"I learn teaching from teachers. I learn golf from golfers. I learn winning from coaches." — Harvey Penick
What you get from coaching is largely up to you. Whether it’s a teacher, a mentor, a sports coach, or a coach at work, making the most of a coach is a skill that you get better at with practice. If you can master your ability to leverage the coaches in your life, you can accelerate your success, drop bad habits like a hot potato, grow new skills and abilities, and make the most of what you’ve got.
Make the Most of Your Coach
I’ve been lucky to have some incredible mentors and coaches from wrestling coaches that taught me to "never give up" and "don’t be a mental midget" to Microsoft executives who taught me to see the chessboard from other angles. I made the most of my coaches by staying curious, testing their suggestions, listening to their feedback, using them as as sounding board, communicating openly and honestly, and working through the tough stuff. Nobody said change is easy, but when change helps unleash your best, it’s worth it.
Coaches come in all varieties and different styles. What do Yoda, Mr. Miyagi, and Rocky’s coach all have in common? They set the stage for growth by asking the tough questions, challenging, motivating, and coaching where it counts, and providing timely, relevant, and actionable feedback. What did Luke, Danielson, and Rocky all have in common? They all worked hard at changing themselves and they made the most of their coaches.
10 Ways to Make the Most of Your Coach
Here are 10 ways that you can make the most of your coach:
- Decide to make the most of your coach. Your attitude goes a long way in enabling or limiting what you get from your coach. There’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the master appears. Making the most of your coach means starts with deciding to make the most of them. You can start by asking, "What do I want to accomplish?" and "How do I make the most of their experience, insight, or feedback?"
- You change yourself. Your coach doesn’t change you. Your coach is not a crutch — they’re a potential change agent, but change is up to you. There’s an old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink." An effective coach will ask you questions and provide feedback that help lead you to your ah-ha moments, but it’s ultimately you’re the one who changes you. If you want fast results, remember that it’s faster to change yourself, than change others.
- Expect change to feel awkward or even hurt a bit. It’s like working out for the first time and that’s what growth feels like. Work through your humps and know that practice will get easier over time. What’s important is that you don’t get hung up on how it feels awkward, and instead, focus on doing the things you know you need to do, to get the results you want to achieve.
- Accountability is still with the people with the job. The coach can help you navigate risks and add another head to your problems, but they aren’t the worker bee.
- A coach doesn’t change who makes the decisions. A coach is an influencer. You still own your decisions. One way to think of this is a RACI chart (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed.) Your coach is Consulted or Informed. On a team, it’s the team members who are still accountable for the work getting done and responsible for doing it.
- Feedback is a gift. Treat it as such. You can choose what to do with it. An effective coach holds a mirror to you or to the team. You have basically three ways to respond: 1) You can just take it all in at face value without any filters, 2) You can put it into context and consider it, or 3) You can ignore it. If you’re not getting the feedback you need, ask for it. If it’s not specific enough, then clarify. For example, I like feedback to be specific actions I can take or thoughts I can think for specific events. This helps me immediately act on it and start testing it out.
- People down from your command chain are your responsibility. If you’re in a management role or leadership position, you have to set the stage for effective coaching. If your coach recommends you change X, but your reports like X, then you have to look at all their feedback but you have to support coaching decisions at your higher level and tell your reports to ‘go with it’ and have objective evaluation later. The reverse is also true — you may feel pushback, but you should voice it and not “hide” behind your reports’ opinions.
- Don’t let style issues get in the way. Style issues are things like communication approaches. For example, some people like direct communication, while others might prefer more tact. Some people are more audio while others are more visual. Some people prefer face-to-face, while others prefer email. The best way to work past these is to focus on the goals, call out style differences, and find a way to communicate that works for everyone involved. Being flexible in your style can help you avoid limiting yourself, and finding ways to bridge styles can exponentially improve communication.
- Don’t let your coach set you outside your values. Style differences are one thing, but your personal and organizational values serve as effective boundaries. Give your coach feedback if you think they are proposing things out of line. Find out what they want to achieve with the recommendation that you don’t like and see if you can design a different path together that is closer to your beliefs.
- Stay focused on goals. It’s easy to get lost along the way or focus on improvement for the sake of improvement. I find it’s more compelling to have a goal in mind that you can test your results against and checkpoint progress along the way. This helps with motivation and it helps with more actionable feedback. It also helps you ask your coach more specific questions, which keeps them engaged in the process. While you stay focused on results, enjoy the process along the way. The process is your growth and goals are simply a way to pick a path and measure.
Weekly Things to Do
Here are some weekly things to do to make the most of your coach:
- Ask for feedback and give feedback. Make getting feedback a habit. Give your coach feedback on their feedback to help them improve their effectiveness with you.
- Introspect about reactions. Introspection is simply looking inward and reflecting on your conscious inner thoughts. It’s thinking about your thinking. This is where you can catch yourself in patterns that you want to change, or where you can find and challenge your resistance. Remember that what you resists persists, and getting a better look at where you’re blocked can help you get unstuck.
- Use your coach as “a fly on the wall.” Have your coach observe you in action. For example, take your coach to meetings as a “fly on the wall” and ask them for feedback and opinions afterwards.
- Suspend your disbelief. Let your coach design plays and try them out; and have a way of coming back and evaluating how well it worked.
- Don’t let your insecurities thrive. Keep in mind that critique is a tool for growth. Don’t let your insecurities or concerns brew under the surface.
- Be open and transparent. The more you share, the more your coach can help. Be transparent about fears, hopes, etc. so that your coach can help you make the best of them.
Make the most of your teachable moments. Whether you have a formal coach or not, coaches and mentors are all around you everyday. Learn all you can, from everyone you can, and make the most of what you’ve got.
Many thanks to Eduardo Jezierski for sharing his insights, perspective, and lessons learned with me for using coaches effectively.