Client Relationships

Playing to Win! (part two)


We’re examining leadership coaching distinctions that I employ when coaching pastors and Christian leaders.  Last time, I suggested that the client’s perspective determines what they see as possible and impossible as they search for solutions to pernicious problems.

One common perspective is “playing to win” vs. “playing not to lose”.

Pastors commonly cycle between “playing to win” and “playing not to lose” several times across a career.  Armed with clarity about God’s call and great hope that God will use you in significant ways, early on, you’re all-in.  Playing to win, you’re taking risks, learning, experimenting, making adjustments, and going again.


And, as the decades pass, you encounter opposition and criticism from intransigent resisters, who — somehow – got themselves into positions of power.  You’ve taken many punches along the way, maybe survived (or not) a congregational vote-of-confidence, and been disillusioned by the heartlessness of Christians more than once.  As a result you’ve set your sights lower, become more passive, and less aggressive in pursuing what you once knew God wants the Church to become.

You’re less disturbed by the status quo, less willing to endure the rigor to provoke maturity in your people, and far less likely to face down those who are both influential and immature.  You’re no longer gripped, as you once were, to bring deep, God-glorifying, fundamental change to the church you serve.


Called to a new pastorate, you find your footing, being careful not to lose the opportunity to serve here.  Then, you begin to stretch yourself, your elders, and your congregation to take new ground, declare and achieve goals, and pursue a future worth having. And yet, over time, your enthusiasm to take on that obstinate trustee wanes.  You capitulate, opting for peace — even if it means your people stagnate spiritually.

So, as a coach to pastors, my privilege is to invite you back in. Back in to win.

You stand in your pulpit, amid the congregation, and with admirers and detractors alike, clearly self-differentiated.  You’re vigilant to seize opportunities to provoke your members toward maturity in Christ… maturity of character.

The ministry you’re doing becomes increasingly focused on equipping saints to minister on Christ’s behalf. As a result, church members are engaged with the un-churched all over town.  Skeptics, once hurt by the Church, are reconsidering their dismissal of the Gospel. Marriages are being strengthened. Hopelessness is being banished. People far from the church are coming to Christ.

Over time, the culture in your community is changing.

Crime is down.

Caring is up.

Love is on display.

This is playing to win.

Coaching Distinctions #21

Playing to Win! (part one)


Often in coaching I encounter clients caught in the grip of a powerful, frightening choice. How she chooses has everything to do with what she sees.  Without help, it’s tough to see from a perspective other than your own.  Some find it nearly impossible to adopt an alternative perspective— for even a few minutes.

After all, my perspective is … mine.  It is logical, sensible, familiar, and reinforced by my experience and my values.  At least, that’s what I believe.

My perspective provides a “frame” around my thinking.

Like a picture frame, my perspective gives structure and stability to what I’m looking at.

Like a picture frame, it establishes a boundary around what I see: what I interpret to be possible, what I limit my options to, and what I assume to be a reasonable method to work the problem.

Like a picture frame, my perspective draws my attention to certain features of the “picture” and, as I’m attending to those features, I overlook several others.

One common perspective can be summed up in this distinction: “Playing to win vs. playing not to lose.”

This is playoff time for both the NHL and NBA.  Every night, we’re treated to heart-stopping drama as opposing players ignore the pleading of their coaches and shift from playing to win to playing not to lose, once they’re in the lead.  How many times have you seen your team give up a dominant lead after they’ve moved from offense to defense?

Mike Babcock, coach of my favorite Detroit Red Wings is famous for urging his guys to keep their foot on the gas, no matter how great the lead.

And, when they do, they’re unstoppable.

Yet, too often, once they grab the lead, my Wings ease off, drop back, and hunker down in the defensive zone. And, playing not to lose, their intensity wanes just enough that when they make a mistake it costs them a goal. Too many goals, and they lose a game they once controlled.

And…you do it too!

The Formidable Four (part four)


When someone behaves in ways that don’t seem to make sense it’s usually due to one of the “formidable four” motivators: looking good, feeling good, being right, or, today’s focus: being in control.

The older I get the more sure I am that it is impossible to control anyone … other than myself.

And, controlling myself is a full-time job. 

Ironic that we invest so much energy and effort trying to control that which is most uncontrollable: another human being.

Don’t believe me?

Try raising a child.

You may eventually soothe your bellowing newborn, but not before dozens of attempts to quiet her went unheeded.

Teenagers?  We had six… at one time.   Honestly, I don’t know if any of us were under control at all during those chaotic years.

Undaunted by the reality that we can’t control our kids, co-workers, congregation, or spouse, we continually employ strategies in an attempt to do just that.   

The beleaguered clerk who, after being humiliated at work, comes home and browbeats her spouse.

A teen who, feeling powerless to communicate effectively with his parents, steals the car and runs away from home.

The spouse of the rapidly-ascending politician who suddenly comes down with a mysterious illness and can no longer make public appearances.

An elder who, being confronted, deftly pivots and attacks the semantics or logic of the person raising the concern.

The denominational executive, discouraged by the anemia in the churches under her influence, who travels from one seminar to the next hoping something will happen to stem the tide of attendance and financial declines.

A minister who pretends not to see troubling immorality among church officials, hoping it will all take care of itself.

These control strategies have enormous prices attached to them. Prices are extracted from the perpetrator and those connected to him.  When I’m with a coaching client who’s operating out of the formidable four, we explore the impact on those closest to the client.

What prices are your loved-ones, co-workers, congregants paying?

What do you think it’s like to be in relationship with you?

The key is to drill down far enough until the client has embraced – both mentally and emotionally – the devastation caused others.  This is slow, painful work.

To be impacted by the pain one’s control strategies have caused others is central to repentance. 

The Apostle Paul noted: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation…but worldly sorrow brings death.” [2 Cor 7:10]  See, worldly sorrow is sorrow for myself.

But when God sorrows, God sorrows for us. [Lk 19:41]  So, to truly repent from our commitments to the formidable four, the pathway runs straight into the suffering we cause others.

From this place, repentance lasts a lifetime



Coaching Distinctions # 9


The Formidable Four (part three)


Whatever we do, we do for a reason. Since we’re not crazy, there is always a reason behind our actions.

Every action.

When our behaviors are perplexing, it’s almost always because we’re unaware of our true motivations in the moment.

One of the most pernicious motivators is being right.

If you’ve ever sat with a couple heading for divorce, you’ve seen this.  Each spouse has reached conclusions about their mate’s limitations, motivations, character defects, and willingness to change.  Over time, they’ve found ample evidence to support these judgments — solidifying their commitment to what they’ve decided is true.

And, they’ve ignored many dozens of data points that disagree with this thesis.  

As you labor to referee reconciliation you quickly discover they’re not having one conversation but two.  Each lobbing evidence to support how right they are about how wrong their spouse is.  The energy that each spouse invests to defend the “rightness” of their position is only overshadowed by the devastation that’s wrought on their relationship.

To be proven right is the “booby prize” in any conflict.

The desire to be right is a powerful motivator all across life.  A pastor had developed the practice of predicting who was about to leave his church, trouble that would be erupting on his staff, and problems his ministry would soon be encountering.  His track record was excellent: just about every departure, difficulty, and hardship he predicted did happened.  Despite the devastation these events brought, he took solace in the clarity with which he’d anticipated them.

Crazy, I thought.

Why not labor to prevent these things from occurring?  As we worked together, he developed strategies to undermine the problematic scenarios before they happened.  And yet, before he gave himself to thwart these troubles he first gave up being right about their inevitability… and his ability to predict the future.

When being right will not serve you or them, my invitation is to give up being right about it.

The drive to be right is a lot like living with tunnel vision: you’re predisposed to notice what confirms your assumptions, and you’ll likely miss most everything that contradicts them.  This undermines creativity, closes down opportunities, and locks you into outcomes that you may really not want.

I listen to political talk radio.  There are several radio personalities that I like.  They say what I think, promote what I believe is best for the country, and oppose practices I think are weakening us as a society.  It’s easy to listen to them.

Also, as a discipline, I listen to the radio station on the other side of the political spectrum. I listen for what I can agree with and what I can consider that’s new to me.  It is rigorous to listen not to be proven right, but to discover what I don’t know.

So, where in your life are you locked into being “right” about someone or something?

What if you gave up the preference to be right, and trusted God to surprise you with something new?


Coaching Distinctions # 8

Prices and Payoffs


Crazy people do things for no reason.

For the rest of us, there is always a reason for whatever we do.  You might not like it, but it’s true.

We prefer to imagine that “something just came over me” when I chewed out the State Trooper while pulled over for speeding.  Or, we claim innocence when we’re caught doing something impulsive and out of character: “I have no idea” where that came from!”

Here’s the thing, since you’re not nuts, you actually had a reason for doing what you did.  True, you’re likely unaware of your motivations.  I’m inviting you to consider that, if you’ll look honestly, you’ll be able to uncover why you behaved as you did.

When coaching a client who’s in some kind of trouble, one helpful practice is to examine the prices (costs) and payoffs (benefits) of the choices that contributed to the mess. It sounds something like this:

What prices are you paying, because of the choice you made?

What prices are being paid by the people on the other side of this difficulty?

What payoffs, or benefits, do you receive by making this decision?

It’s this third question that stumps most folks.  The assumptive answer is “nothing”.  So, I remind my client that they’re not certifiable, and to dig deeper. You see, no matter how incomprehensible your choices now seem to be, they made sense to you at the time.  Inevitably, the client will discover that there was rationality behind the action. 

Over the years I’ve learned that at some level, every decision made sense at the time to the person who made it.  How it made sense is worth investigating.

Even more helpful is what comes next.

We collaborate to identify the beliefs that lay beneath that logic.  For example, a pastor I’m coaching might realize that she distrusts an elder, and afraid of being manipulated like in her last pastorate, she’s unwittingly locked in a conflict she didn’t know was there.

Such a belief can be articulated this way: this [situation, person, experience] reminds me of that [something troubling from the past], so, I reacted as if I was in the same situation. 

Problem is, this isn’t that and when I’m living in the present as if it’s essentially what happened before, I behave in ways that undermine my effectiveness now.  What might surprise you is that this recurring drama plays itself out all the time.

You do it, too.

It’s also common to be unaware that you’re motivated by of these four powerful desires:

  • To look good
  • To feel good
  • To be right
  • To be in control

More on this next time.

Best Results from Problem Clients


I was honored to be interviewed by Dane Sanders on his live webcast a few weeks ago. His website, resources professional photographers to build and strengthen their businesses.

As Dane’s business coach, I was asked to do a show with him about working with difficult client situations– perspectives that are transferrable to most any occupation or calling. Plus, you can see how goofy I look on camera!!

Let me know how you find this helpful:

Go to Top