More than likely you’ve heard these words: You just need….. as in:

  • You just need to do what I did.
  • You just need to get over it, to get on with it.
  • You just need to stop moping, to grow a set, to pull yourself together. Or (and this is one of my personal favorites) pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

You just need….to grit your teeth. To close your eyes and think of England.

There are variations, of course:

  • All you need to do is….
  • If only you would…..
  • If you would simply ….
  • All it takes is…

The message i these phrases? Carries both assumption and judgment, aimed at someone facing a challenge. And it damages by diminishing the person challenged or the impact of the challenge, or both.

How is this relevant to coaches and leaders committed to developing others?

These diminishing messages are based in the old cultural narrative about challenge: That it is – at all costs – something to be controlled, overcome or conquered- AND – that anyone who doesn’t, won’t, can’t? Is less than those who can and do.

When a coach sees what is obvious to the coach – and not so readily seen by the client – the temptation can be to minimize the impact faced by the client in an effort to reassure or encourage. Sometimes your clients just need a place to “dump their bucket,” to hear themselves say what they can’t say any place else. To be witnessed in the middle of a very real struggle without judgment, need or expectation. If you rush to encourage and reassure? You risk diminishing the person, their challenge and/or their personal process.

As you can imagine, this does a grave disservice.

If a leader has successfully handled a situation – and the challenges that come with that situation – s/he may have trouble realizing: Just because I was able to xxx, doesn’t mean this is true for everyone.

And – if the leader breezed through the situation without breaking a sweat? It can be really difficult to understand how the same challenge can be bigger, harder, more consuming for someone else.

Challenge is incredibly personal. What is easy for one person may be a huge challenge for another.

This is where assumptions and expectations will really trip you up. When something is obvious to you or you handled a similar challenge with ease AND aplomb…

The unspoken, unacknowledged assumptions and expectations will set you up to diminish. To discount. The resulting messages from you to the other person? Often get twisted into some version – either spoken or not – of, “What is wrong with you that you can’t …(handle this as easily, effectively, quickly, ….) as I did/do?”

And – oh by the way – you don’t have to speak it out loud for others to know they are being judged and found lacking. If you are thinking it, they are hearing it. Seriously.

The likelihood that the other person is already telling themselves some version of this (Something’s wrong with me that I can’t easily xxxx.) means your spoken or unspoken judgement is just heaping more on top of what they already carry. The result – all too often = is some sort of shame storm.


Watch for your¬†impatience when someone else doesn’t do something the way you want them to do it. Notice your “antsy-ness” when someone else is slower. than you. Be very, very aware of how your emotional discomfort can cause you to have inappropriate expectations of others: Your need for someone else to change may be about helping yourself feel better.


Spoiler alert: That. Does. Not. Work.

Coaches, be aware of the need to make yourself feel better by pushing your clients to action or change that may not be what serves them best. Your challenge here is to monitor your own needs for your clients to be different, to do it differently, all so you can validate for yourself the value of your work. Insider tip: MUCH of the value of your work can have nothing to do with taking action, at least not immediately and often, not in the ways you or your client had thought necessary.

Leaders, if you are wondering how to motivate team members to “up” their games, to increase output and improve standards, check your expectations and assumptions. Your challenge here is to be sure your questions about motivation aren’t based in your personal need or a vision that team members aren’t enrolled in – and may not even be aware of.

This is especially noticeable with leaders who are high performers and who want to lead teams made up of people with the same work ethic, talents, priorities – and stamina. Encountering employees who are content to do the bare minimum? Baffles and frustrates achievement-oriented leaders – so much so, they may hire a coach to “get” the employee/team to “turn it around.”

Insider tip: This is a manipulative form of coercion. Not pretty and not effective.

Coaches: Your challenge here is not to collude in manipulation, coercion and the perpetuation of a damaging and obsolete cultural story.

And as long as I’m on this soapbox already: You’ve likely heard the grumblings about the missing work ethic among millennials. What if it’s not that millennials as a whole are slackers, but instead, don’t measure “success” the same way AND are unwilling to sacrifice themselves on the altar of someone else’s success? What if “low work ethic” is a course correction toward moderation, away from the success-at-all-costs culture?

I don’t know that this is true or valid, but…the questions are worth considering as a useful departure from “What’s wrong with millennials?”

If you’ve been following my latest series of articles, you may recall my talking about pivotal challenges, or the challenges behind the challenges, that once met fully can completely shift how you meet all other related challenges. (See my email dated 11/27/18.) The narrative of this old pattern tells us something is wrong when things don’t move along as easily, quickly, seamlessly….as we think they should.

This narrative shapes how we perceive ourselves and each other. And…the challenges we face. We end up spinning and churning in the story that says:

Something is wrong with you if you don’t do it the way I do or did or can.
Something is wrong with me if I can’t get you to do it the way I think you should.
Something is seriously wrong if things aren’t going as planned.

The questions that result from this old story are limited to some version of “What is wrong…with you, with me, with this company, with my coaching approach…..?”

When we step beyond the “What is wrong…questioning, another level of curiosity opens up. Different questions surface, leading to pivotal insights arising out of deeper discovery. Questions such as:

  • Why am I so attached to having you behave a certain way?
  • What do I believe is ONLY possible if …we bring the project in under budget OR everyone on my team excels consistently OR my coaching clients exceed their stated goals?
  • What might be possible ONLY because things aren’t going as planned?
  • What opportunity exists ONLY because you are NOT meeting my expectations and assumptions?

And perhaps this little gem:
Where am I possibly diminishing or discounting – myself or someone else, or the realities of this current challenge…?

And if I am…what does that discounting or diminishing give me?

The temptation at this point in my message – if I speak from the old story – is to say or think:
If only we just get this. We just need to take another look. All it takes is…being aware of how often these diminishing questions weave through our thoughts and shape our perceptions.

The reality is, however, when we decide to step into a new paradigm, it takes work. Yes, it may sound simple, it may seem as if all we need to do is … but simple is not the same thing as easy.

It’s Big Work we’re about here, folks. Each time we remember this, any time we step out of old patterns of diminishing and discounting, of assumption and inappropriate expectation? We’re actively seeding the changes needed to reshape Culture.

Seriously exciting, that. Seriously.

In acknowledgment of the hugeness of the Change you are here to help bring about!