I want to talk about our new president, but that got me to asking “when do you stop being new?” He’s been on the job for a few months more than a year and–like employees everywhere–we’ve been talking behind his back about what we are observing. (I think he might not be “new” anymore if his predecessor had been with us fewer than 10 years, by the way).

One of the observations I’ve made about him is that there’s a certain oracular quality to his speech. Horoscopes and coaching both have a lot in common with this quality. In fact, it’s one of the things that drew me to coaching in the first place. Among particularly powerful leaders I noticed a distinct absence of instruction about what to do. Rather, there was a persistent (and sometimes frustrating) reliance on describing where we needed to go. In other words, the leaders who have inspired the greatest effort and creativity on my part have always insisted they would not do my thinking for me. They paint the picture of the results needed and refuse to tell me how to get them.

Leadership coaching has in common with this a useful refusal to give answers about what the person being coached (pbc) should do. Through the (one hopes) artful use of inquiry, challenge, silence and curiosity, the pbc is gently coerced into thinking deeper, stretching beyond, crossing mental boundaries, and doing the hardest work there is in this world…thinking.

Of course, an oracle is only powerful to the extent that it does something inherently contradictory: connect the chaotic challenges of the present to a beguiling future. Oracular speech that is too indirect doesn’t meet us at our current pain. Oracular speech that is too explicit doesn’t fuel our hunger to bring the vision into reality. Just like great leadership coaching the oracular moment is fissionable; it flames into existence out of the collision of great challenges and creative minds in the service of great purposes.

your fellow limit-tester,

Doug

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