4 Things I Ask of Every Person I Coach or Mentor

4 Things I Ask of Every Person I Coach or Mentor

It’s a question I get maybe once or twice a year…

Of those who ask some actually stick around… A relationship is formed of mutual sharpening, hopefully squarely upon the shoulders of the mentee, but I would argue there are benefits to the giver and the receiver alike.

…and some don’t really stick around. They desire someone to give them some good ideas, support, encouragement, prayer even and who knows if you’ll ever see them again…

When it comes to actually doing something with that hour spent, when it comes to actually heeding the wisdom and advice shared… shoot, when it comes to just even showing up for the meeting-things become a little less certain.

After the last couple years without a plan, I’ve finally tried to add some boundaries and definitions around what we’re getting into when we agree to a coaching, training, or developing relationship.

Well before I get into those structures and expectations there is one thing that sets the stage for the whole deal and that’s: mastering the art of “the ask.” Read this previous post if you haven’t, because it sets the whole stage for talking about commitments in a 1:1 personal development context.

Commit to consistent meeting

Before concluding the meeting we have to agree how often we are going to meet. It’s not about the time, day and all the tactical details at this point. But why wouldn’t you at least understand the basic frequency of what we’re talking about here? I suggest for almost all situations 1/month.

Commit to intentional meeting

Before concluding the meeting, I ask them to commit to “leading up” in a way, which is putting the onus on them to pursue me when it comes to communications and setting up meetings.

I tell most people, listen: if you send me an email requesting a meeting; if you are standing there with your phone out saying, ‘I’m open, I’m free, I’m willing and I’m making the time because it matters’ then I almost always promise them that my response and commitment to finding a meeting time is as good as gold.

A person could grab me in passing and say, ‘hey when are we going to meet up, man?’ 15 weekends in a row, but until they actually get their phone/calendar out and say I’m ready let’s go, I’m not buying it.

Commit to tough questions

At this point in my life, more than ever, I believe in the centrality of this statement: great leaders live for tough questions…firing them off and taking them like champs. 

Influence and impact can only come through the road of tough questions. And there will always be a moment of truth (or several) in your exchange with a mentee that if you don’t capitalize on them you’re wasting everyone’s time.

Tough questions are the road to growth. Tough questions are the gracious and loving call out. Tough questions are the seeds of accountability and progress.

Commit to pay it forward

As a leader you should always carry the burden of multiplication. If what you’re doing, if the work you’ve committed to being a part of within someone else’s life never goes beyond you and them, then you’ve missed one heck of an opportunity.

Whether you’re a Christian or not, whether you believe in “discipleship,” evangelism, or spreading the good news to a greater and greater circle of people, every leader ought to have at least two core convictions about themselves:

  1. that what’s inside them (how they care, think, see) is worth multiplying and 2. what we commit to doing could always reach more.

Mastering the Art of “The Ask”

Mastering the Art of “The Ask”

Every single day we contract with people and don’t know it. 

How many of you have said at one point or another: “I didn’t sign on for that…” or “they got me doing something different now then when I was hired…” or “I switched roles and thought we agreed to this, but I spend most of my time over here…”???

There is always a conversation going on beneath the surface of what we agree to in our relationships-family, professional, romantic-the question becomes: are these agreements… low context?
High context?

Or how about: what are the terms and did we really ever agree?!

The following is what I have learned this past year about contracting, inviting or coming to agreement in a worthy and excellent manor. 

First, I want you to know that this principle applies regardless of the situational leadership position you are in.

Whether you’re leading down (someone you are hiring, recruiting, leading, are responsible for) or someone you’re leading up (your boss, supervisor, higher-up) or leading across (those equally positioned across from you in the relationship or organization.) 

Regardless of whether you’re the one doing the asking of if someone else is doing the asking of you: when a leader is requesting buy-in, opt-in, sign-on or commitment, there are at least two elements that should motivate the conversation:

  1. Passion
  2. Clarity


I’ve spoken to this issue at least monthly, but see there’s no accident in that.

Many leaders are missing if they are not viewing the world through the lens of opportunity… challenge as opportunity, economic turmoil as opportunity, circumstantial change as opportunity…

Shoot, every stinking work day that you draw breath and are going to punch in for 8-hours is one great big opportunity for passionate pursuit of SOMETHING!

And if you’re going to invite someone into something, if you hope to create tremendous buy-in, if you’d like to contract with someone for the long haul on a worthy project or mission, you had better bring the passion like one thunderous drum of relentless enthusiasm.

Because if you don’t, I’ll find something else to be a part of. And so will your people. 


George Bernard Shaw once said:

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

Unfortunately, I do not have this massive table of data that proves how often in our personal or professional relationships we ASSUME we’ve agreed to something and then the details turn up wanting, but I guarantee it happens a lot!

It happens because we lack the intentionality and care to honor people with a crystal clear ask!

So you’re either lazy or you don’t know how to do this. Fortunately, the solution is simple: begin by writing down a list of 5 or fewer, tangible, practical, time-based details of the ask. These are the core responsibilities that will drive the time spent together, these aspects will continually serve as anchors and laser-pointers to the whole original purpose.

And therein lies the importance and power of “the ask”… the bottom line is this: we have an opportunity every single day to contract with people all around us. You may not know it or see it in the moment, but it’s there.

Whether leaders, co-workers, spouses ask for it or even think they need it, they need to be envisioned and enrolled around a very clear ask.

From the most simple, “hey want to get together tomorrow at 10am for coffee?” all the way to, “hey would you be willing to mentor me?” and everything in between, we are facing opportunities to contract. And when we don’t, it’s a huge miss, people suffer and flail because of it. 

CHALLENGE: its time for a mid-year, 30-day, 90-day “review”… sit down with 1 person who you KNOW that you have some overdue contracting with… OR re-contract with someone who has been meandering about in the fog of apathy and aimlessness!

Don’t waste time… your shared mission is too important! 

Where Do You Go For Answers? 

Where Do You Go For Answers? 

I once had a text message exchange with a friend and former restaurant co-worker about why he didn’t believe in God.

Having been raised culturally Jewish, now in his twenties, Jason would probably associate as agnostic or the ever-growing “none” category. And one of his statements was so succinctly telling (it did literally fit in the form of a text message after all).

He said: “what reason do people have left to believe when we now have the Internet?” In essence he was saying: the quest for knowledge and information is over! The questions of life can be so easily discerned from the click of a button and a simple google search!

No more need for an out of touch, out of sight, out of relevance God when we are now living in the wildly proliferated Information Age!

I thought to myself: holy crap that’s so true for people isn’t it… When it doubt, when facing a crucial intersection in life, when down on purpose or understanding go to google, not to God.

And then just look at this headline that proves EXACTLY what I’m talking about…

People don’t want to go to God to find the right candidate;
People don’t want to consult the bible to discern what makes a great leader and;
People DEFINITELY don’t wanna go to church to hear what some windbag preacher has to say… So what do we do…?

We Google it.

Google after all is not just a proper noun (the name of a search engine tech firm) it’s a verb!

You know what else is a verb and a noun? Faith. We have it and we do it.

Or at least that’s the aim… What of my greatest fascinations and really convictions is the divergence between those two things though: having it and living it. 

As a person of faith, as a Christ follower I’m shocked and awed by my relative inaction and lack of faith practice and I see it as a historical epidemic as well.

From the time of the 12 disciples right on into today, we Christians seem to oscillate between flashes of brilliance and acts of outright lemming-like foolishness! 

You see where we go for answers matters because we will always act on the information that we find. The article is timely once again: we Google how to vote and then… We vote… We vote Donald trump right into the highest office of leadership in the world. 

Craig Groeschel is fond of emphasizing that leadership is so much based on how we think. Pretty basic really: how we think will determine how we lead. He puts it like this:

Think higher (for this determines who you become)
See broader (determines where you can go)
Care deeper (determines what you can be trusted with)

Basically the way we think determines the way we act and the way we act determines how we lead!

I would contend that we need a more developed, nuanced and overall higher context way of thinking in order to lead well and honor those we influence especially in this “just google it” era we are living in.

Take this last weekend for example, my relatives were in town from Texas (yes, very conservative politically) and we engaged in a lively political dialogue. It was fun, for me at least, because I don’t claim too many political allegiances; I’m content to consider all angles and remain in process AND more importantly I hope to give others the space to do the same. 

However it was clear that my uncles angle on every topic was, for lack of a better word, shoveled.

Do you know kind of what I mean? Kinda like, ‘holy cow are you aware that every single thing that flies out of your mouth seems like a canned response that one or two news sources sold you?!’

Now am I saying that I’m smarter or better because I get my news from literally 100 different places and I don’t necessarily couch myself on either polar end of the political spectrum? 


Hers what I’m saying:

Be a Learner (a life long learner)

Kinda messed up of me-I know, but I encourage you not to be “that guy” (my uncle): like it’s an oversimplified, open and closed case lined with narrow-mindedness! 

Be filled with passionate convictions yes absolutely I highly recommend it… In some areas…

So long as there’s still a place for humble learning and the admission of “having not arrived” in other areas (that will, after all, only serve to authenticate our points of passion when we do speak up!)

Consider Gods voice and the truth of his word

(This approach is ALWAYS going to be more trustworthy than mere knowledge and information alone… Remember you can live your whole life, go all the way to your grave with a full head and an empty heart, but is that REALLY how you want to be remembered?)

Here’s one thing I’ve always said about the Bible: what was true for people thousands of years ago (our struggles, our emotions, our decisions and our predicaments, even our hopes and dreams) is true today.

There is nothing new under the sun. It’s just the Bible has more authoritative and exclusive truth to offer than Google or any other source for that matter. It (the Bible) is “God-breathed“… why wouldn’t you at least test it out for yourself?!

Take meaningful action on what you find 

How you think determines how you act and how you act determines how you lead and how you lead determines, literally, how others live. 

Don’t believe me or think that too dramatic? Look, this blog is about impact and influence. If you still don’t believe that people have the ability to change (due to the leadership of someone else) then consider this story…

My wife and I had the privilege early on in our marriage to travel the world on service “mission trips.” We shared plantains with remote villagers in the jungles of Peru, we saw poverty and a war-torn nation in Sri Lanka.

It was all learning by immersion.

(SIDE-NOTE: this by the way is one of the most potent forms of learning-when, seeking better knowledge or understanding, you venture across your yard, across your street and across the country or globe to see for yourself AND THEN make judgment claims.)

This is also why I refuse to listen to another white person wax on about their opinions or deductions about why we have a problem in inner city Chicago, Harlem or DC until they’ve been there, done that.

They could have read every academic book and listened to the most scholarly pundit but until they’ve actually sat down with someone in that place, then I’ll continue not trusting them any farther than I can throw them.)

In our travels we also saw discarded, forgotten and neglected babies and children. We knew from early on that we would like the chance to adopt one day.

We had babies of our own while getting licensed through the county for foster care and adoption and one day we got a call. Though we could have never known it then, less than two years later that baby girl would be legally our child. 

Now remember my point : be a learner then act on your learning and you will change a life.

For us as leaders of a family…

we saw.
we learned.
we said yes.

And now a baby girl whose mom was on meth and whose dad had 27 criminal counts against him has at least the potential of a better life. 

Don’t take my word for it. Try it out yourself 

When Has It Ever Gone Well? (Telling People what They Do Not Want To Hear.)

When Has It Ever Gone Well? (Telling People what They Do Not Want To Hear.)

Do you want hope?

Do you want change?

Do you want to be kept safe?

…All stump speeches, marketing communications and promises of the populist elite… but does it ever really pan out that way once in office?

I’m talking about ALL presidents and presidential candidates-remember that…

In the morning after the election I was having a text message exchange with my dad. Spoiler alert: we get along very well talking about politics because we both have a fairly sensible view of mankind and its relationship with the state.

I also think we’re pretty good at suspending our biases while understanding that all men and women, politicians or not, are just as flawed and fallible as we are… all of which seems to be a pretty great platform for political dialogue by the way!

Anyway he was expressing how he was optimistic about what our new president might be able to accomplish.

I replied with how I thought, actually, what Trump did was: a masterful job of telling people what they wanted to hear… which, WAKE UP CALL, is no different from any individual who has ever run for president… EVER! 

And then my theory was confirmed when I was listening to a brilliant clip from Donald Miller, author and CEO of Storybrand-a company specializing in helping people and businesses hone their marketing message to fit a more poignant narrative style. 

He reminded us of the famous Bill Clinton advisor, James Carville, who in 1992 helped a seemingly insignificant Governor oust a very strong incumbent in George H.W. Bush while using a very simple 3-point policy communications approach:

  1. change vs. more of the same

  2. it’s the economy, stupid

  3. and don’t forget about healthcare

The principle is simple: anytime somebody asks a question about anything, I mean ANYTHING (foreign policy, the environment, crime, etc) you redirect to one of these… why? BECAUSE ITS WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT TO HEAR!

What affects people more at the core of their daily lives than: being discontented with something (anything!) and that’s the change bit by the way-someone could be walking down the sidewalk and say, “gee, I just can’t stand the way those trash cans are stacked or I just hate the way that newspaper gets thrown or why does that dog keep dumping on my lawn…?!”

…And you know who has the power to CHANGE all that?! Well the President… duh!

What affects people more at the core of their daily lives than their money?! Literally enough said. Bottom line: nothing is more emotion-evoking and personal than our cash-flow. Mess with that and you mess with the masses. 

What affects people more at the core of their daily lives then how they’re feeling at any given moment in their physical bodies or when someone near and dear to them gets sick?!

Remember “John Q” the Denzel Washington film about a gun-welding concerned father who holds a whole hospital hostage in order to get his ailing son treated? Yeah, that kind of stuff. 

And a funny thing happens… when you simplify, streamline and personalize your message to the matters people care about most, you too can be elected president. 

Okay… it’s slightly more complicated than that… build an incredible team, raise incredible funds, get comfortable traveling and talking A LOT. Sure. 

But all of that doesn’t amount to much if it’s not backed and anchored by a crystal clear narrative that hits at the hearts and minds of what people, in all our narcissism and narrow-mindedness, care about most. 

Now is that wrong? Is it wrong to give people what they want and tell people what they want to hear? NO… not exactly. I mean that’s the entire premise of marketing and of a fair exchange marketplace. But I’m more concerned about how you deliver on that…

And that’s, in essence, what I finished saying to my dad that morning: lets see if a man’s word is his bond…

In my opinion there are at least 2 things that don’t serve people within this approach (and again as leaders we are in the “serving people” business):

  1. It’s disingenuous (in essence, it buys votes, also gives people a false sense hope)
  2. It’s crippling (it takes people out from being a part of the solution)

It’s disingenuous because you’re promising you’ll deliver on something that you’ve never delivered on before or at least have very little odds of delivering on-and I think this is historically proven by past presidents. 

And it’s obviously crippling and victim-creating because it takes people out of the center of being the hero of the story! It’s what I’ve said before as my least favorite thing that happens to people/voters as political collateral.

Everyone wants a savior from their personal circumstance, but few want to stand in the gap themselves. When we appeal to this base notion in others we are limiting their potential to stand and deliver on the very change they wish to see. 

And that’s where I see the place of true leadership stepping in. Real leaders offer an alternative path:

  1. Tough love and careful truth-telling coupled with;
  2. Delegating and empowering people to be the change they wish to see

The first is about calling people out on that narcissism and narrow-mindedness mentioned above so they can see and respond to a higher vision.

THAT’S whats good for them,
THAT’S what will grow them,
THAT’S what will make them, their neighbors, their family, their business, their community better and stronger. Not sweet-smelling empty promises and campaign trail rhetoric. 

I rather risk a friendship than spare one person’s wildly unleashed leadership legacy. 

The second is about intentionally developing them and sending them out with the keys (empowerment) and the freedom to say “yes” (ownership of decision-making) so that a greater and greater sphere of people might experience the same levels of growth. 


2 Ways to Face The Growth Opportunities in Your Life

2 Ways to Face The Growth Opportunities in Your Life

Have you ever felt like you were the victim of circumstance?

Have you ever cried out kinda, “why, oh God me?”

Have you ever just said to yourself, “wow, this sucks why do I have to go through this?”

In my profession I have the humbling honor to sit with people every single week who are hurting and broken.

Whether it’s an out-of-work single mom, an indebted business owner on the brink of divorce or the self-employed whose been plagued with serial illness and calamity, every week I hear from people stuck in a truly tough spot.

The fact of the matter is: we have ALL, at one point or another, experienced an event or season that was extremely challenging. This is the fact and the way of life: in this life you will face hardship. It is a universal principle.

It’s how you respond to that hardship or circumstance that forms the basis of who you’re becoming, your character, your legacy, your life!

Author, leader and pastor Andy Stanley has this little tiny book called “Five Things God Uses To Grow Your Faith” and in it he suggests that “pivotal circumstances” is one of those 5. Now take out the word faith and just end the title: “grow you” and I think Stanley’s principle still stands no matter who you are or what you believe.

The concept is very simple: everyday circumstances are a mechanism for your own personal growth. But especially the tough ones.

And what I tell people when I sit across the table from them is this: you have two options, two paths when faced with the storm: you can head into it with indifference and rejection OR you can face the storm with hands, heart and mind wide open for what God wants to teach you, show you, grow in you.

Andy Stanley is also fond of saying:

Everyone gets somewhere but few people get there on purpose…

The principle is incredibly instructive for this conversation because how you respond to pivotal circumstances will determine just how purpose-filled your end destination is!

Here’s a couple simple but profound tips I try to deploy when choosing growth in the thick of a pivotal circumstance…

ONE: always step back and ask a question first

Like, for starters: why is this happening to me? Is it really an “angry-finger-pointing-magnifying glass-God” or is as a direct result of a decision that I made…? I know this is theological in nature but its a question every single person must answer: do things happen by random chance and dumb luck OR do things happen as a result of a rather magnificently orchestrated and grand purpose?

If you haven’t answered that question yet in your life, I strongly urge you to ask it and to recommend that others start asking it!

Starting with and answering this question is so vitally important because if you can’t say to yourself when the going gets tough, “its for a reason… its for a reason… its for a reason” then we are back to the trivial, nonsensical and cruel view of God and the “accidental world.”

TWO: commit to believing that every circumstance is an opportunity for growth

I guess what I’m learning, at least, is that tackling life’s every day challenges is so completely about perspective or “worldview” because your mindset is truly everything.

Its your starting point. Its the core of your self-leadership. In fact, recent studies show it can literally dictate whether you move forward in your organization. (The mindset you carry into a team meeting for example. Some people are far more likely to be given ownership of a program, plan or task and others not so much. see the evidence here.)

Sure, growth hurts… but it’s the pathway and mechanism for who you’re becoming! It’s the pathway for anything interesting or worth doing… its the pathway for legacy… its the pathway for maturity and you gotta square up with your approach to growth. 

So maybe that’s you… maybe you’ve entered the fray… you’re in the thick of it right now. well you have really two options: defiance or the road to growth.

Which will you chose… in your marriage/key relationships? In your work? In your parenting? In your leadership?