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Part 1 – How a business coach helps you lead on purpose

“I never think. No, by God, I don’t think; I operate.” – Lt. Rinaldi, in “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway.

Have you ever felt stuck in a less-than-ideal place because you are so focused on a task, so busy trying to meet deadlines, or so eager to please your boss (or peers or family), that like Lt. Rinaldi, you forget to make time for reflecting on the context of your work, what is going well or not, and why? I know I have. Sometimes I don’t think; I operate!

If you want to break out of operating mode and get to a better place, a coach can help.  Making a change, and making it last, require at least four things that coaches help with:

  • Focus on what you can control
  • A way to see and manage what you currently don’t see or control
  • Multiple investments in the outcome
  • Practice, practice, practice

 

If you  don’t make time to assess how you show up in the various areas of your life and what about them you can control, you will only behave under the guidance of your reactionary, subconscious self. The likelihood is high that you’ll remain stuck.  One time, when I was venting to my coach about the people at work ignoring my “obviously brilliant” ideas, he helped me see that I sometimes presented those ideas in a way that sounded defensive and didn’t entice people to want to listen. He then helped me think about how I could do it differently. The coach helped me see those areas of my work and life that I can control, even where I previously thought I had exhausted my options or control was outside of me.

In a similar vein, a good coach reflects back to you the reality as they and others see it, not just the (positive and negative) stories that you tell yourself. I’ll cover this more deeply in Part 2 of this series, but coaches are not clouded by the agendas and biases that my boss and coworkers have for me.  When a coach points out what I can’t see or haven’t yet seen, I am free to wrestle with a more accurate reality, make acceptable tradeoffs, and act more intentionally.

Coaching builds on your internal incentives to change and offers additional, external incentives. Fore example, my internal incentive for health and fitness is being healthy so I can stay around as long as possible for my wife and kids. That incentive alone got me to the gym sporadically but in a workout rut, and I found myself gaining weight each year and getting negative reports from the doctor. Since I’ve been paying a trainer for a circuit class, I’ve exercised more regularly than I ever have on my own, because I can’t stand the thought of leaving money on the table each time I miss a class. I even exercise on the off days so that I don’t spend as much time in those paid class session taking a breather. And, my trainer encourages me to go all-out, all the time, whereas on my own I find it easier to let up when the work is hardest. I don’t want to let myself down, but now I don’t want to let him down. With the combination of my own will to change, having a financial stake in the change, and having the support (or peer pressure) to succeed, I have lost weight in recent years and have seen dramatic improvements in my health report card.

Finally, change takes practice. It’s not enough to notice what you can change. It’s important to set concrete plans and practice until you’ve made the change and it’s a habit.  The best business coaches I have used recommended drills or practices that will improve my performance.  An example is a couple years ago when I received some feedback that people wanted me to speak up more in meetings. My coach encouraged me to notice and journal when I spoke up and didn’t. Some patterns emerged – I was one of the more junior people in the room, was a bit intimidated by the senior executives in the room, and made all kinds of assumptions about how my words would be received. My practice was to speak up just once and see how it went.  I practiced phrases I could use to jump into the conversation, and I practiced phrases I would use if I received negative feedback. Feeling rehearsed and prepared helped me feel more confident, I spoke up in the big meeting. Not only did it go really well, I approached future meetings with greater confidence and presence.

If you took just 5 minutes today away from operating – perhaps in the morning before the emails start flooding in, before the kids are awake, before you even make your coffee – what would you see about how you got so busy,  what needs work, and what your next steps are?

 

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