The Essence of Coaching
CC I’ll Never Grow Up

Everytime I meet someone new I will often be asked this question as it pertains to the services I provide.

I’ve always seen such great value in being coached and mentored by someone else that I think I’ve overlooked why many people might resist being coached or mentored by other people.

If you’ve grown up an athlete, you might understand.

If you didn’t, then let me tell you why you really should find a mentor or consider hiring a coach…like…yesterday….

Feedback

This is the most important reason.

It’s really hard to give yourself feedback, particularly in instances where the answers are context dependent and not so black and white.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m also all for self-improvement — I not only read a lot, I also write a fair bit as you can see…

However, I can’t think of a single book, article, blog, presentation, or lecture I’ve read, witnessed, listened to or watched that could give me the right feedback at the right times…

Increasing and improving your knowledge is only useful if you can execute on it, and you can’t change or learn what you’re unaware of.

Information is static, unfortunately your life (and coaching!) isn’t.

Coaches can give you detailed answers to your questions sure, but more importantly they help you shape the path of the journey you’re on.

They give you reassurance that you’re on the right track, or guidance towards the right track when you’re not on it.

You know how many times I’ve doubted myself as a business owner or an athlete?

You, and a hundred of your closest friends don’t have enough fingers and toes…

It’s actually impossible for us to look at ourselves and our situation objectively.

We’re simply too close and biased to our situation.

Most of the time we actually tend to think we’re on the right track, when we’re not, or sometimes worse, we change tracks when we think we’re on the wrong track, but are actually are on the right one!

A coach can help us clarify these paths and be the voice of reason.

When we fail to make the changes we seek, even with really good information, it’s really not our fault.

Most of the things that are preventing us from achieving what we want to achieve occur at the subconscious automatic level (i.e. beyond our conscious control).

When skills are ingrained, they become automatic and our habits and behaviors are almost always delivered subconsciously too.

For instance, many people who calorie count, do so for the feedback — it’s a way to understand how much food we consume relative to what we think we should eat — without realizing that they are ignoring the thermic effect of food in their calculations, or that they are over-estimating how much energy they burn in a day, or they skip counting a few chips or crackers here or there, when in truth, that energy can add up over the course of a day or week…

Many people don’t get the result they want  from calorie counting, because the sheer act of counting, doesn’t make them aware of all these other factors going on.

We all do this!

And it has nothing to do with intelligence on this matter either, the smartest people you know are guilty of not being able to see the situation objectively.

This is just human nature.

Come on, I know you have a smart friend you feel doesn’t live up to their potential…this is why!

The reason we don’t succeed in adopting the strategies, habits, skills, and behaviors that we read about, listen to, or watch video on, is because we have a hard time gauging the information and then applying it to ourselves.

We’re all just a little bit biased, so we can’t always see the things we need to see and potentially do, to get the desired outcomes we seek.

Do fish know they’re in water?

There is also a big difference between knowing how to do something and knowing of something. 

We often confuse gaining knowledge with developing knowledge how.

Just because you watched a surgery on youtube, doesn’t mean you’re ready to drop into the operating room and replace a knee right?

It doesn’t matter how skilled you are, coaches are still useful!

Ever notice that Tiger Woods has a coach?

Or that Phil Jackson coached Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant to 11 championship rings?

Even the heads of already hugely successful businesses like Google Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt, has a coach.

Why do the best at what they do, seek out objective feedback?

Because they are the best at what they do, or because they want to get better still?

It’s the feedback loop. Even if these athletes know more about the game than the coach, they still can’t give feedback to themselves.

See the connection?

Every major athlete you know of, has a coach and has most likely utilized coaching their entire career (from the time I was five until the time I retired from competitive sport at 21…).

In the business world, every successful startup or business has utilized the power of mentors (often investors), consultants and coaches to help them grow and develop that business.

One of the top surgeons in the world wrote a fantastic piece in October 2011, for the New Yorker, on the value of having someone look over his shoulder, and coach him to become an even better surgeon.

Undoubtedly, his improvements weren’t because the other surgeon coaching him knew more about surgery — as we often tend to believe coaches should, making coaches who seemingly do not have as much knowledge as you seem useless, when in fact they are not…

Phil Jackson’s effectiveness as a coach with the greatest basketball player in history  wasn’t because he knew more about basketball than Michael did.

It’s because he knew how to provide useful feedback.

Check Out the Fitnack App – It’s Fitness + Feedback

Accountability

The second valuable thing that mentors and coaches provide that is difficult to get anywhere else is accountability.

It’s really hard to be held accountable to people who have a vested interest in us (spouses, family, business partners, employees, employers, etc…).

No doubt many people reading this are familiar with the famous work of Peter Drucker and his now very famous quote, “what gets measured, gets managed.”

When left to our own devices, we all tend to be just a little bit dishonest with ourselves.

Yep, we cheat just a little bit, stretch or exaggerate the truth, whatever you want to call it.

Again, this is just human nature it has nothing to do with intelligence, whether or not you go to MIT or a local community college, you will stretch the truth a bit when it suits you.

If you don’t believe me check out the work of Dan Ariely, and his research into dishonesty.

Most of us don’t tell ourselves BIG LIES, it’s the little white lies that we generally assume nobody will notice, or we have an easy time justifying them to ourselves.

For instance he found that if you put 6 one-dollar bills in a fridge in a dorm room and come back a day later, those 6 one-dollar bills will always be there.

Yet, if he puts a six pack of cola bottles in there and comes back a day later, almost all of those colas will be gone, even though the value of each of those items is actually the same.

Why is that?

People have really easy time justifying the action of taking a cola as being no big deal, whereas taking money all of us actually consider stealing.

Technically, we’re still stealing a dollar…

Just like we justify a snack here, or a few glasses of alcohol there…because ‘we deserve it.’

You’re opening the flood gates really…

It’s the little things, and it starts small, we don’t see the immediate result on a scale until the week after next.

Coaches help keep us honest with ourselves.

In more than one example, social support in weight loss environments has led to statistically better results — yep that’s 3 different studies showing the benefits of accountability…

Learning

Is a huge component of coaching, is teaching.

Not just knowledge of either, knowledge how.

In the cases where your coach probably knows more than you, or at least is more familiar with the puzzle you’re trying to solve.

Chances are, no matter what your skill or what our skill, we can teach you something.

Heck I learn new stuff from new trainees ALL THE TIME!

They literally in some cases know nothing about physical training or nutrition, but they don’t need to, for me to learn something new.

Most coaches spend hours upon hours honing their craft and a huge component of this is learning new stuff, or new ways to do the same things.

Chances are good, that a reasonably experienced coach has more knowledge bombs to drop on you than the Allies have dropped in Iraq or Afghanistan…

You just can’t compete with that, even as an enthusiast.

You might really really be into fitness and spend hours every day reading about it, maybe you even got a certification or two, but if you don’t coach other people, and spend a lot of time working with others, most coaches will still tend to know more than you do.

You might not share their opinion sometimes, based on what you’ve experienced or know, but this doesn’t discount the value they provide.

Here are two mistakes I often see:

  1. People don’t take the time to learn as they go through the process
  2. People think they don’t need to learn anything more.

People will pay good money and come in every day to work with a coach and go fishing, but never learn how to fish!

On the other hand experienced people, might be unwilling to pay or approach people for help because they don’t think they can learn anything from a particular person — hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!…but if it is, you might want to reconsider getting some help…

Planning and Execution

Chances are if you’ve been unsuccessful at something over the years, it’s not for a lack of trying or planning.

It’s typically a lack of execution, but that can stem from the planning part of the equation.

People are generally overly ambitious and unrealistic in their planning due to a lack of experience of succeeding in this regard.

Hey, once more, we all do this…

Chances are, a coach will have more experience with planning than you do, having been exposed to multiple methods that have worked for various people in a variety of circumstances.

As I’ve said repeatedly on this blog, people don’t fail because they didn’t do enough, they typically fail because they try to change too much at once.

As a coach I know this, so I’m often the voice of reason for beginners, and help them create far more realistic plans that are far easier to execute and as a result, generally more successful.

The Naysayers

Now…to those who argue against coaching, citing examples of certain people who seem to have somehow accomplished so much on their own (the so-called ‘self-taught’), you are still ignoring the concept of feedback.

Take for instance the person who ‘claims’ to learn a new language on their own by reading a book.

Maybe…

Chances are, they learned the basics of the language by speaking the language and getting some kind of feedback at some point, while communicating with a native speaker.

Sometimes it’s just easier to exclude that feedback because you didn’t appear to have a coach or mentor all the time.

In this case, various people become your mentor or feedback loop.

Likewise, people who learn to play an instrument ‘on their own,’ isn’t quite as cut and dry like that either.

I love Dave Grohl, he is ‘self-taught’ on every instrument he plays as far as I know, but what most people don’t realize is that in music you get a lot of great feedback.

You can hear when you’ve played the wrong note, or when something doesn’t sound good.

A lot of the feedback is ‘built in.’

You often record yourself playing, and listen to it again and again, then make corrections, until you get better.

Audiences will tell you if they think you suck and your bandmates will give you feedback…

Certain components of sport are also either success or fail, giving athletes a lot of self-directed and immediate feedback (you either score a basket, or you don’t, you either hit a target or you don’t).

The best athletes, take this information and over time modify their athleticism to develop consistently desirable patterns of execution.

They might use video for feedback. Or stats from performances.

Yes, there are those that have bypassed traditional coaching and mentorship environments and succeeded, but this is typically in spite of, rather than because they went it alone.

Imagine how a coach could have accelerated the process…

The ‘self-taught’ often turn up in fields where feedback is built into the process of development.

Sometimes, the long slow road is really advantageous for some (it also teaches patience…).

I learned to play drums by myself initially, and could carry a beat but having a coach, took my playing to another level very quickly by comparison.

No matter what your field, feedback from an objective eye will still amplify your development, even if you are good at creating self-feedback loops as many ‘self-taught’ awesome people are…