Photo by  Neil Thomas

Photo by Neil Thomas


Leading others, at any level, isn’t easy. It’s an invitation into an uncomfortable place filled with doubt, constraints, difficulty, and struggle. When we accept that invitation we find within ourselves truth, strength, and resilience.

Coaches enter into an ecosystem and understand our position in that system. They share our concerns and convey empathy with our situation. But they do not take on our anxieties or solve our problems. Coaches are independent thinkers while working interdependently with us to confront our challenges constructively.

Coaches are not there simply for understanding and insights. They demand our willingness to enter into a maturing process that helps increase our resiliency. They require us to take action, learn from our experiences, and set new goals for action that lead to a stronger sense of our leadership presence. The stronger and more robust our presence is—our ability to sit with our own discomfort and the discomfort of others—the easier it will be to integrate practicing the ability to identify reasonable goals, manage ourselves amidst our own discomfort and that of others, increase our tolerance for reactivity, and be candid with our experiences. Mastery of these practices is a lifelong commitment.

While those around us are sporadically annoyed, frustrated, jealous, bored, vindictive, keen to prove a point or distracted by their own set of concerns, coaches bring a focused, generous attention to our situation. They create a safe, no-consequences conversational space, separate from day-to-day pressures. They are genuinely sorry if we have suffered reputational damage. They understand that it must have been worrying to get a new boss right before they were promised a promotion, enraging to be overlooked after delivering a key project, or exciting to have acquired a new team. They know we didn’t do whatever it is we are there to discuss on purpose and assume some logic on our part if we did. They do not flatter us, but they do strive to enter into our experience, shoulder to shoulder, and help us make sense of our experience so that we can see a broader set of choices than the one we originally picked. They look at reality through our eyes so as to start offering an alternative point of view and become an effective sounding board for future decision making.

Such support allows us to exhale and breathe a sigh of relief. Day to day survival in corporate politics (and everywhere else) requires that we constantly weigh the impact of our words and actions on others. We have to consider their priorities, take a genuine interest in their lives, and make room for their concerns.

With a coach, there is little inquiry into their personal experience. The coach inquires what is top of mind for us, not the other way around. The relationship is as one-sided as the parent-advocate who doesn’t expect the child to worry about their sleep, but who provides ground rules to live by.


Leading others, at any level, isn’t easy. It’s an invitation into an uncomfortable place filled with doubt, constraints, difficulty, and struggle. When we accept that invitation we find within ourselves truth, strength, and resilience.


However, the coach does not sacrifice equality in the relationship. They’ll show us understanding while holding us accountable to our goals. They give us tough feedback so we can see reality with greater clarity. They are fully present to help us find what is best for us, understood on our terms.

Support is not just pleasant. Support is structured, and essential to us tapping into our own reserves. Knowing that we have someone in our corner is designed to lend us the courage to face up to experiences we normally avoid. In a sufficiently calm, reassuring and attentive environment, we can look at areas of vulnerability we otherwise lack the courage to tackle. We need to learn to confront our managers unproductive interventions that derail project priorities. We need to make key leadership decisions resulting in team restructuring and strategy shifts. We have to be able to deal with toxic team members in a way that doesn’t blow back on us. With a supportive advocate in our corner, we can summon the vulnerability needed to reflect on our own behavior—that perhaps we were wrong correcting someone in front of the team or that we have been angry with a peer for long enough, that it might be best to outgrow our justifications.

The support of another person gives us the emotional safety needed shine light in a constructive way at our crafty, mysterious, evasive minds.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.

Coaching Behaviors: Proximity

Photo by  Markus Spiske

Photo by Markus Spiske


Coaches know a lot about the unembellished truths of human nature. They have close-up experience, proximity, working with people who have experienced serious traumas—harassment, layoffs, discrimination—as well as the smaller pains and paradoxes: a grudge provoked by a side look at a person in a meeting that took up the better part of three years; an otherwise amiable person who punched a wall in frustration after a meeting; a smart, capable manager who is no longer performing well; a senior director in midlife at the same level for ten years and getting anxious about retirement; a corporate vice president incapable to confrontation.

Because of their orientation, coaches grounded in psychology know that inside every adult there remains are feelings of confusion, anger, hurt and longing to have their say and their reality recognized. Coaches appreciate that we need to know what we know and feel what we feel in order to really know ourselves again. They know we will want to be heard, perhaps through tears or the grit teeth of frustration, which might be at odds with the surface maturity and self-management normally associated with executives and high performing managers.

Coaches have sufficiently adapted themselves to the reality of what people are like. They do not to need to censor or deliver judgments. This experience does not come from theory or books, but by being courageous about knowing their own nature. Coaches may not share our fantasies and anxieties exactly, but they accept that their own are as colorful and as complex. They are just as well acquainted with the powerful and peculiar fears that hold us all hostage.


Coaches have a broader view of what it means to be normal.


Coaches can start to help us because they have a much broader view of what is actually normal versus what we insist on pretending is normal. They don’t require us to be any particular way to protect their fragile sense of self or of reality. Their only requirement is that we admit, without too much defensiveness, to some of what is going on inside us. They as us to feel what we might have been suppressing or know what we might have been lying to ourselves about in the pursuit of greater self-awareness. Greater self-awareness leads to deeper insights.


This blog post is part of a series related to The Little Book of Coaching pending publication.