Archives For July 2013


“Sam, it’d be great if you could connect with Cecilia about all this. We need to get this resolved.”

“I’d like to see you take more initiative in your role. Be less passive, and really take the bull by the horns. Can you do that?”

“Joe, I need you to work on being less abrasive in team meetings. We can disagree without being harsh. Agreed?”

These are all examples of weak requests.

Making Direct Requests is one of the least talked-about leadership skills out there, yet learning to do it well resolves a whole host of common leadership challenges.

Take Sam, for example. What the leader is assuming (but didn’t say) in the request above is that Sam will connect with Cecilia within the next two days. The leader fully expects the issue to be resolved immediately. From the leader’s point of view, the urgency of the matter is obvious to all. Surely Sam recognizes that fact, doesn’t he?

So when two weeks go by and Sam hasn’t acted, the leader gets deeply frustrated with Sam and begins to question his honesty and work ethic.

But what the leader doesn’t realize is that Sam has five other fires he’s working to put out in addition to the issue with Cecelia. All of them feel urgent. And since the leader’s request didn’t include a deadline, Sam assumed he could put it off a week or two and address the other high-pressure situations first.

Sam didn’t drop the ball here. The leader did.

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“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” ~ Proverbs 4:23

In coaching, my clients and I talk about all sorts of things. Honestly, it’s amazing how much ground we can cover in 45 minutes of focused interaction. We talk strategy, certainly, but also about clarifying vision, resolving conflict, setting healthy boundaries, practicing new skills to help leaders lead better, etc. The possibilities are endless. But regardless of the topic, one thing about my focus as a coach remains consistently true.

I am unapologetically after my client’s heart.

Why? Because I know the heart is central to…well, everything. Leadership, yes, but also love, life, wholeness, passion, the gospel itself. Without the heart, whole and engaged, all the rest of it is meaningless. All of life becomes a “dead work,” because your heart is not in it.

In Western culture, we tend to equate the heart solely with our emotions. But Scripture defines the heart in a much more expansive and central way. The Bible describes the heart as the deep center of your being, the essence of who you really are, beneath the masks and facades we learn to project and hide behind. Further, it describes the attributes of the heart as being much more than simply what you’re feeling. For example:

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“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.”~ Ernest Hemingway

Have you ever talked with someone who was so present with you that it unnerved you? Someone whose full attention was locked on you, their focus so completely yours it made you feel as if you were the only person in the world? Someone who made you feel really seen, and really heard, in a way that was both wonderful and a little unsettling?

If you have, then you’ve been in the presence of a skilled listener.

Listening is a skill that seems much easier to do than it actually is. Most people think they are good listeners; but few of us really are. Consider: How many times in your life have you really felt fully seen and heard by someone else? It’s a rare gift. Frankly, I think most of us are starving for it on a daily basis. We want someone to really listen to us.

Not surprisingly, the skill of listening is essential to good leadership. Leaders who don’t listen well, don’t lead well. After all, how long will someone follow your lead if they never feel their voice is heard?

But what is it to listen well? How do you do it?

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“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” ~ Eugene Ionesco

One of the core traits of transformational leaders is their capacity to ask truly powerful questions. Asking just the right question at the right time with a person or a group can shatter obstacles, open the way to clarity, and transform problems into possibilities.

But what makes a question powerful?

My first experience with a powerful question came on the first day of my training as a coach over 10 years ago. We had barely gotten settled in our chairs when the course leader called me up to the front of the room, sat me down beside her, smiled a warm mischievous smile, and asked: Michael, what fulfills you? No one had ever asked me that question before. But in that moment, that simple question opened a door in my heart that has revolutionized my walk with Christ, clarified my calling in the world, and forever changed the course of my life.

Henri Nouwen once wrote this about the power of questions:

“Which questions guide our lives? Which questions do we make our own? Which questions deserve our undivided and full personal commitment? Finding the right questions is crucial to finding the right answers.”

So what does make a question powerful? And how do you find just the “right” question to help others (or even yourself) break through a barrier, uncover a new understanding, or take their life to the next level?

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