Hope is the belief that the future is better and there’s a way to get there.
Blake, my 9 year-old son, sitting in the front seat of the car, staring out the window said, “Dad, when I grow up, I want to be a Coach like you… and travel with you.”
I don’t tell you this so you’ll think I am a great Dad. I’ll be honest; I have my doubts. Not in Blake, but in what I’m giving him. You probably know this from raising kids – it’s so day-to-day that it’s easy to feel lost in it. Sometimes I find myself thinking, “What am I doing? Is it working?”
A CEO said something in a call that I’ll never forget, “James, I told myself this week that I am not enough.” He paused and then I could hear it click for him, “After years of trying to prove myself – I finally have hope.”
Now, I have a Master’s degree in asking questions, but this one was not my best. I was skeptical, “How’s that hope?”
This CEO didn’t hesitate, “When I don’t have to prove myself as a leader, I finally have space for something more.”
That’s true. So much of our days are spent on what we’re doing – my meetings, my business, my responsibilities, my stuff to do. We’re saturated with what we’re doing. Hope… is that there’s more. More here than just what I can do.
When leaders have confidence beyond their ability – hope and leadership become synonyms. No longer proving what they can do, leaders prove what others can do. This is my hope for Blake — that he goes far beyond what I can give him.
What will you count on in your leadership?
“Where do I go from here?”
People hire a coach for lots of reasons, and I could tell that she’d been waiting to ask this question. She had this presence about her that made her feel far away from me in the conversation. I was intimidated. She wasn’t stuck. She wasn’t confused. She had arrived.
It reminds me of when my daughters were little, I took them camping and I left all the food on the counter at home. A 3 and 5 year old, 6 o’clock at night and an hour and a half away from the nearest McDonalds, the nearest anything. It was classic.
When you arrive at what you’ve wanted, it often doesn’t feel like what you hoped for. This woman was smart, entrepreneurial and unwilling to stop. And now, she had come to a place she had never been before. Nothing else to push for.
“How do you rest?” I asked.
“James, I don’t rest.” And from the way she said it, I believed her. “Sure I get sick, and even take vacations, but after a week, I’m done.” It was obvious that she’s a go-getter. And I was on the other end of the phone, doing what you’re not supposed to be doing in coaching – thinking about myself, “I’m not good at rest either.”
You get everything ready, drive an hour and a half beyond everyone else, and find yourself in a place without the thing you need most. Rest. In 2015, the ability to rest is left on the counter, as we run out the door on the next adventure.
What place does rest have in your life?
What does a retreat look like in the next 6 months?
How is rest more than an event for you?
“The more I push, the more they complain.” I could hear my client’s frustration, he said almost giving up, “The angrier I get, the less I see in my team.”
You know what’s ironic? The change we want for others, has to start with us. People around you are going to keep doing what they’ve been doing or not doing, unless you change what you’re doing. I’ve been coaching for 12 years, full time, and I’m still amazed at what I learn from the people I talk with every day. Change is not something that can be told, it’s something that’s realized.
Some of the hardest people to coach are those that say, “I don’t need to change.” And I was surprised he actually said it. This 55 year old executive started our coaching relationship with these words, “James, I was brought in to change this company. And they need it, not me.”
Two months later, he was silent. It had been week after week of coaching, and he finally hit the point, “I’m frustrated.”
I remember when it was me, 12 years ago. Sitting at my desk with one of my team members, “Bren, I have told you everything I can to help you. Is there anything else I can do?” Maybe it was her blank look. The way she just sat there. I could feel her lack of motivation. Maybe it was the way she said, “I don’t know.” I can still remember tipping back in my chair thinking, “I can’t do this.”
Irony. When something happens the complete opposite of what you expected. Like when you say you don’t need to change and you change. Fast forward four months – that’s what happened. I love to work with people like this! I even got to be in the room when he said it, “I need to stop talking and start listening. Stop telling everyone what I think and start asking them to think. Stop making it happen for others and start letting them do it for themselves.”
It’s the realization that leadership can stop being about you.
It’s the willingness to start developing people around you.
It’s the humility to ask them to go beyond what you know.
For change to happen, you will have to.
“What gets in the way of you listening?” I asked a group of executives, “Of you being present and focused on the person you’re with?”
They were really honest,
“Wondering what time it is.
Thinking about what I’m going to say next.
Relating what the person is saying to me.
Deciding if what they’re saying is right or wrong.
Planning the next thing on my schedule.
In the middle of all this, a man in his fifties said, “Me… I get in the way of listening to people”
So much happens in our minds when people are talking to us, unfortunately so little of it has to do with what they are saying. It’s the way our minds work. Everything you hear you associate with what you already know. Even the things that are brand new to you, are filed with the old stuff. You take what others are saying and relate it to yourself. That’s unfortunate.
I remember my first coaching class when I was in graduate school, my instructor said, “James, you have to stop trying to understand what the other person is saying.”
“What?” I remember feeling, “What’s wrong with understanding? That’s how I relate to people.”
I sat in that class, disoriented. Skills practice after skills practice trying to listen without understanding. I kept thinking, “This is crazy. It feels awkward. What am I doing?”
You know what I learned? I don’t know if this will resonate with you, but for me it’s huge – there is more to listening than understanding. At the core, understanding is about the listener, it’s about me and what I’m getting out of what the other person is saying. And I slowly learned in that class that there is more to a conversation than me. There is more happening than what I know, than I can understand. And when we step beyond ourselves and listen for the other person’s sake, we start participating in their development.
So here is what you can do. The next conversation you’re in, stop thinking about yourself and what you’re going to say next. Don’t worry about if you agree or not with what’s being said. Let go of trying to understand. Just be with them as a listener. Give them space to talk. Focus on them as a person, not just what their saying. And don’t relate it to yourself. Just listen.
Listen for their new thought. Listen for their excitement. Listen for what’s important to them. Listen for their sake.
Want to listen better? Get Trained.
I’m 6’6”. Besides airplane bathrooms that is rarely an issue, except when you’re co-training with a 5’4” woman. I remember at a break half-way through our training event she pulled me aside and said, “James, we have to get a stool.”
I’ll be honest, the first thing that came through my head was, “She is NOT going to stand on a stool?!”
Fortunately I have learned to ask questions, “What for?” I asked.
She said, “So you can sit on it!”
Sometimes when we stand things next to each other we notice the differences.
There’s a big difference in leaders that use their positions to lead, and leaders who lead people. Positional leaders sit in the offices thinking “I’m responsible for this.” Launching Leaders have a well worn path to the offices of the people on their team, creating a shared sense of responsibility and inspiring a shared vision.
Positional Leader: Sees people in need of their help
Launching Leader: Sees people as healthy creative and whole
Positional Leader: Wants to maintain the center position
Launching Leader: Consistently puts other people in the middle
Positional Leader: Spends most of the day solving/putting out fires
Launching Leader: Spends most of day managing progress
Positional Leader: Tries to model for others in her/his actions
Launching Leader: Not trying to make people like her/him
Positional Leader: Sees himself as the expert
Launching Leader: Sees others as experts
Positional Leader: Avoids hard situations to avoid tough decisions
Launching Leader: Sees every frustration as an opportunity for leadership
Positional Leader: Generate answers for other
Launching Leader: Ask many questions to enable others
Positional Leader: Drag people towards his/her goals
Launching Leader: Draw out what others want and launch them toward their goals
What has to shift in your thinking to put people in the middle of your leadership?
I’m coaching a 47 year old woman, and the truth is she has become a real friend. She said something last week that of all people I wouldn’t expect her to say, “I’m not good enough.”
But that’s not where the conversation began, it started with, “James, I’m gaining weight again.”
“What’s underneath the weight gain?” I asked her.
“I don’t know. But, there is something bigger here.” Then she started laughing, hearing what she just said, “I’m not talking about me… I guess what’s bigger here is that I’ve not made myself a priority. Everything and everybody else seems to get my time, and I don’t take care of myself.
“What has to shift,” I asked, “for you to be a priority?
And that is when she said it, ”I have to believe that I’m worth it. It sounds weird, but believe that I’m good enough.”
People don’t say that out loud even if they feel it. And she kept going, “I feel tarnished and damaged. And when I’ve tried to eat healthy and lose weight, I feel like I’m just trying to polish myself up. But the truth is James, the thing I’ve never said before, is that I always feel like I’m too far behind to catch up.”
Now I’ve coached a lot of people, a lot of women, and while this 47 year old woman said it out loud, she’s probably not the only one of us who feels like she’s not good enough. Like you’re trying to catch up.
I know there are people in your life and even in our society that make you feel tarnished. But I’m going to be really direct – you have to let those words go. Can you do that? Can you let go of that old thinking about yourself? I know you can. Sure it will take time, some new belief, and lot’s of saying it over and over again. But you can do this. How much is it worth to you? How valuable?
Mastercard used a word in their commercials. Remember that word? Priceless. I’m sure the first 30 days of a credit card are priceless, but 18% interest? That doesn’t sound too priceless. You know what’s priceless for me? You need to hear what this woman said next.
I asked her, “What’s the opposite of not being good enough?
“Freedom… someone who’s free”
That’s priceless. “What does freedom feel like?” I asked her.
“Weightless.” she said, “Not being weighed down by what I think about myself.”
What is weighing you down?
Who’s words do you need to let go of?
Who needs to be in your life to say this to you over and over again?
A business owner I’ve coached for three year said to me, “I had a lull in my week, and my first thought was, ‘Uh-ho! If I’m not busy, I’m not going to make enough money!'”
But then she laughed, “James, that’s ridiculous. Busyness doesn’t make me money.”
“What makes you money?” I asked.
She paused. And then she said it, like she finally meant it, “My value.”
When I grew up, I lived in a little town in Sonoma County, the wine country of California. I rode my bike all over those hills, but it was the general store that had my bike parked out front most often. Red vines for 5 cents. A nickel was really important to me when I was kid.
“But James, you know what just hit me?” this woman said, “I have to stop thinking that if I’m busy, I’m valuable.”
Now I was curious and so I asked her, “What makes you valuable?”
There are questions in life that we don’t have quick answers to. Where you know there is more to you than just what you do. Questions that make you think about yourself and what’s really important.
So I want to ask you, right in the middle of your busyness.
What makes you valuable?
I was speaking at a leadership retreat, and right in the middle of an afternoon session on relational leadership, I said, “Let me show you. Let’s demo this, who wants to volunteer to come up and talk about something you want to move forward on?” Nobody moved, except their eyes, looking away. Crickets.
Finally a guy at one of the side table said, “Oh, alright.” And as he got up the group of leaders broke out in a nervous applause.
We sat on 2 chairs in the front of the room and I said, “How do you want to use this conversation?”
“I need to learn to let go of control of the people I manage.” he said.
Wow! That’s real. Impressed with his honesty in front of his peers, I asked, “What’s the picture of you letting go of control?”
He was quiet for a moment… then he said something so profound, “Letting go is me not holding onto people. I need to become a catalyst for more than I can handle.”
“A catalyst in what ways?” That was the last time I talked in that conversation. This corporate executive sat in that chair and chattered like a kid dreaming about Disneyland, almost like he was seeing it for the first time. I sat with him.
The most important aspect of launching people is creating space. Space for people to talk. Space for people to think in new ways. Space for people to move forward. The strange thing is, people need help with space. Most of us need others to create space for us. Spin that around – People need you to create space for them.
After dinner is wrestle time in my house. My kids and I get on the floor and it’s a free for all. Often Blake will say, “Daddy can you make us fly?”
Do you know what that is?
Yeah… I lay with my back on the floor and my feet up in the air and my kids sit on my feet and I launch them into the air, higher than they could ever jump on their own. They love it!
That’s what great leaders do… get on their back, stick their feet up in the air and they launch people… higher than they could go on their own. They serve by launching and their people love it!
Launching people is really big.
I was training a group of leaders and I told them this story of making my kids fly. As I got done with the story, a guy, probably in his forties, interrupted me and said, “James, I can remember my Dad doing that with me as a kid and it was fun, I loved it. But now I’m the Dad on the floor and it is hard.”
“What’s hard?” I asked.
The guy laughed and said, “The floor.”
That’s true. Launching people isn’t easy, sometimes it’s hurts, because launching is not about the leader it’s about the person being launched. It is a choice to get down on the floor, get into a position that is focused on the other person, and to use your energy to help someone else reach higher than they could on their own.
A Launching Leader is a person who chooses to get underneath people and make people fly.
“James, I’m eating dinner with her in the cafeteria at the care home and she thinks we are at a reception on a cruise ship.”
One of the guys I coach told me, “I never eat dinner with her for an hour and a half, but I just had a sense that this was a special time. So I lingered. And with her dementia, she was out of it most of the conversation. But there were three statements that she said, in the midst of lots of random incoherent thoughts, but those three things I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”
I was on the edge of my seat.
“This frail old women looked me in the eyes from across the table, she was peering into me, and said, ‘You don’t have very many years to do what you’re supposed to do…’ And then she went on talking about the dancing happening around her. We kept eating and then again she looked right at me, ‘Keep it short… those things that don’t bring you joy.’ Back to the waiter that was so real in her failing mind. And the last statement, it was like she was fully herself, she said, ‘Help me… help me die.’ So I asked her if she wanted me to be in the room, holding her hand. She did.”
Then just this week, a woman I coach had lunch with a different elderly woman. “James I asked her, ‘If you could go back to where I am in my life, knowing what you know now, what would be different.'”
Great question. This 85 year old woman, who raised kids as a single mom, hard worker through all the seasons of her life, simply said, “I wouldn’t worry. Everything works out. We try so hard to work everything out… but everything works out.”
These two ladies don’t know each other. They lived completely different lives many miles apart. Yet each at the end are talking about time.
We who are in middle of our time don’t see what they see. You may not be able to find an 85 year old woman to eat with, but I want to ask you:
Why do you spend your time the way you are?
You don’t have very many years, what now?
What do you need to keep short?
What will you stop trying to work out?
How will you look back on your time?