Tag: coaching

1/29/12 “Good Questions”

Good day, team.

This past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of asking good questions. I realized that learning how to ask good questions was not a part of my education. All through school, we were encouraged to come up with the right answers — but not to become experts at the process of inquiry. This sets us up in our lives to always feel compelled to have the answer — and always the right answer.

It wasn’t until I was trained to be a coach that I learned how to ask good questions. We were encouraged not to answer any questions but rather to continue to inquire even if we thought we had the answers for our clients. Through the questions, we can prompt our clients to discover more about themselves, investigate more thoroughly the circumstances they find themselves in and understand how people are influencing their lives. In fact, so much about coaching revolves around the process of inquiry that you could say the best coaches ask the most insightful and relevant questions.

Having been an executive recruiter for many years, I was accustomed to a traditional form of interviewing that asked candidates questions about their work history and experience. I received lots of information about what they had done and how they did it. What I didn’t get enough of was a good understanding of who the person was. Back then, we didn’t ask a lot of ‘who’ questions like, what did he or she value most and want to see reflected in the values of an organization? What was the person most proud of in his or her life — not just in terms of work — and what would he or she never be willing to give up? Where did he or she tend to self-sabotage? How well did the candidate know themselves? How would a close friend or associate describe the character of the candidate?

Here’s a great example of a “who” question and answer. A good friend of mine named Ben was interviewing for a position to do something he hadn’t done before. He had some of the skills from a previous profession, but he would require much technical training if he got this new job. It would require a good-sized investment on the part of the organization if he were hired. He knew it would be a stretch for them to select him over other candidates who had just the right background for the job.

Toward the end of the interview, the hiring manager asked Ben, “What are you most proud of accomplishing in your life?” After a brief hesitation, Ben replied, “Staying married for the past 25 years.” The hiring manager chuckled, “I know exactly what you mean,” he said. “It’s a real challenge and commitment to stick with it through thick and thin.” It was at that point that the real connection was made between Ben and the hiring manager. By answering the question truthfully and sincerely, Ben revealed much more about who he was and what was important to him. He got the job and continued to have an open and genuine relationship with his new boss.

Asking good questions of others is one part of this challenge; the other is to be willing to ask yourself more questions. I think our fear of self-discovery comes from living in a world where outward appearances are so important. The emphasis is on how you look and act for other people, and you’re not encouraged to look inward to discover more about who’s in there. It’s as though the character you play on stage is more important than who’s in the dressing room before you put on your costume.

Self-inquiry is important, and it’s often the only way I can get to what’s at the heart of a matter for myself. When I’m worried about something or have something I need to work through, I often ask myself “why” to get to the deeper matter at hand. Here’s an example of some recent self dialogue:

— I’m afraid to have that difficult conversation with that person.

— Why?

— Because it will make me feel nervous and anxious.

— Why?

— Because when I think about the reaction that person will have, it makes me cringe and feel extremely uncomfortable.

— Why?

— Because I don’t want her to think I’m judging her, and I don’t want her to think badly of me.

— Why?

— Because I worry about what she will think of me.


— Because I’m not very confident about my relationship with her.

— Why?

— Because I don’t trust she’ll see that I have the best of intentions toward her.

— Why?

— Because she doesn’t trust me.

— Why?

— Because she has trouble trusting people.

And so on.

I first heard about the “why” exercise when I read that Sony Corp. used this as a practice to help employees get to the real reasons behind why they should or shouldn’t do something or explore ideas and strategies on a deeper level. Whenever someone in the company made an emphatic statement about what should be done, others were instructed to ask “why” five times so they could get to the root of the idea. I’ve used it a number of times in my own self-inquiry and with others. It always gets me closer to the truth.

This week, try asking good questions. Perhaps you already know the answer to something, but go ahead and purposefully ask your co-worker the question to hear another point of view. Maybe you decide to check in more often in your conversations with others to make sure they heard you or understand you. A simple inquiry like, “Does this make sense to you?” after you’ve made a statement can start a much more enlightening conversation about the subject. Another idea is to turn a statement into a question or reframe an opinion so it opens the door for someone else to comment. If you are uncertain about your thinking or feelings, don’t be afraid to ask yourself “why” a few times to get to what’s really going on. Or maybe just experiment with the “why” exercise for fun with some of your team members.

Asking good questions is an art. And like art, it requires practice to get better at it. As Peter Drucker, the famous business consultant said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

8/29/11 “Making a Difference”

Good day, team.

This past week I worked with two teams at two companies in two locations. At one location, I found myself standing at a whiteboard in a conference room talking about team dynamics as the team nodded in agreement about the challenges of dealing with others. At another location, I stood on the deck of a boat, watching whales swim just 20 feet away as the team ooh’ed and aah’ed.

What kind of job is this, I wondered? In all my wildest dreams, I never would have imagined many of the amazing experiences I’ve had while working for a living. In many ways “working for a living” is exactly what some of these experiences have been for me. My work has expanded my life and given it meaning. Each day I am given the opportunity to make a difference in my own life by making a difference in the lives of others.

I consider myself extremely lucky that a decade ago I experienced a mid-life crisis on several levels. I began to realize how unhappy I was with almost all aspects of my life. I was out of alignment, and each day this gnawing inside me became more and more painful. With the help of a coach and a therapist — as well as a health crisis that kicked me in the butt — I began to make better choices in my career and personal life.

Then one day, the coaching profession, very much in its infancy at that time, offered itself up to me when a close friend suggested, “Hey, what about coaching?” I thought he meant volleyball.

It’s funny how that one casual conversation changed my work life profoundly. Coaching has given me the opportunity to touch people’s lives in a way that I never thought possible. As I approached my 50s, making a difference became more and more important to me. The ability to offer something that helps people improve their lives is at the core of my joy.

This past week, I was inspired by one team because of how honest and open everyone was with one another. Managing difficult people is frustrating, and I respected the efforts of these managers as they worked to find good solutions and assume the positive intent of their people. Change the scene and team members, and I was again in awe of a different group of people who continue each day to try to make their company a better place to work. For many of them, the past few years have not been encouraging or successful. A lack of clear vision or mission and many changes at the executive level have left them feeling hopeless at times. And yet, they continue to come back day after day to make a positive difference.

In both cases, I was amazed by the dedication and willingness to serve others. I’m grateful that my job allows me to provide them with guidance in their quest to be better for themselves and make things better for others.

This week, see what makes you happiest in your work life. Perhaps it’s watching your people develop as you mentor and manage them. Maybe it’s your ability to bring a team together to keep everyone focused and engaged as they work on a project. Some of my clients find joy in acting as individual contributors by making a process easier for a team. Others have become subject-matter experts and enjoy providing insight, vision and expertise to their team.

Three wonderful quotes come to mind on this subject. This week, I hope one of them inspires you to make a difference for yourself and others.

“This is the true joy in life — being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” — George Bernard Shaw

“It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” — Tom Brokaw

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” — Edward Everett Hale

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2011 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

8/1/11 “Phone Therapy”

Good day, team.

Last week, I wrote about love and the importance of it in our private and professional lives. In response to the challenge, my good friend and fellow coaching associate, Kate Dwyer,* sent me the following wonderful poem. This week’s challenge is within her message:

“This poem reminds me of how my best coaching works and why — especially the last stanza. Of course, it’s an extreme example. But we often make tiny self-destructive decisions all day long, and the coach is there to help us choose something else, to choose something more creative, intentional, bold, openhearted. On a tiny scale, it’s like choosing life over death.”

Phone Therapy 
by Ellen Bass

I was relief, once, for a doctor on vacation
and got a call from a man on a windowsill.
This was New York, a dozen stories up.
He was going to kill himself, he said.
I said everything I could think of.
And when nothing worked, when the guy
was still determined to slide out that window
and smash his delicate skull
on the indifferent sidewalk, “Do you think,”
I asked, “you could just postpone it
until Monday, when Dr. Lewis gets back?”

The cord that connected us — strung
under the dirty streets, the pizza parlors, taxis,
women in sneakers carrying their high heels,
drunks lying in piss — that thick coiled wire
waited for the waves of sound.

In the silence I could feel the air slip
in and out of his lungs and the moment
when the motion reversed, like a goldfish
making the turn at the glass end of its tank.
I matched my breath to his, slid
into the water and swam with him.
“Okay,” he agreed.

Your challenge this week is to reflect upon the times you offer your coaching skills to your teammates. See if you can find ways to do more of it. Think about the times you offer advice to help others be more creative, intentional, bold and openhearted. See how the coaching transforms them and opens up new doorways. Find ways to have a positive impact on others. Explore new ways to help them see the same set of circumstances differently. Be the steady hand for them when they’re suffering with a problem at work.

Nothing is more meaningful than tapping into our ability to help others. This week, like the woman on the phone, be the person on the other end who is a lifesaver.

Have a good week!


* Many thanks to my wise woman friend and colleague, Kate Dwyer, for this week’s challenge.

“Phone Therapy” by Ellen Bass, from Mules of Love. (c) BOA Editions, Ltd., 2002. Reprinted with permission.
© Copyright 2011 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.