People often ask me to describe a “typical” coaching client. I’ve never been able to do that. My clients vary, and their issues and objectives vary. They may be working on leading remote teams more effectively or executive presence or stepping into a bigger/more global/brand new role. They may focus on work-life balance (whatever that is) or developing direct reports. They may want to learn more about how to influence sideways and upwards or how to motivate and engage employees. They may talk about how to delegate, spend more time planning, and get out of their own way.

The issues and objectives vary.

That said, over the years I’ve noticed five key lessons that nearly all of my clients need to learn:

  • You can’t be the one to do everything – many of us have built our reputation – and our career – on our ability to get things done. And to get things done quickly and well. That is all great, but at some point, it actually is a self-limiting approach. There is only one of each of us, and only so much that one of each of us can do. If you build your work around being the one to do things, there will be a time when you’re out of capacity, and so your reputation – and work – will potentially suffer. Learning to lead more means learning to do less.
  • You must be dispensable – this one often catches my clients by surprise, and it comes directly off of the first point. An effective leader works to be dispensable. To build their team so that the team is strong enough to be self-sufficient. This allows the leader to focus their time and energy on other issues and more strategic work. Learning to lead means learning to trust others to handle things in your absence.
  • There’s someone who loves to do the work you hate (and vice versa) – one of life’s beauties is that we are all different and we all love different things. I may hate details, but I certainly can find someone who loves to thoroughly check and re-check and re-re-check. I may hate group presentations, but I most likely have someone on my team who thrives on being in front of a group – and their enthusiasm most likely will carry them far. Learning to lead means learning to spend more of your time on the things you’re really good at and having the expertise around you to fill in any gaps.
  • Self-care does come first – as we’ve said many, many times, there is a reason flight attendants tell us to put our own oxygen masks on first in the event of an emergency. If we can’t breathe, we can’t help anyone. While there may be times we all have to push ourselves beyond our limits or to give a bit too much in order to meet a deadline, in general, we need to take care of ourselves in order to bring our best to work and to lead from our best. We all need enough sleep, exercise, nutrition, down time, play time, connection time, etc. in order to function well. Learning to lead means learning to make time for yourself and for more “energy fillers” in your life.
  • Your strengths may very well also be your challenges – too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing. I have clients who have incredible energy, and at times they have too much energy. I have clients who are unbelievably driven, and at times their drive drives other people away. I have clients who are wonderfully sweet, and at times their sweetness allows other people to take advantage of them. Our strengths are our strengths, and we can overuse our strengths. Learning to lead means learning to build the “muscles” you don’t always use.

Over the years we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of coaching clients with varying needs, challenges, strengths, and coaching objectives. That being said, there are overarching lessons that seem to emerge in many, if not all, of our coaching engagements.

I guess we all still have so much to learn!

What have you learned recently that has helped you lead more Thoughtfully?
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