Plain and Simple: Powerful Guidelines for Coaching in Troubled Times, By David Noer

Posted by Dr. David Noer

A long-term client, whom I thought I knew well, surprised me by breaking down during a recent session. The tears and emotional anguish were in polar opposition to the conservative culture of his firm and his past rational, controlled behavioral pattern. We had previously worked on issues such as his interactions with his board, relationships with his subordinate vice presidents and a post-merger strategy. Now, as a result of the economic meltdown, his business was facing massive layoffs, his personal wealth had significantly eroded, the viability of his firm was uncertain and his past leadership was being openly questioned. The context of our coaching relationship had precipitously changed from "traditional" business issues to dealing with his sense of relevance, purpose and societal contribution. This wasn't an isolated incident. As the financial crisis deepens, I'm finding that the context of more and more of my coaching interactions is moving in this direction. Since many of my colleagues are also facing this change, I'll share four guidelines that have helped me help my clients in these troubled times.

1. Help is defined by the helpee, not the helper.

I learned this deceptively simple phrase from the late Pat Williams, (founder of the Pepperdine MSOD program) and, over the years, have increasingly come to appreciate its relevance to a coaching relationship. When a client is caught up in a crisis of purpose, competence and self-esteem, facts, figures, models, 360-degree feedback reports and flow charts don't help-in fact, they get in the way. The currency of the realm is feelings and emotions, not facts and figures. Logical analysis and rational planning may help the coach feel competent, but they will only make the coachee feel worse. Anyone who has had an argument with a significant other and attempted to defuse their emotional issues by logical analysis to prove that they "shouldn't feel that way" will understand that you don't solve a "heart" (emotions and feelings) problem with a "head" (data and logic) process.

In a coaching relationship, the more a client's "heart" issues are responded to by the coach's "head" solutions, the wider the empathy gap. What is necessary before helping the client move forward are the basic skills of empathetic listening, reflecting feelings and emotions, and the ability to form an authentic, nonjudgmental, helping relationship. I deal primarily with top managers, and including their family, I'm frequently the only one they feel they can open up to. In these unsettling times, we can often be of more service to our clients by simply giving them empathy rather than supplying them with our "scientific" tools.

2. Don't be compulsive about boundaries.

I once worked with a bright but inexperienced coach who lost a valuable client by, when in a very teachable moment, disengaging and indicating that the client needed to talk to a licensed clinical psychologist. Business coaches should not practice therapy; most are not licensed or trained, and that is not our business purpose. If we are doing our job correctly, we are, however, engaged in a client-centered helping relationship and that is, in itself, therapeutic. We don't have to be licensed clinicians to be good listeners, reflect feelings and emotions, and help our clients articulate debilitating feelings. It is essential to know and adhere to our limits, but it is also important that we don't let artificial boundaries limit our abilities to help our clients. Another Pat Williams saying is "...to meet your clients where they are, not where you want them to be." In a time of business discontinuity we need to have the skills to meet them in the messy and unpredictable world of uncertainty and personal doubt.

3. Don't be a solution in search of a problem.

Most business coaches have a favorite technique or approach. Whether it is a diagnostic tool, an analytical process or a structured behavioral rehearsal process, we all have preferred mental models that guide us. Unfortunately, I have found that, despite diagnostic evidence to the contrary, too many coaches become locked into a single technique.

I recently followed a coach into a textile manufacturing company. My client was the vice president of manufacturing and was facing a massive downsizing triggered by a strategic decision to move operations to China. What he needed was help in dealing with the layoff survivors and in teaching his managers to facilitate venting sessions and formulate a positive vision for the remaining work force. What his original displaced coach kept pushing was a 360-degree feedback process. No doubt 360-degree feedback would, at some point, be useful for this vice president, but given the current environment, it would at best be a distraction. In order to be relevant to our clients, we need the discipline to engage in a diagnostic process and the skills to have a contingent repertoire of coaching interventions.

4. Make the client an individual, not an organization.

Almost always, helping the individual client helps the organization in the long term. However, in the short term, as when the best solution for the client is to help them leave the organization, the connection is not so clear. I have very few iron-clad rules; however, one that has been of great help is to always contract with the person. I don't turn down assignments if my fee comes out of a "corporate" account, but I strongly prefer it come from the budget of the individual client and, if not, I make my costs very visible. In a time of restructuring, mergers, downsizing and financial crisis, most executive clients are examining their life and career goals. It is not possible to engage in an authentic helping relationship if the coach has divided loyalties between the organization and the individual client.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (February 2009, Volume 5, Issue 1). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Coaching Models for Business Success: Working with Coaching Models* By Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron

Coaching models help us to understand the coaching intervention from a systems perspective and to appreciate the need for "structure" in the interaction between coach and client. They offer flexibility and a structure for both the coaching conversation and the overall coaching journey.

Although models create a system within which coach and client work, it is essential that models are not experienced as either prescriptive or rigid. The coaching conversation is about the client, not the coach. If the model is too prescriptive, it means it is fulfilling the coach's agenda, rather than attempting to understand the client's issues.

This next series of articles surveys a cross-section of models that influence the work of business and executive coaches worldwide. I will highlight a variety of models, including circular, nested, four-quadrant and U-process models.

What Is a Coaching Model?

A model represents a system with an implied process. It is a metaphor or analogy used to help visualize and describe the journey. Models systemically depict or represent a process that cannot be directly observed. In other words, a model represents more than what you see. If you can develop a model that encompasses the coaching conversation and the entire coaching intervention, you will begin to work with considerably greater ease within your practice. A coaching model is representative of what happens, or will happen, in the coaching conversation (micro) and in the overall coaching intervention or journey (macro). I recommend working with simple models that represent both the micro- and macro coaching interventions.

If you imagine that the model is the process you use to work with your client, it embodies all of your tools and techniques, including your question frameworks. A model is a simple representation of the journey that can encompass the skills, experience and expertise coach and client bring to the coaching conversation.

Which Models to Use?

The main purpose of this series is to introduce you to a variety of models, with examples of how to facilitate a coaching conversation using each one. The key principle I want to convey is that it is essential to adopt a structured approach to your coaching conversation. This does not mean that you cannot let the conversation grow and be explorative-I mean structure in a big-picture way. That is the beauty of any model: having the freedom to explore within each part of the model.

Purpose, Perspectives, Process Model

The Purpose, Perspectives, Process model (see Figure 1) was developed by David Lane of the Professional Development Foundation (PDF) and the Work-Based Learning Unit at London's Middlesex University (Lane and Corrie, 2006).

Purpose (Where Are We Going and Why?)

What is your purpose in working with the client? Where are you going with this client? What does the client want to achieve? Where do they want to go in their overall journey with you as their coach?

For example, one client working in the telecom industry said in our first session together, "I need your help because everybody in the organization distrusts me and I'm in a pretty senior position. What can I do about it? I'm highly respected by those subordinate to me in position and disliked and mistrusted by those superior or equal to me in position." As coach, your questions will relate to client purpose, i.e., "Where are we going, and what's the reason for going there?" It is usually better to ask a "what" question rather than a "why" question. For example, "Why are we going there?" sounds intrusive and can create a defensive posture on the part of the client. "What" questions help to create a bigger picture of the journey; "what" creates perspective. This client's purpose in this example was to "build alliances and trust with peers, colleagues and superiors throughout the organization."

Perspectives (What Will Inform Our Journey?)

What perspectives inform the journey for both coach and client? Both coach and client come in with their individual backgrounds, experience, expertise, culture, values, motivations and assumptions that drive behavior.

I recently had a call from a potential client who was a general manager in the energy industry. We chatted about his background, career and current job, and discussed his perspective in terms of his position within the organization, his style of leading and managing his team of people, and the impact of his age on his career prospects. Finally he said, "I have got as far as I can get with what I know now-and I need to know more, somehow."

We then discussed my perspective, i.e., what informs the way I work with clients, my experience and expertise. Based on our mutual perspectives, the client asked, "Would we have some kind of synchronicity or a match in order to work together?" He wanted to understand what models, tools and techniques I used as he wanted to create his own leadership development toolbox for his senior managers. He also wanted to understand how to handle mistakes: did I make them and what would my education, training and work experience bring to our conversation? In this first contracting conversation, we worked through the model like this:

Perspectives: How we might bring our two worlds together;
Purpose: What he ultimately wanted from the coaching experience; and
Process: How we would work together to achieve his outcomes.

Process (How Will We Get There?)

Using this model helped me to begin to understand the above client's needs, develop rapport, and identify not just his overall outcomes but a way to begin working together. At this stage of the model we contracted, set boundaries, agreed on confidentiality matters, outlined the fee paying process and initiated the formulation of a leadership development plan. We also agreed on timing (how often we would see each other and the individual client's line manager), and considered questions such as: What assessments would be useful for the individual client to complete? How would we debrief those profiles? We discussed potential coaching assignments and timing for the overall contract (including termination and exit possibilities if either party was unhappy) and explored how to obtain line manager approval. Finally, we set up a separate meeting to review the process with the line manager and the group HR director.

How Can This Model Help You?

This model can help you in three ways: to contract with the client, to structure the entire coaching journey and to guide your coaching conversation. Out of this specific conversation emerged the client's purpose, clarification about how our perspectives fit together to help him achieve this purpose, and the process within which we would work to achieve the outcomes desired.

This model can be used for the regular coaching conversations you have with your client. The client brings to the conversation a possible "menu" of topics to be discussed, or even just one particular topic. One of my clients in the media came to me one day saying, "My purpose today is to understand why I am sabotaging my best efforts to delegate to my senior managers" (purpose). As the coach, I wanted to understand all of the perspectives underlying the client's aim for this conversation (perspectives), as well as identify the various tools or techniques that could be used in the process.

The Coaching Conversation and the Coaching Journey

This model can represent the process for just one coaching conversation, but it can also represent the overall journey. For example, the client comes in with the purpose, "I would like to work with you; no one else will work with me as they find me too difficult." This client's purpose became to find a coach who would work with her, to help her to identify how she could not only develop the interpersonal skills to work successfully with others, but to demonstrate her new learning through visible behavior change at work. The coach's and the client's perspectives will be unique and different. In working with the client, you bring not just perspective, but your observations as to how this client seems to be working within the organizational system.

In terms of process, you may ask the client to do a range of assessment profiles, or you may shadow the client at work to experience how he or she facilitates meetings or interacts with customers, subordinates, superiors and colleagues.


Coach practitioners have a great deal of flexibility when working with coaching models. In my next column we will explore the use of the nested-levels model developed by New Ventures West (Weiss, 2004). I hope I have stimulated your appetite to further investigate coaching models.

*(Adapted from Business Coaching Wisdom and Experience, Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. 2009. Knowledge Resources and Karnac.)

Resource Materials

Kolb, D. 1984. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Lane, D.A. and S. Corrie. 2001. The Modern Scientist-Practitioner: A Guide to Practice in Psychology. London: Routledge.

Stout Rostron, S. 2006. Interventions in the Coaching Conversation: Thinking, Feeling and Behaviour. Unpublished DProf dissertation. London: Middlesex University.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (February Issue 2009, Volume 5, Issue 1). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Power Tools For Leadership Success

Posted by WABC

By Katherine Craig

As an executive coach I have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of individuals at all stages of their leadership development journey. Over the past two decades I’ve created wide-ranging strategies to support my clients as they strive to improve their individual and team performance. While many of those strategies require long-term effort, there are some basic tips and tools that can be implemented for immediate results and I’ve shared some of those tips in my new book, Power Tools for Leadership Success (© Dog Ear Publishing, 2012). Here is an excerpt:

Power Tools—Turning Thought into Action

How many of us have gone to a conference, heard a speaker, or read about an idea that really fired our engine, only to have the inspiration fade away over time? We have every intention of implementing a new plan and changing our leadership strategy, but we get sucked back into the tornado of day-to-day operations, and the ideas blow away. Sometimes, we just don’t know how to begin to turn a concept into action.

That’s what this book is all about. At the beginning of each section, I’ll introduce a new concept that has been shown time and again to impact our ability to lead effectively. At the end of each chapter you’ll find the Power Tools. These are the concrete actions you can take to build your leadership skills.

If you master these tools, you’ve got a great beginning to great leadership. It may sound easy, but it can be extremely difficult. Your work environment may be surprisingly resistant to what seems to you like a brilliant idea. What separates a great leader from all the good leaders out there is the ability to turn thought into action over and over again. In other words, great leadership takes practice.

Be persistent in your pursuit to be a great leader! Constantly move from thought to action, and take your leadership—and your team—from good to great!

But First, the Blueprints

In the pages that follow, I’ll be sharing specific tools I’ve developed based on my 20 years of experience as an executive coach and mentor. These ideas didn’t come to me overnight: I’ve been able to build and refine them over time by maintaining a structure, or blueprint, that guides my progress. I strongly urge you to try this for yourself and give shape to your ideas, as well.

  1. Keep a notebook handy (electronic or otherwise). You have great ideas. When they come to you (mine happen immediately upon waking, so the notebook stays on my bedside table), you can write them down. Write them down as soon as you think of them.page1image24224
  2. page2image1144Review your ideas, at least once a week. You may find that the ideas follow a theme. Ask yourself these questions: Why did I think of this idea? Was it a solution to a problem? Is it a method to “freshen up” a stale operation? How can I apply this idea?
  3. Put rigour to your ideas. What resources will it take to try the idea out? How could I make this work? Your brain may have been tussling with a problem without you even being fully aware! Articulate the thought so that you can easily talk about it. Our brains do a funny trick of not being in partnership with our mouths when it’s time to share our ideas with peers or our boss. Say your idea out loud until it’s on the tip of your tongue and fluent.
  4. Sketch out an implementation plan. Often it’s wise to try the idea on a smaller scale before you go whole hog. I love the concept of a “test drive” approach. It gives everyone a chance to try the car before buying it. Think about seeding some champions around you. They are often the difference between implementation success and failure. Not familiar with seeding champions? Seeding champions refers to the practise of creating a core group of people who will help carry your idea across the organization. You can’t be in every discussion around every corner, but your champions can be, and they’ll carry your message in the positive fashion you desire. The more champions, the better!
  5. Act! Get out of your chair and carry out your implementation plan. Set some time aside in your calendar and do it...now.

If you want to read more, or access links to free resources, you can visit my website www.spearheadexecutivecoaching.com. Be the leader you admire now, and enjoy the journey!

Katherine Craig is CEO and founder of Spearhead Executive Coaching, a dynamic organization dedicated to developing excellent leaders at all levels to create healthy and profitable organizations. She welcomes your comments: katherine@spearheadexecutivecoaching.com.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Playing on a Bigger Stage – A Branding Firm Expands, Winning Ovations from Partners and Clients

Posted by WABC

by I. Barry Goldberg and Martin Thoma

The Business/The Organization

Thoma Thoma is a branding and marketing consulting firm founded and owned by Martin and Melissa Thoma in Little Rock, Arkansas. The company had spent the past three years restructuring its services and repackaging itself as a "brand growth consultant." As activity began to increase and its new positioning gained traction, the leadership team understood that in order to make the leap to bigger markets and clients, they would have to re-engineer everything from basic beliefs to key processes and organizational accountabilities.

The two principals suffered from what might be termed "entrepreneuritis." Since they had founded and built the company, they knew how to do every job in it--so they did. It was clear to the entire team that the two newly promoted directors would have to mature quickly, establishing and maintaining accountability for their departments, if the principals were to relinquish their habitual hold on details. The principals needed to focus on the big picture if the firm was going to live up to its full market potential.

The Partnership

The principals knew that creating this envisioned change would take sustained effort and unprecedented persistence. Barry Goldberg, executive coach and founder of Entelechy Partners, had recently shared his vision for a year-long coaching process for leadership teams with Thoma Thoma's principals. They all agreed that Barry would coach the group and each individual for a year, integrating concentrated off-site team experiences with bi-weekly individual leadership coaching.

The Challenge

While the Thomas and their team had some ideas about what they wanted to accomplish, the design of both individual and group development plans clarified those challenges. Using The Leadership Circle Cultural ProfileTM, the organizational challenges were the first to be clarified:

  1. Thoma Thoma was such a nice place to work that everyone took it for granted. Even employees indicated that more demanding performance standards would be beneficial.
  2. While the vision was clear and compelling, employees lacked confidence in the company's ability to execute in a purposeful manner.
  3. Employees valued the firm's commitment to work/life balance. However, they also agreed that additional drive would translate into increased productivity and client satisfaction. Those ends could be accomplished without turning Thoma Thoma into the sweatshop stereotypical of the industry.

Each of the four individuals involved in the coaching process also established an individual development plan based on personal strengths and opportunities. Issues common to the group included:

  1. Discomfort with direct communications concerning work standards, deadlines and internal processes.
  2. A desire to apply linear processes to creative development, gaining significant improvements in scale and efficiency.
  3. Significantly differing business perspectives between the creative team and account management.
  4. The need for clear accountability, including the transfer of more responsibility from principals to directors.

The four clients made their own behavioral contributions to each of these group issues. They also had opportunities for individual development. Perhaps the most powerful catalyst for change, however, was their willingness to work together to alter collective patterns of behavior through their individual participation in the program.

The Approach

The Leaders' TrekTM for Thoma Thoma started in April 2005 with a three-day offsite session focused on group coaching. As the team engaged in real work, coaching interventions centered on the first two individual development goals listed above. The team was coached on giving and receiving difficult feedback. Working very specifically with Speech Acts, the group engaged in re-engineering key processes through direct communication and clear agreements.

The major outcome of the "BaseCampTM" experience was that the entire leadership team took responsibility for organizational change. They brought their new, well-practiced skills back to the office, where individual coaching centered on unique development plans for each executive. Creative Director Derek Wacaster explained, "My coaching work focused on building greater confidence and taking larger ownership of my position--things critical to my success. From the very first session, I experienced an internal change that resulted in richer interaction with my teammates and significantly enhanced my contribution to the firm."

By involving the entire leadership team, this coaching format had a major impact not only on individual development, but on specific relationships among the team members as well. Common frameworks for bonding patterns, balance and communications delivered a growing set of tools for dealing with new issues. Common language and newly honed skills allowed the leadership team to become independent and self-sustaining, assimilating new capabilities very quickly. As a result, ever deeper material could be explored in coaching without creating dependency on the coach for sustained behavioral change.

The Value Delivered

The value of the Thoma Thoma team's experience with The Leaders' TrekTM can be measured both quantitatively and qualitatively:

  • Roughly one half of operational duties previously held by principals have been successfully delegated to directors. Work continues in this regard.
  • All key processes have been re-engineered as "scripts," and ownership for each process is vested in a "producer/director" who is accountable for process execution.
  • All employees now understand and embrace the focus on quality work completed on deadline, and exhibit a high appreciation for that value in the work environment. (One employee declined an offer at a competing shop for considerably more money.)
  • Principals are focusing on higher leverage strategic activities, spending much more time and attention on developing relationships with client CEO's.
  • Implementation of new discipline in the firm's sales process has improved its close ratio from roughly 30% to nearly 60%. Thoma Thoma is more focused on pursuing the right opportunities, grooming its referral network and ignoring low-potential pitches.
  • After three months on The Leaders' TrekTM, Thoma Thoma increased its monthly sales target by 70%. From May 2005 through October 2005, it hit the new target five months out of six, missing it by only 10% in September.

Throughout this period of increasing business and financial performance, employees report more energy, greater enthusiasm, higher morale and growing esprit de corps. And Thoma Thoma is still viewed as caring and nurturing--an exceptional place to work.
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Spring Issue 2006, Volume 2, Issue 1). Copyright © 2013 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.



I. Barry Goldberg is the founder of Entelechy Partners. His coaching practice focuses on senior leadership teams and high-potential executives. Barry holds a Graduate Certificate in Leadership Coaching from Georgetown University. Read more about Barry in the WABC Coach Directory. Barry can be reached by email at barry.goldberg@entelechypartners.com.






Martin Thoma is a Principal in Thoma Thoma, a brand growth consultancy. Martin is widely published on the subject of branding. He is an English and journalism graduate of the University of Arkansas. Martin can be reached by email at martin@thomathoma.com.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.