Friday, November 27, 2009

Every Leader Needs a Coach

In the world of sports there is a natural tendency to respect those who have succeeded on their own.  These are the Olympians who have climbed to the summit by sheer strength of will, and raw talent.  They have shown us all how to win.  They have made it look easy.  These are the heroes of the press, and the public.  We look at a Tiger Woods or a Kobe Bryant and marvel at their success.

But, what makes Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant so good? 

Each has extraordinary talent.  Each has tenacity, focus, and perseverance.  Even if they did nothing more, each would be considered a good player in their respective sport.   However, each has taken an additional step, a step that has helped them achieve their well earned reputation.  Each has a coach.

Why would someone as talented as these players use a coach?

The answer is actually relatively simple.  Tiger Woods cannot see his swing,  Kobe Bryant cannot see his form.  In the heat of the game, neither can be an unbiased judge of how they are playing.

The same is true in business and government.  In the heat of the board room, when the future is clouded by the fog of war, sagging economies, and a need to change the organization, leaders are not always the best critics of their own performance, or the best judge of how their behavior is affecting the organization.  A coach who can view the play from the sidelines can be an invaluable ally.

The role of coaching in the business and government world has changed over time.  According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR):
Ten years ago, most companies engaged a coach to help fix toxic behavior at the top. Today, most coaching is about developing the capabilities of high-potential performers. (Harvard Business Review, January 2009, "What Coaches Can Do for You", Diane Coutu and Carol Kauffman)

In the business and government world, about half of the coaches employed today are focused on the positive side of coaching, developing high-potential talent to assure top corporate performance.  Another quarter of all coaches are focusing on strategic issues and organizational dynamics. 

For the potential leader or manager seeking to improve and grow, a coach can provide insight into how behaviors are affecting the organization, an independent assessment of the extent to which change efforts are achieving the desired results,  or insight into which new behaviors are or are not working.  However, as the HBR pointed out in an article in 2007, learning and growing takes a significant amount of effort:
The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. (Harvard Business Review, July-August 2007, "The Making of an Expert", K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely)

Don't expect instant success, and at the same time, expect constant progress.  True mastery of of any trade or profession takes time.  (See the blog post - 10,000 Hours)

Finally, you might find the following very short video of Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, interesting.  If Eric Schmidt can benefit from having a coach, so can you.