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Chapter 10: Coaching—One-to-One Leadership Communication


[T]he new leadership is in sacrifice, it is in self-denial, it is in love and loyalty, it is in fearlessness, it is in humility, and it is in the perfectly disciplined will. This . . . is the distinction between great and little men.

Vince Lombardi
David Maraniss, When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi , p. 406.

As a young teacher I learned never to promise anyone instant success. Instant success does come for some gifted pupils, but for the average pupils, success is a journey of testing their intention.

Harvey Penick
Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake, The Game for a Lifetime, p. 115.

The young caddie was a constant complainer; nothing was ever as it should be. Everyone else had it better than he did. Things always seemed to go against him. The young man's complaints were so frequent that he was known among his fellow caddies as Willie the Weeper. Things came to a breaking point when, while he was out hitting golf balls, he broke the hickory shaft of his club. Willie began wailing. Tom Penick, head caddy and Harvey's older brother, charged up to him and let him have it, then gave him two rules. First, life isn't always "fair"; second, if you want "to change your life you have to change the way you think." The words quieted Willie for the moment, but they stuck with Harvey for a lifetime.[1]

As a golf coach and club pro, Harvey came to understand that some of his players had an inordinate amount of talent, others only a moderate amount. Talent, however, was only the starting point; what was more important was attitude—how you approach practice and how long you practice translate into how well you play the game. That insight is fundamental to coaching—getting the individual to understand that his or her ultimate success or failure will begin with an attitude of how. To put it another way, coaching begins with preparation, preparing to improve one step at a time.

It was always Harvey Penick's philosophy that if a player was prepared for the little things, that player would be prepared to handle the major challenges that he or she would encounter while playing in tight games, where one decision or one movement could determine a championship. More important, Penick, like all good coaches, was a teacher, and he was preparing his players for the larger arena: life after college, after sports—in the "real world."

Preparation is one of the greatest lessons any coach can teach his or her players. Preparation is really another word for investment, and that is essentially what coaching, or teaching, is all about: It is an investment of time and care in the life of another individual that prepares that individual for the challenges that lie ahead. The challenge may be a project that needs completing, a new job that needs tackling, or the selection of a new career path. Coaching is the investment in human capital that opens the door for individual and organizational performance improvement.

Leadership communication leads to a personal connection between leader and follower. This connection can form the foundation of a coaching relationship that enables the leader to challenge the individual to achieve while providing support built upon trust.

Coaching is also a key leadership behavior. Effective leadership, after all, is an investment in the good of others for the good of the whole group. Leaders who succeed are those who incorporate the agendas of others into their own agendas. Leaders who coach are essential to the health of every organization. Good leaders are natural coaches in their own right. Some business leaders serve as cheerleaders for the achievements of their teams; they want the teams to win and succeed. Other leaders work one-on-one, or behind the scenes, to develop their people so that their people are prepared to assume ever-greater leadership responsibilities.

Like communications, good coaching is a two-way street. To be successful, coaching requires the commitment of the individual player or employee. Coaching enables individuals to fulfill their potential, to be what they are capable of becoming for themselves, their team, and their company. Organizations succeed because of the people running them. The more exciting the enterprise—be it in business, government, or social service—the more commitment it requires.

One of the maxims of coaching is that its purpose is to move people from compliance (going along with the flow and not making waves) to commitment (making a difference and creating waves if necessary). Commitment can occur, however, only if the goals of the individual and the goals of the organization are in synch. If they are, then good things can happen; if they are not, then it is up to the coach to help get them into alignment. The coach can persuade the individual that the organization needs and wants her or him, and that therefore the individual should make a commitment. For example, if a computer engineer is not demonstrating the right degree of care and attention to detail in his or her work, it is up to the team leader to point out the engineer's deficiencies and suggest improvements. Furthermore, the team leader may draw a link between individual slackness and weakness in corporate return on investment. The leader then demonstrates that the engineer's deficiencies are hurting not just the engineer, but also the entire company. In this way, coaching plays a role in both individual and corporate development.

[1]Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake, The Game for a Lifetime: More Lessons and Teachings, pp. 159-160.

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