Balance from the Inside Out
I remember one time when a Fortune 500 company asked me if I wanted to come and speak on “time management” for their leaders. I immediately said “no, not really,” and told them that it was not a topic that really grabbed me. The woman came back and said that it was very important to them and they devoted a lot of training to it, and asked if I would reconsider. So, I asked her, “have you had training on time management before?”
“Why yes,” she said. “We have had a lot of emphasis on it.”
“And, are the same people who were productive and not overstressed before still the ones who are productive and not overstressed, and the ones who were disorganized, always over-stressed, and not as productive, about the same as they were before, but now have a new colorful notebook binder with a bunch of time management tools that they carry around?”
She laughed and had to agree with the reality of what their time management seminars had gotten them. So, I made a deal with her.
“I will be glad to come and speak on time management if you let me speak on the way that I think time management really works,” I said.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“In your time management seminars have you ever talked about the real reason Sally never finishes anything on time is that she spends a lot of the day lingering in other people’s office or by the coffee machine? And that the real reason that she does that is that she is lonely and is trying to fill that need for connection at work?” I asked.
“Uh, no….can’t say that we have talked about that,” she replied.
“Or, have you talked about that the real reason that Shawn has too much to do and can’t finish it all? That it might be that his perfectionism keeps him from sending out an email or a report without checking and over-checking it so many times because he is afraid of what someone might think if it is not perfect? So, he becomes a bottleneck for the whole department?” I asked.
“No, haven’t talked about that either,” she said.
“Or maybe that Susie is always behind because she can’t tell Sally to stop interrupting her when she is working and that she doesn’t have time to cover for John in still another project that he was not able to get done?” I wondered aloud.
“Ok, I get it,” she said. “No, those are not the kind of discussions we have had.”
“Well, I will be glad to come if I can talk about the way that time management really works, meaning that it is really about more than time. I think that most people over 8 or 10 years old understand time. But what they struggle with is managing themselves. I would love to talk about self-management and how it affects time, productivity and stress.” I said.
“Let’s do it,” she said.
We did and had a great time, as their leaders got into deeper discussions about the real reasons that their work lives were out of control. And when it gets to our responsibility as coaches, those reasons become very important.
In my view, coaches often come in two types. One is what I would call “structure-adding coaches.” The value that they bring to clients is the structure that they cannot provide for themselves, such as mission, goals, strengths clarification, objectives, time-lines, metrics, milestones, accountability, schedules, resource allocation, etc. Those things are very important and are of true value to many people. I have seen businesses turn around when accountability is brought to the table to help people define a direction and keep moving down a path.
But, there is more to coaching than adding structure. And that is where the second type of coaching comes in. This type of coach will ask the question “why?” when someone is unable to keep the direction, goals and accountability that they have set for themselves. It goes deeper than a time management manual or a goal-setting notebook.
And that “why” question always leads to two important areas for a person to examine in order to grow and get better: First, it leads to their own “character” issues, or issues about their own makeup. I addressed these in my book Integrity as a lack of “integration” of important personal issues or character traits needed for success, such as the “ability to maintain trust,” the “ability to find and live in the truth of reality,” the “ability to embrace negative reality,” and a few others. These are significant intrapersonal issues that higher level coaching must address for people to realize the full potential of their gifts, talents and opportunities. As Peter tells us, character and fruitfulness are very much intertwined (2 Peter 1:8).
Second, it leads to the interpersonal issues that may be behind their inability to get to the proverbial “next level,” or are causing the problems they are facing. Inevitably, there are relational issues that keep people stuck or get them off track or create conflicts for them that they do not know how to resolve. Sometimes these are with bosses, sometimes with peers, and sometimes with direct reports. But the real reasons that often drive performance issues, stress, burnout, and workaholism are actually relational in nature. Good coaching asks the questions that get to the root of the issue.
Sometimes these two sets of issues need therapy, and a coach will refer the person for that kind of work. But often they are not of a clinical nature and coaching can help the person gain the real life skills that provide results and growth. The difference though is that the coachee is not just filling out boxes in a time-management or goals worksheet, but growing as a person instead. That is growth from the inside out, as character and relational abilities improve. And that is the coaching that brings fruits that last forever.
In an issue that focuses on mind-body connection and a balanced life, it is important that we remember that all balance flows from the inside out. As Jesus said, it is the tree that produces the fruit. If there are fruits such as imbalance, overwork, bad health, stress or poor performance, you must look that the real issues inside the person that are producing those fruits. If you do, and coach them well, the outside fruit will change as well.