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Why shouldn't everyone have a coach? In a New Yorker piece, surgeon Atul Gawande wonders the same thing. After he'd become an "expert" in his field and honed his craft, he "stopped getting better." One day, he was watching Rafael Nadal and realized, "even [he] has a coach. Nearly every elite tennis player in the world does. Professional athletes use coaches to make sure they are as good as they can be." The question isn't why should CEOs have coaches... it's why wouldn't they so they're as good as they can be?

Coaching for Performance

People have coaches from the time they first throw a ball around the backyard with an older sibling or join Pop Warner or Little League, where parents volunteer their time to help kids develop skills. If they continue to play in school, their teachers might pull double duty as coaches.

For those who are really skilled, or really motivated, college offers another playing field, as it were. Now the stakes are different: for perhaps the first time, these athletes have full-time, paid coaches to take them to a new level.

For the elite few, professional leagues offer the chance for fame and fortune - and still, they have coaches. If athletes want to perform at the highest level possible, they know they have to have this support, advice, encouragement, and, when needed, a kick in the butt.

Coaches aren't always (or usually) superior athletes. Their clients may be able to trounce them up and down the field. But they do possess the ability to look objectively at performance - and help improve it. A golfer, for instance, may not notice his shoulder drops a little on the swing. All he knows is he's not hitting the ball straight.

A coach will see it. A coach will call him on technique, on sloppy form, on minute movements that impact results; a coach will give him the tools he needs to correct behaviors that are getting in the way of success; a coach will reinforce strengths to elevate performance.

Coaches in the Professional Sector

If CEOs have something with which they struggle, something that they need to learn, why not get help? Professionals tend to think that once they've received their degrees and put in their 10,000 hours, they're "experts." They're all set; they have the answers. And even if they don't think that, they think that everyone else expects it of them. The reality is all leaders can benefit from coaches.

In the Dallas Business Journal, Greta Schultz puts it like this: "Tiger Woods, the best in the world [of golf] has five coaches. So if you can tell me that you're better at your business than Tiger Woods is at golf, then you're right. You don't need a coach." And if you think you're better at your business than Tiger Woods is at golf (or was pre-back injury), coaching might not help much anyway!

Lest we forget about Dr. Gawande: he did engage a coach who has helped him elevate his game, improve his techniques, and keep his patients healthier. Though, he writes, patients don't seem that reassured when he shows up to consultations or procedures with his coach! The point that he makes is that everyone in the professional arena can benefit from this guidance and support; coaches are not, and should not be, the province of athletes alone.

Why You Need a Coach

No matter how objective people are about their own performance, it is impossible to step outside completely. It's impossible to see that your shoulder drops a fraction of an inch, or the boardroom equivalent. A coach sees things that individuals cannot. They see the blinds spots: the times CEOs cut someone off, acted dismissively, or lacked follow-through. Coaches see people differently than they see themselves.

The question leaders need to ask is this: "Am I really so smart that I can do this on my own?" If they're honest, they'll call a coach!


Larry Hart

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