Why does anyone need a coach?
The one characteristic common to all high performing individuals, from executives to athletes, is the fact that they all have a coach. Why? Coaching is a structure for change.
Structure is essential if you want to make change stick. Without the right structure to support it, change won't happen or be sustainable. Structure helps us to focus; it also serves as a trigger for new behavior patterns. Structure provides a guide for desired behavior, but also a way of getting feedback. As the old saying goes, "you get what you inspect, not what you expect." What you measure improves. When you quit measuring, results slide.
When you think about structure, your mind naturally makes a list of tools like checklists, hour by hour boards, and work instructions. It's the calendar you keep, the goals you write, and the dashboard used to keep track of your progress. The device you wear on your wrist to count steps and remind you to move is a form of structure. As are your workout routines and calorie counting apps.
Some structures are so much a way of life that you don't think of them as anything special. When first introduced, structure can feel awkward, oppressive, irritating or even insulting. Something about structure can make us feel small and silly for needing it, causing us to resist and ultimately abandon it — even if we got great results. We may outgrow a structure if we've been able to make a new behavior a habit; others have to stay with us for the long haul.
Coaching is such a structure.
Perhaps the most important part is the "designed alliance." The coaching process starts with a designed alliance: a conversation between coach and client to structure the coaching relationship. The alliance discussion includes a statement of goals, clarification of roles, and establishment of rules. It includes everything from the client's short and long term goals, to meeting frequency and communication preferences. Coach and client also discuss how they'll measure success. The alliance serves as a reference for both coach and client throughout the coaching relationship.
The repetitive nature -- or cadence -- of coaching is also a form of structure. While individual coaching sessions are meant to be productive, what happens between sessions matters even more. This is when the client is focused on taking right action to move toward their stated goals. The coaching sessions serve as guideposts, natural waypoints on the journey. I once had a client apologize to me for doing his homework a day or two before our next meeting. Our meetings were the trigger for his next right action. Knowing this, we changed our designed alliance from in person meetings every two weeks to phone sessions every week, with an in-person meeting once a month. He continued to use our meetings as his trigger, but also made progress on his goals much faster.
Coaches are often called on to be an accountability partner. The coaching relationship brings accountability without the risk of judgment from a supervisor, friend or family member. By nature of the alliance, the coach is your biggest fan, as well as your biggest critic, holding you accountable to creating what you say you want.
Like other forms of structure, people resist coaching. They may even think something is wrong with them, like they are weak for needing a coach. Our egos tell us we don't need a coach, or any structure for that matter, to get what we want. For some people, staking claim to what they want to achieve is scary enough. Yet for some having a coach is normal. They routinely hire coaches to help them become the person they want to be, or to help them achieve a particular goal. Coaching doesn't have to be 1:1; it also works with groups.
In one of his TED talks, Bill Gates opened with the statement, "Everyone needs a coach." Not just athletes. He continues, "We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve."
He's right. If you want something to change, you have to change something. And coaching is a powerful structure for change and trasnformation. I've experienced it in my own life. I've also witnessed transformation in others.