In 30 years as an advisor, manager, player and coach, I have seen what works. With no attempt at being comprehensive, here are 21 insights.
Setting the Stage
1. The Most Important Thing: Listen. Top performers are already good. The best want to get better and will seek out help. They are unique. Being that good took hard work and doing things differently. Respect, embrace and enhance it.
Most are intently focused. Help harness that energy in the most productive direction. Never dampen or discourage.
2. Mutual commitment. Both parties must commit to investing the time and effort to achieve progress. The coach must have a well thought-out plan. The player, whether an executive or a frontline salesperson, must be willing to set goals and do what is needed to achieve their potential. Schedules must be set, objectives identified, and both must make meetings a priority.
3. Be a coach. Managers do things right, leaders do the right things, and coaches help players get the best out of themselves. Be able to concisely articulate your process and expected results. Adapt your process to their needs. What would the President of the United States expect of you? Be that person for each of your players.
4. Trust: The Coin of the Realm. Privacy and confidentiality are paramount even on small things. Say what you mean and do what you say. Make and keep promises. Earn trust at each interaction. Top performers will reward you with better performance in return.
5. Focus. It can be as simple as one big idea or as many as three, but narrowing the focus to a critical few objectives and getting those right may be the most important role a coach can play.
6. It’s all mental. The inner game—how and what players think—determines their success. Encourage and reinforce mental toughness, determination and perseverance. A coach is not the player, but must mirror what players want to see in themselves.
7. Know thyself. A candid assessment of strengths, weaknesses and preferences is essential for anyone to get better. Working to support lagging skills enables progress. Identify the specific steps and timelines required to achieve the player’s goals.
Use data. A factual assessment is the foundation for progress. Agree to the metrics and be relentless in pursuing them.
8. Write it down. If it is important, it must be written and shared with the appropriate “stakeholders” or “accountability partners.” Partners, spouses, teams, units, boards or just the coach can play the role.
9. Set big goals. Doing the difficult, not the ordinary, inspires people. Have a plan that is attainable, but make it a big plan.
10. Coaching a coach. Whether a rising manager or CEO, every executive manages both up and down. Helping executives see how their staff or their board of directors view them is a critical first step. Communication, vision, strategy and execution are key areas to be mastered. Help the executive explain to their group the current state of things and the most important challenges.
Identify the root causes, solicit from the team input for solutions, devise a strategy, communicate and gain consensus, and finally implement with metrics. A good coach will never let a player skip any of these steps lest they risk failure.
11. Esprit de corps. If you foster an environment where your people enjoy getting up everyday looking forward to coming into the office because they like what they do and they like the people with whom they work, the rest will come naturally.
12. Position to be the best. Position your company, firm or office in the community as the best employee and client experience in the industry. Seek out the best people and hire only “A” players. Seek out only “A” clients. Have your top 15 list of future employees, recruits, staff or new clients. Write a note every month.
13. Be brave and determined. The old song goes, “Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men [and women] and I’ll soon show you ten thousand more.” Be the first stout-hearted person. Success and winning attitudes are infectious.
14. One hundred superstars. Everyone is the protagonist of their own story. Help each person become the best version of themselves. There is no limit to the number of superstars when each is striving to become their own “best.”
Coaching Individual Contributors
15. Promise. Every top performer has had coaches who were outgrown. Coaching a top performer requires the understanding that success lies within the player. The coach is a vehicle for the player’s growth. The promise is to walk alongside their pursuit of excellence, not to show the way.
Importantly, the experience will be highly personalized and completely tailored to the player’s circumstances, preferences and aspirations.
16. Psychological needs. Each top performer is driven. Encouraging healthy habits can avoid burnout, misconduct and tilts the balance in favor of long satisfaction in the pursuit of goals. Remember Cervantes: “The road is better than the inn.”
17. Visualize the promise. Articulating what success “looks like” is a powerful tool towards achievement. Encourage the player to give it careful thought and see it. What are the ancillary benefits that accompany achieving the goals? Who else benefits in the goal achievement? See how pleased they are. Never underestimate the value of visualization.
18. Straight talk. Life happens and things don’t always go as planned. Be prepared to speak candidly if the player has a blind spot or isn’t putting in the effort to achieve their goals. Identify the cause of the breakdown, reset and go back to that point.
19. Nine months should do it. There is no hard and fast rule as to how long a coaching engagement should last. In some cases a player coach relationship can be rewarding for both parties for years.
At the outset, it is a good idea to establish how the engagement’s success should be evaluated. Once the stated goals are achieved, the engagement should be concluded unless there is a mutual desire to renew. In some cases a “rest” may be needed. The important thing is for both the player and the coach to know and to be able to part mutually satisfied with the process.
20. Building teams. As individual contributors become more successful, there is a natural tendency to need additional people to handle the rising workload. Whether the build is horizontal—partners with specialization, or vertical—junior staff supporting the rainmaker, complexity abounds.
Adding people is a smart way to leverage top performers’ strengths, but it should be done with great thought, care and caution. Specific advice with seasoned trainers is critical to building successful teams.
21. Culture of success. Top performers want to be on a winning team. The best of them can sublimate egos and encourage other top performers to join. Perhaps the best proof of successful coaching is having several top performers seeking guidance.
Is This All There Is?
These findings apply to most situations, but not to all. A body of knowledge has been acquired through thousands of interactions with employees, managers and executives. To discuss, please email [email protected].