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Why You Need a Coach

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Tom Brady is annoying. Let’s face it. But then, to the Cleveland Browns, so was Elway. Manning annoyed the holy crap out of an awful lot of folks, too.

What they, and all other quarterbacks- especially the aging ones- have in common are coaches.

I am forever surprised that sports fans who can spit out stats like watermelon seeds don’t seem to get the parallel to work performance.

The very best rookies get the best available coaches and coordinators that money can buy. Running backs, tight ends, doesn’t matter. Goes for every sport. Think Serena doesn’t have a cadre of coaches? How on earth did she become perhaps the greatest athlete of the last century?

When a corporation seeks out and recruits a high-potential employee, all too often that employee is left on their own to navigate the new company. In some cases this can be disastrous, as folks with very different life experiences and cultural backgrounds can flounder badly in the wrong corporate culture.

Especially when left to navigate on their own.

Speaker Jim Rohn is often quoted as saying that we reflect the five people closest to us. We often don’t consider coaches- if we even have one- when we look at the mix. However, without professional help, be it spiritual, professional, a particular skill set as in sports, we simply cannot be our best. When a company hires top talent, to do so without providing some kind of transitional guide, or even better, ongoing support to ensure evolution, development and constant challenge, is to waste that talent.

But how about for us everyday muggles? What do we need?

The professional coaching business has exploded recently, with some mixed results. Those of us in the market for professional guidance can be deeply perplexed by the plethora of qualifications and certifications. Whether you want a fitness trainer after fifty or want a book coach, or both, or more, it can be very confusing if not downright expensive to pick the right one. First time around, you probably won’t. Because choosing the right coach isn’t always a matter of qualifications or a brand promise.

I hired a Tony Robbins coach some years ago for my business. Nice gal, bad fit. She was so focused on keeping my toes to the line of reasoning that Robbins eschewed that she simply could not see where my passion was. Where I really wanted to go. She focused on money. Fine, but that’s not what motivated me. She couldn’t understand that, and continued barking at me using priorities and language that did little more than annoy, as I kept trying to explain to her that while I understood those were her measurements, they weren’t mine.

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Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

We ended that relationship amicably, but I remained frustrated. I knew the value of a coach, but that experience taught me that all coaches aren’t created equal.

In 2010 I hired a book coach. Here’s the difference. That coach, Orvel Ray Wilson, had already published many best sellers and was an internationally-known sales trainer. He was just starting his coaching practice. Within nine months I had my first published book in hand, which went on to win three prizes. He worked with me, listened, held my feet to the fire, didn’t argue with me and heard what was important. He guided rather than demand I follow a strict protocol (I may be ex-military but I don’t do well with pedants).

I still work with him nine years later, now on my third book. He has since obtained his international coaching credentials, but the simple truth he was a good coach before he got certified.

Part of what this taught me was that simply possessing credentials does not an effective coach make. Having the chops being able to listen, hear and adapt to your client, which a superbly-trained salesman does, is even more powerful.

So consider this: a terrific coach is a terrific salesperson.

Here’s what I mean.

No matter how well-trained a personal coach may be, that coach must still not only know the taste of success and defeat, but also understand that one size doesn’t fit all.

To be effective, a coach has to be able to assess your talents, strengths and weaknesses. If you’re highly experienced, motivated and determined (think, again,Tom Brady) then much of your job is already done. That is, unless your coach sees a weakness that you don’t, that you deny, and which is hampering your performance. That’s where the sales comes in. Your coach has to learn your language, your priorities and make motivates you, then use those key elements to communicate the reasons why making a change is to your benefit.

Since most of us like to be right, this can be damned hard. A good coach finds a way to persuade and convince, but using our own arguments, the same way a superb salesperson does. We end up seeing the light, making the change, and with good luck, reaping the benefits.

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

This happens in sports too. But a headstrong, single-minded coach, even a very good one, can be so focused on a particular outcome or way of doing business that it costs both the team and his star player the game.

From 1981 to 1982, the Broncos had Dan Reeves as their head coach. He led the team to three Super Bowls and lost all of them. He later took over the Falcons and then lost to the Broncos, his former team. While he was clearly a talented coach, he didn’t know how to properly utilize his best asset: Elway. There was plenty of friction between the two, and it cost them where it most counted.

It wasn’t until Mike Shanahan took over that the Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls with an aging but still-potent Elway in the late 1990s, in part by providing Elway with HOF running back Terrell Davis, who bolstered the offense. Later, Gary Kubiak, who was Elway’s quarterback coach, led the Broncos to their next Super Bowl in 2015. By then, Elway, who trusted Kubiak’s leadership, was managing personnel decisions as general manager. He understood the key role of the right coach for the team- as do most of us who have been coached by the right talent.

Much the same thing happened in 1992 with the Bears under the colorful but determined my-way-or-the-highway Mike Ditka and star quarterback Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh chafed under Ditka’s style, and didn’t really flourish until he left for the Indianapolis Colts in 1997 under Ted Marchibroda.

However, even supreme talent doesn’t always translate into success. College hero Tim Tebow, also drafted for the Broncos, was never able to channel his work ethic and innate abilities into a successful NFL career. His odd passing style, which had worked so well for him at the University of Florida, hampered him in the NFL. While he enjoyed other kinds of success after he left football, coaches were unable to translate that significant potential into an outcome that supported Tebow’s ambitions at the time.

Supremely talented NFL rookie Robert Griffin III also suffered a similar fate. Despite his incredible talent, he proved impossible to coach, and ended up plagued with injuries. After beginning a promising and exciting career with the Redskins, his inability to listen to advice in part cost him what could have been a HOF career. Now approaching thirty, he realizes that his soured relationships with Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan and then Jay Gruden cost him.

These kinds of stories abound in sports, but even if you’re not much of a fan, you can see that when a coach fights his best talent he’s going to fail, and so will his talent.

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The author, feeding Gogo the camel raisins, at a family farm in Western Mongolia Julia Hubbel

A few years back, I hired Tim Leffel, who runs a variety of online travel writing classes as well as writes travel books. We speak on average an hour once a month, we discuss what I’m doing with my trips, and material I’m hoping to write. That regular conference challenges me to take new risks, see with new eyes and helps me direct my thinking and interviews when I am on my epic adventures. Leffel is very talented and successful in the areas where I most need help. What I appreciate about working with him is that while he runs group sessions, I prefer a private one-on-one. That’s what works best for me. Leffel understands that his clients have differing preferences. The ability to adapt is part of what works for me.

Between my two coaches, my writing has improved considerably and I continue to pick up new work. That’s the whole point. I’m excelling in my craft. Doing what I love, and producing.

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Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

Medium writer Meghan Wenzel did this piece on being coachable. It’s a supreme waste of your time and your coach’s time if you have a compulsive need to be right, and can’t receive feedback on what you do and how you do it. The best of the best are, at some level, forever rookies. Athletes like Peyton Manning, discarded by the Colts, picked up by the Broncos and suffering from multiple injuries, put in time on days at the Broncos’ facility when nobody else was there, working with his rehab and strength coaches to ensure his future legacy.

The legacy he secured with a second Super Bowl at the end of his terrific career, when he beat the Panthers and top-rated Cam Newton in February 2016. He couldn’t have done that without the right coaches, a willingness to try new things as his body was beginning to show age and wear and tear, and he was dealing with career-ending injuries.

Still he won.

Muggles like you and I likely can’t afford the kind of quality talent that folks like Manning can. But we do need help. Without regular, competent feedback, challenges, and experienced folks to help us see with new eyes, negotiate with our failings, and make the most of our innate talents, we will always be mediocre compared to what we could be.

Corporations that have some kind of mentor program in place, either formal or organic, reap the benefits that professional development can offer. However, you and I can go a step further and hire our own. It’s as important a decision in many ways as picking the right life mate.

The right coach, or coaches, can help you realize your dreams, and become the person you were meant to be. It takes a team. We can’t get there alone. So when you start interviewing coaches, watch for a few key characteristics:

  1. Their own history, background, success and failures. A coach who hasn’t failed can’t help you when you fall down. Their ability to work through the pain of faceplants is one of the key elements of how they will work with you.
  2. Their ability to ask focused, important questions. The best coaches ask and guide. They don’t force or tell. By the time they’re done asking, you’ve been moved to make your own decision, and it feels as though you go there on your own. You own the process, you own the outcome, and your coach is the navigator. That’s masterful coaching.
  3. Their familiarity with your world, your industry and the challenges you’re facing. My two coaches are tops in the crafts I am trying to improve in myself. Their track records speak for themselves. Those facts give me great confidence that what I’m being told is likely solid advice.
  4. Finally. check your willingness to be coached. If you’re looking for a yes man, stop now. Because a good coach won’t tolerate being used to simply agree with you. You need to be humble enough to hear about your failings, weak points and missteps. If not, you will likely end up warming a bench somewhere, and never lifting a trophy for Team You. You can be right if you need to be, but by being uncoachable, your career can be dead in the water.

Thinking about a coach? Good. Because that shows you’re serious about succeeding. We can at all levels of ability. But with a coach, we have the potential to surpass our wildest dreams.

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Julia Hubbel
Julia Hubbel is a prize-winning journalist, professional speaker, international adventure traveler. She is the author of the multiple prize-winning books WordFood: How We Feed or Starve our Relationships and Tackling the Titans: How to Sell to the Fortune 500. Her travels take her on extraordinary solo adventures all over the globe. From horseback riding in Central Asia to kayaking the freezing fjords of Iceland, Julia pushes the outer boundaries of her athletic skill and endurance. She has spent three decades working with the Fortune 500 as an executive and consultant. A dynamic and popular speaker, she has been featured at business conferences all across America, Australia and Canada. In 2012, Diversity Plus Magazine named her of the Top Twenty-five Most Powerful Women in Diversity. Julia is a disabled, decorated Vietnam Era veteran who served as a journalist and television producer-director in the Army, and Chief of Military Protocol for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Inaugural in 1977.

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