If you’re fortunate enough to be working with a coach in your professional or personal life, know that there’s a formula for success with this endeavor. Success starts with the right mindset—a beginner’s mind—and the commitment to listening, processing, and applying and experimenting with yourself and your behaviors daily. In other words, it’s hard work.
Your Effort and the Right Coach Will Help You Transform
I live on both sides of the coaching relationship in my life. I coach and I am coached. I recognize the value of bringing an objective, qualified outsider to help me open my eyes to new ways of thinking and acting. In almost all cases, being coached has been transformational, save for that poor soul of a piano instructor who exhausted all avenues to help me move beyond theoretically smart but practically tone-deaf and hopelessly unable to master timing. (In truth, thanks to him, I play a great deal of music, some of it almost competently.)
My fitness coach helps me with a continuous physical and mental transformation. In many ways, I’m in the best physical and mental shape of my life, and I credit this coaching relationship with keeping me focused in the right areas.
The book and speaking coach pushed me beyond my amateurish ways, with the halo effect from this engagement several years ago positively impacting my work every day.
All of the coaches I’ve engaged are remarkable humans. Nonetheless, without putting my heart and head into the work, even their expertise couldn’t help me. If you are fortunate enough to engage a coach, here are five ideas to make sure you come out of the process richer for the experience.
5 Ideas to Ensure You Gain the Most from Your Coaching Experience
1. Get Your Head In the Right Place
Cultivating the right mindset when you’re working with a coach is essential for success. Individuals who come to this new, temporary relationship hungry to grow and willing to approach issues with a beginner’s mind, are primed for success. Adjusting and aligning your attitude is critical.
In my corporate life, I observed more than a few individuals who took the assignment of a coach as a demerit and a signal they were being punished. In several cases, ego kept these individuals from recognizing the potential benefits from coaching, and they engaged in ill-fated efforts to show they were above the process.
Alternatively, those who are self-aware and self-confident enough to recognize they are a work-in-process and always in need of insights and quality help, are well served by the coaching experience.
2. Keep Your Commitments and Be Present During Coaching Conversations
Sure that time-slot you’ve locked in with your coach could quickly be filled by the crisis of the moment or the nearly endless tasks you don’t have time for in your day. However, when it’s time for the coaching conversation, you need to be present, focused, and committed to working on you.
It’s your responsibility to lock in a day and time to engage with your coach, and barring death, debilitation, or major conflagration, you need to keep this commitment. Keeping to your routine (barring an unusual situation) is every coach’s first test of your level of commitment. If you fail the test by constantly pushing out or rescheduling, the coach understands just how uncommitted you are. Chronic cancellation and schedule shifting are grounds for a coach to end an engagement.
Showing up is the first step to success. Being present during the conversation and focusing with all your faculties on the coaching dialog make the discussion productive. Those who have succeeded with their coaching experiences describe their regular discussions as the most important ones on their calendars.
3. Do the Work—Growth Takes Place Between the Coaching Conversations
Introducing new behaviors or changing or adapting an existing one is the majority of your work during your coaching process. The conversation is a time-slot on the schedule to review outcomes, provide feed-forward, and set the stage for post-session experimentation. What you do after that call is where the learning and development take place.
I require my clients to document actions, outcomes, and commitments in a dedicated coaching journal. At the end of each coaching conversation, I ask them what they are committing to doing for the behaviors discussed, and they own the recap. At the start of the next call, our focus is on what worked, what didn’t, and what they want to try next.
I once blew off practicing a speech for my coach due to time pressures and a bit of over-confidence in my ability to wing it. You can imagine how horrendously I performed at the rehearsal. I still feel the cold, hard sting of his, “You didn’t practice this, did you?”
Clients who are relentless at doing the work are the ones who grow. They may encounter new obstacles and challenges along the way; nonetheless, they are moving in the right direction. Yes, the work seems additive to the day job. In reality, you can pursue the work through trial and experimentation by making it part of the day job.
4. Find a Swim Buddy to Support Your Daily Efforts
Sure, the coach is your primary accountability partner and guide, however, what’s watched tends to get done when it comes to our personal development. Find someone you trust and clue them in to your coaching work and higher-level objectives as well as specific behavior changes you are striving to make. Ask them to observe and provide clear, unvarnished feedback.
The swim buddy is another layer of accountability as well as input. Many coaching engagements are remote via the phone or video conferencing, and the opportunity for your coach to observe you in action is limited.The swim buddy serves as a local source of observation, and their perspectives can provide input into progress and next steps. While there are challenges to managing this relationship and deriving value from the feedback, in my opinion, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
In my corporate life, my swim buddy provided a much-needed check between what I thought I was doing and how I perceived it was working and reality. He was strong enough to tell me when I misfired or failed to achieve something I thought I had succeeded with, and he pushed me to define how I would improve continually. The swim buddy relationship augmented the coaching engagement and strengthened the entire experience.
5. Accept that Growth Doesn’t Happen Immediately or in a Linear Fashion
No matter how hard you work and how great your coach is, if you’re taking this work seriously, you’re going to strain, struggle, and feel like giving up from time-to-time. It’s a bumpy, lumpy ride that zigs and zags a great deal. And just when you think you can’t do it, you will surprise yourself.
The Bottom-Line for Now:
If you’re fortunate enough to work with a coach, recognize the situation for the powerful opportunity it represents for you. The coaching engagement will be finite in duration, but the improvements and strengthening often continue to unfold for years beyond your time together. Just remember to show up ready to get to work on you.