Coaching is a tool and approach for continuous improvement, increasing excellence, and building skills.
When I first started coaching 20 years ago, I would often say, “A hobby golf player would be less likely to invest in a professional coach to improve their game than a player like Tiger Woods. Why? Because a professional is committed to always upskilling and improving his game.” Leaders who are desiring to be at the top of their game come to coaching for the same reason. Leaders hire a coach because they want to level up their skills, improve their performance, and to be rigorous to address blind spots.
The purpose of coaching is not to fix you. Coaching holds you as a whole person (naturally, creative, resourceful) not broken. Coaching believes you have the answers within that simply need to be drawn out. To grow and develop, we have to acknowledge our weaknesses and opportunities for growth. We must be honest with ourselves about areas we can and want to upskill/advance. This does not make a person bad or wrong, rather it awakens a self-awareness and relentless quest with yourself to always be at your next best. When a leader comes to coaching, they are intentional about being self-aware and to constantly desire to upskill and improve their leadership game.
As fast as the world is evolving and developing, we cannot afford to stop growing. When we do, we begin to regress. As a leader, even when you hit the top, you realize staying at the top requires new work and effort. You constantly self-assess areas in which you need to learn and improve. In this process, the biggest barrier to overcome is our ego. Our ego would rather tell us we are good enough and choose comfort instead of the deep learning which stretches us, challenges us, and takes WORK. However, ignoring the tough work sets us up for complacency, apathy, stagnation self-deception, outdated skills, and irrelevance as we fail to keep our leadership edge sharp and our skills growing.
Coaching is most effective and powerful when leaders come to their coaching calls with reflections about what they are learning (outside the coaching call) and hunger for ideas in the area they want to develop. While very personal, coaching applies general concepts from books, trainings, common life skills, and performance habits as tools to try on, size up, assess, and personally apply to support advancement and goal success.
For coaching to have its powerful transformation, leaders must take an intentional effort to apply the general learning to themselves specifically. They must bring to the table their thoughts, learning, and suggestions to create a custom and unique approach and solution that supports their vision for life and work. Outside the coaching call, they will spend time reading, learning, reflecting, journaling, conversations, etc. On their call, the coach and leader will work to apply their learning, identify where they are getting stuck, share their thoughts to identify old patterns, belief systems or filters that might not serve, and seek to cleanly apply new learning to their life and work.
So, to get the most out of coaching:
- PREPARE: Before coaching calls: Come to the call with an agenda of what you want to learn and upskill.
- Reflect on your fieldwork/homework – Reflect on your learnings and be ready to talk about them. When we talk about what we learn, we make more connections, receive additional insights, and gain additional perspectives. Talking about our learning is useful to “check our thinking” to avoid always seeing through our personal lens. We all can have clouded or congested thinking based on blinders we might have due to bias, bad experiences, personality, etc. A coach can reflect and challenge our thinking to deepen our learning and understanding in an area. Come to your coaching with a growth mindset, to learn, find insights and upgrade activity.
- The night before your coaching call, review your coaching notes from the previous session. Reflect on your learning since the last coaching session. Check the actions and move open items a step forward. Consider where you are at currently and what you desire next. Filling out prep questions like this can help you focus. (For those who coach with me, they are in your email calendar appointment reminder):
- What I learned or accomplished since the last meeting:
- What I didn’t accomplish:
- Obstacles, challenges, or concerns I am having:
- My agenda for the coaching call (a hot topic that I want to discuss or an area I want to deepen my learning or forward my action)
- PARTICIPATE: Your coach will actively engage and participate in your coaching by candidly giving perspective on where you are, what is working and what is not (where you are getting stuck). It is important for you and the coach to be centered, focused, and present to get the most out of coaching calls. Here are some things that can help you maximize your time and investment!
- Have a dependable and solid coaching time. Schedule coaching at a time when you can focus, be reflective and protect yourself from interruption and chaos. Ideally, have your “coaching time” reoccurring on the same day and time, so your mind gets in a rhythm and coaching mode.
- If you need to reschedule a coaching call, please use the schedule link to pick a new time. Out of courtesy and respect for both of our times, calls canceled without a 24-hour notice are counted as a coaching call. There is grace and flexibility for “emergencies” – those are rare and happen infrequently. If you find yourself needing to reschedule your calls a lot it might not be at a good time for coaching or coaching might not have the priority needed to get the most out of it (i.e., checking the box, rolling through day, etc. versus deliberate and focused when showing up, ready, open, and hungry to learn)
- Come to coaching with your agenda/topic
- Bring examples of how you are applying your learning as well as challenges you are having
- Participate fully in coaching, not feeling defensive or needing to prove yourself. Be vulnerable for the sake of your learning. Bring everything to the table. If a coachee is reading a book for something else, they would bring this up to be discussed in coaching … because the coachee is responsible to own their leadership growth plan, which includes everything they are learning and implementing.
- Recognize in coaching we hold a big picture goal (big A) and short-term agenda/goals (little a). Coaching addresses short-term feelings, thoughts, and actions as they pertain to long-term results. Connecting the dots is important to create the big picture you desire (high performing and effective leadership).
- Coaching homework is co-designed with the coachee and coach. Fieldwork should be an activity the coachee feels will support the growth they desire.
- Take a moment after your coaching call to reflect on your take-aways from the call. This is a neuroscience hack to deepen your learning. When you take time to reflect, write and process, you lock in insights and often expand learning.
- Reflection & Insight (What I got out of the session & desire for myself):
- Desire (Things I want to do that will support my growth and upskilling):
- Other (thoughts, comments, etc.):
- COMMIT TO ACTION BETWEEN NOW AND THE NEXT COACHING CALL:
- PRACTICE: Do your coaching homework/fieldwork. Commit to doing homework and know that it supports the area in which the leader is trying to grow.
- Habits: As a note, people who are strong leaders, movers-and-shakers, often have successful habits. This includes a daily AM or PM power hour for planning and reading to make them better. Often, their coaching assignments are things they do in this personal power hour. They are activities the leader is doing to invest in making themselves better so they can think and lead better.
- Tactics: Review your coaching notes that you get after a call and block time to do your homework (actions highlighted in your notes). Have an email folder, notebook, and place to do your homework. Often a great tip is to schedule a reoccurring time (if you coach every other week, take the same coaching time on the off weeks to do your coaching homework).
- Philosophy: While the coaching homework is not urgent for their daily trench work it is important to learn and transform. Therefore, while in coaching, blocking time each week to “do your coaching growth work” will accelerate change and results. Not doing coaching homework, prolongs the gap and at times makes the dots so far apart one forgets how they are related and what you are really doing. Coaching is work. It is soft skill work that develops your emotional intelligence, performance, and approach to the world (feelings, beliefs, thoughts, and actions). Coaching homework/fieldwork are not arbitrary assignments. They were co-designed out of the coaching conversation of to support you leading and performing better. Coaching is about deepening your learning and forwarding your action. Doing work outside the coaching call accelerates your learning and transformational process to not only learn but execute key actions that support the life, work, and vision you desire. (For those who coach with me, your coaching actions are yellow highlighted in your coaching notes.)
Coaching takes a commitment to the learning and activity because that work is the only way upskilling and transformation happen. Commit to the process because you are really committing to your growth. Consider what allows you to be most motivated, engaged, and focused to drive your goals. As coachees come prepared their leadership growth is accelerated and leveling up as a leader happens quickly.