Ask More Powerful Questions

An example of Triple Loop learning

Ask Powerful QuestionsI was recently asked by someone who really enjoyed my last post “The Best 15 Minute Coaching Session Ever,” how often I write these types of posts. I answered that I write a weekly blog post which I publish monthly. In other words, I’m writing a blog post a month when I want to be writing a blog post a week. It has been over a month since I posted.

Is it an issue of discipline? Is there an action you are having difficulty following through? Do you have clients who are having trouble getting traction?

In this post, I am going to walk you through my own discipline issue using Robert Hargrove’s Triple Loop coaching model found in his book Masterful Coaching.

The First Loop – Actions/Results

In this first loop, you are looking at actions and results. What have you tried and what happened? What could you try differently to change the result?

Rather than start over, I went back to when my actions were producing a weekly blog post. If there isn’t a time you had been successful, look at when you were successful at something similar.

I asked myself, “What were some of the actions you were taking when you were getting good results?”

  1. I was continuously writing down ideas. I had so many ideas I certainly didn’t use every one.
  2. I would write 2 or 3 times per week. This allowed for a rough draft. An edit. And a polish.
  3. I would have my writing coach look over my work every few weeks.
  4. I would create a 1000-1500 word work on a single theme.

Hargrove says the first loop is the least powerful. I know what I need to do, but I don’t know how to make it happen on a consistent basis. This is where many sports coaches use guilt or even threats to make their “clients” stick to the rigorous routine.

“Schedule time on your calendar” is the most obvious action step. But it doesn’t work for me. I’ll just ignore it. Then judgment creeps into the coaching. “Maybe you don’t really want to write?” If the coaching stops here, the client won’t get much traction.

The Second Loop – Strategy/Patterns

In the first loop, I have uncovered the needed actions. But it hasn’t gone deep enough. Hargrove tells us to take it deeper. The second loop looks at strategies that impact the actions. Whether I am aware of it or not, there is a strategy that is impacting my ability to take action. Simply put, I have a strategy that rates what is most important for me to be doing right now. And this strategy is not ranking “writing a weekly blog post” very high. This strategy is not pouring resources into the “writing of a blog post” reservoir. I’m writing from a very dry place. That certainly makes taking action more difficult.

So how do we create a strategy that will more accurately rate what is important? How can we create a strategy that will make me lean into the actions I want to take?

I asked myself, “What about my current patterns of behavior are stopping me from taking the actions that were working before?”

  1. Four out of five work days I have something scheduled by 10 in the morning. One day, it is 9. Another day is at 8. There isn’t room for my brain to get into a writing flow most mornings. Should I forbid anything to be scheduled before 10?
  2. I look at email too much and find myself driven by non-urgent requests. Should I resolve not to check email before noon? What would be the consequences?
  3. When I was successful, I was going to bed by 10 and working around the house in the evening rather than watching TV. Now I’m doing less ‘round the house’ work and going to bed around eleven.
  4. When I was successful, I was running three times a week and listening to podcasts on the run.

As I read these, I’m struck that #’s 3 and 4 are the ones that really prepare my brain to write. At this deeper level in the second loop, the most obvious action steps are to work around the house in the evenings and ensure a regular running routine.

Look how far away these are from the actual writing. These are strategies for preparing my mind to write rather than actions for writing. This is much more powerful than the first loop. Yet if you stop here, you will not be giving your client the most transformational coaching possible.

The Third Loop – Identity/Story

Hargrove says there is one deeper level to look. The third loop has to do with identity. Do I identify myself as a writer? If I clarify my identity as a writer, it will strengthen my strategies that will result in productive actions. What role do I play in God’s greater story?

I asked myself, “What is true about my God-given identity that will give me the confidence to change my current patterns of behavior?”

  1. I have had inklngs over the last few years that three things I need to do every day are Read, Write, and Run. Who am I that these are the three most important things I could do every day?
  2. Something in me struggles with working at home in a bedroom office and with the view it presents to online clients and students. What needs to change in this office to make me feel like a professional coach?

As I leave the loops and narrow down my action steps, they fall heavily into the strategy category, but they are definitely influenced by my insights into my identity.

Three Resulting Action Steps to Writing a Weekly Blog Post

  1. Go back to ‘working around the house’ and in bed by 10pm.
  2. Get audible.com. This is linked to motivating my running during the winter.
  3. Plan to write for 45 minutes a day whether you have something to write or not.

The only one of these three actions steps that requires much discipline is the last one and note that I take the pressure off as well. I’m a writer so I will write. I now have a plan to action on creating a discipline of writing that takes the pressure off and sounds fun.

How You Can Use the Triple Loop in Your Coaching

I tell this story of self-coaching so that you can see as a coach how you can move your questions from an action level to a strategy level to an identity level. This will increase your ability to create better awareness in your client. You might even want to work your way back to the first loop as you create your actions steps.

I’m linking to a short video where I demonstrate coaching around one topic but purposely move from action questions to strategy questions to identity questions. This is not a complete coaching session but demonstrates how to move from one loop to another.