Provision #661: Leadership 101

Laser Provision

In the USA, it’s March Madness when it comes to college basketball. The top teams, male and female, in every division are in the midst of their playoffs. One thing every team has in common is that every team has a coach. This designated leader is responsible for recruitment, training, strategy, practice, and execution on the court. The buck stops there when it comes to leadership. One of the more legendary coaches is “Coach K” from Duke University. What’s the secret to his success? Nurturing relationships, building infrastructure, and establishing high standards. With that, we kick off our new Provision series on leadership.

LifeTrek Provision


A few weeks ago a visitor to the LifeTrek Coaching Blog left the following comment: “How do you find ideas for articles? I always lack new ideas for articles. Some tips would be great.” My short answer: I don’t know. Things just come to me based upon what is happening in my life right now. My wife remarks occasionally that I am one of the most naturally curious people she knows. That is certainly part of the answer. I write about what I want to learn, not about what I already know.

Another part of the answer is that I pay attention to the question of my calling. What does the world want from me now? As you can probably tell, I usually write these epistles in the 48 hours before I publish them. Judging from the steady stream of reader replies, people seem to appreciate the timely perspective they bring on current events; it’s engaging to be invited to think so deeply about something that just happened yesterday, or last week, or last month.

That’s especially true when I focus our awareness on what is happening as well as on our ability to make a significant, positive contribution. Those are, in fact, two of the most essential coaching questions. How are things now (awareness)? How can we best contribute to making things better in the future (action)? The two are integrally related. Sometimes awareness precedes action; other times action precedes awareness, and often the two go hand-in-hand as simultaneous partners in what’s known as the action-learning process. Coaching is all about action-learning.

But coaching is not the only profession that pays attention to action-learning. Indeed, I would argue that we must all pay attention to the dynamics of action-learning whenever we hold a position of responsibility or leadership. Are you a parent with young, growing children? Are you a teacher with a classroom full of students? Are you on a team that’s trying to get something done? Are you a leader who has set something in motion? Are you concerned about your own future or the future of the world? If your answer is “Yes” to any or all of those questions, let alone the many question variants, then understanding and mastering the art of action-learning is for you.

So what does the world want from me now? It has something to do with coaching, leadership, and action-learning. Several years ago, I purchased a URL from someone at considerable expense that I have still not developed: CelebrateLeadership.com. I still love the URL, especially since so many of my coaching clients are working with me to successfully think through and navigate their way through the challenges of leadership, but the time was not right for me to focus on this matter until now (even though our Australian partner, Mike Alafaci, has been after me to do this for years).

The tide has turned me toward leadership with the upcoming publication of our new book,Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time. Although the book is written primarily for people who work with teachers in K-12 schools, the coach approach presented in the book will be useful to any leader in any team, group, or organization. We propose a shift that’s easy to understand yet challenging to master: evocative leaders abandon traditional “tell-and-sell” methods in favor of generative “listen-and-learn” methods.

“Tell-and-sell” is, of course, the time-honored approach to leadership. When I was younger, that was certainly my naive understanding. Becoming a leader, which started happening to me at an early age, meant • I thought • that I was called to make decisions and to make other people buy into and implement my decisions. If I could persuade them through rational means, then being a leader gave me the authority to say, “Since we don’t agree, we’re going to do it my way because I say so.” In other words, leadership meant I had the opportunity to throw my weight around if necessary.

With that understanding of leadership, it’s no wonder that I got up to 235 pounds! The stress of “tell-and-sell” leadership reveals itself in many different ways: teams become increasingly dysfunctional, results are increasingly compromised, conflicts are increasingly common, and health issues are increasingly chronic. “Tell-and-sell” is certainly one way to get things done, but this is approach is costly and, in most cases, it is not as effective as “listen-and-learn.”

We refer to “listen-and-learn” leadership as evocative leadership. That’s because the “listen-and-learn” stance draws people out and builds people up. It connects with people emotionally and empowers them to find their voice. It is the key to meeting challenges and accomplishing goals in the ever-changing landscape of the modern world.

One person who understands these dynamics of leadership is the legendary basketball coach of the Duke Blue Devils and the US 2008 and 2012 Olympic teams, Mike Krzyzewski. “Coach K,” as he is better known, has distinguished himself as someone who knows how to create and build excellent basketball teams. If you read his book, Leading from the Heart, you’ll learn that he’s been doing that for the past 40 years with spectacular success.

What’s his secret? As a leader, he pays equal attention to three critical dynamics:

  1. Nurturing Relationships. Most leaders give lip service to the notion of nurturing relationships; Coach K gives his very life. From the moment he first encounters a prospective player, he establishes an extremely personal and caring relationship that lasts a lifetime. How does he know? Because years after players have left his teams, they still call for a little Coach-K love. Going above and beyond the call of duty, with a strong benevolent ethic, is a primary task of leadership.
  2. Building Infrastructure. Leaders understand that individuals are limited as to what they can accomplish on their own. In fact, we have a mantra in coaching that speaks to this dynamic: “If you working an individual, and not working with the environment, you are working with less than half the situation.” Leadership happens in the context of systems, and evocative leaders call forth greatness from individuals not only by appealing to their character but also by building the infrastructure so they can be successful.
  3. Establishing Standards. In order for the “listen-and-learn” approach to constitute leadership, it has to be set in the context of high standards that leaders adhere to and invite others to adopt as well. Double standards, “do I say not as I do,” undermine trust, compromise teamwork, and subvert effectiveness. When leaders establish and live by their own high standards, it’s natural for others to follow suit.

I will be writing about these and other leadership dynamics in the weeks ahead. I invite you to send me your questions and favorite leadership lessons. Together, we’ll move beyond old-school thinking about leadership to the new wave of how best to work with and get things done through people.

Coaching Inquiries: What leadership responsibilities do you hold? In what ways to you nurture relationships? Build infrastructure? Establish high standards? How would you describe those standards? How well do you live by them? Who could assist you to clarify and strengthen your standards?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Just wanted to say congratulations on your new program and the success you are having. I listened to the interview on Blog Talk Radio with Mary. Having worked in the schools as a student and then professional for nearly a decade and then being a parent (and of a son with special needs), I am pleased to see your efforts moving forward! My sister-in-law works in a fairly progressive district in TX and told me they had a lot of “coaches” . I’ll have to share your work with her. I’m sure my coaching skills would have come in handy when I worked with resistant teachers way back when. I was a special education resource teacher, working with teachers to mainstream children into their classroom to be successful. 🙂


Just saw your new picture on Plaxo. What a great photo! It really captures your spirit. I’m now in Baghdad for my second trip, where I’m coaching the leadership team of the Zain telecom company here. Fascinating culture and, as you can imagine, incredibly challenging conditions. Wonderful people. Eager learners. Looking forward to working with the team together as the next step. Real mix of nationalities in the leadership team including an Iraqi CEO who is as much Texan as Iraqi, having spent much of his life there and has now returned to help rebuild Iraq. Definitely an adventure! 



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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