An important question to ask in a conflict resolution

Of many good stories since I started coaching, this one made great impact to me as the question raised was outstanding. My coaching client is the CEO and founder of a successful company in United States. He is a great leader and a lifelong learner and an example of the American dream.

It was an unusual coaching session. I noticed he had something on the back of his mind that he was bothered with. After a deep coaching conversation, he shared that one of his high-performing managers, who is also his close relative, misbehaved and he wanted help to resolve it. The situation he described was that this manager behaved badly to his staffs. The staffs were entering the gate and this manager did not pay attention to them when closing it, which almost hit them. They confronted each other and a small thing became a heated argument.

According to my client, this manager has a history of passive-aggressive manner and a lack of valuing other people. The challenge my client faced was how to make invisible visible to this manager and talk to him in a way that he would change to behave better. After brainstorming exercise, the CEO came up with several ways he would solve this issue. He would talk to his manager and show him how his bad behaviors would not help him. He would also use his coaching and leadership skills to find out what the situation was and coach his manager to come up with a solution. He would send this manager to learn soft skills. These options all sound like it would help.

By reframing my client’s mindset and asking what he would say if he was to be a coach, coaching a client in the same situation. After a long silence, he said slowly that he would ask “what are you doing or not doing that seems to add to the situation?” He had a big insight just by asking this question. He had a bigger insight after answering it for his own situation. It turned out that his manager was merely unlocking the gate and did not notice there were people, for he would not have done such an act that could have harmed his coworkers.

If you find yourself dealing with a conflict, ask the same question “what am I doing or not doing that seems to add to the situation?” and answer it sincerely. You will be surprised yourself at what insight you get.

Why did I become a leadership coach?

I shared my story with my clients. They were inspired to become transformational leaders as they believe they can do as I have done. Here is my story:

Since a kid, I always wanted to become a leader. I watched movies and were only interested in heroes. I read comic books since I was young. As you might have guessed, those books were about heroes. To a young mind like myself, they were leaders that I wanted to become one day.
As I grew up and got more education, I read more about real heroes in the history who either had great physical strength, who mastered the war strategy, or who had great lucks. Since I was in Vietnam, most of heroes I read about were Vietnamese heroes and Chinese heroes. I dreamed of becoming one of them one day. I was only interested in those heroes who were great leaders.
My challenge was that I grew up normally as most kids in Vietnam did. There was virtually no real role model of great leaders around to be followed. And the leaders in book were depicted like gods, which made it harder for me to become one. Those leaders become leaders and heroes mostly overnight. This kind of thought was actually more poisonous than helpful as I constantly looked for ways to become overnight success.
The good thing that those leaders inspired me was that my dream of becoming a leader never stops. In any activity I participated, I always wanted to become the leader of the group. I just did not know how. The only thing I could do was to dream and play the leadership role inside my head.
When I came to the United States to study, I learned more about American founding fathers such Benjamin Franklin, who actually inspired me great deal. The way American authors described their heroes was more real than Asian authors. Their biographies contain the full accounts of their lives from kid to adults and what they did to become leaders. I found some hope to become a leader one day if I followed what Benjamin Franklin did. However, what he did was too simple that it was too hard to follow, especially for me as I was only interested in overnight successes.
My taste of real leadership was when I joined Musokai Karate in Utah. Musokai Karate was founded by Shihan Arakaki, an incredible human being, one of the best leaders, and the best teacher I have ever seen. Shihan’s leadership was vivid in his teaching as well as how he operates the dojo. He mastered the art of Okinawa Karate and was able to transform his understanding of Karate into teachable method – a rather rare combination in martial world. Observing Shihan’s leadership laid a foundation in my mind for the leadership that I would later find and tune into. By having Shihan as a role model, I just followed his lead and gradually understood that overnight success was only in fiction. I gained leadership experience in the dojo as well as advanced in Musokai Karate.
At work, I was promoted to be a manager after a couple of years of working from intern up. I was working with an outstanding manager, who saw that I could lead a team of engineers. I was leading my team using positional leadership and the expert knowledge of automation testing. In fact, the concept of manager versus leader was unclear to me. I thought being a leader and being a manager were the same thing. Later I would learn that having a management position only makes one a positional leader, not a real leader.
I went ahead for a MBA hoping to improve my leadership skills. I learned a lot of management skills instead.
Up till early 2015, my leadership was mainly positional and specialized knowledge. I thought that leaders must be the masters in the areas they lead. I thought leaders would have all the answers. I thought leaders would be the smartest persons in the room. I did well leading my team in the area of my special strength: automation and with a management title. However, I soon realized I must grow.
Luckily, I came across the name John Maxwell from one of the leadership classes I took. I read his 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership but my mind was numb as I did not know the secrets of leadership were actually in the book. However, I knew John Maxwell is the person I must learn leadership from as he could clearly define the concept and principles of leadership. By chance or accident, I landed on John Maxwell Team page. It describes everything I ever wanted: to become a real leader and have ability to develop other leaders.
Being part of John Maxwell Team has been the biggest blessing for me in 2015. From studying the Maxwell philosophy taught by Scott Fay, I knew the definition of leadership and what it took to be a real leader. I knew exactly the difference between management and leadership. John Maxwell said something that was really important in the book: leadership can be learned like any other skill. This was eye-and-mind-opening to me. I went on to study all modules that the John Maxwell Team offered. I gained a deep understanding of John Maxwell’s leadership principles. The coaching module was outstanding taught by world-class coach Christian Simpson. This coaching module provided me a practical toolset to practice leadership. Coaching is really the secret sauce of effective leadership. John Maxwell himself is a great coach whose questions have magic to change life.
I learned leadership skills directly from John Maxwell and many different skills from the mentors. What John taught changed my life: the quality of a leader is determined by the quality of his questions. In other words, good leaders ask great questions. Instead of being the smartest guy in the room, a good leader is the most curious guy in the room. A good leader has thought-provoking questions to ask, not the answers to reply. In 7 months since joining John Maxwell Team, I not only transformed myself from positional leader to transformational leader but also developed many leaders within my company and outside of my company, as well as leaders in Vietnam. My world was changed. I am living the life of a leader who has the power to lead my own life as well as develop other leaders who in turn add values to many others. I am living in my dream: the dream of becoming a leader.
As Warren Buffett said “hang out with people better than you, and you cannot help but improve“, I am associating with two of the best leaders in the world: Shihan Arakaki and John Maxwell, along with the team of outstanding leaders and coaches of John Maxwell Team as well as leaders that I develop. I can’t help but improve day by day.

How did I become a coach?

My clients urged me to post this as my story inspired them and gave them hope of overcoming their fear in communication.

I was an engineer working in an environment that 99% were Americans, mostly white. When they talked to me, I could understand as they spoke slower. However, when they talked with each other, I could not follow. In meetings, I often sat like a dummy and then had to ask my coworkers afterward what they got out of the meeting. I survived well as my boss was very understanding. He even promoted me to be a manager. I felt great but was terrified at the same time as now I would have to manage people, run meetings, and communicate with executives. I survived again as they knew me and respected my technical skills.

However, when I moved to a new environment, I really felt my shortcoming with communication. Due to my status as manager, people assumed that I am a perfect English speaker. I ran into communication problems such as misunderstanding each other or being unable to express myself… I knew I must improve my communication skill. For years, I tried different tactics from books as well as classes. None helped much. I decided to find a course that could really help me. From reading about Warren Buffett, I came across a line where he mentioned that he was terrified of public speaking and Dale Carnegie course helped him.

I read about Buffett and Dale Carnegie course in 2013, and got interested in the class. However, I must not have thought that my communication was a big issue until late 2014. By then I found Dale Carnegie course and tried without knowing that it has been the most popular course in teaching people about communication. In the class, I learned many techniques through reading and especially in-class exercises. I learned how to listen deeply beyond words. I learned how to speak so people can understand. I learned how to be confident in any situation. In 8-week, I could see myself changing. My coworkers felt my change. I no longer have any problem with listening or speaking. The course consisted of many Americans and I was honored to receive the Highest Award for Achievement.

With this new confidence, I continued practicing what I learned from the Dale Carnegie course daily. I took further courage when I joined John Maxwell Team to improve my leadership, and yet without knowing that John Maxwell is actually the #1 leadership guru in the world, the master communicator, and the world-best speaker. Through John Maxwell Team, I took my communication to the next level by closely studying John Maxwell’s leadership and communication style. I obtained a whole new level of communication through coaching skills. Once my awareness level was raised from all those trainings, I realized coaching can help change lives.

I coach people including native speakers as well as foreigners on how to be successful and how to remove their fears/self-limiting beliefs. I train people on how to connect well with other people, how to lead other people, and how to communicate well.

Experience is not the best teacher

In recent hirings, I talked with several managers about experiences of candidates. We wanted to look for candidates with experiences that we needed. We put that in job description. Many resumes we received had 15 years of experiences in a particular field but those candidates either moved too often but stayed too short from organizations to organizations or did not grow much from their positions. They looked like having one year of experience 15 times. There were candidates with fewer years of experiences but they passed our strict tests with a high flag.

Why has experience helped some and not others?

Dr. John C. Maxwell said that we begin our lives as empty notebooks. Every day we have an opportunity to record new experiences on our pages. The problem is that not all people make the best use of their notebooks. Few who do make use of their notebooks often reread what they wrote and reflect on it. Reflection turns experience into insight. Experience teaches nothing, evaluated experience teaches everything. In other words, experience is automatic, insight is not.

Dr. John C. Maxwell taught about experiences:

  1. We experience more than we understand. In order to close the gap between understanding and experience, write it down and reflect on it daily.
  2. Our attitude toward unplanned and unpleasant experiences determine our growth.
  3. Lack of experience is costly.
  4. Experience is also costly. We can not gain experience without paying a price. Experience gives the test first and the lesson later.
    Mark Twain: I know a man who grabbed a cat by the tail and he learned 40 percent more about cats than the man who didnt.
  5. Not evaluating and learning from experience is more costly. It’s a terrible mistake to pay the price for experience and not receiving the lesson.
    Mark Twain: if a cat sits on a hot stove, that cat won’t sit on that hot stove again. In fact, that cat won’t sit on a cold stove either.
  6. Evaluated experience lifts a person above the crowd.

How do we apply this lesson? I have a habit of writing down what happened to me since high school. Shihan Arakaki (founder and grandmaster of Musokai Karate) taught me to write down both what happened as well as what I learned. Now Dr. Maxwell taught me to write down my experience, my thoughts, my learning, and really spend time to reflect on it. The entire process takes less than 15 minutes daily but it has been a life-changing habit. It will be for you too.

For more details, please read Leadership Gold by Dr. John C. Maxwell or join one of my mastermind groups.

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This is the question that many people asked me. In order to answer this question, I went back to the time I studied Musokai Karate with Shihan Arakaki. When I came to his dojo, I was a confused human being. It was 2006 after my graduation from Brigham Young University. My mind was crowded with thoughts of what I would do and who I would become. I came to the United States to study in order to be someone. This was the expectation that my relatives set for me. I myself believed that having education in the United States would give me a place in the world. However, after graduation, I realized I was no better than anyone else. At work, there were many people who did not have any college degree and they were doing much better than me. My mind was full of ideas about many Vietnamese heroes who became successful in their lives after obtaining education oversea. I was facing a reality without a slightest idea that it was real. I was not prepared to be successful in life with all the education I received.

Before meeting Shihan, I really believed that the kungfu I learned in Vietnam was the best and that I would never learn any other style. After one free session with Shihan, my false belief was removed. I saw that his Karate was pure, intense, fast, and powerful but simple. In fact, it was too simple that it was too hard to grasp even just the basics. Underneath Musokai Karate, there is a deep philosophy of life. Since the first day with Shihan, it was this philosophy that attracted me.

For every week since 2006 till 2011, I studied Karate with Shihan. After 1 hour and 30 minutes in class, I would wait for others to leave the dojo and then talk to Shihan. I asked him many questions. How did he become so good with Karate? What books do he read? How would I practice a certain technique? Who is his role model? Why did my punch or kick not work? … and many dumb questions such as how can I master this technique by the next day?

From those after-hour teachings that Shihan poured into me, I was introduced to the great samurai Musashi, Karate masters such as Itoshu, Motobu, Oyama, Nagamine, and many authors such as Ayn Rand, Emmanuel Todd.

I read everything Shihan mentioned. What was powerful in those conversations was that Shihan never told me what to do. He would share with me by answering my questions and then ask me thought-provoking questions. I learned both how to think and what to think from Shihan. One powerful method from those conversations that became my habit was that I would read everything I could find on a certain subject. Shihan would ask me after I read a book how I found what to read next. I would tell him my answer and he would ask more questions to make me think. From there, I would find many books from just one book and read them. I applied this method to read about Karate in those years studying with Shihan. I applied this method to learn everything about automation testing at work during my first 3 years of employment. I applied this method to read everything about investing. I applied this method to learn about leadership.

Reading alone would stir the mind but would only give me book knowledge. Another habit that I obtained from Shihan was that after I read about something, I would apply it right away. When I learned about some Karate technique from reading, I would apply it to my practice and sparring. It became my habit and helped me learn by both reading and practicing.

I applied this method to learn about coaching. I was coached by one of the most powerful human beings since 2006. I just did not know the term for it but Shihan coached me powerfully since the first day I entered his dojo. When I first learned about coaching from Christian Simpson and John Maxwell as part of John Maxwell Team program, I set a goal to be the master at coaching.  I read many books about coaching; I found many master coaches to learn from; and I keep practicing what I learn in every conversation. What also was helping me was what I learned from Musokai Karate and Shihan Arakaki. The basics were the hardest and most difficult to master. The same applies to coaching. The basic skills such as being present, listening and asking powerful questions are what set the master coaches apart from the rest. When the coach is in the moment with and listens deeply to the client, powerful questions will come to help clients get on the right path and fight off any self-limiting belief; just like in a fight, powerful moves will come at the right time with the right amount of power to the winner.

To learn more about Musokai Karate and Shihan Arakaki, please visit

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