2023 Business Lesson Learned

As the coach and consultant, I’m supposed to be the expert; offer advice, coaching, and counsel to my clients, and provide insights and thinking to get “unstuck” and make progress. To help them succeed. They pay me to bring concentrated expertise and specific judgment that likely doesn’t exist in their organization.

But there goes another year-end, and I have to say I learned a ton from my clients this past year.


Some of it completely useless and won’t be shared here (you know who you are); other morsels of wisdom have been found to be surprisingly valuable, and I thought I’d share those tidbits with you today.

Lessons I Learned from my Clients – just the Top 5

1. Don’t let anyone else tell you what’s normal. Normal is a subjective term, no matter how many supportive facts others may include as evidence. Facts may be facts, but using those facts to arrive at a conclusion is something entirely different.

What’s normal for one person or organization may be completely and utterly abnormal to another. And both can be correct in their assessment.

And since the apocalypse, the definition of normal keeps shifting for us all. It’s not a “new” normal as much as a “now” normal.

Take politics for example (watching everyone gasp sharply):

        • Candidate Bob did something. An objective, factual comment. Likely footage available.
        • Candidate Bob said something. Another objective, factual comment. Again, there’s probably a reel.
        • Therefore, Candidate Bob is an asshole. Hmmm… methinks there may have been a logic leap, a bit of subjectivity in arriving at the conclusion, even though facts were the starting point.

You get the picture.

You – personally or organizationally – determine what’s normal for you. No one else.

And anyway, normal is vastly overrated. Strive instead to get better. To change what needs to be changed, and reinforce what you should continue doing. That should be your “normal.”

2. Questions are learning moments. Teach. This one is something I’ve used in the past, when describing leadership traits and such. It’s included in my 5 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership article.

The whole “teach a person to fish” metaphor.

From the article: “If you always answer employee’s every question, you’ll forever be answering employees’ every question. Questions are teaching moments — don’t rob employees of the opportunity.”

True dat. Come to find out it applies to coach/client as well. Whouldathunkit??

Smart employees asking questions is a really good thing. And they want to learn, so let’s do the whole teaching moment thing, shall we?

3. Ask for help. When you need help, knowledge, casual assistance, or a full-blown life preserver… ask for it.

We (global leadership) are not good at this one. My friend and partner-in-crime Kevin Ross discusses this better than I can in his article, HELP!

We have somehow convinced ourselves that asking for help is akin to an admission of weakness of some sort.

Which is truly weird, if you consider that:

a. We are forever telling those we lead to do exactly that – ask for help when you need it. We know, intuitively, that it’s too much for a person to know all things, so we jump up and down when they don’t ask… like what the hell were you thinking?

Then we, sometimes sanctimoniously inside, do the exact same thing.

Weird, huh?

Asking for help, when you need it, is clearly seen by subordinates as an indicator of strength and confidence – the very opposite of a weakness.

b. When we ask others for help, we are both admitting that we do not/can not know it all, and that the appropriate thing to do in that situation is ask someone who knows more about that than I do.

Wins all around.

Ask for help when you need it. And trust me, the “when” is more frequent than you think. Really.

4. Offer assistance when you know you can. Here’s where it gets tricky, since it may butt heads a bit with the advice above about asking for help.

When you see clearly (or even not-so-clearly) that someone could use your help, offer it. In the moment. Right then when you see that you can add value.

Now the tricky part: I don’t mean to immediately offer a solution to something that they’re working diligently on, solving problems like a puzzle. They are making solid progress, leave them be.

Nor do I mean stepping in with the white-horse attitude of, “Here, let me fix that for you.”

I tell family, friends, and clients all the time, “It’s only help if the help you’re offering helps the person needing help.” Read it slowly, it’s not nearly as confusing as it looks initially.

Also, to be clear, I certainly don’t mean waiting until someone is near-drowning before stepping in with the offer. I do mean you need to read the room, and offer when it can actually help. Simple prompts, like:

        • Hey, can I give you a hand?
        • Can I offer a suggestion?

Don’t be that leader who, after failure, insists, “Well, if she needed help, she should’ve asked for it.”

5. Expand your reach. One-deep functional relationships are simply inadequate for anything useful. I’m talking here about functional relationships, not personal ones.

Personal relationships are, and forever will be, one-on-one. No one can sit in your stead, and no amount of peripheral or tertiary connections will make up for unsuccessful, one-on-one personal relationships.

Functional relationships, however, are different. And as a leader, you really need to consider broadening yours.

If you have a single go-to in Operations… that’s great, but insufficient. Not only are the inputs you may receive inadequate (or insufficient) to actually get a bead on what’s going on, but if you really need that go-to, and they aren’t there, then what?

Or your single contact in Accounting goes dark. Maybe they’ve taken a week off (called “vacation.” Google it). Maybe they quit, and left you in a lurch. Maybe they got whacked for using the corporate zoom account for some sketchy interactions.

Don’t care, doesn’t matter. It’s not their issue, it’s yours. And you’re in a bind because of a one-deep functional relationship.

Expand your reach. Meet, interact and connect with multiple folks in functional areas. You can combine those interactions if you simply must, meeting with all your Accounting peeps in one lunch, but expand your reach.

You can’t succeed as a leader without it.

Leadership is a journey, not a destination. You stop learning, you stop leading.

As I implied above, this list is far from all-inclusive.

This I merely a top-5 list of myriad lessons that I learned from clients this year. We are forever teaching each other – that’s a good thing, and exactly how it should be.

Some of my clients, it seems, are pretty sharp.

Shhh, don’t tell ‘em I said that.

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