No Excuse, Sir!

No Excuse, Sir!

One of the very first things I learned as a brand-new Air Force Academy cadet on day 1 was that in basic training, I was expected to spend more time listening than talking.  I couldn’t talk to my fellow basic cadets at all unless we happened to be in one of a handful of places in which talking was specifically allowed.  When addressing a member of the cadet cadre, unless otherwise asked or directed, I was to use one of the seven basic responses:

1. Yes, sir! (or Ma’am, of course)

2. No, sir!

3. Sir, may I ask a question!?

4. Sir, may I make a statement!?

5. Sir, I do not know!

6. Sir, I do not understand!

7. No excuse, sir!

Out of all of the basic responses, “No excuse, sir” presented the most opportunities for failure.  The other six were completely straightforward.  If someone asked me a question to which I didn’t know the answer, I said “sir, I do not know.”  If someone asked me a question and I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, I said “sir, I do not understand.”  And so on.

“No excuse, sir,” on the other hand, was reserved only to be used as a reply to a question that began with the word “why.”  It was tough to remember to use it because the natural inclination when someone asks a question is to provide an answer.

A typical exchange might sound like this:

Cadre: Orr, why do your boots look as though you polished them with a chocolate bar?

Me: Sir, I didn’t have time to…

Cadre: [cutting off my reply] I SAID WHY!


The cadre may not have cared about the shine on my boots at that moment, and I might even have had a perfectly valid reason for them to look the way they did.  The “why” of his question was never about getting to the root cause of the situation.  It was about getting me to understand that in the military, excuses wouldn’t be tolerated.  If I were going to assimilate into this culture, I had to find a way to unemotionally deal with a no-win situation in which someone was going to yell at me for not being able to fit a 10-minute task into the 5 minutes I had available to me. It wasn’t about teaching me to shine boots.  It was about testing my resilience.

The cadre’s “why” was really a stipulation, not a question.  My boots looked awful and that I was solely to blame regardless of the conditions leading up to that moment.  “No excuse, sir” represented acceptance of my sub-standard performance and a willingness to press on in the face of impossible time constraints.

When you preface a question to one of the people on your team with the word “why” you’re probably making a similar stipulation.  “Why isn’t this task finished?” isn’t so much a question as an accusation.  You probably don’t even want to know the actual reason it’s not done.  What you really want to hear is “No excuse, sir!” followed by actions to rectify the situation.

Here’s the problem; unless you’re testing this person’s ability to suck it up and soldier on like in basic training, you really do care about his impediments to success.  If he truly has 5 minutes to do a 10-minute task, you need to do one of three things: remove 5 minutes of task, add 5 minutes of time or teach him how to be more efficient.

Starting with an accusatory tone through the use of the word “why” torpedoes this process from the beginning because it puts him on the defensive and makes him more likely to create lame excuses in an attempt to make the pain go away.  Lame excuses make you angrier which in turn makes him more defensive which in turn creates more lame excuses, ad infinitum.

Step one for you as the leader is to get him to talk about the task unemotionally.  The way to do that is to ask open-ended questions to get to the “what” and “how” of the situation.

“How goes the progress on your task?”

“What’s your plan for completing this task on time?”

The bonus is that “what” and “how” put you in a mindset in which you’re more open to receiving the information that comes back.  It starts a conversation in which you’re genuinely receptive to finding a solution versus a one-way “conversation” in which you’ve already made up your mind and now you’re simply issuing punishment in the form of accusatory language.

Unless you want to hear “No excuse, sir!” –and maybe you have a perfectly understandable reason to do just that–leave “why” behind and start the conversation with “what” and “how.”  You’re more likely to find solutions to the problems that are besetting your people, and they’ll be more open in their communications with you.


Author Jeff Orr is a highly-respected CTA Graduate and a Certified Human Capital Coach who helps organizations achieve their peak performance by blending business coaching skills with 24 years experience as a USAF fighter pilot. Jeff has trained over 300 F-16 pilots from 5 continents. He also currently works as a pilot for a major commercial airline.  Learn more about Jeff at


5 Habits of Confident Coaches

5 Habits of Confident Coaches

For many of us, our ultimate goal is to become a masterful coach so that when we are working with our clients (employees, colleagues, team members), we feel capable, confident and connected not just to the person we are coaching but to our intuition.  So, what are the 5 habits that create that confidence? And how can you start bringing those 5 habits into your practice?



Number one is to acknowledge your value. It doesn’t come naturally to recognize your worth, but it is something that you can grow into, consciously. When I first started coaching, I used coaching to help individuals figure out how they were going to get a project done or better manage their time.  Initially, I used coaching as just another tool in my tool kit to help people figure out how to solve a particular challenge.  While I thought it was great that I could help my clients come up with their own solutions, I didn’t fully understand the impact it had.  But as I started to experience coaching more (as a client and a coach), I discovered there was more value in these coaching sessions than I realized.

Fast forward to today…..

I absolutely stand by the value of coaching and my value as a coach.  We serve to hold space for others, to allow them to become fully thinking and emotional human beings, to bring what is lurking in the subconscious forward and once it’s there, we support our clients to  take action.  I have witnessed the personal and professional growth that has come about because of coaching sessions.  Finding solutions, solving challenges and creating opportunities is great; but to me, the biggest value is the personal development that happens. Coaching helps human beings develop their capability and trained coaches help people grow.  So, to be a confident coach, know your value and know the value of your coaching sessions.



Number two, trust your expertise. Like many new coaches, when I first started coaching my team, I would come away from my coaching conversations feeling disappointed that I didn’t come up with the absolute best question to ask or perhaps wondering if I missed some clue during the session that might have held the opportunity for a mind-shifting Ah-ha moment.  While the people I coached would let me know how helpful each session was, I knew that the sessions were not as good as they could be.  At times, I even doubted if I was good enough.

During this initial phase of self-doubt, I was so focused on the skills and capabilities I lacked that I lost sight of my own unique expertise that I could bring to my sessions.  How could I fully show up for my client when I was internally focused on my own short comings? Eventually, I realized that there’s something special and unique about each and every one of us and that we are at our best when we draw upon those strengths and talents. Some coaches like to integrate their background in psychology or behavior sciences.  I like to integrate what I know about business and career transitions.  I also love drawing upon my experience in sports and using symbolism and analogies as I communicate.  I show up with an enthusiastic and optimistic energy.  I bring all of that into my coaching sessions, and those are my natural talents.

Now, you might be someone who easily distinguishes speech patterns, pitch or cadence. You might be someone who is really good at picking up on shifting energy, so your natural talent is seizing the coachable moment around those shifting emotions. Or maybe your natural talent is that you create short powerful questions that help your clients gain crystal clarity.

So, to be a confident coach, you need to know and trust your own expertise.  Don’t think, “I’m not good enough because I’m not great at reflecting back to the client,” or “I’m not intuitive enough.” Know that your talents are enough and draw upon them naturally.  Doing this will allow you to show up fully for your client.  Confident coaches focus on what they are great at and what makes a coaching session with “them” special and unique. Number two is trust your expertise.



Now, I’m going to be honest with you. Not all confident coaches meditate.  But the third habit of a confident coach is honing their ability to clear the mind, tune into their client and be fully present.  In order for you to really connect with your clients every time you coach and respond intuitively, it’s incredibly important that you know how to turn shut down your brain-chatter and hold space for your client. For some, this comes naturally.  Others may find they need a bit of practice.  Getting centered is a tried-and-true way that coaches can show up blank to a client session.  For me, I like to do a few cycles of square breathing (inhale 4 counts, hold 4 counts, exhale 4 counts and hold the exhale 4 counts, repeating the cycle 2 or 3 times).  This simple exercise helps me quiet my mind and set my focus.  You may prefer to stare at a photo, gaze at a candle or simply close your eyes and let your thoughts move through your mind like a smooth flowing river.  Regardless of what method you choose, create a daily practice of clearing the mind.  If you begin a coaching session with background noise in your mind (email, reports, judgements, your own ideas, to do list) and you haven’t taken the time to pause and clear out first, then your coaching session is not going to be as good as it could be. Employ the practice of getting centered each day, however that works best for you, so that skill comes to you easily when you’re about to do a coaching session.  Habit #3: get centered.



I know, it’s ironic that one of the items on the tip sheet is ‘Get rid of the Tip Sheet’.   When I was first starting out, I kept a list of Powerful Questions right next to me during every coaching sessions.  If I wasn’t sure what to ask, I would look down at my list and pick one that seemed most appropriate.  Looking back, I can see how these questions were a bit like training wheels giving me a sense of security and providing the opportunity to try out a few variations until I found my own voice.  In some ways they helped me get started and in other ways they held me back.

It’s a wonderful thing if you can ditch the tips/tools during the coaching session and learn to trust your intuition.  Even though you might build a clumsy version of a question, what you gain is the ability to connect much more deeply with your client.   You will see it come out in your coaching sessions in really beautiful ways.  You will also learn to improvise and respond intuitively which will make your sessions more powerful and develop your skills more quickly.  Not quite ready to fly without a net?  If you still use tips and cheat sheets during your coaching session, be willing to coach without relying on them for one or two sessions.  You will quickly realize you have the skills to do it on your own.  You might also quickly realize any gaps in your training. Have you forgotten a specific technique?  Is there a skill you need to polish?   When you refer back to your training materials, try and do what confident coaches do and reference these tips outside of the coaching session.  The only exception to this rule would be using a coaching model (at Coach Training Alliance we use The Simple Coaching Model).  The coaching model provides a framework for your coaching conversations; we use the same model with every single coaching session.  Having the Simple Coaching Model front and center is a great way to ensure your coaching conversations are productive and stay on track.  So, the next time you have a coaching conversation- ditch the Tip Sheet, show up authentically and respond intuitively to your client.



The final habit of a confident coach is being curious.  We have people coming into our Coach Training Programs – some of them have been coaching informally for 10-15 years-and they bring with them a learning mindset where they are open to new possibilities, willing to explore new perspectives and are able to go even deeper in their training.   As coaches, we can always go deeper in our training and integrate this new capability or perspective in our coaching sessions.  However, lifelong learning isn’t only about acquiring knowledge, skills or polishing techniques (although those will certainly help you become a more capable coach), we are constantly presented with informal learning opportunities.  For me it is both enlightening and rewarding to ask, “What did you find most valuable today?”   I love this question because it serves to reinforce for the client what they got out of the session and helps me gain a better understanding of how the session (and which parts) impacted my client the most.  More to the point, confident coaches are curious.  They continually learn about themselves, learn about their value, appreciate the wisdom of their clients and because of this are able to sponge up an abundance of thoughts, perspectives, ideas, and discoveries as they co-create and collaborate.  Learning is about being genuinely interested, curious, and willing to explore something new.  “How would this training make me a better coach?”  “What would happen if I tried this approach?”  “Where does this client really want to go?”  Being curious opens the possibility for coaches to develop through the many formal and informal learning opportunities around them.

So, number 5: Be Curious.



In summary, those are the 5 habits of Confident Coaches. Hopefully these habits will serve you well as you forge ahead helping your clients:

  1. Acknowledge your value.
  2. Trust your expertise.
  3. Get centered.
  4. Get rid of the Tip Sheet.
  5. Be Curious.

Do those 5 things, and you will quickly become a confident coach. Amazing things will happen for you because you’ll be putting yourself out there in such a powerful way and helping and serving so many people while trusting your intuition and giving value.


About the Author: Holly Hutchinson is a Certified Human Capital Coach and Wellness Coach who has been practicing since 2008.  Holly’s passion is positive growth and lifelong learning.  Her experience includes international trade and marketing as well as system sales into the Fortune 500.  Holly’s focus at CTA is the growth of emerging programs for trade associations, organizational coaching deployment and CTA’s yoga programs.  In addition to her work at CTA, Holly is a competitive athlete and serves on several non-profit boards.  Holly is married with 2 children and is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley.

Why employee performance reviews are getting sacked

Why employee performance reviews are getting sacked

Excerpt from “Why Employee Performance Reviews Are Getting Sacked”

What have you done this year to justify your salary?

The employee quakes and mumbles something, hoping at best to boost their pay, at worst to avoid getting sacked.

It’s the annual appraisal.

What were his strengths? “Accounts”. Weaknesses? “Eczema”. And the training he received to use his computer? He didn’t know.

Perhaps none too soon, this clumsy method of evaluation, which ranks, grades and irritates employees across the world, is being re-appraised – and found wanting, by some firms, at least.

Re-posted from BBC. Full article can be found here –

The Coach in the Operating Room

The Coach in the Operating Room

Excerpt from “The Coach in the Operating Room” by Atul Gawande, a surgeon and public-health researcher, and a New Yorker staff writer since 1998.

“I’ve been a surgeon for eight years. For the past couple of them, my performance in the operating room has reached a plateau. I’d like to think it’s a good thing—I’ve arrived at my professional peak. But mainly it seems as if I’ve just stopped getting better.”

No matter how well trained people are, few can sustain their best performance on their own. That’s where coaching comes in.

“Get them to think. It’s the only way people learn.” – Robert Osteen, retired general surgeon

Re-posted from The New Yorker magazine. Full article can be found here –

Conflict Coaching

Conflict Coaching

It’s inevitable. It’s part of the human experience. It arouses strong emotions.

We’re talking about conflict, of course. As coaches we are good at managing and coaching our clients through conflict (aren’t we??).

There are many ways of dealing with conflict, of course, and we all have our preferences. Some tend to avoid it at all costs, often at their own expense. Others become quite aggressive and can damage relationships in the process. Still others tend to roll over and accommodate, failing to get their own needs met in life.

First, conflict is not bad. It is a natural occurrence. As noted earlier, it is part of the human experience. It’s how it’s managed that makes the difference.

Selecting the best approach to managing conflict depends on the situation, and the capabilities and awareness of the individual. There are times when it is best temporarily avoided, at least until emotions calm down. Other times we need to step up to an aggressive approach. And sometimes it’s best to compromise (give a little, get a little), or accommodate (if we know we are wrong or it really doesn’t matter much). And then, of course, there’s the win-win, Getting-to-Yes, collaborative approach to resolving conflict.

The best among us flex, stretch themselves out of their comfort zone, and adapt the approach to the unique circumstances of the situation. Conflict is addressed effectively, in a healthy balanced manner without damaging relationships and without giving up on our own needs.

Handling the inevitable conflicts that arise in life is a topic that frequently surfaces in coaching. Proactively and consciously identifying a path to managing conflict is a powerful first step, an authentic one. Supporting our clients as they sift through the various ways of dealing with conflict themselves is just one of the key coaching skills so worthy of exploration and growth in your coaching journey.

Dr. Laura Belsten, is Dean of the Graduate School of Coaching, a Master Certified Coach (MCC), and a national leader in the field of Emotional Intelligence. Personal Power is one of the twenty-four key competencies of the Social + Emotional Intelligence Profile ™.

“But I don’t have time to coach them!”

“But I don’t have time to coach them!”

It’s time to put the biggest obstacle to coaching your team to rest. During a study to determine how — or even IF — managers matter, Google’s people analytics team identified eight key behaviors demonstrated by the company’s most effective managers. Can you guess which leadership skill is right at the top of the list?

“A good manager is a good COACH.” (Project Oxygen)

(See “An Open Letter to All Leaders” for the rest of the eight key behaviors)

In fact, many more businesses are getting the message that coaching skills can boost both a manager’s effectiveness and their employees’ engagement, and are including ‘coaching’ in managerial and supervisory job descriptions.

That’s a giant step in the right direction because coaching is a unique set of communication skills that, when mastered, deliver a double benefit: these powerful skills both build positive, respectful relationships AND empower teams to get the work done. When employees are coached well, and then feel valued and inspired, they’re much more likely to show up every day willing to do their best work.

If you oversee the work of others, you’re probably already familiar with coaching as a powerful relationship management skill. And if you’re a busy leader, careening from deadlines to crises and back again, you’re probably thinking one of the most common Yeah, buts:

Yeah, that’s all well and good, but I don’t have time to coach my team members!

It’s a general misconception that coaching a direct report has to be a scheduled, sit-down, lengthy, in-depth meeting. If that were the only way you could coach an employee, of course it would be difficult to work that into your already packed schedule every time an employee had an issue, question, or needed clarification.

The good news is that coaching your team members to be more engaged, self-sufficient, and responsible doesn’t have to take any more time than you spend with them right now — if you do it right.

Here are just a few of the many ways you can get more done in less time — and save your company money — when you integrate powerful coaching skills into the regular conversations you have with your team members every day:

  • You can eliminate a lot of the back-story, the emotions, and the “noise” that typically clutters and sidetracks effective communication at work
  • They will feel more inspired to collaborate with you and the team when they feel heard and valued
  • You can “cut to the chase” and get to the heart of an issue or goal faster, so you can get to the solution and the action sooner
  • They will listen to you more openly and be less resistant to your guidance when you share your own thoughts and expectations respectfully
  • You can reduce costly delays and mistakes caused by miscommunication, personal agendas, and assumptions
  • You can leverage “corridor coaching” to build deeper connection, rapport, and trust with your team members
  • You can stop micro-managing your team and start focusing on your own work more when they feel empowered to be more self-sufficient

When you model respectful and professional communication skills, your team can bond more quickly as a drama-free, cohesive, co-creative, and collaborative unit.

If you truly want a high performance team that gets along and gets the work done, you don’t have time NOT to coach them!

Author LAURIE CAMERON, founder of WakeUp! Enterprises, is lovingly dedicated to spreading massive amounts of respect, kindness, and compassion as far and wide as she can. Her path to accomplish this is to teach the power of coaching to as many people as possible because it’s a unique communication tool that both builds positive, co-creative relationships AND gets stuff done.

In her 18+ years of coaching hundreds of clients and training over 1000 professional coaches, she firmly believes that everyone can benefit from learning and mastering coaching skills. She is available for individual and small group coaching skills training, and mentor coaching for leaders who coach their teams.

Laurie is a senior faculty member at Coach Training Alliance, and is a Certified CTA Coach. She is also a Master Certified Opposite Strengths® Executive Coach, a Master Certified Relationship Coach with Relationship Coaching Institute, and a Certified Master Mind Facilitator.

She currently serves as the President of the Board of Directors for Mentor Me, a youth mentoring organization in Northern California, and treasures the time she spends with her 15-year-old mentee. Laurie is very active in the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce, regularly volunteers her time at numerous non-profit organizations in the community, and she loves living in the Petaluma Gap.