What is a coach? When I first heard that term, I, along with some of my former lawyer colleagues, thought it sounded so ambiguous and corny. As an avid sports fan, former college athlete and volunteer coach, I associated the term “coach” with a person who wears a whistle, makes you run drills, sets plays and pushes you to your limits. What would coaching have to do with helping people grow their businesses, navigate their life changes or advance their careers? Using the term “coach” seemed too clichéd to me.
But after having seen a coach for my own career changes and then having practiced as a coach to others, I appreciate the similarities in the roles of a sports coach versus a career, life and executive coach.
“You might reduce [Vince] Lombardi’s coaching philosophy to a single sentence: In any game, you do the things you do best and you do them over and over and over.”
—George Halas, Longtime player/coach/owner/Pro Hall of Famer of the Chicago Bears
Just like in sports, where coaches train their players to have composure under pressure, work on individualized goals and improve each of their given skills, coaching clients in the context of career, life or business is similarly focused on developing confidence, clarifying goals and building on existing strengths.
Take, for example, an attorney who is dissatisfied with her career. In a career coaching context, rather than focus on what the attorney hates about her job, we will identify her strengths and skills, clarify her priorities and figure out what makes her happiest at work. We will also work together to identify what are her best accomplishments as an attorney and what made them possible. My coaching process is designed to figure out the future – for example, whether the attorney should stay in her current career and if so, how to make it better or whether she should consider moving on and if so, where to and how.
“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.”
—Tom Landry, Pro Football Hall of Fame Coach of the Dallas Cowboys
Similar to sports, where coaching is goal oriented and forward thinking (like winning a Championship or Division Title), career, life or executive coaching focuses on the future and emphasizes growth and solutions. Rather than spending time on what is not working, coaches look at where their clients want to go and how they can help get them where they want to be.
If, for example, I meet with a recently divorced man who is looking to transition to a new life. Rather than dwell on why the marriage did not work or what went wrong, we try to imagine what he wants the next chapter in his life to look like. We will figure out his priorities, identify his skills and strengths and then figure out what concrete steps he needs to take to help him get to where he wants to be.
“If you are bored with life, if you don’t get up every morning with a burning desire to do things – you don’t have enough goals.”
—Lou Holtz, College Football Hall of Fame Coach
Great sport coaches also develop all of their players; and each of them has particular strengths for the game. Coaching in the “real” world is similarly focused on the needs of each client. Clients determine what they want to work on and set the agenda. And every coaching strategy is unique for the particular client. In my coaching practice, I develop personalized plans that concentrate on the specific areas that are most important to my clients. Sometimes people want to make changes in their work or want to work through a difficult transition in their life or want to pursue a significant goal. But other times people just feel “stuck” and aren’t sure what they want. In those cases, I want to be the most effective coach as possible. My objective is help these clients form their goals and clarify their priorities so that by the time we are finished, they get to a new place in life that they didn’t even realize was possible.
For all the comparisons cited above, I no longer think that the term “coach” is a fluffy or corny title. Sport coaches work hard at developing their players to be the best they can be as a player and a teammate. Career, life and executive coaches try to develop their clients to be the best they can be in the real world. They provide insights, help clients identify their potential, and assist in planning the best way to move forward. Not only do I think “coach” is an appropriate title for all the career, life and executive coaches out there who work hard for their clients and care about their well being, I think the “coach” designation is a title to be worn with honor and pride.
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