Coaching a Resistant Client

ViolenceListening to a coaching conversation, my heart went out to a struggling coach whose unprepared client asked for some first steps in setting up a business. This sounds like a fine topic to coach, but when the client was asked what a win would look like, the client said he would know how to incorporate.

Coaching can’t give you the details of how to incorporate. Or at least, it shouldn’t. Unfortunately, this coach knew where to find the information and was able to guide the client to the IRS website for the details. Mission accomplished.

What would have been a better response?

How about:

“I know exactly where to find that information. I’ll send you an email with the links as soon as we are done. Coaching is a very powerful process, and I hope we can use it today to get your life some momentum in the direction of your new business or for that matter, momentum is whatever direction you’d like to choose.”

Do not get frustrated with the client. The client is a busy person who does not regularly take time to think and ponder. This time you have with the client, even if it is only 20 minutes, is a gift of space and time to the client. They don’t have to produce. They are safe for the moment. They can relax.

How about this response:

“That information can be found at It sounds like you are a bit stressed about the whole process. You can only do so much so fast. How would it change your progress if you were able to relax into it?”

Here is the secret:

I’ve moved from coaching the issue to coaching the client.

The client’s state of mind might be a bigger obstacle than not knowing where to find some information. If the client could use Google to solve their problem, it isn’t a good use of the coaching space.


Avoid the Coaching Clench

In a coaching session, my coach told me, “I don’t really care what you do.” Seriously?! You don’t care? I asked him about his statement. He said, “I try to care as little as possible about what people do.”

My coach isn’t a cold, calculating, unfriendly fellow. In fact, he is warm, engaging, and kind. But he does not have an agenda for my life. In podcast # 22, my wife demonstrates coaching. She coaches me through the question of what I will preach at our church after Easter. In our post-coaching debrief, we talk about the fact that she might have had an agenda for me.

Why would she have an agenda? Is she controlling? Some people are, but I don’t think that was her motivation. She is competitive. She wanted a win for me. She saw some ideas beginning to take shape, and she grabbed hold of them and dragged them along through our coaching conversation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, she is an excellent coach, and I am exaggerating a bit so that you can see the point. I have certainly done this in my own coaching practice as well. I like what I hear so I begin to champion it. Am I being encouraging or am I taking ownership? I’m irritated by the client’s lack of motivation so I try to insert some of my own passion into their life.

Like a liver transplant gone bad, the host rejects the passion you inject with a vengeance.

This is the biggest point. As a coach, you want your client to take complete ownership. In order to do so, you have to really not care what they do or don’t do. I certainly don’t take it that far. I care. I can’t help it. I want my clients to do well. But I must remind myself, at the end of the session, the client walks on into the plan, and I hang up the phone.


Building Strong Accountability

IMG_1780This was my coaching question going into December of 2014:

How do I continue running through the winter?

The past two summers I have done very well running three times a week for exercise and by the end of both summers got my weight down to a number that made me proud. But last winter, I stopped running, regained the weight, and repeated the same process of loss.

As I was coached on this topic in several sessions by several different coaches, I found the coaches going one of two directions. First, I needed a clever plan. Something new. Second, when I didn’t bite very hard on the clever plan strategy, they looked for a way to motivate me. Sometimes this plummeted to “Why are you afraid of the cold?” This didn’t work very well either.

I didn’t want a clever plan. I wanted to run outside, even though it was cold. Motivation can be a problem in the winter as the days get very short, and energy is expended just staying warm.

For me, the solution was in Accountability. Some coaches had hit on this, encouraging me to join a running club or at least get a partner. But accountability doesn’t have to be a person.

I made a deal with myself. I love books, and I had played with the idea of getting a subscription to It just gets expensive. So I told myself, you can get a subscription to, but you can only listen to it when you’re running.

I could tell internally that this just might do the trick. Setting a public goal, getting a partner, getting extra motivated, … None of that was going to work.

Some weight has returned but not all of it. I didn’t run this last week due to illness, but I can already tell that I will soon return to running because I need to finish Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why, which is great. I need to finish it because I want to start listening to Tim Ferriss’ book, 40 Hour Work Week, next.

Accountability is a powerful part of the coaching process. It doesn’t have to be a “Who,” and it doesn’t have to be the most creative “What.” I just made a connection between something I wanted and something I needed.

How can you build accountability into your goals for 2015?

How can your ministry leaders build accountability into their goals for 2015?


Why Alyssa Got a Tattoo

Ecuador TattooOur daughter said, “I want to get a tattoo.”

I said, “No you don’t.”

My wife said, “You really don’t.”

She was late in her sixteenth year, and while it may seem a no brainer to most that she simply could not get a tattoo, it was not so simple at all. She was living in Ecuador and had been living there for almost a year.

The issue did not go away. She decided for her eighteenth birthday, she would get a tattoo. You may not like my advice, and I can live with that, but here’s what I told her. “Don’t get a dolphin or a leprechaun. Get something that will have meaning to you for the rest of your life.”

Alyssa drew up a potential tattoo. It was an outline of Ecuador, with the country’s name written out in script. (No one would identify the country by its shape). It had a heart where she lived for the year, and then to totally make it “Alyssa,” she put the elemental symbol for potassium on top of it and wrote everything in purple.

Why? Because bananas are Ecuador’s chief export, bananas are rich in potassium, and the symbol for potassium is K. Alyssa is a nerd. Not convinced she’s a nerd? The tattoo is in purple because when you burn potassium, it burns a purple flame. Go ahead, burn a banana.

This experience was life-changing for Alyssa and something that will forever be foundational to who she is. We still talk about the three families she lived with, the adventures with the other exchange students visiting Galapagos or navigating the Amazon, becoming fluent in Spanish, and even the time she got lost walking all over town. Yikes!

Alyssa did not get a tattoo of Jesus. She’s a great kid and is working out her faith, and I’m comfortable with that, but she did not say, “Jesus has impacted my life in such a foundational way, I want to tattoo his face on my shoulder.”

Here is my simple coaching question: When you are designing a ministry, whether it is a small group or a mission trip or a worship service, how can that experience become so foundational to those who participate that they want a picture of Jesus tattooed on their shoulder?

Don’t get hung up on the tattoo here. What experience have you had with Jesus that impacted your life in such a significant manner? How can you give someone else that same opportunity?


Eight Steps for Telling Someone They’re Wrong

640px-Bob_Dylan_1984Iconic singer Bob Dylan was asked by a writer from Rolling Stone, “Who tells you when you’re wrong?” Dylan immediately got up and walked out. The interview was over. If you don’t like that question either, please stop reading.

Very few people like being told they’re wrong. I hate it. How would someone else know my life better than me? In truth, it is easier to see the poor choices of other than it is to see our own.

So who tells me when I’m wrong? I’ve asked a few different people to take this role for me. They almost always agree to do it and then never follow through. It’s too difficult.

My wife has now taken this responsibility. The stereotype of a spouse becoming this person is that it is a terrible trait. My wife is not a nag or a griper. There is also no one else in my life that my decisions affect more. She has a vested interest in my forward path. Let me also say that no one encourages me more than my wife either.

So in the best possible sense, my wife is very good at telling me when I’m wrong, which also makes me realize I’m not good at this at all. I think it is worth analyzing how she keeps me accountable in hopes that we may be able to duplicate it. There is no exact rhythm to when she tells me, which is good, but she doesn’t let me get too far down the wrong road.

So how does she do it?

1. She has proved herself to be very discerning.

It is critical to have a solid relationship in order to effectively tell someone they are wrong. My wife sees more black and white while I see shades of grey. It is really irritating, but more often than not, I find that my wife is right.

2. She signals me that accountability is coming.

“We need to talk.” Uh-oh. I know what these words mean. But it is important that she doesn’t just catch me off guard. I need to be prepared when I’m receiving tough news.

3. We sit down in a private area.

It is important to have some privacy. There is only one person that needs to hear this and that is the person who is wrong. To have this conversation in front of others would only have the purpose of shaming the person. The goal isn’t shame. The goal is correction.

4. She focuses on one key area.

She doesn’t read off a laundry list. She doesn’t revisit past mistakes unless it is absolutely necessary. After the conversation, I am ultra-clear on exactly what the issue is and what needs to be different.

5. I’m always a little defensive, but she stays focused.

We rarely take a wrong action knowingly. So we don’t tend to think we were wrong. It is good that we have confidence in our original actions so a healthy person will always be a little defensive. In football, an aggressive defense can make a quarterback change the play. This isn’t football. Stay focused on the one issue.

6. She stays with me while I process it.

It isn’t a hit and run. This may be the key. I now process through most of these talks in one setting.

7. She coaches me through a plan for change.

This is new since we started learning how to coach. I’m better as well as since I’ve learned how to be coached. She doesn’t tell me how things are going to be. She draws my path forward out of me.

8. She lets me own my new plan.

This is one reason coaching is so helpful. A coach doesn’t have any agenda for your life. A coach isn’t wishing you would use their idea. A coach isn’t feeling like they owe you an intervention. A coach can hold up a mirror to help you see the way you are operating in an unbiased way.

In a coaching situation, it is very rare for the coach to tell the client that the action they are taking is absolutely wrong, but it is healthy in life to have someone you trust that will tell you very clearly that you are heading in the wrong direction.

Who tells you when you’re wrong? Maybe you should give them this list.

Who do you tell when they’re wrong? Maybe you should post this list somewhere handy.

Which of these eight steps is the hardest for you?


Is That Really What’s Holding You Back?

iStock_000008771762SmallI’m a big guy. I’m 6’1” and earlier this year, I weighed 240 lbs. Last year I got down to 215 and right now I weigh 218. What is the secret? Diet and exercise. For exercise, I’ve been able to run. I can’t tell you I love running but I find I can run three times a week (outside, not on a treadmill) and not get bored of it. I’ve not been a runner all my life. I’m not built like a runner. But right now I run, and it works… except in the winter, which is why I gained the weight back.

I can’t imagine myself under 200 lbs. I haven’t weighted under 200 lbs in 30 years! Remember, I’m a big guy! I took two guys from our church to Haiti and the Haitian pastor spoke enough English to comment, “The Crossover (our church) has big boys!” We were all well over 200 lbs. It hasn’t been uncommon over the years for guy friends to refer to me as big guy. It happened just last week!

Here is where it becomes an issue – when I eat. I like to eat. I like big portions. I like big bites. I like seconds. And honestly, I’m a big guy.

“You should have another burger. You’re a big guy” is not an uncommon thing for me to hear at a cookout.

I can’t imagine going below the 200 lb. barrier. Is that really a barrier? I can almost guarantee you that it is only a mental barrier. It isn’t real. My big guy mentality chooses my food – what type of food and portion size. I never, ever, leave food on my plate. I have just recently been successful at not eating other people’s leftover French fries.

This barrier is an assumed constraint. I have become conditioned to believe that I can’t weigh under 200 lbs. Rather than simply changing my diet, I need to change my mentality. I’m a healthy guy. Rather than force a diet change on me, I’d rather let a healthy image choose a new diet. Otherwise I’m just feeding the big guy salads, and he hates that.

There are changes in your life and even in your ministry that you’d like to make, but you are assuming it isn’t possible. There is a decent chance you’re wrong, and that the change is very possible for you.

What are you assuming about yourself that very likely is not true?

If you’d like to hear more about assumed constraints, I’d encourage to listen to my podcast Some Limits Aren’t Real.


Seven Essentials for Telling Something Tough

Construction worker shouting into megaphone. Isolated on a white backgroundWouldn’t it be great to have the ability to say difficult statements to people without wounding them further?  In coaching, we call this skill a direct statement or a concise statement.

Arden Adamson said in our podcast interview that coaching skills are just good people skills.  Coaching teaches the best way to communicate the tough stuff.  As I reflect on these skills, they are helpful in almost every conversation in life.  We should listen at a deeper level.  We should be more encouraging.  We should ask better questions.  And we should be more adept at speaking the truth.

Here are seven essentials for telling people the truth.

Ask permission to tell

This has been one of the best tips I have received.  Rather than just blurt your observation, ask permission.  This shows respect.  This builds the relationship and produces trust.  This creates expectation that this will be a conversation rather than an intervention.

  • Can I make an observation?
  • Can I tell you something tough?
  • Can I say something that might be a little personal?

Wait for permission

If you ask, don’t make it a rhetorical question.  In our language today, we often use questions to make statements.

  • Are you really going to buy that?
  • Are those the pants you plan to wear?
  • Can I tell you something tough?  (And then proceed without approval)

Waiting gives the person a little time to prepare.  It signals this is something a little different.  It changes how the person will hear you.

Limit your statement to seven words or less

I wouldn’t actually spend any time counting my words, but if your statement is longer than one sentence, you’ve went too long.  Shoot with a rifle for precision rather than a shotgun.

  • It’s always best to start with the end in mind.
  • That seems to be your default response.
  • You’re putting limits on yourself that aren’t necessary.
  • You expect to fail.

You are going to want to explain yourself further, but it is rarely for clarification.  It is to prove your point.  If your goal is for the person to take what you say to heart, give it to them respectfully rather than pounding it in with a sledgehammer.

Be sure it is crucial to the desired outcome

When we get into the mode of telling, we think of several other truths we ought to speak.  If you want to get the most bang for your buck, be sure that your carefully selected seven words are specific to your goal for the hearer.

You should be able to draw a straight line from the conversational topic through your direct statement all the way to the conclusion of the conversation.  Don’t waste a bullet.

Don’t enjoy the moment

I’m not judging Dr Phil but he sure does seem to enjoy the moment of telling someone their problem.  It makes good TV.  Dr Phil enjoys the moment, and we, the audience, enjoy the moment.  About time somebody told them the truth!

But we aren’t Dr Phil, and we have no audience.  Your words should speak the truth in love.  You are in no position to know which words will be the most useful to the client.  So as my mentor coach Bill Copper says, “Hold it lightly.”  If they want to take it, fine.  If they ignore it, no worries.  Saying another paragraph or two isn’t going to convince them that you’re right.

Be prepared to apologize

You don’t want to purposely hurt anyone’s feelings, but coaching requires some risk.  People have hidden sore spots and making a direct statement is the best way to stick your finger right into a wound.  If the client pulls back and starts shaking his head back and forth, you need to take responsibility for the words you spoke and apologize.  Don’t go on and on with an apology, just say it and mean it.

  • I’m sorry.  I thought that would be helpful.  I took a risk.  I was wrong.

Would you rather be right or help the client take a next step?

Don’t make it a conversation stopper

Your direct statements should flow right into the conversation.  The best direct statements don’t sound like direct statements.  When I’ve observed master coaches use direct statements, they don’t stand out any more than any other part of the coaching conversation.  They are said in the same even tone that accompanies questions and encouragement.

The goal of direct statements in coaching and in life is to help the other person move forward and get new understanding.  These seven essentials will help you be more effective.

Which is of these characteristics do you need to observe more closely in your own conversations?


Clear Agreements Lead to More Success

Business partner concept

Clear Agreements Lead to More Success

I was listening to Dave Ramsey on his EntreLeadership podcast, and he was saying that every employee in his organization had a KRA – Key Result Area.  Dave said that if you don’t define what success looks like for a person, it is like “having them bowl with the lights out.”  There’s lots of noise, but you don’t know what you’ve hit.

An agreement is a key element to a good coaching relationship.  There has to be an agreement to the expectations of the coaching relationship, and every coaching conversation must begin with a clear agreement of what is hoped to be achieved in that particular conversation.

Agreements can be used in many other situations as well.  An agreement helps a person understand:

  • What is expected
  • What will be provided
  • What the reward will be
  • When the work should be finished
  • What the consequences will be if the work is not finished (both for the person and for the organization)

A clear agreement is useful with:

  • Staffing
  • Volunteers
  • Teachers
  • Community partnerships
  • Students
  • Children
  • Contracts

A clear agreement was essential for a recent community partnership between myself and our local school district.  Before we could do any work within the school system, we had to agree that my agenda was to be a blessing to the school.  I had no other agenda.  This agreement has given me tremendous access (and influence) with the school on a very wide basis.  Without the upfront, clear agreement, I would have zero access.

Agreements can be perceived as manipulative or binding.  They should be just the opposite.  A good agreement should clearly benefit both parties.  This should leave both parties knowing how everyone can be successful.

Agreements should use clear communication, not lawyer speak.

They should have input from both sides.  A quality coach will be clear about his or her expectations, but the coach should get a lot of input on the coaching agreement from the client: What in the coaching agreement is uncomfortable? What is missing? What would work better?

When have you had an experience that would have gone better if there had been a clear agreement?



The Power of Wow!

“Wow!”  When I took my first coaching class, Sam Farina was teaching the class, and he used one word over and over.  “Wow!”  I decided that day to adopt the power of “Wow!”

Sam said it was a simple word of encouragement.

  • WowYou really look great today!
  • That is a fantastic idea!
  • I’m impressed by your discipline this last week!

“Wow!” can really put the stamp on self-discovery.

I was coaching a client the other day who had an amazing self-discovery.  It was a huge “aha!”  Instead of saying, “Wow,” I was so excited that I said “Whoa!  Whoa!  Whoa!  Whoa!  Whoa!”  My client stopped and looked at me, and then I said, “I’m sorry.  I meant ‘Wow!'”  Because it was “Wow!”

It can’t be sarcastic.  It can’t be dishonest.  It can’t be fake. 


Encouragement has to be the most underused tool in the kit.  We prefer exasperation, guilt, irritation.

Recently, I ran into a man who had played a small but significant role in my life.  When I was much younger, it was 2 months away from my wedding day, and I was downsized from my job.  Ouch.  I went to the school I was attending and found Dick.  He set aside his work.  Prayed with me.  Talked to me.  Gave me a job suggestion (which worked out really well).

When I saw him the other day, I pulled him aside and told him how much that he meant to me that day.  He didn’t remember the day at all but he really appreciated the encouragement.  A friend of mine told me later he was still talking about how I pulled him aside to say “Thanks.”  He felt so encouraged!

“Wow!”  Encouragement is powerful.

Who could use some encouragement from you this week?  Write down some names.  Let loose some “Wow!”