By Bradford F. Spencer, Ph.D.
It was once pointed out to me, by a person I greatly respect, that the only people who do not employ coaches are amateurs who are not trying to get any better. Literally every professional in every field has a coach and for good reason. Coaches provide expertise on performance, objective observation, and responsive guidance on how to improve. The coach’s role is an ideal vehicle for feedback – planned and designed to promote improvement.
It is paradoxical that professionals are often better at performing than are their coaches. Although Pete Sampras’s coach is a gifted tennis player, Pete can easily beat him on the court. While John Wooden was, at one point in his career, a talented basketball player, he would be the first to tell you that his players would readily beat him in any game situation, performing their roles far better than he ever could, even at his prime.
The magic demonstrated by these coaches lies not in their talent for performance, but in their talents for earning others’ respect and leveraging that respect in order to provide high-impact feedback that taps and unleashes the potential for others.
The coach is not in competition with the student or actively trying to improve his or her own ability to perform. Instead, the coach provides information, motivation, and a deliberate process by which others are enabled to modify their behaviors, refine their techniques, and improve their outcomes.
What better definition of the leadership role? We should all strive to earn the right to become, for our people, the coach whose encouragement, expertise, and feedback combine to accelerate learning and improve performance throughout our organizations.