor fast. It is, most of the time, the exact opposite: complex, uncomfortable and slow. And, of course, not all coaches are good and experienced.

We’re going to share a few things to consider when preparing for that first coaching session. This will most definitely act as an accelerator for you on your path to your goal and will also help the coaching process reach its authentic conversational rhythm.

Think about your destination

Coaching is a journey. The coach is there to guide you, to make sure you are aware of the road, the scenery, the mud holes in the ground, to show you multiple potential paths towards your destination. However, you are the one to set the destination. It’s OK to not know exactly where you want to go, just make sure to reflect on it and ask the coach to help you identify a destination worth going to. Don’t pick any destination just for the sake of having a coaching goal. If you don’t really want or need it, you’re about to waste time and money.

Adopt the “Me stance”

As a coaching client, you’re there to discuss something that’s going on with you, be it a problem you have, or maybe a big decision you’re thinking to make, it doesn’t matter. It’s about you. Be prepared to have a conversation about you, how you see things, how you believe they affect you and why that happens.

Avoid talking about others (as tempting as it may be), because there’s nothing you or the coach can do about what others do/say/are. You can, on the other hand, focus on how external factors are affecting you, at all possible levels. This is the “Me stance”. Whenever you feel like talking about others, reposition that in terms of how what they do/say is affecting you.

Be curious

As mentioned, coaching is a journey and one of the things you can expect from the coach is to show you multiple paths to try out. Remain curious about the coach’s invitations to explore.

A good coach will sense things that may be behind what you’re saying (or not saying) and will invite you to put it on the table, with the goal to deepen your understanding of the situation. Instead of questioning the validity or significance of the coach’s questions, go with the flow.

Be curious and explore (especially when it’s about your emotions), because it’s yourself that you are exploring and be assured: you are a fascinating human being and you are totally worth exploring. Without question, you will be astonished by your inner workings, just be willing to open the door.

Take responsibility

Coaching is not just the conversation. It doesn’t end when the conversation is over. One of the ways we see coaching going wrong is when the coaching client does not attach any action to commitment. We’re not talking about the cases where the client hasn’t yet reached a high enough level of awareness of the problem, that would allow assuming the responsibility for the action.

No. We’re talking about when the client is aware of the problem desires to do something about it, yet he/she manages not to. There are many reasons for this, of course, most of them being traced back to a fear of something.

Be sure you will reach a place in the coaching process where you will need to commit to achieving your goal. In your endeavor to do so, you will be tempted to not do it. When those temptations appear, keep in mind that it is your responsibility to see your goals happen. [perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”#d98310″ class=”” size=””]Doing nothing changes nothing.[/perfectpullquote]

No excuses.

Learn from the coach

At some point, maybe you’ll start noticing some kind of pattern in the coaching process; some themes that the coach repeatedly invites you to explore. Use this to self-regulate, when you feel you need coaching. What questions that worked very deep for you could be applied to another problem you have?

What have you learned about how you function (rationally and emotionally) from the coaching experience that you could scale for yourself, to tackle new goals?

Basically, how can you be your own coaching client? This, of course, happens after several sessions and depends very much on your general awareness and presence. Keep in mind that the trick with coaching is to reach a place where you can start helping yourself, not to create a coach-dependancy. There will be times you actually need a coach, just make sure you’ve first given it your best shot, yourself.

The coaching conversation is very dear to us and we strongly believe it to be a critical tool in any professional’s “toolkit”, especially in that of leaders. And by the toolkit, we really mean mindset, because coaching is, a mindset. So, we trust the above 5 reflection points will help you in your own experience as a coaching client and we’d very much love to hear your thoughts on them!

coaching call

Content contributed by Lorentiu Horubet founder of Let’s Talk Leadership Consultancy.

Leaders: There’s a New Way to Understand Change

New leadership

At a recent luncheon, I was involved in a discussion that I find becoming more common. The topic was this: Change Management is old news. The argument says the way we once understood change management has been overcome by several new and more complex drivers in business.

New leadership

Here are some of the reasons old-style change management doesn’t work anymore.

First, we are now into Phase Three of technology advancements. Phase One was the development of the Internet; building the superhighway for information exchange. Phase Two was the emergence of power users who understood the opportunities from phase one and launched very disruptive platforms to overhaul the way we operate and live (think Apply, Amazon, Facebook, Google). Phase Three, our current phase, includes IOT (the Internet of Things), nanotechnologies, and other rapid response initiatives in energy, life sciences, and medicine.

The pace at which Phase Three operates has the potential for changing in an instant. Long, drawn out change management plans can’t sustain the rapid change happening required by Phase Three.

Another factor is the whipsaw effect most business leaders find themselves these days. Conflicting interests create massive paradoxes that keep managers and leaders on their heels. These are examples of polar opposites that now exist in businesses of all sizes, and the list goes on.

Be more hands-on with business, but less hands-on with people. Executives stated a need to find new ways to be inclusive and to help others develop. Meanwhile, they’re now more conscious of keeping their eye on the day-to-day business in a way that’s more encompassing.

Do more with less. Drive increased productivity while reducing resources and controlling costs.

Empower the work team but manage risk. Leaders must take chances while safeguarding the business. In a highly
unpredictable market, this balancing act is more difficult than ever before.

Seel diverse points of view but drive unified action. A leader must encourage people to share ideas while inspiring them
to embrace the ultimate decision.

Next, conventional leadership approaches involving annual reviews, merit awards, and other older compensation models don’t support the rapid change cycles. People can work multiple, very diverse assignments within a one year review period. Conventional tools like strategic planning and budgeting have time horizons that look like glacier movement when compared to the fast pace of some current change.

Lastly, old mindsets about human behavior in the face of change are becoming less effective for managing and leading work teams. Whether you blame it on the Millennial effect or some other convenient excuse for poor leadership, teams today don’t thrive under old ways of managing.

New Model

To better accommodate the rapid change in the business world today, you must adopt a different view. I have become an evangelist for one that makes much more sense.


I call it ACE for Agility, Core, and Edge. Let’s start with the Core.


The Core is who we are and what we know/believe. It’s the stuff we’re “made of”. Core comes from the composite experiences we have had in life. Your core includes values, beliefs, experience, biases, prejudices (yes we all have them). It also includes the knowledge you have accumulated whether by teaching, training or practical experience.

The Core is not limited to values and beliefs but has much to do with that. Understanding your own core can help define purpose. Core helps to understand the power of harnessing your mind’s attention and your hearts affection. When these two critical elements are running in harmony, you can be an unstoppable force.

Core creates our comfort zones. When you feel you are operating in a comfort zone, you are deep in your core.


As you face new challenges or get pushed into unfamiliar circumstances, you are walking on the Edge. The edge is where everything we don’t know lives. New ideas, new technology, new programs, business growth initiatives, all are edge things.

Standing on the edge takes us far away from our core and leaves us uncomfortable. Most of us don’t like the edge. We don’t like it on the edge. For many of us, we don’t even like stepping too far away from our core.

Yet changes happening around us demand that we visit the edge. All the “new” things in your world are likely Edge items, not core ones.


Agility is the special ability to move from core to edge and back again without losing all sense of balance or security. Great leaders develop their agility more than even their core. Having agility as a leader gives you the strength to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. The agiler you might be as a leader, the more you are known as the stabilizing force.


  • Requires being fully aware “in the moment” to concentrate intensely on the needs of the situation
  • Allows for behavioral transitions between proven practices and new approaches
  • Is employed in a proactive and intentional way to increase the effectiveness

Have you ever worked for someone who seemed to never get rattled despite some very stressful situations? That person had agility. They could go out to the edge (the stress) and not lose sight of their core. They knew their core was a strength and an ever-present reservoir of wisdom and experience. They knew that going to the edge did not require abandoning the core.

Lee Hecht Harrison conducted a survey of 130 executive level leaders (CEO, COO, CFO or Presidents) from over 92 organizations. FIndings show that the most successful leaders are adept at using a wide range of behaviors strategically matched to produce targeted impact.

Here are some of their top line findings:

  1. In response to dealing with paradoxes and contradictory environments, leaders need to make frequent choices about the way in which they lead. They must draw upon a broad range of behaviors to navigate and lead most effectively.
  2. In order to increase their agility, leaders cannot rely solely on their strengths and preferences. They must learn and practice new behaviors.
  3. Behavior shifts cannot be prescribed; rather, personal capability must be developed to select the right approach “in-the-moment.” This requires the development of self-reflection, which builds the awareness to effectively scan the situation, select the most results-orientated focus, shift to the required behavior and learn from the experience.

The Best Type of Change

Back to the argument about change management. The best change you can pursue is learning to develop your agility. For the moment, your core is finite. It is only just so big.

The edge is arguably infinite. There are moments of all types every day that become edge events in our lives. Do you disagree with infinite? Think of the edge as a circle around your core. Mathematicians tell us there is an infinite number of points along the outer edge of a circle.

The best change you can pursue is learning how to grow your agility. Why? Because better agility gets you out to the edge faster with a more stable ability to respond. Then once the edge is handled, you revert back to the core. This push and pull build a resilience.

Steps for Increasing Personal Agility

Because self-awareness is the first step, you need to learn to “see” when agility is being used. The person may be aware or unaware that they are behaving with agility. What you will notice is that the person is using a combination of approaches in dealing with a group and has success in getting a broad range participation that leads to focused, productive action. They are curious about
what others have to say and respectful of diverse views, bringing a level of creativity and innovation to addressing complex situations.


  • Find a leader who demonstrates the ability to select the right behaviors for a range of different situations. Notice when they match their approach to the situation. Ask them to share how they make this determination. Have a discussion about how you both become aware of matching your behavior to the situation.
  • Identify what “clues” you use to determine whether to go for “core” or “edge.”
  • Practice identifying when you are in “core” and “edge” modes. Become aware of how you choose which approach to apply.


  • Practice becoming aware of yourself when you are distracted and how you can regain focus.
  • Practice concentrating your attention, identify a work or point of attention that you can use to refocus your actions. Use it when you notice yourself getting off track.
  • Identify the environment that gives you the highest level of performance. Notice the results you get when you are in this environment.


  • Identify how you “know” when it is time to shift and move on. How do you determine your point of diminishing return for an approach? Notice when you have stayed in one mode for too long.
  • Practice using this “signal” to make change earlier.
  • Notice what happens when you release your focus and move
    your attention.

There is an added benefit. Once you more effectively move back and forth between core and edge, you actually grow your core. Your experiences out on the edge become your new truth. The new impact of having completed an edge task adds to your core.

I know I’ll get letters from my change management friends. These I welcome because then we’ll all get to share ideas about new edges and where our core sits. Let’s ACE it!

Author’s Note: This ACE model is shared by permission of Lee Hecht Harrison, a global leader in talent development. It has been my privilege to work with their team across the U.S. coaching senior executives at major corporations.

To see more about this framework, click here.