When you forget how to coach (and it happens to ALL of us), it’s natural to pick up the tool you’re most familiar with. We fall back on old habits – ways of relating and being. So for the brand-new coach, that might mean slipping into fix-it mode and listening like a friend or a teacher or a boss might listen.
For a more advanced coach, it may be reverting to skills that were important as part of the learning process of becoming a coach, but losing some of the more advanced, more nuanced skills you’ve developed along the way.
Think of the pixels or dots that form a digital image. When you step back and see the big picture, you can’t see the dots; when you get closer, it’s harder to see the picture. When you develop as a coach, you get down to the nitty-gritty and once you’re there you wonder, “How did I ever coach from back there?”
The growth edge is about “sharpening the saw” – keeping your skills sharp as a coach, and identifying what needs sharpening, or what’s the new edge, the next tool to pick up, or the tool to put down, for your coaching toolbox.
With any new tool or skill, you’re aiming to reach the point of unconscious competence, where you don’t have to think about applying your knowledge; it’s become part of you. In order to do that, you need to regularly pick up those new tools and use them frequently, even if they feel awkward or like they don’t quite fit in your hands.
Getting to that place of unconscious competence requires regular, informed feedback from someone who is already skilled at using the tools you’re trying to learn. Every great athlete or professional musician seeks out this type of feedback, and coaches need that as well. It helps you to see what you’re not noticing – your “blind spots.”
Opening yourself up to feedback and failure is scary. You may feel like you’re in a perpetual state of being unqualified or not good enough, but that’s exactly how you get better. It’s a necessary and natural part of professional development.
When a new coach in one of our training programs thought they had failed because they kept trying to fix and tell, the feedback from the other students was how much they learned from that – far more than from the other coaching demonstrations where the person did great. And after some time had passed, that student could recognize their own learning as well and appreciate the experience.
You’ve got to fail, and fail BIG sometimes. Failure means you’ve been brave and bold. And that’s what our clients ultimately want from us, is to risk and be bold. Failure’s gotten a bad name, and maybe we need a different name for it, like “boldly going where no one has gone before,” or “exploring your growth edge.”
When we venture onto the skinny branches, knowing they might not hold our weight, we risk falling, but we also create the opportunity to reach new heights.