There are similarities and differences in coaching the executive versus coaching the athlete and the value and the power of the relationship is the same.

Words Matter

How do the following phrases make you feel?

You must…You should…You have to…

Now, compare how these following phrases make you feel:

You can…You will…You are…

The following story is a great example of just how much words matter.

My best friend and I speak often. She has a very strong, direct personality. I like these qualities about her because I like to know where I stand. I realized though, I started avoiding telling her things because her directness was pushing some hot buttons for me. I started paying attention to what that was about for me.

One day we got into it when I shared my struggles with my teenager. Her response was, “you need to do this…” and he has to….” I realized it felt as though she was telling me what I should, need, have to, must DO. I barked at her, “Stop telling me what to do.” I found myself not able to hear her, even though she has raised her own teen, wants to help, and has good suggestions.

My friend’s drive to help me solve problems is a welcome quality; the way she presents herself negates it for me.

After expressing myself forcefully she opened up and shared how people get turned off by her because of her “strong ways.” She strongly and emotionally stated, “This is the way I am, and this is my tone of voice; I have opinions and am not afraid to express them, so people are just going to have to live with it.” Yet, I recognized the anguish it caused her that people get upset and turned off by her ‘way’.

We talked it out and realized it was a matter of words – because words matter.

I asked her to try and use different words to express the same opinion. For example, She changed, “You should just tell him he has to do what you say” to, “What will happen if you put your foot down?” The first phrase challenged me and put me on the defensive. The latter phrase empowered and supported me in finding a solution.

The words “should”, “could”, “but”, “try”, and “need”, for example, offer unconstructive connotations. Words such as “how”, “imagine”, “wonder”, for example, offer possibilities for consideration and a new approach. Now, when I tell my friend my teenager is going off the deep end, her words present possibilities rather than demands.

Changing the words, changed it for me as the receiver. I was able to hear her concerns and her counsel. As the speaker, my friend has had success with others as well. She shared, “when I can remember to use positive language, my interactions with others is completely different.”

Seems simple enough, BUT AND it takes practice; first it takes remembering to do it. Clear, forward-moving communication is a skill, and skills take practice to incorporate into one’s inherent behavior.

Action Step: Practice eliminating one negative word at a time from your vocabulary such as “should” and replace it with an empowering word such as “imagine.” You SHOULD will be able to observe how it transforms your communication and positively impacts outcomes with others.

Emily Bass inspires great leadership by seeing the potential in others and helping them move forward among the challenges of the work place and in learning environments. She is currently fulfilling her passion to make the dreams of success for others come true through her Adventure Leadership SummitAssessment-Based Executive Coaching and Essential Skills Workshops.

Why do certain people at work bother me so much?

Because he or she is different than you. Embrace the differences – they complement one another. Relationships start with you. You hold the power to make your relationships what you want them to be.


Think about differences in people in two ways; pace and priority.


Pace makes up how people deliver. Some are very deliberate in how they deliver while others are quick and to the point. Some talk, think, walk, and complete projects slowly, while others operate at a faster pace. When dealing with someone with a different pace, it can be difficult, on both ends.


Priority makes up how people are motivated. Some are motivated by task oriented-projects and others by projects that allow them to be relationship-oriented. One wants to work together with a focus on details and perfection, the other wants to focus on the team and the relationships. Both focuses are valuable as well as opposing when working with others.


When Pace and Priority differences are combined, it creates the most challenging relationship of all. Imagine a thoughtful, detail-oriented person working with a quicker paced, big-picture type person who likes to make things happen, now! Or, consider a project lead wanting the task-oriented styles to see the big picture and they can’t, because their style requires the details to see it.


Embracing the differences may just give everyone what they want. If it’s perfection you want, imagine those people-oriented types will be more likely to deliver when the relationships are attended to. If it is a social environment you seek, allow the task-oriented people to present the details and they will be more likely to deliver what you want as well.


Emily Bass inspires great leadership using assessment-based strategies forExecutive Coaching ,Essential Skills Workshops and her one-of-a-kind Adventure Leadership Summit. Join Emily on Facebook, LinkedIn and stay connected by reading her Blog.


Mt. Washington Valley Economic Council presents “Essential Skills Workshop” a Management Boot Camp Series

Part 5: Skill building when coaching the Novice versus the Expert


Part 5: Skill building when coaching the Novice versus the Expert


As mentioned in Part 4, behavior change and skill building for the athlete and the executive come with different types of risks. The skills for the athlete are more tangible and physical; the path to getting there can be somewhat linear. Certainly, there are emotions to overcome as well as a need for commitment to practice in the behavioral sense, yet I experience the tangible outcomes and the linear set of goals make the path to success different for the athlete than for the executive.


Skill building for the executive seems more intuitive, emotional and behavioral in the intellectual sense. Working toward behavior change such as the triggering of muscles and muscle memory is a very different behavior change than are soft skills such as management style, writing skills, or communication and public speaking skills.


Skills executives request coaching for commonly come in the form of developing and enhancing soft skills and the list is long: communication, problem solving, decision-making, teamwork, and adaptability are further examples. Basically, whatever the specialty of coaching one focuses on, they all lead to helping others establish and enhance their skills and application of those skills.


The athlete builds skills that allows them to physically perform within a very specific framework with a specific set of tools (e.g. the skis they have on and the conditions of the mountain on that day) whereas the executive builds varied soft skills that are applied in many different situations every day.


Coaching a beginner skier is not that different than coaching an expert. The expert skier still encounters fear of being hurt and even fear of looking silly, just like the beginner skier. At the same time, the beginner thinks more about survival whereas the expert thinks about efficiency and finesse. When working on learning new skills it can be intimidating because falling is often the best way to learn, creating more fear for the beginner and vulnerability for the expert.


The different expectations for the new and the seasoned executive are similar to those of the skier’s. The novice executive is still developing and polishing skills and the expectation may be that they will experience fear and end up flailing. Similar to the novice skier, finding challenging and new terrain is easy for the new executive and they, too, must think hard about how they execute their newly found skills. Just like the expert skier, expectations for the seasoned executive are that they smoothly navigate any terrain.


When it comes to the stages of learning, there is much similarity between the skier and the executive because those stages apply in all types of learning. I often use the metaphor of driving the stick shift when talking about the stages of learning and skill development:


Stage 1: Unconsciously unskilled: One does not know what they don’t know about driving a stick shift until they try to do it. There is no real measure whether they have the skills.


Stage 2: Consciously unskilled: They get in the car and, most often, pop the clutch and are unable to drive the car. They now know what they don’t know. They experience failure and can now measure their abilities. This creates frustration and perhaps a loss of confidence.


Stage 3: Consciously skilled: The stage where they can drive a stick shift with focused intention, yet fear and hesitation abound especially when starting from a position of stopped and heading uphill. This stage elicits motivation from successful attempts as well as continued frustration from failures.


Stage 4: Unconsciously skilled: They can get in the car and drive free of thinking about what they are doing. They have mastered the skill and it happens as second nature. They can talk and drive and drink their coffee regardless of the terrain.


All good coaches focus on success rather than struggles. Coaches focus on small successes and build from them, taking them to the next level of skill development. The beginning states of learning feel like baby steps and even falling backwards but once one gets past the stage of consciously unskilled and experience successes, they thrive and reach great heights.


Skill building is ultimately about awareness. My most successful runs have been when I am completely in the moment and present with every single move and feel of my body from one edge of the ski to the other. I prepared and trained for the moment.


My most successful presentations, therapeutic sessions and leadership moments in the business world have been when I am completely in the moment with the other person or people in front of me and I am aware of their every word, movement and expression guiding me into my next move.


Just like the athlete, as an executive or therapist, I prepared by practicing, having my resources at hand and reviewing previous steps. Awareness and presence for any type of coach is a key factor for success and it leads to stronger communication because of being in the moment.


Check out our Adventure Leadership Summit and Essential Skills Workshops for an efficient and entertaining way to gain new skills in all aspects of life, work, and play!


In Part 6, the focus is on communication with an athlete versus communication with an executive.


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Part 3: Setting and Attaining Goals


Diana Golden Brosnihan, a brilliant skier. Diana won 19 Gold medals in world competition.


How do you go about setting a goal?

What challenges do you face when setting goals?

How do you hold yourself accountable for accomplishing a goal?

How do you know when you are successful?

How do you celebrate success?


Setting goals and how one attains them can differ between the athlete and the executive. With the end result being success for both, it differs in how one’s goals are identified and what role the coach plays. The skier may tell their coach their overall goal of wanting to ski all the intermediate terrain comfortably. The ski coach then identifies what the skier’s needs are to accomplish this and creates the smaller goals or stepping stones for their student, telling them and showing them what to do and how to do it. They encourage and provide feedback throughout, even skiing down the hill in order to literally mirror proper movements for them; perhaps even manipulating them physically so they may feel the correct positioning.


The executive coach questions, providing space for the client to explore possibilities and express how they see, feel, or think about things. Instead of focusing on what the coach thinks, an executive coach focuses on the client’s thoughts and ideas. It is a conversation to provoke thought and bring out of the executive his or her own goals and direction they want to go; guiding the executive to identify for themselves what the path is (obstacles and resources) to get them to their goal. Executive coaching includes mirroring also, but it’s mirroring the client’s words back to them and asking for more depth of vision.


The executive coach focuses on repeating the positive statements and rephrases in an affirmative way so as to support clear, positive, proactive thought patterns; similar to how the sports coach performs the maneuvers in the correct way, leading the student to see positive movement patterns with the goal of creating the correct image for the student. Through open-ended questioning, the executive coach listens to what the client says so they can identify what the client wants.  The coach then takes the very words of the client, without analyzing or judging, and reflects them back to their client.


The scope of goals for an executive is broad and can range from any issue in the person’s life to one particular project in a particular area. This broad scope arena for goal options means the look of success for an executive is just as broad. The coach for the executive then uses their fine-tuned skills to help guide the executive to clarify and pinpoint particular goals and then prioritize them. Through further questioning to bring out existing resources and strengths, the executive coach helps the client to identify action steps and timelines as well as measures for success.


While the sports coach takes into consideration confidence levels, analyzes movement and then teaches and advises. The executive coach brings about awareness through discussion, plus exploration of their client’s wants, thoughts, and behaviors. Awareness is enlightening to the executive, just as it is to the athlete. Sports and executive coaches both seek to empower their student/client and provide action steps and timelines for making change based on new awarenesses of body mind and spirit.


In part 4, I address risk taking and behavior change.

Part 2: The Coaching Relationship


Women’s speed coach Chris Knight coaches Lindsey Vonn to one of her most successful seasons. (Getty Images/Agence Zoom-Alexis Boichard)

The Coaching Relationship


How do you see your self as a leader?

How do others see you as a leader?

What do you understand about your own vulnerabilities?

How do you respond when you feel fear?

What actions are you taking to address fruitless behaviors?


One’s relationship with his or her coach, whether for sports, health and fitness, or career is of the utmost importance. The value and effectiveness of the coaching relationship are based on openness and honesty where vulnerability is accepted and even expected. Trust and acceptance are key in this relationship. Often, the student of a sports coach looks up to them as a mentor and role model, even a philosopher of sorts. Most athletes will tell you they tend to perform better when their coach is present, supporting, analyzing, and providing feedback to improve performance. With executives, they are a client, not a student, and their coaches play more of partnership role, typically only present before and after an event such as a meeting. Regardless, the power of the relationship can often follow the executive into the meeting, providing a sense of supporting presence.


When asking coaches about how they view these relationships the sports coach often responds they think of their students as protégés’ or mentees. Sports coaches express their respect for their students, and the courage and dedication they have to their sport and their body.


The sports coach, being a coach because they have often reached the level of expertise in the sport themselves, respects the process the athlete is going through. They understand the motivation, determination and focus required to train and attain the level of skill to be a professional athlete. The sports coach relates to the whole-body/whole-person commitment to their sport and their body as their tool and that is part of where the value of having a coach comes in for the athlete.


The relationship between the executive and the executive coach has its similarities in many respects. Questioning people who have an executive coach, they express great respect and even gratitude for having the ear of one who understands the training and commitments required to emotionally and intellectually endure and maneuver the politics, emotions, and competitiveness that come with working in the business world.


Executive coaches express the respect they have for their clients comes from the very reason they are there to coach—the client’s commitment to endure and navigate the business world and all the challenging terrain that comes with it. An executive’s commitment to their mission, their job responsibilities, and to the people involved such as the staff, partners, clients, and the community at large is impressive and certainly respected by the executive coach.


Their accomplishments and resume are something to be respected as well; often it is the day-to-day existence that is the most impressive to the executive coach. Just as the day’s performance on the course for the ski racer is the ultimate impressive element of the athlete’s performance, the day’s performance in a meeting or challenging encounter can be the ultimate impressive element of the executive’s performance. The coaching relationship, whether for the athlete or the executive, requires trust and honesty for the student/client, with their success as the ultimate goal.


An important role of the sports coach is the ability to literally see and analyze the performance of the athlete. In a sense, the athlete is performing blind in the visual sense and their poor movement patterns are blind spots. Unless athletes see themselves on video, they are literally unable to see themselves. Similar to the athlete, it can be challenging for an executive to see themselves and how they appear in the field. What differs is that the type of blind spot is based simply on their humanness instead of physical performance; each produces its own type of vulnerabilities.


My take on the executive’s blind spots boils down to ego, unwise intentions, or over-confidence. Athletes also deal with ego, over-confidence, and competition—in fact, these things are huge barriers to success for the athlete. It is different though in the sense that a physical vulnerability such as athletic performance, is concrete and tangible with clear goals for change, whereas leadership vulnerabilities may be more personal, more about who the person is and how they are in their world. This difference of physical change versus way-of-being change creates a vulnerability much harder to see and admit to as well as change for the executive than for the athlete.


Another difference that stands out to me is that for the athlete, it is most often when they reach the top level of their field that they deal with these issues, whereas the executive may deal with such challenges at any point during their development. Having a coach to help manage these challenges are important for both the executive and the athlete, with the strength of the relationship being key.


Similar to a new skier, when executives encounter new terrain, it can be scary, creating vulnerability they are uncomfortable expressing for fear of looking weak or incompetent. Both the athlete and the executive face fear. Many blind spots are based on fear. The skier leans back when they are hesitant or afraid of the terrain or the speed they are gaining and I think that is an accurate statement and a good analogy for the executive as well—they lean out from, instead of into, the table or the conversation or the situation when the terrain is unfamiliar, picks up too much momentum, or gets bumpy.


This is where the coach comes in and adds value by implementing the delicate skill of helping to create awareness, for example, creating awareness of when in the process of their success did fear start to set in. The awareness may be as deep seeded as the use of early-learned survival behaviors in their family unit or in their social circles or it may be as surface as just never having experienced a particular situation; similar to the skier’s fear that happens when approaching unfamiliar terrain.


One executive I worked with shared she took on the role of mean girl in school and learned not to trust people because of witnessing gossip among her friends. The way in which she survived this experience was by distrusting and pushing her way over people. This learned behavior is very similar to what an athlete experiences if they learn poor movement patterns such as muscling one’s way through the bumpy terrain instead of balanced alignment allowing flow through the bumps. The way past these learned patterns of behavior are similar for both the athlete and the executive and can be changed through supportive coaching that creates awareness of challenging patterns while promoting positive ones.


The ski coach provides the resources in the form of physical skill building for the skier, knowing what terrain to put them on to practice those skills in order to own them and build confidence. Similar to the ski coach providing exercises for skill building and action steps that address the fear, the executive coach helps the client explore situations and resources and mirrors back what the executive is sharing, empowering them to see themselves. Both types of coaches provide guidance so the student/client can reach the top of the mountain without breaking their own leg or anyone else’s, if that is their goal. The difference in the relationship with the coach for the executive is that the executive has the answers whereas the athlete looks to his or her coach.


The relationship between the coach and the student/client is based on trust and respect. The student/client must feel comfortable being vulnerable and letting, even hoping, the coach sees them completely.


In part three of this series I address setting and attaining goals.

Part 1: Coaching the Athlete vs. Coaching the Executive


With the rise in popularity of executive coaching, you may ask yourself, “Why would I want a coach? What can a coach do for me? Athletes have coaches and that seems customary but how is it customary for an executive to have a coach? How is it different from or similar to the athletic coach?”


How often do you find yourself in a situation at work where you wish you had someone to run things by? How could you have benefitted by having someone to help you navigate challenging terrain, something as simple as building an agenda for a board meeting or as difficult as having a challenging conversation with an employee?


Coaching has its roots in tutoring and has been a part of sports since the 1800’s. In its simplest form, the traditional coach is defined as “a person who gives advice.” The beginning of most definitions of a coach is “a person who teaches or trains…” A new definition of coaching is emerging with the rising popularity of professional life, health, and executive coaches.  What executive coaches do is similar in many respects to what sports coaches do, and it also differs in precise and important ways.


This is part one of an eight-part series, comparing and contrasting my experience as a skiing coach to my experience as an executive coach.


When athletes perform, they are having fun, competing, and hoping to perform efficiently and at the top of their game.  They are inspired, focused, and motivated. Sports coaches are teachers with students. Sports coaches tell their students how to do what they do, listen and support their students in creating goals and action steps that will help them win. They provide advice and direction, telling their students what to do and how to do it. Sports coaches often have mastered a sport to some degree, usually to a higher level than that of their students, in order to effectively coach the student.


When executives are in their working mode, leading people, keeping up on issues, finding resources for their business and finding better, more efficient ways to do more of what they do, they also are inspired, focused, and motivated. Executive coaches listen, encourage their clients to create their goals and action steps and support change, based on what the clients wish to achieve. Executive coaches don’t tell or advise. Instead of collaborative involvement to set the goals with or for the clients, executive coaches give clients the space to be the sole decision-makers, free from direction. Executive coaches don’t provide the answers. Instead, they ask open-ended questions, prompting their clients to discover the answers for themselves. Executive coaches listen to understand and to determine which questions to ask next. The goal is to provoke more thoughts on subjects identified by the executives. Executive coaches partner with clients so the clients can explore, move past obstacles, strategize, plan their own actions, and create change they have defined and chosen themselves. Executive coaches do not have to be the content experts. Executives hold the answers for themselves, and the coaches’ job is to bring the answers that already exist in the minds of their clients to the surface.


This first blog highlights an important difference in the relationship between an executive coach and the sports coach. In Part Two of this series you’ll learn more about the coaching relationships experienced in sports coaching and executive coaching.

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