The Coaching Cookie

I frequently start leadership presentations by asking the audience to share in one word a key responsibility of leadership.

 

It doesn’t take long for someone to come up with the word “coach” and they are exactly right. Leaders should always be coaching their people towards their next accomplishment and greater success.

 

Too often however leaders believe the time for coaching is only when corrective action is required. They coach to “fix” someone or something. Now that’s certainly appropriate but it shouldn’t be the only time you coach. 

 

Another great time to coach is when someone has done something well. That’s when you coach for positive reinforcement. The key difference between the two of course is that coaching for corrective action is best done privately while coaching for positive reinforcement can be done publicly. 

 

Early in my career I was taught the concept of “The Coaching Cookie.” This is a practice we use when coaching for corrective action. It begins with a compliment, then you state the area needing improvement and finish up your coaching conversation with another compliment. 

 

In the hands of an Authentic Servant Leader that concept can work well. It works for them because their compliments are sincere and they provide in-depth information as to exactly what needs to improve, precisely what “improvement” will look like and how it will be measured. Their “cookie” isn’t filled with fluff, it’s filled with nourishing insights. 

 

The problem I have with this particular coaching concept is that too many people in leadership positions simply use it as a conflict avoidance tool. They focus on the compliments while understating the corrective action required. These “leaders” are more concerned with avoiding conflict than building people.

 

Anytime you’re going to coach your people, for whatever reason, you should be very thoughtful about it. Invest some time in getting this right. If you’re going to use the Coaching Cookie then make sure your filling is meaningful. Be clear, be specific and add a dash of accountability by including a date to review whether the improvement was achieved. 

 

Avoiding conflict by failing to coach your people isn’t helping you and it most certainly isn’t helping them. 


One characteristic of a truly Authentic Servant Leader is that they care enough to coach even in difficult circumstances. Do your people see that characteristic in you? If not you have the power to change that; you only have to decide that you will.


Leading from the Front

Most commonly leaders lead from the front. There is nothing wrong with that, usually. But, if you’re only leading from the front you run the danger of getting too far out in front of your people and when you turn around there’s actually no one there anymore. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders never outrun their people in their rush to succeed. 

 

Hopefully you’ve found yourself in a leadership position because in some way, or perhaps many ways, you have outrun your competition for the position. If that’s the case then one of the first things you need to do upon becoming a leader is slow your roll. Stop trying to outrun everyone else, the race is over. 

 

If you consistently outrun the people you’re supposed to be leading it won’t be long before you’re leading no one. You may have incredibly high expectations for yourself but it is a mistake to transfer the expectations you have for yourself to everyone else in your organization. 

 

They may not be as committed as you are, they may not have the same skill level as you, they may value “life balance” more than you and there are a hundred other things that could cause them to not keep up with your pace.

 

As a leader it’s your job to help them exceed their expectations for themselves and overcome any artificial limitations they may have. But…. and this is big, setting unrealistic and unreasonable expectations for your people will cause them to fail as surely as having no expectations at all. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the front and pull their people to success, they occasionally lead from the rear and push their people further than they thought they could go. Most often however, Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the middle. It’s leading from the middle that allows a leader to come along side of their people and coach them to success. 

 

When a leader coaches their people to success they ensure that their leadership legacy outlasts their leadership. When a leader leads from the front or rear they tend to make more and frankly, better followers. But Authentic Servant Leaders know that true leadership success means making more than just followers, it means making more leaders.

 

That requires being close to your people. It requires that you never get so far out in front of them that they lose sight of you. It would be simple to say that if your people can’t see you then they can’t follow you. But the fact is if they can’t see you, hear you, and even feel you then they can’t learn from you. 

 

You can’t grow your organization without growing your people. You can’t grow your people by separating yourself from them. One of the fastest ways to separate yourself from your people is to outrun them.


Stay close to your people, never think of them as slowing you down. Think of yourself as the leader who helps them move forward as fast, but never faster, than they possible can. 

Do You Know The People You Lead?

One of the more critical responsibilities of leadership is making sure you have the right people in the right positions. Leaders who don’t understand this fail, and they take their people right into the pit of failure with them. 

 

You can have one of the most talented people in the world on your team but if you don’t put them in a position to succeed then their chance at success goes way way down. 

 

Albert Einstein said that “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by it’s ability to climb a tree, it will spend it’s whole life believing that it is stupid.” So it is with people too! 

 

You may not see all of your people as geniuses but each of them indeed has their own set of strengths and as a leader it is incumbent upon you to make certain that those strengths are put to good use. Doing so is good for both your organization AND your people.

 

One of the challenges many leaders face is that they simply do not truly know their people. They don’t know their motivations, they don’t know their goals (or if they even have any) and they don’t know what challenges their people are facing in their own lives. Too many leaders are almost completely unaware of the totality of their people’s strengths and that results in people locked into jobs that are often far below their abilities. 

 

No one wins when that happens. Underutilized people become unmotivated people in the blink of an eye. If you don’t know what you have in your people you’ll likely never get it out of them.

 

If you’re a leader and you’re not conducting regular “strength inventories” with your people then you run the risk of demotivating the very people you need to be as engaged as possible. Conducting these types of inventories requires you to interact with your people. It makes you get out from behind that Great Wall known as a desk and meet your people on their terms. Indeed, the huge side benefit of conducting “strength inventories” is you’re also taking the pulse of your organization. 

 

Do not believe your organization is so big that you as the leader can’t do this. You may leave some of the inventories to your HR group or other leaders but every leader in your organization should be doing at least some inventories of their own people. 


Not providing your people the opportunity to fully utilize their skills is one of the fastest ways to lose them. If you’re lucky once you lose them they will move on to greener pastures, if you’re not lucky then you’ll lose them and they will stay in your organization.


The Best Time to Plant Ceeds

I’m told the English language is one of the hardest languages to learn as a second language. There are many words which appear to be identical yet have multiple meanings. Then there’s the your vs you’re thing that even many native English speakers can’t seem to figure out. Do I write this blog or do I right this blog? This list of conflicts within the English language could go on and on.

 

As challenging as the English language can be however it’s also fascinating when you really study it. 

 

For instance, Google says there are 171,476 words in the English language and only three of them end in “ceed.” 

 

The first of the “ceed” words is proceed. Proceed, as in begin or continue. Successful people know this word well; while almost everyone wants success not everyone is will to proceed down the path required to achieve it. Wishing for something rarely makes it happen, working for it frequently does. Proceed to take positive steps toward your goals or just keep wishing, the choice is always yours.

 

The biggest challenge for most people in their pursuit of success is simply beginning. They don’t “proceed” to the starting line, they procrastinate, they make excuses, they just never build any momentum for themselves. You cannot finish what you never begin, so proceed to the starting line and then push yourself over.

 

The next “ceed” word is exceed. Not coincidentally, successful people know this word well too. In almost everything they do they exceed the efforts of less successful people. The most successful people know that they are due absolutely nothing until they actually do at least something.

 

Once you’ve begun you must keep going. One trait of highly successful people is that they kept going when they thought they couldn’t continue. They “exceed” not only their own expectations but the expectations of the naysayers who said they couldn’t do it. Never quit without thinking about why you started in the first place. If your initial reasoning still makes since then push on; do not limit your success by failing to exceed previous limits.

 

The final “ceed” word is of course succeed. Clearly the definition of what it means to succeed is as varied as the population of the world. We all define success on our own terms. But this much is certain, success comes from doing. It comes from doing something significant, something that matters. 

 

The people who decided that proceed, exceed, and succeed should be the only “ceed” words in the English language were pretty smart. They must have known that the process of success was to proceed, then exceed and if you accomplish both of those you’ll almost certainly succeed. 


The very best time to plant your own “ceeds” for success is today. Don’t limit yourself even one more minute. Do it now with the absolute certainty the only chance you have to finish is to begin.

A Different and Better Year Ahead?

If you randomly ask 100 people if they would like 2018 to be “better” most everyone would say yes. When you ask them what they are going to do to ensure that it is indeed better you’ll likely get just as vague an answer as the question you asked. 

 

The problem with the question of course is that “better” can be defined in literally millions of ways. Better to one person might be less rain in 2018 but if your a farmer in a drought stricken area less rain would be the exact opposite of “better.” 

 

The more specific you are in stating exactly what “better” looks and feels like the greater your chances of actually having a better 2018.

 

Setting goals for yourself in 2018 can most certainly help, making resolutions almost certainly won’t. But whether you have goal or resolutions heading into the new year your best chance of having a better 2018 is simply to make better choices and decisions.

 

You likely have far more choices than you realize and you have a ton more control over the circumstances of your life than you think. If fact, if you’re like most people you don’t actually consider just how much of your life you can change just by changing the choices you make. 

 

You choose your friends… do you ever consider that? Do you complain about one friend to another? I suppose everyone does that once in a while but if you are consistently complaining about one or two people in your life then you should be asking yourself why you are allowing them to be part of your life. 

 

The most successful people do not complain about things they have control over, they just choose to change them. You get to choose your friends and you get to choose most of the people who are a part of your life. 

 

You are basically the compilation of the five or ten people you spend the most time with. That means one of the fastest ways to change your life is to change the people you hang out with. 

 

That’s not always easy, in fact it’s frequently hard, but it is worth considering and then doing if you want to be in control of your life. 

 

Another choice most people seldom consider is their thoughts. You DO choose what to think in any given circumstance. You can look for the good or the bad in most any situation and more often than not, you’ll find what you’re looking for. 

 

Your thoughts play a major role in controlling your life because your thoughts almost always are reflected in your actions (even if you believe you can hide your thoughts from other people) and it’s your actions that people pay attention to. Always remember, people believe some of what you say but they believe everything that they see you do. 

 

I’d encourage you to pick one day, one single day is all you’ll likely need, pick a day and consider for just a second or two why you thought what you just thought. Where did that thought come from? Before you do something pause for just two or three seconds and ask yourself why you’re doing it. 

 

It will likely take far less than a day for you to realize how many choices you actually make without considering how much those choices will impact your life.

 

Sooner or later we all sit down at the table of consequences. Whether what you eat at that table is sweet or bitter is the result of hundreds of choices you make each day, many without even realizing it was a choice. 

 

Once you realize how many choices you actually make in a day, many without even thinking, you’ll have a chance at making better choices. Better choices lead to a better life. 


So what exactly does “better”mean? Well that’s just another choice that you get to make for yourself.