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Looking at me seriously over her favorite sandwich, my nine-year old granddaughter said, “So, Oma, what is your work? What do you really do?” I attempted to help her understand first of all what a psychologist is (not so easy) and then said, “In my work, I help people who are leaders get better at what they do.” She thought about this for a while, and then asked simply, “Then who helps you get better?”
That’s the question of a lifetime for all of us who are leadership coaches. At a recent professional conference, I was thrilled to be part of a panel of experienced coaches on the topic of “Ongoing Coach Self-Development.” The best part was that I had the chance to learn from and dialogue with coaches I’ve admired for years. I took away so much from that panel that I am already putting to use. Here are some of the ideas that resonated strongly with our panel audience. I hope they inspire you as well!
In a book I recently found about the joys of growing older (really meant for anyone over the age of 30!), I read a sentence that has truly stuck with me: “Every day, you send your body a message whether to renew or decay.” Powerful words indeed. I believe as leadership coaches, we send ourselves a message every day about whether to renew ourselves or to rest on our laurels (decay). Think of it—if I am expecting a leader I am coaching to be an active learner, then I need to be one too.
A simple technique for self-renewal, which all of us on the panel discussed, is the practice of active reflection. Right after a meeting, write down what worked, what seemed to fall flat, what you want to make sure you do in the next meeting, and something you are curious about. Don’t wait until the next day; immediacy is important. Keep these written records together in a special learning journal. Over time you'll discover patterns and lessons learned.
A way to gain self-reflection assistance from the leader you are coaching is to ask at the start of a meeting, “What surprised you from our last meeting?” and “What stood out for you?” Then you can also ask, “What do you want me to do more of or less of today?”
Leadership coaching, because of its emphasis on confidentiality and the fact that it occurs behind closed doors, seems secretive. Coaches can be so overly sensitive to these “secretive” dynamics that they then mistakenly assume that they can’t generally talk about their work with others, or get advice from another coach. Yet we need to learn from each other and with each other! There is so much power in gathering with others whom you trust, and benefiting from their insights and ideas.
Some leadership coaches (only with their clients’ consent) record their sessions, so that they can listen and critique themselves. They tell me that it has led to insights about themselves or their clients and it has helped them plan an agenda or process for the next meeting.
Another aspect of self-learning is to immerse yourself in your client’s world. That is, read what your clients are reading, pay attention to their business world and track what is going on in their organization. All coaching occurs in context—know theirs.
Finally, stretch yourself to experiment in real time. Think of this—if you never feel uncomfortable or challenged in a given month, you are not learning. I love the message from the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, to all employees on his first day, which Justin Bariso of Inc. magazine summarized as follows: “Don’t be a know-it-all; be a learn-it-all.” Amen.
Pragmatic, practical and immediately useful, Pearls of Leadership Wisdom provide leaders at all levels with a fresh perspective on ways to potentially lead better. Based on lessons learned by author Sandra Davis, Ph.D., in working with leaders of all types over the past 40 years, pearls are “quick reads” intended to get you thinking and acting on becoming a better leader. We are confident you will find your own ways to practically use these pearls and make them your own. We wish you great joy and success in your leadership journey!
To download a freePearls of Leadership Wisdom excerpt, click here.