The Principle of Coaching

The focus this month has been essentially about the things that guide our thinking and direction, expectations, standards, principles or core values. As we consider the very fundamental importance of these conversations we learn and recognize that the conversations never are final and always need revisiting about what they mean and what we stand for. As we go through our lives and our careers we do a lot of tasks. Some make little difference or impact to our greater mission, some transform people and how they walk through life and engage with others. What attention and focus do we want to give to those things that make the most lasting difference for our schools and the children in them?

My personal reflection: In my 47-year career I have completed a million tasks, and they seemed endless at the time – from every document in the education system, for sure; to thousands of notebooks for learning; read and prepared for hundreds of book studies; graded thousands of papers; prepared for hundreds of board meetings or staff meetings; finished more budgets than I ever thought possible; and the list goes on … AND yet today, with great reflection, I have realized the most important thing that I have done in my life was engaging with people though conversations. Learning to have conversations as a coach leader has been the most powerful work and time investment commitment of my life. Through coaching, I have learned the skills to influence and inspire more than I even know, and those I do know are golden in my heart. Every conversation I remember: when a child walked away knowing how much I believed in him or her; when a parent left a conference and knew I was a champion for their child; every conversation with my administrator when he valued and even occasionally embraced my crazy ideas; every employee I had to share tough information with and yet they left feeling valued and certain I believed in them to grow. Yes, my life principle grew to approach all things with my “coach identity.” An identity that has taught me to see the brilliance in all people – even when I had to really work at it and what interesting things I have learned about people. An identity that has taught me the most amazing language skills, that even I am amazed by the change I witness sometimes. An identity that has taught me more about people, their goodness, their complexities, their uniqueness-es than all the many psychology and sociology classes I have ever had. How I wish I had had this gift of knowledge when I began my career – and the best thing is, I learned it before the end!

Yes, I know, at last, I really understand the principle that will be forever foremost for me:

Coaching transforms people in the way they desire to be: their best selves.

Lead with Principles not Rules

Our world seems to be full of uncertainty. It spills over into our work in schools. So many kids with so many needs; so many things to do with so little time. How can we possibility get it all done. Recently I was with a young teacher leader and when asked how she was, she commented, “Overwhelmed. Every meeting I attend, someone else gives me something else to do or get done.” When we get overwhelmed in life some people have a spiritual principle that says, “We will never be given more than we can bear.” How might Principles in our systems offer a quiet force of equilibrium? Maybe they might even guide people in their thinking and actions over time.

Eric McNulty, director at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative writes that principles, unlike rules, give people something unshakable to hold on to yet also the freedom to make independent decisions and take actions to move toward a shared objective. Principles are directional, whereas rules are directive. In the business world there are a few examples from which we, in education, might learn. Nordstrom’s has a principle-based approach for all sales associates. “Use your best judgment in all situations.” This shows total trust in the associate and encourages listening to the customer. Very different than the rule, “All merchandise returns must be made within 30 days.” At IBM, Gerstner turned the company around with his groundbreaking idea: managing by principles rather than procedures. Yet, through the years many organizations have been slow to let go of the rule-based handbook. What more impactful place for guiding principles than in education? Here are a few principles found in schools.

  • Children always come first
  • Do no harm to any child or adult
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated
  • Soar with our strengths!
  • Look first for what is right, good, and has possibility
  • Respect all – in words and actions
  • Believe in the brilliance and positive intent of all
  • Measure what matters
  • Know your data and how to leverage it
  • Embrace, adapt to and drive change
  • If it’s great for the staff but not kids, it’s not good
  • Presume Positive Intent
  • Seek feedback for continuous growth

Principles have power in that they communicate trust and demonstrate to employees that they have the freedom to use their judgment to reach the best decisions through the principles with which we work.

How might you want to refine and/or create principles to guide your school or organization?

  • Think of your organization at its best. Dig into the root behaviors, conditions, and other factors that make things work well. Craft principles to reflect and stimulate more of this positive energy. Ask: What happens when my staff is working at their best? How do they demonstrate initiative? How are they free to exercise their best judgment?
  • Be ready to live your principles, even when it gets tough. Actions will always speak louder than words. As a leader, realize that the drumbeat for achievement is constant. You have to ensure that the other principles get as much attention as those bedrock goals and that in practice they fulfill their intention.

Make the principles public. Post them in all conference and work areas. Encourage staff to refer to the principles to explain when they made certain decisions. The more principles are part of daily life, the greater impact they will have.

Reference: Strategy+Business, E. McNulty, Sept.2017

The Leader’s Primary Responsibility – A Clear Focus


As this new year gets well underway it is a great opportunity to pause and simply reflect on your leadership role in providing a clear focus for the work. Here are a few questions to support your thinking:

  • What is the focused mission of the year?
  • What outcomes are the most critical to celebrate success in May?
  • What behaviors and actions are you modeling to drive and maintain the focus through the year?
  • In our seminars we speak of the standards and expectations that drive the engine of focus. How clear and precise are the expectations you have articulated for the year?

Each time I have the privilege to be in a district, people are working enormously hard and, commonly, focused in many different directions. One question, “What is the most important focus for your year?” …yields answers like, – “do it all” “high student success” “work in PLC’s” “use data to drive instruction” “make sure no kids fall through the cracks” and the list goes on. The next question asked is to clarify, “And what does that mean to each member of the team?”

As a leader, what will all members of your team say is the most important focus/goal of their work? How are they reflecting on how they are doing, with what data or visible results? Let’s use the example of “working in a PLC,” and consider the questions below.

  • What specifically does that mean you will see and hear when it is occurring?
  • What is the purpose of working in a PLC?
  • What does each member believe is the benefit to themselves working this way?
  • What are the benchmark self-assessments along the way to support the focus?

There may be many things that demand focus.

  • Which 3-5 things will influence the advancement of many goals and targets?
  • What metaphor or visual provides the image of how a few targeted things influence many results?
  • What data impacts many targets- just in the nature of changes made from it?

Without a clear direction, any destination is okay. With a clear direction, people know for certain what to give their motivation and energy to, why it will make a difference, and what makes this destination important to the greater vision and results. You probably are already thinking it may be a good time to lead some team members in a conversation to see where we are in our journey to the destination this year. One thing we know for sure, it will bring greater clarity and results and an accelerated journey.

Ways to Blab Less

Summer Reading Connections – Part III

The last author, Dan, from Saturday Solutions offered a catchy title: Clarity without Blabbing. It caught my eye for the very reason that a reflective leader was working on self-assessment and decided he wanted to blab less and so he wrote Dan requesting some strategies. He was very wise in recognizing that he had a great team and that his over communicating must be very frustrating. The column author, Dan, responded with some very insightful information. What follows is an authentic response to what may seem humorous, and yet very important for a very unproductive pattern of communication.

First, Dan commended the leader for being self-aware and desiring to explore the power of piping down. Then he offered three reasons leaders become blabbers.

  1. Position, authority, and responsibility loosen lips. The person with the highest job title usually talks the most.
  2. Concern about unnecessary mistakes makes leaders jaw-flappers. It feels safer to say too much than too little. Talkative leaders are protecting people from wasting time and resources.
  3. Experience with people who nod in agreement, even when they’re confused, invites windy leaders to talk more.

As we read the above, no doubt a person or two may come to mind – even ourselves. Ouch!

And here are the recommendations made for us – “sometime blabbers.” 😊

1 – Set a positive goal: (for example) “I will be an effective concise communicator, not simply talking less. I will seek clarity and brevity.”

2 – Prepare: Leaders with the gift of gab need to prepare more than quiet introverts. It takes more preparation to speak effectively for a short time than for a long time.

  • With a project in mind, make a complete list of every topic you want to address.
  • Rank the items on your list in order of importance. Which items could be eliminated or combined? Start with big stuff.
  • Craft one or two sentences for each important item. Don’t begin with ad

3 – Leverage Relationships:

  • Include others in your development. Be transparent with your goal. It will set an example and strengthen connections.
    • Ask team members, “What suggestions do you have that might help me communicate with brevity and clarity?”
      • Explain the goal
      • Ask for suggestions
      • Dig into their ideas
      • Put one idea into practice during the next meeting.
    • Give a project to your team members. Explain your goal. Ask them to give you a knowing nod when they feel you’ve provided enough clarity. If you want to have fun, let them create the signal to you.
    • Seek feedback from team members regularly. (especially after meetings). Ask three questions:
      • What did I do that provided enough clarity?
      • What was I doing when I talked too long?
      • How might I communicate with brevity and clarity?

What a cool way for a leader to model self-awareness and self-assessment. Great leaders know that talking too long invites confusion, not clarity. Another reminder of how important it is to be authentic and always desire to “be” our best self.

Finding Time

Summer Reading Connections – Part II

Another really great article in my pile was by Thomas Oppong, Founder of Alltopstartups. Just look at all the connections for coach leaders who are always needing more time.


Time is the raw material of productivity. Time, not money, is your most valuable asset. Invest your asset carefully. Begin with building a system to protect your time. Warren Buffett says you can’t let other people set your agenda in life. There are 168 hours every week. Think about that. That is a monumental amount of time. Where could it go? Or better still where do you want to spend all those hours?

Principle 1: Start and end your day on purpose. “Either you run the day or the day runs you,” says Jim Rohn. If you have clarity of purpose every morning your focus will change. Steven Covey once said, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say “no” to other things. And the best way to do that is by having a bigger YES burning inside.”

Principle 2: Manage your energy. Your brain consumes 20% of the body’s energy even though it only uses 2% of the body’s volume. This means that when your body lacks energy, your brain will suffer too. Concentration is like a muscle, it needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked otherwise it’ll simply burn out and take longer to get back into the swing of things. Build time in your day to take your mind off work and rejuvenate your brain. Work in sprints. Break up your workday into segments with 20 minutes between segments. We know the brain can only focus for 90-120 minutes at a time, so taking a break will bring renewal to the brain to have high performance. A break is biologically restorative. A break may include going outside, a walk down the hall, or a conversation with someone. A simple space of quiet – even 5 minutes – can allow your brain the time it needs to connect ideas bouncing around in your head.

Principle 3: Focus. Today, reclaim your ability to focus, to be mindful of what you are doing and you will create meaningful accomplishments every week. The more focused you are the higher the quality of work you’ll do and the more you’ll get done. The basic principle of success is focus. It is what makes the difference between those who are successful and those who are not, regardless of how much talent, resource, and energy that they have.

Principle 4: Start and end your day on purpose. This concept is not new. Build a work system for yourself. A system makes your goal real – it’s concrete, it gets you moving, and it helps you focus on long-term gains, instead of short-term wins. When you are in control of what to do, what is being done, and what has been accomplished, you will be in total control of your day. Work will be meaningful and fulfilling.

Yes, it’s hard, yet even a consistent application of even small habits will transform your life more effectively than striving for an overwhelmingly large goal without a consistent routine to achieve it. Be committed to building a habit of ‘deep work’ – the ability to focus without distraction. ‘Deep scheduling’ is a grand tool to combat constant interruptions and get more done in less time.

We know as a school leader these are challenging things to do – the work is demanding all the time. So, what can you control – what time of the day – once or twice a week? Being reflective about what you might do and can do will result in major focus on purpose – as often as time allows and it’s a beginning of a new habit that will give back more of that asset for play, for workouts, for fun!

Take Twelve for Leaders

Part I

From People Matters magazine, then again in Critical Thinking, January 2016, there is a look at the competencies of leadership for the future. Almost every article published from the Neuroscience or from business leader publications focus on skills needed by our leaders. We love to have conversations about these ideas in all our seminars. Let’s look and celebrate the insights from this latest list.

The rate of change has become greater than our ability to respond. The world is described as Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. Due to the major tectonic shifts, a new mindset of leadership is demanded. Traditional hierarchical structures are fading away to give way to purposeful networks and communities of people working together to achieve a shared purpose. It is reported that to succeed and thrive in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world these 12 competencies are required.

  1. Develop an Adaptive Mindset: Be comfortable with unclear situations and unexplored paths. Giving and receiving early and frequent feedback will enable constant realignment.
  2. Have a Vision: Vision is a perpetual force, a critical anchor that drives decisions, actions and judgments. Having a compelling vision is a key driver of engaging and retaining high performing team members.
  3. Embrace Abundance Mindset: Abundance mindset sees possibilities where a constraint mindset sees challenges.
  4. Weave an Ecosystem for Human Engagement: An ecosystem of human engagement is created when leaders understand the basic driver of human engagement – the need for trust, the need to have hope, the need to feel a sense of work and the need to feel competent. Leaders who coach will clarify the meaning of the work people do and build a positive influence.
  5. Anticipate and Create Change: As leaders ride the wave of change, they will want to involve people in the process to prioritize and execute. Leaders nurture change by balancing the needs of the context, needs of others and their own needs.
  6. Self-Awareness: It is only when leaders are aware of their preferences, ways of working and blind spots that they bring their true authentic selves and thus, a significant difference to the team and the organization. (Emotional Intelligence)
  7. Be an Agile Learner: Leaders have to be constantly curious and carry a “beginners mind” which is also willing to give up familiar approaches. Leaders need meta-cognition and awareness of the bigger picture.
  8. Network and Collaborate: Leaders must collaborate relentlessly within and outside the organization; a social mindset of communication.
  9. Relentlessly Focus on the Customer: Customer centricity is and will remain at the heart of effective leadership. Customer centric leaders truly “listen” to their customer voices and build long term relationships.
  10. Develop People: Leadership in the new world is beyond tags and titles. Leaders must model the behaviors they seek, support people in building their skill set and attitude, create learning forums, design work to tap into potential and most importantly – lead thru influence not authority.
  11. Design for the Future: Leaders are designers of the future. They do so by building an emotional infrastructure, organizational structures, methods and processes. Leaders must have a compelling purpose shared by all.
  12. Constantly Clarify and Communicate: Communicating effectively is like a location pointer on a GPS – constantly clarifying the current situation with respect to the changing external demands. Leaders will reiterate and reinforce vision, values, and strategies and the meaning of the work.

The hallmark of this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world is that there are no silver bullets. The future is here and now. Communication and clarity are the currencies of effective leadership. Leadership today is about shifting our mindset, values and organizations to a better place.

It is rewarding and exciting to hear the leaders in our seminars eager to have and develop these competencies.

Join me in our nugget for some thoughts about TIME.

Focused Practice Feedback – a Kick Starter!

How do we grow people? How do we build and grow their talent, their knowledge and skills? Use those wonderful conversation skills and ask about the goals they have set, the vision for their work, when it all is celebrated, what will they be celebrating? With highly committed employees they just usually need to reconnect to their vision, their passion, and get into a new skill or tool.

With those few who are less than highly committed, there is the opportunity to support their thinking in determining the three most important areas for their focus that will increase the performance desired. Hopefully the data they have gotten from colleagues, students, data, will speak to the direction required. Focus tightly on these folks with frequent conversations to celebrate what they are seeing and learning. Your conversations will result in strong insights about data and narratives. Offer simple options for action that they might use immediately. Short, frequent and focused conversations that celebrate the small steps and the small changes ultimately builds confidence and motivation.

Consider letting all meetings focus on practices that are working and letting employees learn from each other as they – under your leadership – keep the eye on the prize; ensuring all kids and staff are learning and growing at high levels. How do you know? What evidence are you seeing that is working? You will see it and hear it and watch as the learning environment begins to grow from its own enhanced energy and motivation to simply be better and better at what they do!

Stop Giving Feedback – Start Asking for Feedback

Continuing with what the Neuroleadership Institute found in their research on FEEDBACK, here are a lot of common misperceptions:

  1. We think we hate feedback. When someone asks if they can give us feedback, we hear, “Can I criticize your work so I can feel good about myself?”
  2. It’s best to focus on errors. The brain is built to detect errors, so that’s how we focus. The belief is that poor performance is from not knowing one’s errors and that people will change once they know what the error is. You have learned in Results Coaching training that what the brain focuses on – gets stronger. So when we focus on errors you never know what to do more of.
  3. Feedback must be giver driven. Up until the 20th century the view was that supervisors knew more. It really felt good to be helpful to others. The giver had a nice boost to their status and autonomy.

The new approach is to STOP GIVING FEEDBACK and to START ASKING FOR FEEDBACK! When we do, both sides feel less threatened; people get feedback more quickly and regularly; you can ask many people, and you can get the specific feedback you need.

So how do we teach and support our teachers and employees to ask for and share feedback?

  • Explicitly – what to build on and where to focus.
  • Broadly – ask and share with many – it lessens bias.
  • Often – get feedback close to the source and make it a habit.
  • Start from the top – what are the standards/expectations for the work; not just what someone says, what does the standard say? Provide examples of top performers in what they do, not who they are. What does the standard look like?

It’s Time For A Feedback Revolution

In February, Karen Anderson shared the opportunity to review and reconnect to the most essential and required skill in your everyday use. The ability to give skillful reflective feedback influences others to:

  • keep working,
  • reconsider,
  • reflect, see possibilities,
  • study more,
  • give more effort,
  • think about another point of view,
  • desire more learning,
  • be affirmed,
  • get motivated,
  • and so many more behaviors and thoughts that inspire and energize their commitment to the work in schools.

Recently I had the opportunity to think about FEEDBACK with the Neuroleadership Institute. Their leadership is on a focused path to support leadership in the use of effective and powerful FEEDBACK that will accomplish the change and growth needed in all people. Here are the main points they offered after researching 30+ models and interviewing over 10 neuroscience, psychology, creativity, and business researchers:

  • People need to grow and learn more and faster.
  • They need frequent, targeted input from many sources.
  • Yet feedback is broken, despite decades of effort.

The Neuroleadership Institute determined that it was time for a FEEDBACK revolution. Some reasons include:

  • The research taught them that engagement is highest with weekly feedback, yet fewer than 20% of employees get feedback weekly and of those, 27% say the feedback is useful. When asked, employees believe feedback does nothing or it make things worse.
  • Supervisors need to be reminded, encouraged, cajoled into giving more feedback and trained to do so.  Yet, after 40 years of training programs of all kinds, this skill is still a huge problem globally.