Blog Post: Coaching for Different or Coaching To Level Up?

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For a number of years, I was a coach for churches that were plateaued or dying and expressed a desire for change. The external motivation was a denominational entity that was working hard to keep their churches alive with a hope they would live with a greater sense of mission. The internal motivation of the leaders for the church was to keep the denomination happy and to survive. The model was for a consultant to come in and do an assessment, present a report and give ten prescriptions for change. One of those prescriptions would be coaching. The whole congregation would then vote to fully accept or reject the prescriptions. If they accepted, then I would come in as a coach for the pastor and leadership for a year. It is an effective model that often saw significant results.

There was always a problem at the beginning of the coaching relationship that took time to deal with and it had to do with expectations of the client. This same dynamic plays out in the majority of coaching relationships. I believe that 99.9% of coaching relationships start with a client wanting something different. I’m not sure what the other 0.1% are but I’m sure someone will tell me. This “different” might be motivated by pain or it might be motivated by unfulfilled opportunity. Either way the client wants “different.”

There are at least two problems with this motivation. First, different doesn’t mean better. Second, different is easy. So easy, in fact, it gets in the way of progress. Your clients want you to coach for different. Don’t fall into the trap.

Just as mindset shifts are critical for clients, they are critical for coaches as well. If you want to make a difference as a coach you need to coach to level up. Let me give you a framework for coaching to level up. The concept has its source from the book The Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan.

Going to the next level in life and leadership requires change in three areas:

  1. Values
  2. Self-management of Time
  3. Skills


Values are stated in words but communicated in actions. It’s why what we do is the best indicator of who we are. When coaching around values, the tendency is to focus on aspirational values – who we want to be but aren’t. We all have aspirational values. It is necessary and good to keep us moving forward. They are our dreams, but they are not our reality. The danger is when someone you are coaching defines themselves by mostly aspirational values and ignore their consistent actions. That’s called lying to yourself.

Values are costly and effortful. To live a value driven life is NOT the path of least resistance, it is the path of greatest resistance. Everyone has a wonderful plan for your life and your time. And if you keep living their life you will forfeit the things most important to you and lose your unique contribution to the world.

Here’s how to figure out the value(s) that need to change to grow to the next level. Don’t start with writing out the value statement for growth, explore with your client what they need to do to grow to the next level. Be very specific.

What do they need to do, when do they need to do it, how do they need to do it, who needs to know they’re doing it?

Once you have that clear, work backward and explore what the words are that define the value of these actions. This is their new value.

There is one more step. Values must be prioritized. Where does their new value need to go for it to be actual and not aspirational? If it is just aspirational, it won’t make a difference.

Self-Management of Time

I really dislike the phrase “time management.” It is a complete misnomer. Time is a constant. Everyone gets the same amount. When it’s gone, it’s gone and we can’t get a do-over. Time can’t be managed. Time can only be lived or wasted. Getting to the next level is about living well in the time that moves you toward where you want to go.

What really needs to happen to get to the next level is Self-Management of Time.

The most intuitive aspect of Self-Management of Time is spending enough time doing the right things.

Your client won’t accomplish anything without investing time into the endeavor. The greater the vision, the more unique and/or complex the next level growth, the greater the difficulty, the more time it will take to get there.

One of the dirty little secrets that goes back to the nature of time is this: To decide to do more of something requires a parallel decision to do less of something else. Time is a constant. 24 hours in a day. 1,440 minutes in a day. 86,400 seconds in a day. To start doing something new, to start doing something more, means they must stop doing something, they must do less of something. There is a sacrifice required to go to the next level and it is defined most clearly in time spent.

Here’s the question: What is the time required to accomplish the dream at the next level? Yes, part of the answer is “More.” How much more? Where will that time come from? This is what is keeping them from getting to the next level.


At its most basic, a skill answers the simple question of “How do I do…?” The skills required for the next level are fourfold:

  1. Technical Skills
  2. Leadership Skills
  3. Relational Skills
  4. Complexity Skills

Each of these is a blog post by itself but here is the summary:

Technical skills are the skills unique to the tasks you must accomplish. In every field at every level there are skills that must be learned and mastered to be the most effective. To be a great teacher, you have to teach great. To be a great school administrator, you have to excel in the skills of administration. To be a great salesperson you must master the skills of sales.

Leadership skills are the skills necessary for moving people from one place to another. It is more than having knowledge about leadership, it is about embodying the knowledge in how the leader thinks, acts and feels.

Relational skills are about having emotional intelligence. It is the ability to recognize and understand how emotions impact self and others, then managing those emotions for the good.

Complexity skills are the ability to manage the increasing complexity of working with greater amounts of people and greater diversity of specialization to bring about the identified end goals. This largely happens through being able to identify leaders, equip them and helping them manage the complexity of their smaller teams.

Coaching People Up

If you want to be a coach making a difference, coach with the mindset of leveling up. It will be work to help your clients have new awareness and clarity around these three areas but it will be the key to them getting beyond different to going to a new level.

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