Archive for the ‘Coaching’ Category

Coaching Model? How About Coaching Approach?

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The other day I was talking with a friend, and the topic of coaching came up. At one point in the conversation, he asked what my approach is to coaching.

I began by talking about what my approach isn’t. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. While there are a number of formal and well-defined coaching models out there in use by consultants, managers and coaches, mine is very simple: I don’t use a specific model.

Okay, maybe I have a framework, or more of a philosophy, and this is it: Define what the real problem is, find a cure for the problem, and do whatever it takes to fix it. You don’t have a problem – you just want to improve? That’s okay, too. Define what improvement would look like, what it would take to improve, and do whatever it takes to help make that happen.

Notice the common theme? “Define the problem/improvement, then do whatever it takes.” That’s it. That’s my coaching “model”… or should I say, philosophy.

See, I’ve noticed something. Every person, every team or group, every organization is different. They’re unique (Well, duh!). No matter what some people tell you, there’s no way that one single model could fit every person, team, group or organization. I don’t care how flexible the model, it just doesn’t work for everyone.

When I’ve told people about my philosophy, I’ve had them reply with, “Well, that’s your model, then.” If they want to call that a model, go ahead, but to me it’s more of an approach or philosophy.

The one thing I know for sure is this: It works. Define the problem/improvement, then do whatever it takes to fix or deal with it. Simple. And feel free to use it all you want!


Who Needs a Coach?

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

I recently posted a video of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt talking about the value of having a coach. But does everyone need a coach? Who can benefit from a coach?

Senior executives & business owners. They often don’t have anyone to talk to, to share thoughts and problems with. After all, when you’re at or near the top you’re expected to have all the answers, so asking for advice or even for someone to bounce ideas off of can be seen as a weakness. That’s one reason why a majority of senior level executives have coaches.

New managers. I’ve coached a lot of new managers – people who are new to managing people. It’s become a coaching sweet spot for me as I’ve been very successful in helping people become better people managers. The typical coachee is someone who has been very successful in a somewhat technical position (salesperson, mechanic, software developer) so they’ve been promoted to a management position (sales manager, shop foreman, development team manager). But as you know, doing something that relies on specific skills does not mean that you will automatically be a good people manager. Managing people takes different skills from selling, repairing cars, or writing code. Fortunately, I’ve never met a person yet who can’t improve dramatically and become good people managers.

“Problem” employees. Another area that I’ve personally been successful with as a coach is helping “turn around” an employee who was under-performing. The majority of the time these employees are either allowed to under-perform and cause problems in the workplace, or they’re fired. Both of these end up costing the company huge amounts of money. One HR industry rule that I’ve seen referred to says that replacing an under-performing or problem employee costs the company the equivalent of three times that employee’s annual salary. Wow! That’s why a relatively small investment in coaching pays big dividends.

Of course, there are others who can benefit from coaching, but those are the obvious and most typical people that I’ve witnessed (firsthand, often) having coaching make big improvements in their careers. What’s interesting is how often the improvements changed a flat or declining career path to one that was heading to where the person really wanted it – upward.

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Do You Need A Coach?

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Listen to what former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt thinks about whether you should have a coach.

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Practice Makes Performance

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The old saying, “practice makes perfect” is not completely accurate. In fact, only perfect practice makes perfect, because the more you practice making mistakes, the better you get at making them.

Princeton University tennis coach, Glenn Michibata said, “I tell my players they have to practice two hours a day to stay the same, and more if they want to get better.” Of course, he’s talking about elite level players. But even for a recreational player, less than two hours, three days a week and one is barely going to maintain a level of performance. He or she will likely not improve with that little practice.

I started thinking about how that applies to the workplace. How often does a manager or leader practice management or leadership skills? How often does a worker practice the skills they need? Some would reply that they’re doing that every minute of the day, and with most putting in over eight hours a day, that’s a lot of practice.

But it’s not practicing the way Michibata’s tennis players do.

Remember, practice does not make perfect – only perfect practice makes perfect. How much of that eight hours is spent practicing the right skills, and how much the wrong ones?

Sticking to the tennis example, do you think that when Michibata’s players practice for two hours, they’re practicing by playing a match? They’re not. Instead, they’re using deliberate practice strategies: They hit serves, then forehands, backhands, volleys, overheads, and then practice footwork. They do drills. In fact, playing a match is a rarity. Why? Because focusing on separate skills allows a player to practice perfectly. And more efficiently.

So, in the workplace, what if managers and leaders or anyone else practiced specific skills, just like tennis players do?

For example:

  • As a leader, one needs to listen, so why not practice listening? Prior to walking into a meeting, remind yourself to focus on listening. Then listen.
  • Practice making decisions – look for opportunities to make decisions in all walks of life. When people ask, “Where do you want to eat?” make the decision.
  • As a manager, one needs to think both tactically and strategically, so why not practice that? When faced with a project, take time to think tactically for a while, and then switch and look at what’s best from a long-term strategic basis.
  • When writing a memo or email, take just a few extra minutes to consider whether you can make it more clear. Practice communicating through writing.
  • As an employee, pick one skill that if you could improve it, would make you a superstar, and focus on practicing it.

    With just a little focused, specific, deliberate practice, your performance could take you to an all-new level. And who knows what impact that would have on your professional and personal life.

    Who Wants To Be A Superstar?

    Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

    I have point to make: I could take just about anyone and turn them into a superstar. And just to be clear, it’s not just me that could do it. You could, too. Laszlo Polgar proved it by developing three sisters into the greatest women chess players of all time.

    I’m tired of hearing about athletes, musicians, artists, and business people who were apparently born with some special talent. I’m here to say it doesn’t work like that. High performers were not born that way. They developed into high performers.

    Study after study in recent years, especially a series of them by Anders Ericsson, have shown that high performers in a variety of activities developed their talent through very focused, deliberate, hard work. Practice leads to talent; birth doesn’t.

    From Mozart to Michael Jordan, from Steve Jobs to Roger Federer, the key to high performance was and is not what one is born with, but what one does with what they’re born with.

    But it’s not just practice. It’s strategic practice that makes the difference. In a study of violinists, what separated the average from the great is that the latter practiced more. As much as eight times as much, in fact. The surprising finding of the study is what separated the greats from those who are even better – the superstars. The super-high performers practiced no more than the greats. But it was the quality of the practice that made the difference. The superstars practiced the real challenging, difficult, unpleasant stuff, and they were more strategic in how they practiced.

    And that’s where I come in. I could take practically anyone, and with the right strategic practice, could turn that person into a high performer. My job is developing the right practice strategy.

    The next time someone talks about natural talent, stop them. Why? Because by labeling someone as having talent, you insult them. You may even encourage the person to practice less. After all, if the person was born with natural talent, they don’t need to practice.

    Instead of complimenting a person on their natural talent, compliment them on all the hard, strategic work they put into developing their skills.

    High performance has more to do with the skills and talent one develops through hard work and strategic practice. And that’s why you or I could take just about anyone and turn them into a superstar. It’s all about creating the right development plan.

    This also means that you’re capable of superstar performance – if you’re not quite there already.

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    My Turn to Perform

    Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

    I get to focus on my own performance this weekend, rather than other people’s. Okay, I suppose I do that all the time, but this weekend my performance will be a little more visible. I’m racing in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race. Yep, driving for 24 hours. Well, not just me… I have three co-drivers. But as this is the biggest and most famous endurance race in North America (second only to Le Mans internationally), I better be at the top of my game!

    Actually, I’ve been preparing for this race for the past three months – coaching myself (yes, at the race I’ll have my own coach). This being the 16th time I’ve competed in this race, and having won it once, I know what it takes… and yet I’m stupid enough to come back for more each year!!! I say that because it’s a brutally tough race to compete in – one that I’ve sworn I’d never do again a few times (why do I always forget that feeling when it comes time to do it again?!).

    I’m racing a Porsche (can’t go wrong with a Porsche in a long distance endurance race) for the Bullet Racing Team (, which is based in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada (hey, I hear Vancouver has a little sporting event coming to town next month…).

    There are two things that make this year’s race really special.

    First, it’s an all-Canadian team. My co-drivers are fellow Canadians, all the crew members are Canadian, and the car is painted red and white with big maple leaves in the graphics. For any athlete, getting to represent your country is something special, and that’s how we’re feeling, being the only Canadian team at Daytona this year.

    Second, we’re raising money for B.C. Children’s Hospital. For every lap we do during the race, we’ll be helping the sick kids. And yes, you too can help them by going to and clicking on the donate button and pledging your support. To know that no matter what happens during the race, we’ll win for the kids is an extra inspiration.

    Preparation for a 24-hour race is not much different from preparation for any major event, sporting or business. Only this one takes a little more than usual because of how mentally and physically demanding it is. Preparation is not just one thing – it’s everything.

    I have stepped up my fitness training considerably in the past three months, as well as my mental training. Building up my cardio stamina is important, but even more important on the physical side is muscle stamina. Not so much outright strength, but the ability to hold that strength for a long time. In 24 hours I will drive at least four separate stints, ranging from one-and-a-quarter to two-and-a-half hours in length. You may think that driving for an hour or two is not that difficult, but the physical strains from the g-forces will keep my heart rate above 160 beats per minute for the entire time. And just holding my head up straight, with the g-forces pushing on my head and helmet non-stop, is a challenge. Especially after going for 20 hours or so, with next to no sleep.

    And then there’s the mental stamina… the mental strain. When I’m driving at speeds of up to 180 MPH with the car on the ragged edge of traction through the turns, I cannot afford to lose focus for even a fraction of a second. It’s unlike any other sport. The competition doesn’t just score a touchdown against us, or I miss the green with a chip shot. No, the consequences of the tiniest mistake are not pleasant. To keep that level of focus for that length of time is something that I train for.

    I also prepare through mental imagery (visualization), for as many different scenarios as possible. For the past couple of months I’ve been imaging a variety of scenarios on the track. That does two things: If one of those scenarios occurs, I’m ready – in fact, I’ve already done it before, so I don’t even have to think about what to do. And most importantly, by mentally rehearsing beforehand, I just feel ready. I’m in a performance state of mind. When you consider that on the straightaways I’ll be covering the length of a football field in a second, you can see why being mentally prepared is so important.

    There are many other mental preparation techniques that I use, too – techniques I use in my coaching, which comes from sports psychology, martial arts, neuro-science, and other disciplines.

    So, it’s my turn to perform at my peak… in public. In fact, 19 of the 24 hours will be covered live on Fox and Speed channels this weekend. Or, online at And, feel free to follow me on Twitter ( – I plan to tweet throughout the build-up to the race, and between my driving stints during the race.

    Time to perform… I can’t wait… Watch this!

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    It’s Awards Time! (WPA)

    Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

    Bad BossAs we approach the end of the year, we are inundated with awards and top 10, top 100, top this and that, and lists of greatests… And I’m here to add to the fun. I’m proud to announce the first annual… drum roll please… Worst Performance Award.
    I’m looking for nominations for the worst performance from a boss, co-worker, manager, coach, instructor, teacher, teammate, or whoever. As you can see, this award is not very focused! I’m just looking for stories about bad performance. Or even better, bad performance that’s funny.

    Oh, and because this is the first annual, you can pick an example of bad performance from any time in your past. Just send me your story.

    An example: Years ago there was a Little League baseball team at the World Championships. The pitcher, a big kid for his age, had a pitch that was practically un-hittable. That’s the main reason the team had made it to the finals. But now the team was up against a team from Japan. In the first few innings, the Japanese hitters couldn’t get near a hit. And then…

    One of the Japanese players hit a home run. Then the next hitter got a triple. And the next got a hit, too. That’s when the young American pitcher had a meltdown. He looked to his coach, who walked out onto the pitcher’s mound to give some coaching. Unfortunately for the coach, he had a microphone on him for the TV coverage. Fortunately for us, we could hear every bit of his coaching.

    As the coach looked into the dumbstruck and fearful eyes of his pitcher, he said, “Just buckle down.” With a look of “what?” on his face, the pitcher came back with, “But coach, what do I do?” The coach replied, “Just buckle down,” and again the pitcher said, “But what do I do?” The coach got very serious this time, put his arm on the pitcher’s shoulder and said, “Just buckle down and go after it,” and walked off the field, leaving his player looking like a deer in the headlights.

    Needless to say, the coach’s advice was next to useless, and the team went on to lose the game. That’s an example of bad performance from a coach.

    I’ve mentioned in the past about a boss I once had. I would go for an entire year with less than five minutes conversation with him. I got no direction, no feedback, no nothing from him. That was a bad performance from a boss.

    I’m sure you have many examples of bad performance, so send me your nominations for the Worst Performance Award. Click on the comment link below and give me a short overview of the bad performance. Keep it anonymous, and keep it clean. But keep them coming my way. You can nominate as many Worst Performers as you want. In a couple of weeks I’ll select the Worst Performance Award and give the nominator a prize of unspeakable value!

    The more nominations, the better. This should be fun!

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    I Said Invisible, Not Non-Existent

    Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

    Last week I talked about how leaders, managers and coaches can be so subtle that they’re almost invisible to the people they’re leading, managing and coaching (The Invisible Coach). That’s not an excuse to do nothing! Not an excuse to abdicate, rather than delegate. Not an excuse to simply wish or hope that your people do a good job and produce the results you’re after. Not an excuse to be non-existent.

    In my last post I asked whether you’re a controlling type of leader/manager, or a subtle one. Based on what I’ve seen, there are many managers who think they’re the subtle type, when really they’re the ineffective type! They’re non-existent.

    If you answered my question last week by saying you’re the subtle type, my next question is just how effective you are? You may think of yourself as the subtle type, when really you’re just fooling yourself. Perhaps I’m a bit harsh, but sometimes one has to look at the brutal facts.

    Some differences between an ineffective leader/manager (non-existent) and a subtle, almost invisible one are:

    • People that work for ineffective leaders/manager don’t know what’s expected of them. The leader/manager thinks he or she is giving them room to discover things on their own, when really the person is struggling with direction, whether they’re doing things right or not, or knowing what to do next. And the leader/manager is afraid to ask.
    • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers feel isolated, or unsupported. They often feel they’re working in a void. There is little connection between them. People working for subtle/invisible leaders/managers know they can always go to that person for help or support.
    • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers feel that projects or tasks are simply dumped on them because the leader/manager is not willing to do them.
    • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers often feel criticized and judged by the words of the leader/manager, rather than having received effective and productive feedback.
    • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers rarely see how their work impacts the bigger picture. They’re own goals and visions are not in alignment with the organization’s that they work for.
    • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers are often afraid to do something for fear of being blamed for anything that goes wrong. They’re constantly checking over their shoulder to see what they will be blamed for, or have to deal with next.

    And that’s just the start. The obvious question is how do you know whether any of these are symptoms of your people. Awareness is a valuable tool. Ask yourself if any of these symptoms fit your employees. Or, you could ask them. In fact, sitting down and asking your employees if they have any of these symptoms will go a long way towards building or enhancing a productive working relationship. It will go a long way toward you being an invisible but effective leader/manager.

    Of course, it’s easy to simply assume that you’re the subtle, invisible and effective type. It’s easy to assume you’re doing a great job and any lack of results is the fault of others. It’s easy to assume that…

    The Invisible Coach

    Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

    In his book, Sacred Hoops (one of my favorites), Phil Jackson, perhaps that greatest basketball coach of all time, talks about control. He relates the story of Bobby Knight, the college basketball coach who commented about how he could never coach in the NBA “because the coaches don’t have any control over the players.” Jackson’s response to this is, “How much control do you need?”

    Jackson talks about a period during the 1991-1992 season where the Chicago Bulls “were in such perfect harmony they rarely lost.” To him, this was exactly what he’d been striving for: to become an “invisible” leader.

    In my own coaching, that’s been a goal of mine: To be so effective that the person I’m coaching loses sight that I’m actually doing anything; the person doesn’t realize that I’m contributing in any way and I become an Invisible Coach.

    That’s happened a few times, and it’s extremely rewarding. It’s happened with race drivers, and it’s happened with business executives and managers I’ve coached. They only realize the full value of my coaching when faced with a challenging issue, and they come knocking.

    While it’s rewarding, it can be a little unnerving from a job security point of view, and even from an ego perspective. Hey, let’s face it – some of the reward of coaching, or managing others is seeing them do what you’ve told or advised them to do, and seeing them be successful because of that. That does feel good. And yet, when you’re invisible, you aren’t able to get that immediate feedback. And you can begin to worry that if you’re not seen as providing great advice or direction, then maybe you won’t be needed.

    Great leaders, as Phil Jackson suggests, can be invisible leaders. The challenge for so many is having the discipline not to stick their fingers in where they’re not needed. One of Jackson’s great attributes is his self-discipline, his ability to not do any more than needed.

    Coaching, managing others, and leading people can be done in a subtle way, an invisible way. Have you ever experienced a situation where a manager, or leader, or coach helped you in a subtle way – a way that resulted in you figuring out what was needed, a way that resulted in a great result, a way that made you feel good about how it came about, and yet, in a way that the leader/manager/coach barely seemed to be involved? How did you feel? I suspect you felt empowered.

    Dwight Eisenhower said, “Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

    Are you the Bobby Knight-type, or the Phil Jackson-type when it comes to leading, managing or coaching? Do you use control to get things done, or are you more invisible or subtle type?

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    The Learning Formula

    Saturday, March 21st, 2009

    A number of years ago I came across a very interesting factor in the learning process. I was coaching a young race driver who, no matter how many times I told him what to do, he just couldn’t get it. So, relying on my knowledge of the “mental game” and on my study of sports psychology tactics, I felt he must not have a strong and clear mental image of what he was supposed to do.

    The theory states that an athlete should do visualization of the technique in order to develop the mental image of the goal, and in doing so, he or she will perform it. I’ve used this process since I first read about it in an athletic coaching journal that I got from my phys ed teacher in grade 9, and I knew it worked. I can’t begin to tell you the number of hours I’ve spent since that time with my eyes closed, in a relaxed mental state, vividly imagining every last detail of what it was I was trying to perform.

    Working with this young driver this day, it seemed that no matter how many times I told him to let the car drive out to the edge of the track and within a few inches of the concrete wall lining the track, he would not do it.

    So, I knew that it was critical that he have a strong mental image of what he was trying to do, and therefore encouraged him to do mental imagery. He sat in the trailer with his eyes closed, imagining having the car come within inches of the wall. After a couple of 15-minute sessions, I could tell that he could see in his mind exactly where he needed the car to be. He had a very strong mental image of what he needed to do.

    Back on track, guess what happened? He drove exactly where he had earlier. I was a little confused. After all, everything I had ever studied within the mental game and sports psychology said that all an athlete needed to do was visualize what he wanted, and his mind would take him there. And while all the research proves that this is true, it wasn’t happening this day. But why?

    Well, maybe it was. It just wasn’t happening fast enough for me or my driver. Sure, racers are not the most patient people in the world, but neither are other athletes… and business people, and…

    As soon as I asked him where his car was on the track, I knew that I was onto something. His reply was something along the lines of, “I’m not sure.” It was that moment where I realized that simply having a mental image of what you want to do is not enough, at least if you want relatively fast improvement or change. In addition to having the mental image, one also needs awareness of where you are right now in relationship to this goal.

    That’s when I developed what I call the Learning Formula: MI + A = G. MI stands for Mental Image, A stands for Awareness, and G is the Goal you’re trying to achieve. (Sure, I know from a pure math perspective MI means M times I, but in this case I’m just using it to represent two words – my apologies to all the math-fanatics out there). What I’ve discovered since that time is that this may just be the most natural way of learning humans do. Definitely, it is the most effective.

    By having the young driver tell me how far from his ideal image of where the car should be on the track, he immediately became aware, and within minutes he changed his technique to what I had spent hours telling him to do. Within minutes, he fixed the problem – the problem that I couldn’t fix by telling him what to do – by simply having a clear Mental Image of what he wanted to achieve, and Awareness of where he was in relationship to that image. It was as if his brain looked at the two – the image of the ideal, and what the current situation was – and said, “Okay, body, I guess he wants these two things to come together – do what it takes to make that happen.”

    The Learning Formula applies to much more than just racing, or just sports. It applies to just about everything, and certainly to business.

    MI is much like a business’s long-term strategy or business plan. It provides the goal, it provides the direction. A is much like a business’s short-term measurements: metrics, reports, key performance indicators. Without both the long-term strategy and plan – the Mental Image of where the company is going – and the short-term measurements providing an awareness of how on-target the company is in relation, it is doubtful the company will perform as well as it could. I will go as far as saying that the company has a very good chance of failing if it doesn’t have both.

    When I suggest to business people that they need to have a strong mental image of where they are going, and of their long-terms goals, they often point to a strategic plan document and say, “We’ve got it.” The problem with most strategic plans are that they are fact-based. I’m not suggesting that is wrong. In fact, you need to have the facts and the details. But without the feel behind the facts, without the emotions, and without the behaviors, that’s all they are – facts. When a person, a team, and an entire company can truly feel what the future looks like, they can imagine the emotions, and imagine how they would behave when the strategic plan is being played out, big things happen. For example, a goal of $20 million in revenue is a fact. It’s could be a great goal for a company, but it doesn’t necessarily provide what people and teams need to perform at their best. Help them imagine how they would behave, how they would feel, how the company would act… when the revenues are at $20 million. If everyone in the company can imagine that, the chances of reaching that goal is ten times what it would be if your employees only saw the numbers – the facts – presented in a spreadsheet or strategic plan document.

    And then be sure to build awareness of where the company is in relation to that goal. Use metrics, reports, whatever to ensure everyone is aware of where you are now.

    Let me know when you have as much success with MI + A = G as I’ve had.