I'm on my way to Philadelphia and wondering if I remembered to let
the dog in before I left. Like most people, leaving my house to go
to work involves steps and passages, lists and projections, chores
I like going to work. I've been doing the same thing since 1995.
But I haven't been doing the same thing. I've been growing
professionally and personally, developing skills, offering them to
the world, finding places where they fit. I am a coach: personal,
life, executive, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
One of the skills that I have built as a coach is the ability to
ask challenging questions. Sometimes it's a simple one like, "How
are you doing?" It all depends on what my client needs, on that
day, at that moment. Coaching begins with a line of questioning:
direct, deep, and intuitive. The process requires listening with
all of your senses simultaneously; it requires a consciousness of
what you can touch, taste, smell, hear, feel, and understand. The
art of questioning, like the art of coaching, demands my full
The critical questions I ask my clients each day center around one
issue in particular: "What do you want?" "What do you want to
happen, to feel, to know, to create, or to build?" And, "How do you
want to accomplish that?" The synergy of a successful coach-client
relationship produces the energy that will propel the client closer
to success. That's the name of the game: client success. It takes
training, awareness, knowledge, and practice. Powerful questions
posed in a private meeting allow the opportunity for a considered
response from the client whose professional and personal problems
may ordinarily result in foreshortened planning and truncated
attempts to acquire what they really want. Commitments to self,
insight, learning from mistakes, and success often are achieved
with remarkable speed in the presence of a supportive relationship.
Coaching offers this opportunity.
Actually, coaching is a lot like driving. You can look at the
scenery while you're driving, but you also have to pay attention to
the road, other drivers, the weather, your speed, and the condition
of your car, to say nothing of the map. Coaching requires the same
attention. You've done your job if the client reaches his or her
Back to my Philly trip. I'm on my way to visit a corporate client
who is debating which techniques she might use to delegate more
responsibility to her staff. She's typically keeps things close to
her vest. She likes directing but feels unsure and lacks confidence
when she delegates. I'm wondering, as I drive, whether she reached
last week's goal of telling her staff she'd be delegating more
because she can trust them to do a great job. I'm betting she did
it. She's committed and courageous.
I arrive and meet her at her company. She's not happy with the job
she did but thrilled that she attempted it at all. We assess the
techniques she tried and their relative success. I add to the list
of skills she could use; she examines what she thinks the results
might be if she tried them. Then I ask her, "What could happen if
you fail?" She's stumped. She said that she was ready to consider
new changes she'd make if she were successful but not what could
happen if she failed. She ponders.
Her conclusion is that if she fails, the person who will be
burdened most is herself. If she fails, she will prove to herself
that she doesn't trust her staff. If she fails, she'll acknowledge
that change is more threatening to her than growth.
She's not up for failure. She determines that she'll try and accept
success one step at a time. She's elated and ready to address her
When I'm finished downtown, I head over to the University of
Pennsylvania where I meet another client who's struggling to finish
his dissertation. His topic has been accepted, but he's made no
progress writing. He talks about his irritated advisor, the
possibility of not finishing, the possibility of not getting the
job of his dreams, and the possibility of not being able to support
his family doing what he's wanted to do for years. Talk about
His anxiety is off the charts. He paces. I ask him how long he
thinks it would take him to write the page 15. He looks stunned by
my question. He says, with great irritation, "I don't know what's
going to be on the page 15." I ask, "What would it take to know?"
He responds, "Well, I'd have to design the first chapter. It's
really the easiest." I interrupt, "Design it now. I'm going for a
I'm back in 10 minutes. He's halfway finished. I stop him and ask
how long it will take him to finish the outline if he has to do it
before 10 p.m. tonight. He decides he could do it in half an hour.
I respond, "Then you'll have the answer to my question, right?" He
agrees to leave me a message before midnight with the rough content
of the page 15. We'll meet next week.
My schedule indicates that I speak with my next client on the phone
in an hour and a half. I race up Route 95 to make it to my office
on time. Although I could use my cell phone, I'd rather not be
driving when I work. I arrive in time for the call. This client has
been sent by her company to hone her leadership skills. She's a
vice president who's being groomed and needs to make presentations
to the public, communicate with effectiveness, and handle
negotiations with employee groups. She's used to the work but needs
to kick it up a notch to reach the next level of effective
She's tough. She thinks she's good at presentations, but is
continuously evaluated as mediocre. We've made tapes and examined
her style and content. She feels her data is dry and her style is
pedestrian, autocratic, humorless, and flat. Today she's working on
telling jokes and stories as vehicles for information transfer. I
ask her how long she thinks it will take to make me laugh. She's
amused but underestimates her capabilities significantly. We talk
about connecting with the audience, about acting, about turning
your face to the group and not to your papers. I'm confident she'll
work this through and get better. Will she satisfy herself? She
doesn't know the answer to that question yet.
We schedule our next meeting and it's nearly dinnertime. I grab
some leftovers and continue to work with two more phone clients in
the early evening. By 8:30 p.m., I'm finished with everything.
There are no more clients to meet, and I am tired. It's been a good
day. I make a list of what I've learned today. More and more that's
the form my personal journal takes: a hearty list of what my
clients have taught me.
Coaching is a profession in which I have the opportunity to
participate in transformation. The better job I do, the more I
confirm change. I watch people grow and alter themselves in ways
they didn't always expect but in ways that they desire. The better
the question, the faster the breakthrough. The more I support new
behavior, the more imbedded it becomes. Change holds the
opportunity clients yearn for. I let the dog in and sleep well.