In her blog, Kelly Forrister, a trainer for David Allen, talked about her preparation for an upcoming triathlon. One of her decisions was to hire a coach.
"I hired a Coach to help me get ready for my sprint triathlon on June 4th. He's got me on a 32-day program of tracking my workouts, integrating personal affirmations and setting goals. "
Debbie Weil, over at BlogWrite for CEOs, has used the same approach:
“I'm currently working with a tremendous speaking coach, Clarice Scriber, to take my speaking skills to the next level. It's humbling, a little painful... and fascinating (in a weird way) to watch yourself on video and realize how many ways you can improve your delivery.”
Coaches seem to be required, advised, and appreciated in various careers that involve competition. In other professions, such as sales, management, and education, the involvement of a “coach” seems to signal an impending career derailment. The coach is sought out by the individual themselves, or is mandated by a superior to reverse a perceived negative trend in performance. Sometimes the coach is a peer, who is an outstanding performer, or the coach may be the supervisor themselves.
The use of a coach, however, can be a fantastic decision on the part of an individual who is simply looking for improvement in an area. The coach that is chosen will have skill sets, philosophies, and a knowledge of drills that can be passed on to someone looking for improvement. In addition, they add accountability to the equation. They give “homework” and set goals, like the kind that Kelly mentions in her post, and will follow-up to see if they were completed. Knowing that one will have to give an accounting to another for the completion of a task or goal increases the odds that it will be accomplished. If the task or goal is accomplished, it practically forces improvement.
In North Carolina, the state instituted a Principals Executive Program, which is based at the Center for School Leadership Development at the University of North Carolina. In this program, principals are taught executive skills that are not taught in Master Degree programs. The course is so rigorous that many principals treasure their PEP diplomas more than their Master Degrees. When I entered the program, each participant received, as part of the package, a writing coach, who’s sole responsibility was to improve the writing skills of their assigned principals. My coach was Dan Lewandowski, who wrote the novel, Worth Winning, which was later turned into a motion picture starring Mark Harmon. Over the course of time, I wrote and Dan critiqued. Although my writing was fine at that time, it did improve through the guidance of my coach.
Finding someone who is already performing well in the same area in which we wish to perform well is the first step. This can be a peer, a superior, or anyone who has the knowledge or track history that supports their expertise in the chosen area.
The coaching can take various forms, including:
- Discussion – Sitting down and just conversing can yield wonders. Eliciting mind-sets, necessary skill sets, underlying beliefs, and step-by-step strategies can give one improvement projects to implement.
- Shadowing – Following the coach as they progress through their day — doing the same job as the “student” — provides insights into improved performance. During the shadowing experience, the coach continuously explains his or her thought processes to help the “student” understand how decisions are reached and why certain strategies were chosen over others. The “student” can also observe and assimilate new skills that are demonstrated. As my sons approached the end of their college years and prepared to go to medical school, they used this method and sought out surgeons in their fields of interest. They asked for coaching and shadowing opportunities. Watching surgeries being performed, following patient treatment in the office, and doing rounds in hospitals, gave my sons an advantage that other medical school candidates did not have.
- Guided Practice – Similar to shadowing, the coach will demonstrate or teach a procedure, skill, or strategy and then instruct the “student” to do the same. The coach then observes the “student” and gives feedback immediately, ensuring the learning of correct procedures and strategies. This prevents learning things incorrectly and having to unlearn the incorrect methods later. This is most appropriate when the “student” is in the beginning phases of learning a new skill. This type of coaching demands that the “student” and coach be together.
- Independent Practice – After the “student” has the basic grasp of the skill, procedure, or strategy, and can do it without constant feedback and correction, Independent Practice is used to reinforce the new skill. As the “student” performs (with or without the coach being present) spot checks are by the coach and minor tweaks are all that are needed at this point. Face to face coaching is not needed for this phase, as this can be accomplished by the analysis of artifacts and data, phone conversations, or simple conversation over dinner. This is much like a new pilot, who can take-off and land without constant feedback from the instructor, who solos with only limited radio feedback from the instructor who is on the ground. The skills have been learned and practiced; Improvement is the objective now.
Tiger Woods has one. Michael Jordan had one. When looking at your career goals, consider adding a coach as one of your strategies for improvement.