Being a Coach

“Understanding is a two-way street.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

I realized today that there are significant similarities between the tools of a good personal trainer in a fitness club and a manager or supervisor in a business.

As I walked into my fitness club recently, my personal trainer greeted me, asked me how I was doing, asked about my family, and asked questions about my recent exercise and my diet. As we walked over to the treadmill, he commented that he could see I was making progress.

Soon we were walking over to another machine and he explained that we would be working on strengthening my back next. He explained the exercise, showed me how to do it, then had me try it. After I tried it, he suggested a couple of slight changes, then started counting for me as I worked my way through the reps. As I did so, he complimented me, encouraged me, and adjusted my posture as need. When I was finished, he said, “Great job!”

After repeating this process for an hour, it occurred to me that he used the same basic steps for each exercise, and that as a manager or supervisor, we could use those same steps as tools. Let’s look at those steps again:

Demonstrate personal caring. Everyone likes to know that those around them care about them. Remembering even a little about a person’s personal life can go a long way toward them feeling like more than a cog in a wheel.

Remembering the Big Picture. At my very first PT session, he asked me lots of questions about my goals and my history, then he took lots of measurements. This is the functional equivalent to developing a business plan.

Telling me WHY. Each exercise was preceded with a brief explanation of why I was doing it. Giving people this context for every assignment can make their job more rewarding and will allow them to do a better job.

Telling me HOW. Then he told me what the exercise was. This is like giving an assignment to a subordinate. Too often in supervision, this is the only step taken.

SHOWING me how. Then he led by example. We can do this in the world of business, just as he did in the world of fitness.

Reported on progress. As I worked out, he counted my repetitions. That allowed me to focus on doing a good job of doing the exercise, while giving me much desired information. Our staff can benefit in the same way.

Fine tuning. My trainer’s expertise allowed him to quickly see minor areas of improvement. By giving me immediate feedback, I was able to make rapid improvements resulting in a better work-out. He didn’t just let me fail, nor should a supervisor.

Encouragement. When I grew tired and weary, he encouraged me to keep going, reminding me that I was almost done.

Congratulations. When I finished each exercise, he praised me. When we finished the entire work-out he did so again. It made me feel good and made me want to come back. Don’t underestimate the power of a few positive words.

Yes, there are quite a few steps there, but each one need only take seconds. And even if not all the steps occur all the time, using most of them most of the time in the performance of your role as a business leader can get your team in really great shape!

Give it a try today!

Become Good at What Needs to be Done

“Don’t do what you are good at.
Become good at what needs to be done.”

How did you decide what you are going to do today?

Most people do what is on their calendar, do what they are told to do, do what they need to do to fix a crisis, do what is fun, do the project that is due today, or do what they are good at doing.

None of these are ideal. Instead, you should do what needs to be done. “But how is that different from the list you just gave us? All of those things need to be done?” you may ask. Because something is on your calendar, because that project is due today, and especially doing something because you are good at it; none of those reasons ensure that you are doing what really needs to be done.

“The skills and abilities that made you a success in the past are not the skills and abilities that will make you a success in the future”

This means that we must constantly review what we are doing and compare those to what really needs to be done. Here are a few tips for how to do this.

We tend to do what we do because it has worked for us in the past, because, as it turns out, we’re good at it. But that doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that other things need to be done now. What matters now is that you need to get good at what needs to be done.

How do you figure out what really needs to be done?

1. Set aside the time. First, acknowledge that much of what you are already doing, maybe even most of what you are already doing, still needs to be done. But you need to allocate a certain amount of time to doing what really needs to be done; these new things will ultimately lead to greater success. Maybe this means you need to become more efficient at doing the old things, stop doing them, or delegate them.

2. Link your to-do list with your position description and/or your plan. Your to-do list should be a consequence of your position description and/or your company or departmental plan. More commonly, our to-do lists are the result of phone calls, emails and deadlines, but rarely does that method produce a list that actually supports what you are supposed to be doing or facilitates the attainment of goals and objectives. Look at the items on your position description and plan and ask yourself the question, what do I need to do today to ensure that this is addressed? The resulting list should be your to-do list.

3. Focus on productivity. Periodically, look at the items on your to-do list and ask yourself the question, what would happen if I didn’t do this? You might be surprised how many times the answer to that question is, “nothing.” Often they are routine tasks that we formulated a long time ago and we have just become used to doing them, or they are tasks assigned to you by others and the tasks have since become obsolete. Use these answers as a means to prioritize the tasks, setting the tasks with more significant outcomes as a higher priority.

4. Communicate. If you are unsure what your priorities should be even after the above exercises, ask your boss or ask your co-workers or subordinates what they think your priorities should be. Once you have determined what you are going to do, make sure that other people that will be affected know what you are working on, and what you are not working on.

5. Gain the necessary skills. If your new to-do list contains items that you are uncomfortable with, or are not good at, work hard to gain the skills and disciplines you need to successfully tackle them. Ask for help. Consider it a challenge, an opportunity to learn something new and a way to become more valuable to your organization!

Thriving in Adversity

“A pessimist complains about the wind; an optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

-William Arthur Ward

We were walking along the Mississippi River on a sunny but bitterly cold spring day. We were walking upstream and a strong wind was at our face. As canoeists, we could not help but envision what it would be like to attempt to paddle upstream. While the technology is milinea old, it was amazing to think how a sailboat can capture the power of the wind to travel into the wind, even upstream.

We, too, can learn to use the very power of adversity to overcome it. Whether it be a tough competitor or a stumble in our career, we can use that challenge to propel ourselves forward. But it often isn’t easy.

How do you do this? Each situation is unique, but here are some tips:

  • Be creative. The people that first determined how to sail into the wind certainly were creative; so must you.
  • Be open to change. It is said that a fool is someone that does the same thing over and over again expecting different results. If you want different results, you must be willing to personally change.
  • Look at what is not being done. In business we are so busy watching what is happening (e.g., in our company, in our markets) that we miss seeing what is not happening, yet this is where many opportunities lie.
  • Anticipate. Don’t wait for an emerging circumstance to become obvious before acting. Almost always, it is too late by then.
  • Be nimble. You aren’t the only one looking for opportunity. Once you decide what to do, you must be able to act quickly.
  • Harness the energy of adversity for good. Like a sail, take what is buffeting you in the face and transform that energy for progress.

The Effective Follower

“Without followers, there are no leaders.”

We have all heard of the importance of effective leadership. There are countless books and training courses on the topic. But have you ever seen a book or training course on how to be an effective follower? Yet without effective followers, there cannot be any effective leaders.
A major focus of Ascent Advising’s practice has been encouraging, equipping and inspiring leaders. This is appropriate because effective leaders are much needed in the world of business. But simple math tells us that there are a finite number of slots at the top of the organizational chart.

While every person on that organizational chart needs to lead to an extent, most of us need also to follow. Even though the term may not be mentioned, the role of follower occupies most of the position descriptions of most of the people in most organizations.

Do you know how to be an effective follower? Let’s explore this together.

My sister sent me the video below. It dramatically introduces the concept of “first follower.” And what a concept it is.
Dancing Guy
This video would suggest that being the first to follow a given leader can be a bold and vital move. Without that first follower, there would be no leader. Without that first follower, there would not be a second follower. Without that first follower, there would be no cause.


  • How can you be an effective follower?
  • Pick your leader wisely
  • Understand where your leader is leading you
  • If you don’t understand, ask
  • Once you understand, apply this to what you do and how you do it
  • Once you understand, share your understanding with others
  • Help your fellow followers follow
  • Consider taking on the leadership role of first follower by leading your fellow followers
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate, up and down the organizational chart


“We can’t manage a secret”-

Alan Mulally, Ford CEO

I often use driving a car as a metaphor for running a business. It is quite a fitting metaphor, with many applications. Here is one more. Imagine that your car runs well, you have a well-defined destination and route, and a skilled driver. But the windshield and all of the instruments are covered with a frosty screen. It would be challenging to keep the car on the road, much less get to the chosen destination. That is what it is like when management doesn’t have good access to relevant and important information on their company’s path to its destination.

There can be several reasons why management doesn’t have access to this data about the direction of their organization. They simply may not be looking. They may not have a reasonable method of gathering or interpreting the data. They may not realize which data are the most vital to track. But what if the information being fed to management is not reliable? What if this was being done deliberately?

In an interview in the Puget Sound Business Journal, Ford CEO Alan Mulally shares how the windows and dashboard he was using to run Ford were not just frosted, but blacked out. Shortly after arriving at Ford four years ago, he instituted a Thursday morning meeting with managers from all over the company. They updated their business plan which called for a dismal $17 billion loss. They developed 300 charts which they reported on each Thursday. The charts were color-coded such that green meant the measure was on track, yellow was a problem, and red a crisis.

At an early Thursday morning meeting, all of the charts were green. Mulally stopped the meeting and said, “Team, we’re going to lose $17 billion and all the charts are green. Is there anything that’s not going well here? So we can’t manage a secret, we’ve got to be honest with each other and it’s going to be OK.”

A couple of weeks later, one brave manager showed up with a bright red chart. Mulally stood up and applauded him, and asked what the rest of the team could do to help him. In mere moments several suggestions were offered. In two weeks this manager’s chart was yellow, and in another week it was green. With transparent glass in his windshield and clear vision of his dashboard, Mulally and his team have done a remarkable job of turning Ford around.


Are you able to see your dashboard clearly? Are you getting relevant and accurate data and interpretation? If not, how can you do so? The story told by Mulally brings to mind several tips:

  • If all your metrics say your company is doing well but your financial statements suggest otherwise, something is wrong. Similarly, if all the managers report that things are going well but you don’t think so, something needs to change. If your charts are green and your customers are unhappy, you are in trouble.
  • Promote transparency with transparency. Lead by example. Be especially transparent in revealing the lack of transparency in reporting metrics.
  • Create a culture where giving bad news does not result in the messenger getting shot. Even if the bad news is the result of the messenger’s mistakes, do not tie any negative consequence to the communication itself.
  • Capitalize on team solutions. When the manager first showed the bright red chart, Mulally didn’t shake his figure at the reporting manager, asking him what he was going to do about it. Instead, he offered the assistance of everyone in the room. And it worked. Who knows how long that single manager would have struggled to solve the problem within his own part of the organization. But with the help of others, the solution took only days.
  • We should focus on solutions, not blame. Clearly Mulally inherited a culture where the primary focus was to figure out who to blame. Instead, we should react to problems with solutions.

By Dave Bartholomew