Coaching for Personal Best

What’s your personal best? Is it getting better? How do you know? What do you measure?

There seems to be a bit of a mismatch between our attitudes to achieving excellence in sport and excellence in business. We’d think it strange if a top athlete or sports team didn’t have a coach. In fact the higher the level of performance expected, the more attention an athlete gets. Yet in business, it often seems that the higher up in an organisation one gets, the less attention we receive.

A recent article in New Yorker magazine outlines a successful surgeon’s exploration of coaching, its benefits and the potential barriers to using coaching to improve performance. Click the link to read the whole article. 

So why coaching?

Coaching improves performance by helping an individual or team to establish performance criteria, understand their current activity and create an action plan to close any gaps.

Coaches provide an external set of eyes and ears – asking the questions we do not ask ourselves, noticing the things we don’t pay any attention to. Their own perspective and experience means that they give a fresh view of how we act and the results that arise as a consequence.

As in the world of sport, a professional coach doesn’t necessarily have to share the same functional specialism as their client (we coach people in a wide variety of roles and industries|). They should, however, have exquisite skills in the field of coaching. This means that they must:

  • Be credible
  • Connect with their client
  • Be 100% present
  • Listen more than talk
  • Ask questions
  • Maintain a wide field of awareness

What gets in the way?

Often in one way or another our ego gets in the way.  ‘Human beings resist exposure and critique; our brains are well defended.’[1] This manifests when we don’t like the idea of being observed, we worry that having a coach makes us look incompetent or we fear that the coach will go direct to the boss with any limitations. In many cases it’s easier to decide that the coach is no good or lacks specialist knowledge, than it is to accept that we may be doing something that is less than perfect.

So what is your personal best?

How are you measuring your own performance? How do you know if you’re better at your job today than you were 6 months ago? Are you incorporating the latest understanding and knowledge into your everyday working practises? If the answer is to any of these questions is ‘No’, perhaps a coach is just what you need right now.

[1] Atul Gawande, Personal Best, The New Yorker, October 3rd 2011.


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