How many coaches does it take to change a lightbulb?

Only one, but the lightbulb has to want it!

Ok, this is an old joke, but how soon is it forgotten when we enter the field of organizational development and change management. When an organization wants to create a “culture change”, for example “create a coaching culture” or “create an agile transformation”, coaching is sometimes used as a tool to develop people into a direction that the management wants. Makes sense, that’s what they are paying for, right?

Ummmmm — the only small difficulty here is that it is impossible to “coach” someone into a predetermined direction”. If the coach (or leader) knows what the outcome should be, it is no longer coaching!

So what can you do as a coach when you are made immoral offers of the kind “please help change our employees to….”?

Ask about the desired situation:

  • If I did that, what would be different?
  • What would you see your people do that they are not doing now?
  • What difference would that make?
  • What would they be noticing (about you) that would tell them that it is a good idea to make the desired change…?

If you ask about the desired situation, chances are that your counterpart will see for him or herself that coaching is not what is called for

Explain that you as a coach cannot simultaneously create a problem and solve it and explain the basis of coaching.

  • Suppose people find out that I am there with your agenda in my backpack — how will they react?
  • In coaching we work on the client’s goals, not on an outside agenda. It rarely works when people feel like you are there on the bosses’ behalf.

Explore other options:

  • What is a goal that your people would agree to?
  • Do you think you can convince them that it makes sense to (be more of a coach as a leader / be more agile….)….?
  • Who could “create” the problem that I can then help people to solve?
  • How could people become aware of the necessity to change? What could make them buy-in?

Once you have an overall plan — you might still coach and have the clarity on the part of the sponsor organization and on the part of the clients that you will be working with voluntary clients who have a common project with you and their organization.

To learn more why not join one of our free meetup and exchanges:


Is a coach a cheerleader?

According to the updated core competency model of the International Coaching Federation, a coach “celebrates the client’s progress and successes”, “notices what is working to enhance client progress” and “acknowledges and respects the client’s unique talents, insights and work in the coaching process”. Most coaches would say that being able to witness how clients grow and find their own solutions to tricky problems is the most rewarding aspect of our profession. Seeing the “AHA”-moment can be addictive :-).

On the other hand, it does not really matter what we coaches think about the client’s successes — what is important is that the client is able to see their forward movement. When they recognize that they are moving forward, they can most often also identify what they did to make it happen and learn from it.

If coaches “praise” the client, it can feel like the coach is in a “teacher” position. The coach becomes the judge of what is a good step forward, rather than the client. A “partnering” relationship is replaced by a relationship in which the coach approves of the client (or not).

The fine line between “cheerleading” and “celebrating the client’s success” runs between two fields: is it about the expression of the coach’s joy and satisfaction or about the client’s growth — is it about partnership or about evaluation? A management consultant would put this into a four field diagram:

Celebrating Success

It might be useful to explore how we might recognize that we are in one of the quadrants with our coaching.

Coach’s joy / Evaluation

  • “Wow, that was great!”
  • “Excellent”
  • “Good job!”
  • “Amazing”
  • “So what question did I ask to make this great insight possible?” (ok, nobody says that, but I am trying to make a point 🙂 )

Client’s growth / Evaluation

  • “You identified these action steps, carried them out and they worked. Great stuff!”
  • “Last time, you said you would experiment with this and you did and learned that you are … wonderful!”
  • “Let me summarize your learning for you …. I am very impressed”

Coach’s joy / Partnership

  • “I love it! How do you see it?”
  • “That seems like a lot of progress – what is your take on it?”
  • “Looks like great work – what do you think?”
  • “That is so cool — I am so happy for you! What are you feeling about this?”
  • “When I hear you describe all your learnings, I am feeling so glad and happy for you. Thank you for sharing it. How does it make you feel?”

Client’s growth / Partnership

  • “Thank you for sharing these insights — would you like to look at how you arrived at them?”
  • “That seems like a big step forward to me. How do you see it?” Client: “Yeah, that was massive!” Coach: “Would it be good to talk about how you did that?”
  • “You’ve just mentioned how you …  maybe it would be a good idea to find out what your learning is from this?”
  • “So you did… and .. and… would you like to explore a bit around how you managed to get all of this done?”

I think my favorite quadrant is the “Client’s growth / Partnership” one, but I do plead guilty on “Coach’s joy / Partnership” and “Coach’s joy / Evaluation” every once in a while. I just can’t help being happy when my clients are successful and growing 🙂 .

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4 “I”s for team cohesion – number 4 will surprise you!

Sorry… just testing whether headlines like this actually work 🙂

On a more serious note: We did discuss how to handle situations in teams where there are “cliques” or “ingroups” and “outgroups” in our training on team coaching the other day (more on that training can be found here). You might notice the different groupings as a team coach, as a leader, as a fellow team member, as a facilitator. You see some team members talk to each other more than others, they are maybe friends outside of work or share the same interests. In team coaching sessions or workshops they will congregate in the same places or chose to be in the same small groups to collaborate.

Here is the world-famous (well, I guess now it is :-)) 4 “I”  process on how to deal with it:

Is it an issue? If not: Ignore.

It is often assumed that having sub-groups in teams is a sign of “lack of cohesion” or conflict in a team. I think that this might be a theory driven assumption: we think we know what a perfect team should look like (take any of the more prevalent models) and compare our team to that “ideal” model. We forget that a) no team is ideal, b) every team is made up of different people who collaborate differently and c) ever team has different task and therefore needs different ways of collaboration. So it actually might not be a problem at all. The team members may just be fine with the “cliques” or “subgroups”. As long as everybody is feeling happy and willing to do their best? Just ignore the issue.

If it does seem to be an issue: share your observation in concrete, observable terms

Don’t share your interpretation: “We are having problems with exclusion in our team” or “There is no team cohesion”, but share what exactly it is that you are observing: “We hardly do anything together as a whole team, usually Fred, Martha and James are doing things together and Rick, Paula and Anne are collaborating. Sometimes we end up with different perspectives on where we are going as a team, for example, last week half of us thought we would have to complete the project on Thursday and was rushing like mad, while the other had understood that the deadline was next Monday and was taking things very chill. Obviously we got upset at each other. Could we talk about this?” In short, observe – don’t blame. If you are interpreting anything at all, interpret that everyone has good intentions.

What instead?

Ask about what the team wants instead rather than going into “blamestorming”. It is natural that some people will like being with some people more than others – so invite the team to paint a rich picture of how they want their collaboration to be. How will they notice that they are collaborating well as an entire team? Get concrete details (I feel like I am repeating myself here, but this is so important!)

Invite the team to experiment and observe

I love the “secret mission” experiment. I don’t remember who I learnt this from — either Ben Furman or Daniel Meier, so please forgive if I am misquoting you. It goes like this: Every team member finds a “secret mission” for themselves. They will all do something to help the team collaborate better but will not tell anyone what they are doing. After a while, all get together and they guess who did what for the team. In one team workshop that I conducted, I invited them to take a piece of paper, write their name on it and then pass it around the table. All the other team members would write what they think the person did for the team under the name on the paper. When the paper landed back at the person who wrote his or her name, they were surprised at what everybody observed. You could feel the energy and joy in the room go up. One person had even generated a fake email and sent everyone compliments every week!

Ok, so maybe these are not 4 but 5 “I”s and maybe they are not “I”s at all :-), but who cares, right? 🙂

If you would like to explore more of these fun little team development moves, why not consider joining our 20 hour team coaching program?

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6 tips when clients get on your nerves

I know, I know, I know — your clients never get on your nerves. They shouldn’t, right? I mean, as coaches, we are these saintly people who don’t have personal preferences, we have gazillion tons of patience, look at everyone with an appreciative eye, always….. *looking around and asking myself about whom I am talking – certainly not me*

So what happens if the very unlikely thing happens and clients do get on your nerves? How do we manage to suspend judgement?

Here is what works for me:

  1. Identify what is bugging me in concrete descriptions: “He often cancels appointments very late. He speaks very harshly about his direct reports. He wants to book the sessions manually via 30 emails back and forth rather than using my booking system”
  2. Separate the description from the interpretations: “He does not respect my time. He is an arrogant *insert favorite expletive*. He is disrespectful and does not stick to rules”. 
  3. Deal with the descriptions: I can remind him of my cancellation policies, firmly but in a friendly way. I can share my observation and ask for his feedback. I can ask him politely to use my booking system. Basically treat him like I would treat anyone else.
  4. Reflect on the good reasons he might have his behavior: He is very busy. He wants high performance and has not yet managed to create an environment in which this happens. He is not experienced with technology, yet (… the power of yet!!! …)
  5. Acknowledge the compassion that arises when I reflect on the good reasons and realize that it may very well have nothing to do with me
  6. Remember that we do have a good time and he makes progress when we meet

You probably have different ways of doing the same thing – do come to one of our free coaching meetup and exchanges and let us know.

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The Saint of Small Stuff…. a holy productivity hack

Do you have too much to do? Do you sometimes not know where to start? Are you at times losing the overview and all the small, medium and big stuff is threatening to bury you like an avalanche? If no, can you please write to me so that I can share your secret with the world?

I have my stuff in order, generally: I sort tasks by “important / unimportant” “urgent / non-urgent” just like Mr. Covey taught us and I feel very virtuous when I do that. I start with the urgent and important, most often get to the important and non-urgent every once in a while which leaves: the small stuff. Which then piles up: bookkeeping, paying bills, putting things where they belong, answering a short email, filing my snail mail (who on earth invented THAT?!?) … you probably know all the pesky little task that pile and pile and pile up.

What did help was putting them all in their respective project (I am using a program called Asana for that, Trello is also said to be good) so I can at least lump them together and don’t have to loose time by shifting focus between projects. YET — still TOO much to do.

So I invented a special Saint’s day. The day of the “Saint of Small S**t”. On this day, I would do as many of the small tasks as I possibly can and feel proud and productive. Things that got done: stuff back in basement where it belongs, papers scanned and sorted, snail mail sent, small translation done, videos produced and uploaded, sourdough fed, kitchen cleaned, emails answered, certificates sent, lots of stuff delegated to other people … and boy did that feel good, ticking off one thing after the other.

My friend Evelyn does a similar thing: she told me about her weekly “procrastinight” where she and her partner do all the things that they have been putting off during the week. What a great concept!

Why am I telling you all of this? Well, because I am enthusiastic.

AND I had an idea for team leaders: How about initiating a monthly  “Saint of Small Stuff” day, or a weekly “Hour of Ant-sized Achievements” for the whole team?

How do you do it? If you have a productivity secret, why not share it with a group of wonderful coaches in one of our meetups or learn from them? We are also offering a short course on team coaching where you can talk about and learn many valuable tools to help a team be at its best.

Register here:

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NEVER ask a WHY-question — why should you?

In many coaching schools or leadership courses you learn NEVER to ask why questions. They lead to:

  • Assigning blame
  • Asking for justification
  • Deepening the discussion of the problem
  • Getting a team stuck

Here is an example:

  • A: “I don’t like presenting, I am always super nervous?”
  • B: “But why are your nervous?”
  • A: “When I was in school and it was show-and-tell, my classmates always made fun of me.”
  • B: “Why did they make fun of you?”
  • A: “Because I never had anything interesting to show.”
  • B: “Why was that?”
  • A: “Because I think my mother only cared for my older brother, never me.”
  • B: “Why that?”
  • A: “I don’t know… I think I am deeply traumatized…”

Tada – from a simple problem: “How to present more comfortably” – we have thought ourselves into a corner that will be difficult to leave. Bad for the client, good for the coaches’ or therapist’s pocket book.

In schools for mechanical engineering or other technical domains the “why”-question gets a much better rap. There is the technique of 5 whys which invites to get to the root cause of a technical problem. Technical problems have the advantage that they happen in a much more constrained system then the complex system of human relations. In “complicated” systems, you can meaningfully discern cause and effect:

  • A: My bicycle does not work
  • B: Why?
  • A: When I am cycling, I get this “bump, bump, bump” noise.
  • B: Why?
  • A: I think my tire is flat
  • B: Why?
  • A: I biked through some broken glass

Learning: fix the tire, don’t cycle through broken glass

But ARE there good “why”-questions in leadership and coaching? I was discussing this with a “Coaching-Fundamentals” group and we did come up with some really good examples:

  • A: I would love to be able to delegate better?
  • B: Why?
  • A: My team would be much happier and I would have less to do.
  • B: Why is that good?
  • A: I think my work / life balance would be so much better…

Some “why”-questions ask for “your good reasons” or your motivation to do things. They are actually more “what-for” questions than “why”-questions. Inviting people to think about what makes their projects valuable is a really good direction for coaches and leaders to take 😊.

If you want to know why you might join one of our next coaching meetups and exchanges:

  • You will have fun with your colleagues
  • You will meet great people across continents
  • You can bring your questions and get interesting perspectives

Registration is here:

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4 lifesavers for stuck coaches

That hated moment — your client has finished talking. Maybe even while the client was talking, you were thinking: “Uh-oh — where is this going… what am I going to ask next?” and then some more of that thinking and then slowly and surely thinking yourself into a grinding halt: you are stuck. I don’t know any coach (or negotiator, leader, salesperson… ) who has not been in this situation. It is awful: feelings of incompetence and self-criticism can creep in and exasperate everything further.

But fear not: SuperKirsten to the rescue! I am kidding, of course. The only person who can dig you out of that hole is yourself. Let me throw you the four lifesavers that help me when I am feeling that way (and yes, you can be MCC all you want, these situations of not knowing what to do will continue to happen, but they feel much less bad when you know about the lifesavers):

  1. “When in doubt, be appreciative”. When that first thought of “Uh-oh” creeps in, start focusing on what you are noticing about the client that could be a resource for achieving their goal. Lets say the client goes off on a tangent about “why my parents-in-law never support me and why I therefore cannot get a job because they will never accept a working mom….” Resources could be: “Wow, you have already identified some obstacles and you still want to create a career for yourself — how are you coping with this?” or “It seems to me that your view on working mothers is different from that of your parents-in-law, is it? Would you like to explore that a bit?” etc. So basically, instead of thinking yourself into the dark night of coaching despair, focus outward, focus on the client, be curious about what they are able to do, think, feel that is going in the right direction.
  2. Be curious about what the client wants. Ask yourself: “What can I hear in what the client is saying that might point to what the client really wants?” Again, in becoming a detective for “signs of the preferred future” of the client, you start focusing on the conversation between the noses and not on the conversation in your head. Focusing on what is wanted and what is already working well is always useful.
  3. Ask the client: “Would this be a good moment to capture what has emerged in our conversation for you that has been useful so far?” I call this question my “get-out-of-jail-free card”. Even if the client says: “Nothing, really”, it gives you a chance to recalibrate and ask the client how they would like to continue, which is….
  4. Our forth lifesaver. Simply tell your client: “Hm. As I am listening to you, I feel a bit stuck as to where we should move our conversation to — do you have any idea what would be useful for you to talk about next?” Worst case, the client says: “But you are the frigging coach!” (which they usually don’t) — even that gives you the chance to go back to the beginning and ask: “Ok, so let’s go back to what you wanted from this session. If I remember correctly, you wanted to find a way to earn your own money. Maybe it is a good idea to collect what you already know about this and then think about what you could add?”

What are your lifesavers?

If you want to explore more around these types of situations and exchange brilliant ideas with your coaching peers, come to one of our free coaching meetup and exchanges. In fact, the case example in this blogpost came from a lovely job-coach who joined one of our meetups (thank you, you know who you are :-))

To register click here:

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Coaching and leading non-native English speakers

Most of us live in a bi-lingual world where we either speak more than one language or are communicating with people whose native language is not our own, and mostly, not English. Even if both speakers are English native speakers — there are variants of English to consider (e.g. “to table” something can mean “postpone” or “put on the agenda” depending on which variant of English you speak). As (I think) Mark Twain said: “A people divided by a common language”.

Here are some things to consider if you are coaching or leading people whose native language is not English:

  • Do speak a little bit more slowly at first, and gauge what speed is appropriate. Adapting is necessary because nothing is more annoying than someone who speaks too slowly — it also may sound patronizing if you are tooooo slow.
  • Don’t speak louder!!! I mean it. Don’t 🙂
  • Be careful with phrasal verbs (e.g. “push back” or “run into”) — explain when necessary
  • Don’t use sports metaphors — especially not baseball! Come on, US-Americans, who understands this game, anyway. Same with Cricket!?!
  • Ask a question, wait until there is an answer or a sign of non-understanding. If the person did not understand, rephrase (don’t rephrase before you are sure that the person did not understand)
  • Allow people to think in their own language — maybe use more silence in meeting for people to make up their own minds before they share
  • Make it ok not to understand and clarify
  • Embrace misunderstandings — “there is no understanding, only less and more useful misunderstandings” (so don’t do: “what I meant….” but just continue with the conversation as it is taking shape)
  • Use the other language as a resource — maybe there are metaphors or concepts that don’t exist in English that can shed light on aspects of the conversation

What are your tips and tricks when bridging a language divide in coaching and leadership?

Come to our free coaching meetup and exchanges to explore (they are usually a wonderful mix of international English speakers)

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A little fish with your bicycle? Metaphor menus in coaching

I love metaphors — I love playing with language and being playful is something I really enjoy. Recently I came across a BBC documentary podcast on metaphors and language used by people experiencing cancer to describe their experience.

As you may notice, the above expression: “people experiencing cancer” is metaphor free. Even if i had written: “Cancer survivor” or “to describe what they are going through”, I would have introduced a metaphor:

  • Cancer is a life-threatening event and you are trying to survive (instead of “live with” or “co-exist peacefully”, for example)
  • Cancer is a journey that you can go through (instead of “a pause in my life”, for example)

Every metaphor we use offers different possibilities of viewing the situation and of doing something about it.

  • If you are trying to “survive”, the options for doing something will be in the active area, “doing something to survive”. If you are “living with”, the options are  more passive or in the “making peace with” area
  • If it is “a journey” you have travelling companions or might look for them, etc.

The generic metaphor is “fight”, “battle” cancer, but that might not be the right metaphor for every person experiencing it. The BBC documentary talked about an approach which offers people “a metaphor menu”. You can download it here: Metaphor Menu

Different people with similar experiences were asked to provide their most useful metaphors and others could consciously choose their favorite one, change it, play with it, and — I presume — therefore find some agency in a situation that does not offer you much, otherwise (or maybe that’s my metaphor coming in here).

I would love to collect a metaphor menu for goals people commonly have in coaching:

  • being calm and relaxed when there is a lot to do
  • re-creating a good relationship after a conflict or resolving it (which is already a metaphor)
  • creating harmony when there a different working styles or ethics
  • staying positive and hopeful when the future is uncertain
  • being deliberate about taking up new leadership position
  • feeling self-confident about something

The metaphors can be about the problem (e.g. “when I have a lot to do, I feel like I am in a storm”) and about what is wanted instead (e.g. “I want to be the eye of the storm”).

For me, the most important thing is that clients choose what metaphor works for them and that we invite them to choose. If not, the danger is that the dominant, single story (e.g. “fighting cancer”) takes over and robs people of their choices. As Heinz von Förster said: “Act always to increase the number of choices”.

If you would like to explore more about metaphors (and “exploring” is another of those 🙂 ) come to one of our regular coaching meetups and exchange:

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Before you self-diagnose with depression…

… have a look around and see if you are not actually surrounded by a****les.

When we are feeling down, angry, sad, irritated, anxious, etc. or when someone else is feeling in a way that is undesirable to them, the most common reaction in our culture is to start to look at what is happening “inside” the person. Somehow seems logical: “The problem” (the undesired emotion) seems to be happening inside, therefore “the solution” (a more desirable emotion) also needs to come from “inside”.

This only works if we assume that a person is somewhat separated from their environment and the “inside” of the person is somewhat independent from the “outside”. And is this really the case? And why is this important for coaching, leadership and personal happiness? Bear with me for a bit.

On one of our cycling trips, my husband and I were following the Rhine-Rhone canal from the Rhine to the Rhone. The first day on the canal, we both were feeling exhausted, not fit, everything was a bit harder than usual. We were finding lots of interesting explanations: “It is day 3 of the trip, we are probably just hitting the tough spot.” “Maybe we didn’t have enough to eat yesterday” etc. etc. All the explanations had to do with our personal individual constitution. What we found out after 30 km was that we had been going steadily, slowly uphill without noticing. The explanation was not to be found “inside” but in the interplay between our environment and ourselves.

So what if emotions did not happen “inside”, what if they weren’t produced by us as individuals? Maybe “feeling an emotion” is more like “seeing”, “hearing”, “smelling” rather than this unexplainable “inside” occurrence. Before you self-diagnose with depression…

So why is this important for coaches, leaders and people who would like to lead a good life? If you find your clients, your direct reports, yourself experiencing an “undesirable” emotion – try treating it as a perception, a “sensation” rather than something irritating. Look at the situation and the emotion.

In coaching, we use the move of “perspective change”:

  • “How would you notice that things were a bit better?”
  • “Who else would notice?”
  • “What would tell them that things are a bit better for you?”
  • “How would they respond?”
  • “How would you respond?”

By imagining the interaction between your client, your direct report or yourself and the environment, the emotion stays in its “home” and isn’t artificially isolated from the world it lives in.

To borrow the words of John Donne (excuse the non-inclusive language, I am sure Mr. Donne meant to include women, non-binary, other):
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
John Donne

For more philosophical musings and their practical application, please come and join one of our regular free coaching meetup and exchanges: