The following content was shared by a colleague and friend in the field to help disseminate the message to its intended audience of coaches and practitioners. The topic is an important one: how do we navigate the current digital era whilst upholding our own integrity and the integrity of the profession? Regular readers will know I return to these themes often. It is appropriate that those who would defend the integrity of the profession should take a stand to avoid the types of behaviour that we see with alarming regularity among high profile individuals within the ‘industry’ becoming normalised. In this pivotal moment, there is a pressing need for a code of conduct that we should all subscribe to, and collectively work to regulate and enforce. This offering is an important step in that direction. Given the themes within the article, the authors felt it appropriate to leave the author credits blank, as anything else would seem to contradict the message conveyed. In essence the message was deemed to be more important that the messenger. In taking this step the authors exemplify the type of humility and selflessness that we so direly need to return to.
Professional Guidelines for Coaches with Today’s Digital Influence
Where do we go for help, guidance, assistance, and information in today’s digital world? Do we actually learn best when we simply expose ourselves to more information, or do we learn best when we can surround ourselves with great people and create opportunities where we can be coached? With the boom in people hosting podcasts, being interviewed on podcasts, building a social following, researching and writing books and then self-promoting this information, professionals are more in danger than ever of acquiring skewed versions of themselves. As a result, the wave of the expert-mentality (know-it-all) is rapidly rising. It is easy to learn the things we are curious about; however, it is human nature to shy away from things we should be spend more time working on and the things we should be devoting more attention toward. Having a coach combined with the active role of being coached is well-known to be the ultimate hotbed for learning, growth, and development. If our goal is to get better, is seeking out more readily available information the route we should go? Or should we be on the look-out for coaches for ourselves? To help athletes reach their potential, coaches must embody the concept of, and processes involved with growth. Coaches take on this practice by asking athletes to be receptive to feedback, or in other words, coaches ask athletes to be coachable. Wouldn’t it be hypocritical to be believe this to be any different for coaches who coach for a living? Coaches also need to work on getting better, right?
1. Coaches and the Digital World
Today’s coaches are growing up in a world where information is wide spread. Every day, there are hundreds of new articles to read, new podcasts to listen to, and new social media posts to learn from. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how factual or relevant the information on these mediums is; the more popular the information is through likes and shares, the more the information is perceived as truth. At the moment there are many coaches absorbing vast amounts of readily available information like a sponge, and following the Dunning-Kruger effect, they quickly reach a point where they believe themselves to be an expert. Yes, the world is in danger of having too much information available and not enough experience with this information. Does it make much sense to hand a child a hand gun? Just because they have the access to such a deadly weapon and they can pick them up, does it mean a child is also equipped with the ability to make the decisions required when having this kind of responsibility? This brings to light the essence of the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect explains the difference in perceived knowledge and actual knowledge between a lesser and a more experienced professional. In the beginning of most professionals’ careers, it is common to believe they are the most knowledgeable. These same individuals have not accrued much time or have not been exposed to enough information within their profession, to create the awareness of how much knowledge they have yet to learn. Going through internships, graduate assistantships, volunteer positions and even having a few positions of responsibility, we find ourselves wanting to immediately share our perceived level of expertise with the rest of the world. However, isn’t this what everyone else is doing? Are the information highways and byways already flooded with type of behavior? Is it possible these coaches are gripped by the concept of FOMO (fear of missing out)?
Hosting and sharing insights on podcasts, writing articles, authoring books, and being asking to present at professional gatherings may be professionally rewarding and personally fulfilling. There are many professionals who engage in these activities for the right reasons, however, there are also just as many professionals engaging in these activities as a way to indirectly build their reputation. Consequently, as they build their reputation, they may be in danger of building their ego. Given this dilemma, what is the professional to do? What professional behaviors should they strive to adopt as they work to build their credibility in their respective field? After all, the social media “mentors” of the world are participating in all these endeavors. Is it possible that people are acting out of potential insecurities as they express desire to want to fit in and be recognized as well? Some people become approval “whores”, these people are willing to do anything for the sake of recognition and acceptance from others. In a piece describing such behavior Beck (2003) writes: “Approval whores are those who will do anything for affirmation and acceptance from others, they display similar behaviors of drug-addicted prostitutes, it is evident these individuals are not being virtuous when they sell themselves in return for a quick high. Approval whores justify their means on the pretense that their intentions are sound, and they are sold on how their actions are good, saintly even!”
Social psychology tells us when an individual joins a group, they will often copy the behavior of the majority within the group, in an effort to fit in and be accepted. Is it possible to become a good coach solely from mimicking what others are doing? It is widely understood, to be great at anything, individuals cannot simply do what everyone else is already doing; they must work harder, smarter and potentially think a bit differently. People who are great forge new paths. Leaders always set the direction. Great coaches should create a path that will force people to write and talk about what they’re doing as opposed to speaking or writing about themselves. It is important for coaches to love their profession, more than they love the recognition. In Marshall Goldsmith’s book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Goldsmith argues that a person can be successful even with negative personality traits holding them back. Goldsmith goes on to explain, not all success is created equal, and unless individuals are willing to take the necessary steps to change their negative personality traits, they will never be able to reach peak heights in their success. These negative traits shackle one growth, they impede one’s future while also creating unnecessary strain within their interpersonal relationships.
2. Hold on To the Beginner’s Mindset
True experts never stop learning, and experts rarely refer to themselves as an expert, but rather as a person who loves to learn. These “experts” retain a beginner’s mindset: an open mindset where an
individual takes the time to learn from everyone and is open and accepting of any ideas that come their way. Knowledge isn’t absolute, it’s relative. An idea may not work for one population, but it may work for another. The more knowledge and perspective a coach has, the greater their ability to better communicate ideas to a greater variety of populations. True experts are not afraid to ask for help because true experts view everyone as a potential source to further their growth. They strongly believe all new information is worthwhile. True experts have a strong network of mentors and colleagues who they rely on for feedback, advice, and support as they continue their learning journey. Ivan Galamian, arguably the most famous violin teacher of all time, states, “If we analyze the development of well-known artists, we see that in almost every case, the success of their entire career was dependent on the quality of their practicing. In practically every case, the practicing was constantly supervised either by the teacher or an assistance to the teacher”. True experts aren’t afraid to take risks because they are not afraid to fail. They view failure as a part of the learning process, and they use failure a learning tool. By failing, one learns the things he/she needs to stop doing and gains important insights on ways to improve. Fake experts, who adopt the expert mindset and stop learning, often have to spend more energy protecting their expert status. They no longer read books about the topic of their expertise, and they lack concern for how others view the topic. Their time is spent protecting their identity as an expert. They tend to give others unsolicited advice, in hope to show how much they know, not admitting how much they may not know. Fake experts avoid any activity which could challenge their status as an expert. Researcher Bradley Owens states, “Younger leaders may be more reticent to display humility (admitting mistakes & limitations) because their competence is more likely to be called into question." When challenged in their thinking, those with an expert mindset immediately jump to a “you’re wrong because. . .” and cannot escape their conventional thinking. On the contrary, when challenged in the same way, those with a beginner’s mindset are more open, allowing for greater flexibility to solve problems and overcome conventional thinking. Shunryu Suzuki, a Buddhist monk and teacher, once said, “In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind, there are few.”
When looking at the bigger picture, it’s easy to see why these fake experts embrace an expert mindset. People want to build their credibility so they can get a better job, better clients, or more speaking and writing opportunities. In today’s digital world, there is a struggle for brand survival due to increasing competition. Nowadays, to stand out in the crowd is viewed as a marketing ploy. In today’s market, a coach must lean on his/her experiences and expertise while aggressively marketing these experiences to increase their exposure, grow their brand, and stay profitable. It’s not wrong to build a brand; everyone has one. A brand is established based upon a first impression, a reputation, personality, style, behavioral traits, and/or competency. Allen Bayard, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, sums up it ups nicely by defining a brand very simply, “A personal brand is what people say about you, once you leave the room.” Creating a positive brand can be very useful for almost everyone. It can help people acquire more credibility, it can help someone reach a larger audience, and it can help create new opportunities, not previously available. However, building a brand can also become problematic and have negative consequences. Brand’s start becoming a problem when a coach begins to leverage their brand as a way to impress others or use their brand to show others how important they are. These coaches become overconfident in past skills, experiences, and ideas. They resist taking in new evidence from emerging research to influence and potentially change their way of thinking. As these coaches receive praise and accolades, they desire it, even more. These coaches have created a product (their name and their coaching), but through the efforts of creating their product first, they’ve inadvertently developed a bias towards their products and services. When their product
becomes the centerpiece of their brand, it become much harder to manipulate and adapt their product or service. Similar to how a doctor can easily misdiagnose a patient when the doctor does not ask enough questions, a coach with an expert mindset may assume they already know everything they need to know in order to promptly move forward with a prescription. This is seen when a coach begins their coaching by telling others what to do and/or how to think, as opposed to asking more clarifying questions. Assuming information about others is always a bad strategy. Asking more questions, helps us gain a better understanding. Not all questions are created equal. Great coaches possess the skillset of asking great questions. Gaining all relevant information needed to make an informed decision should be everyone’s strategy of choice. In the long run, when success is the goal, it will be to the coaches’ advantage to adopt the beginner’s mindset. This perspective fosters an attitude that displays interest and curiosity towards the consumer’s needs. Additionally, this perspective helps the consumer engage in the process and empowers them to have more ownership. What does the consumer wish to receive from a coach’s services? What will allow the consumer to meet their goals most efficiently and without regressing once finished? Stephen Covey writes, “It’s vital to listen, to understand first. Otherwise you may be acting on assumptions that are totally incorrect.” Every consumer has a different need and individual variables that are unique to them. By practicing good listening skills first, a coach can establishing trust much faster. This specific method is nearly impossible in individuals with inflated egos.
3. The Temptation of Ego and the Ugly Face of Charisma
Managing one’s ego can be a tricky task. An ego can help us by motivating us to improve our knowledge and our skills. Ego can also give us the courage needed to explore, to experiment, and to learn, but when our ego goes left unchecked, it can be corruptive and turn the most noble of pursuits into more self-righteous deeds. After someone has consumed large amounts of information or once they have acquired accolades or credentials in a respective field, they find themselves being sought out by others and being asked to share their insights. Through various outlets, these self-perceived experts seek out ways for the world to see them. Even when their shared content is worthwhile, the thirst for recognition these people have may quickly lead to self-infatuation. In such instances, over time and without knowing it, this egotistic behavior could be symptomatic of narcissism. These traits lead to increased self-regard and a radical overestimation of the person’s own talents and likeability. Describing narcissistic personality disorder, Elan Golomb writes, “Narcissists turn themselves into glittering figures of immense grandeur surrounded by psychologically impenetrable walls.” This is most evident on social media, where inflated egos cause coaches to post daily about what they do, who they work with, the flashy exercises or drill variations they use and the “latest and greatest” information every coach “needs” to know. These coaches use buzzwords and creative nomenclature to captivate not only the less knowledgeable coaches and but also the general public. In actuality, these coaches are using common means, but dressing them up with fancy words. Cal Newport states that social media makes it easy for people “to demonstrate their specialness to the world, and therefore reap the attention that they know deep down they already deserve.” The self-worth of these people grows to the point where they consider everything they do, to be important enough for others to see and learn from; nothing is mundane.
A delusion is spawned from this narcissistic behavior and over-inflated ego and a belief emerges in a person that they are EXTRAordinary. Their knowledge and worth have been recognized by their peers, and as a result, they receive speaking invites and social media fame, all which continues to validate their self-perceived expert status. They believe they are always the smartest person in the room
and believe their word carries more weight due to their self-perception of being an expert. However, this thought process is shared by many, and not everyone can be the smartest person in the room. These coaches think they provide more value than they actually do. They cannot see beyond their own knowledge and instill a “my way or the highway” culture. In their head, they are an expert in their field, and they believe there is no more knowledge worthy of their time; information that is either new or contradictory is considered incorrect or does not apply to them. These people have closed their minds and adopted an expert mindset when in actuality, these are the individuals who are in most need of adopting a beginner’s mindset. Edgar Schein explains, “when faced with new knowledge, there is an internal conflict between learning anxiety and survival anxiety. Learning anxiety refers to the anticipated difficulties of learning, including the period of incompetency involved in learning something new and the perceptions of others who witness the process of learning before it becomes proficiency. Survival anxiety is the realization that unless we learn a new behavior, we will be at a disadvantage and our survival will be threatened. When learning anxiety is stronger than survival anxiety, we resist change and avoid learning.” This scenario is often seen in those who hold an expert mindset and in those with large egos.
We must learn to be aware of those who have been gripped by ego. Along the coaching journey, we should proceed with caution when around individuals who possess strong opinions, and we must be careful not to fall for the charisma that commonly comes with the self-hypers and self-promoters. Charisma is often viewed as a positive trait and is typically what people sense first in meeting new people for the first time. However; over time, if charisma is not backed up by sound character, charisma alone can limit an individual’s success. Margarita May defines charisma as “the compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others”. She writes, “charismatic people are more likely to be endorsed as leaders because of their high-energy, their unconventional behavior, and their heroic deeds”. John C. Maxwell argues that every good leader is subject to the Law of Sacrifice: “The greater the leader, the more he must give up.” There is little room for excessive ego in a leader because the core of leadership is putting others first. This is especially true in sports teams. It is rare to see the same team win back-to-back championships. Most successful teams believe they can replicate their previous results by doing the same thing, but continued success requires leaders to continually change, constantly improve, and continue sacrificing. As a coach grows from younger to more veteran, their focus must shift from attracting more attention to their work, toward bringing more attention toward the work of others. The more knowledge we attain, the more reason there is to share it, but not for the sake of building our brand, but for the sake of developing future leaders in the field.
4. Don’t Be Any Superhero, Be the Right Superhero
Two popular superheroes are Batman and Ironman. They may live in separate universes, but both are committed to fighting crime and making their city a safer place to live. Also, they both share a rare trait among superheroes: neither has a superpower. They are both human and have only their brains and their bodies, which they use to the full extent. However, one of the key differences between these two superheroes is their ego. Very early into his superhero career, Ironman announces his secret identity to the world, Tony Stark. As a result, all of the fame and recognition that comes from saving the world is then given to Tony Stark. So when Ironman saves the world, everyone knows it was Tony Stark who saved the world. On the other hand, Batman is not like Ironman. Batman keeps his identity secret from everyone except those who are closest to him. Unlike Ironman, Batman does everything in his power to keep his real identity hidden. He doesn’t save the world for as means to receive recognition or
gain fame; he does it because it’s the right thing to do. He fights crime in the shadows and makes sure no one is looking. Where Tony Stark enjoys bathing in the glory that comes from being Iron Man, Batman runs away from such attention and deflects any glory that would come his way. Ironman’s ethos would be in alignment with the biggest names in the entertainment industry, while Batman’s ethos seem to be in alignment with the ethos of the U.S. Navy SEALs: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.” In a world of individuals who are acting like Ironman, we are in need of more individuals acting like Batman.
The Batman-like coaches do the thankless jobs in the shadows. They focus on their team and the people they serve and intentionally do not get caught up chasing the limelight. There are many great coaches out there that epitomize this concept. They refer to themselves as the team behind the team. Their names go unknown, but many are aware of the names of the great athletes and coaches they work with. As a result, these coaches and support staff are able to apply more time into what’s important, their athletes, as opposed to focusing on distraction that can come from focusing on building their name and their brand. The Batman-like coaches strive to do the best job they can every day, and they let the work they do, speak for itself; they don’t feel the need to draw extra attention to themselves. As coaches continue to learn and grow their knowledge, it’s never a bad strategy to be better at, being part of the team, behind the team. The last thing a team needs is their culture being fragmented by an ego-driven character. Everyone has a little ego; it is part of being human, but the key is to make the collective ego greater than an individual ego. In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni says, “When everyone is focused on results and using those to define success, it is difficult for ego to get out of hand.”
5. The Allure of Social Media
Prior to engaging activities such as social media or other outlets, it may be worthwhile for people to create a series of objectives or rules of engagement to help guide their strategy and usage tactics. Stepping back first to assess how much attention we have and how much of this attention we are willing to devote to social outlets is needed now, more than ever. By doing so, we can determine how we should move into such domains. A recent statistic taken from a poll collected in 2019 by Global Digital showed people are spending 1/7th of their total waking time on social media. Additionally, there has been a 9% rise in social media use from 2018 to 2019. This growth rate is not expected to slow down. With this increase in use, also comes an increase in the number of people to connect with and an increase in information to sift through. It is important to consider that social media companies have spent millions of dollars into psychologically engineering their sites, systems, and services. These streams have scientifically discovered how to become more attractive to us and have leveraged science to seduce our time and our attention away from us. Social channels can be a great way to gather information and potentially stir some critical thought toward our work, but on the flip side, if we are not paying attention, to our attention, the involvement in social channels can quickly rob us of our time and ability to focus. In short, if we want to be great, we need to be strategic and deliberate with our time and attention. As the world around us jumps into the rapids of the social streams, we may need to take the oar and not let someone else steer our thoughts and actions. This may require being more selective in our pursuits and taking a more defensive stance in these realms than in an offensive one. Derek Beres writes, “Through a litany of hashtags and provocative posturing we desperately try to build a following without exhibiting any qualities of an actual leader.” Social media, podcasts, and books have become a front for some people to prop themselves up as an expert, but offline, their knowledge and skillsets may
seem average. Author Will Storr says, “In Western cultures, we stare at a painting to spot out a subject. In Eastern cultures, which are predominantly more collectivist than ours . . . no singular item stands out. The interplay of all forces involved is recalled. The relationship between individual and environment remains intact.” Our culture makes us look for the star of the show, and some coaches think of themselves important enough to be that star. The reality is, every component of the coaching and support staff interplay with one another to create a beautiful work of art. Lencioni argues, if the star’s ego is in the way, sometimes teams perform better without their star. Similar to how, if one piece of a picture tries to stand out, the other pieces are diminished.
One great example of a team where all the pieces blend together to create a masterpiece is the New Zealand rugby team: the All Blacks. In his book Legacy, James Kerr describes a practice done by the team referred to as “sweeping the sheds”. After every match, win or lose, the senior leaders of the All Blacks stay after the game to clean their shed (locker room). They say, “no one looks after the All Blacks, the All Blacks look after themselves.” Whereas most teams would leave their mess for custodians to clean, the collective ego of the All Blacks is so low they don’t consider themselves beneath cleaning up after themselves. They embrace humility, granting others a higher status than they claim for themselves, and they view it as a vital part of a well-adjusted person. This mindset has allowed them to become one of the most dominant teams across all sports. The team embodies a teaching by St. Augustine: “Lay first the foundation of humility. . . The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.”
6. Coaching and Coachability
As it has been alluded to, too much ego is not a good thing, but a complete lack of ego is not good either. An absence of ego can translate into little-to-no self-esteem. Imposter Syndrome is a psychological term which refers to the inability to internalize one’s own accomplishments. This syndrome leaves people feeling as if they are never good enough. Even when they deserve hard-earned credit for success, they believe the success to be a fluke. People who suffer from Imposter syndrome push their modesty to the brink by denying themselves credit for anything good that happens to them. Imposter syndrome may be more common in people who are on the continuous pursuit for knowledge. Aristotle once said, “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know”. In alignment with this quote, the more aware we become of how much we still have yet to learn, the higher chances we have for developing symptoms of imposter syndrome. Many people have experienced this phenomenon themselves, as scientists believe 70% of all people experience it at some point in their lives. Following the initial peak of perceived expertise in the Dunning-Kruger effect, perceived knowledge drops dramatically as a person understands how much there actually is to know and how little they truly comprehend. It is not uncommon for people to feel inadequate next to their peers and not realize how smart they actually are. Even the most intelligent and successful people can experience signs of impostor syndrome from time to time. In her article on impostor syndrome, Kirsten Weir describes imposter syndrome with this analogy: when a person is thrown into the deep end of the pool, instead of striving to survive, they ask themselves if they can even swim. The individual suffering from imposter syndrome begins to believe everything they have accomplished has been a result of luck and not as a result of their own talents and efforts. These feelings, if unchecked, can lead to stress, anxiety, lower self-confidence, shame, and even depression. Impostor syndrome can be just as unhelpful to a coach as an overly inflated ego. To handle moments of impostor syndrome, a coach should acknowledge first, that they are having these thoughts and instead of engaging them, work to reframe them. Understanding that is ok to ask for help and that feedback does not mean someone is a bad person or
that they are bad at their job. Friends, colleagues, and mentors will always be there to help and can be an outlet to share these thoughts and obtain advice on how to move forward. E.B. Johnson shares a perspective on imposter syndrome and ego in her article; Why your Imposter Syndrome is Really Your Best Friend (2019). She states, “Although imposter syndrome may be associated with feelings of inadequacy, imposter syndrome may be a natural response to help us keep our egos in check”. Moments of doubt are normal, as are moments of overblown ego. The key for us all, is, to not let these moments control our actions. Aristotle also said, “All virtues are a midpoint between two vices.” To be the best they can be, coaches should find their midpoint between lack of self-confidence and an overwhelming ego.
Everyone can get better, but getting better can be a difficult task to do solo. To truly become great at something, one must repeatedly engage in a specific practice. Becoming an expert or developing an expertise is the accumulation of many years and the practice of great patience. In his research, Anders Ericsson explains how years in training, persistence, and one’s patience play vital roles in the development of an expertise. He continues by sharing how practice alone is not good enough to acquire an expertise. Even with the persistence of practicing patiently for many years, one may still not achieve an expert level status. He goes on to discuss the differences between a person of expertise versus a person who simply practices a lot. Ericsson says it is the type of practice that is performed that makes the difference. I.C. Robledo writes, “Deliberate practice has been found to be the best way to efficiently acquire an expertise.” What separates deliberate practice from non-deliberate practice is that deliberate practice is active, pre-planned, purposeful, difficult, and guided in a specific direction to improve one’s skill. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but practice does make permanent. For a person to ensure their practice is both potent and impactful, constructive and direct feedback is needed from an outside source. This is where coaching plays an important role in the acquisition of elite performance. A coach provides the feedback and helps others know how to focus their attention to receive the greatest return on time spent training.
The coaching profession follows a variation of the traditional pedagogical methodology. An aspiring coach goes to school, learns, obtains certifications, completes internships and assistantships, and is then, thrown into the “real world”. At this point, the young professional is then on their own and expected to continue improving independently. There are many resources for coaches to acquire information from: journals, conferences, and workshops, but when a coach is coaching, it is a rare occasion for them to receive feedback on their coaching performance. It’s ironic! Even within a profession such as coaching, where coaching is obviously a highly valued role, coaches don’t often seek out coaches for themselves. Even professional athletes, the best of the best, build a team of coaches around them to help them through their career. It can be nearly impossible for a person to guide and coach themselves to improve while also being engaged in their work. Dr. Atul Gawande realized this firsthand. Dr. Gawande is a surgeon who believed he hit a plateau in his surgical performance. He realized none of the senior surgeons ever observed him work, so he took it upon himself to hire a former mentor to watch his surgeries and provide him coaching so he could improve. With coaching, Dr. Gawande was not only able to decrease his rate of complications (an indicator of improved surgical performance), he also gained several insights about the need for coaching in established professionals. Reflecting upon these insights, he said, “Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, then moving to conscious competence and finally shifting to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears to help make you aware of where you’re falling short.” Robledo argues, “The problem with not seeking feedback is; it’s easy to become overconfident in your skills without it.” This leads to our current culture where ego and overconfidence reside. Everyone has areas in which they can improve. Thus, everyone could benefit greatly from even just a little coaching, but a coach will not improve even with coaching, if he/she is unable to be coached.
Many professionals go through an educational process through institutions, after a few years, they graduate and move into the professional world. After just a few years of getting their feet wet in the job market it is common for these individuals to grow into their self-belief level of expertise. How does a young professional differ from an elite athlete, as it relates to developing acquired skillsets? It takes 10 years of deliberate training for an athlete to become elite, shouldn’t it take the same amount f time for anyone looking to be elite in their profession? Ericsson states it takes 10 years of deliberate practice to acquire a level of expertise. With this in mind, if young professionals’ graduate college at the age of 25, they may not develop an expertise until they are midway through their 30s. However, this would be assuming these young professionals are constantly receiving feedback from a more tenured professional for their first 10 years on the job. Through his research in the executive world, Timothy Bednarz has found, it takes on average 12 years in length for a professional to go through what he calls “the crucible principle”. The Crucible Principle is “the process of experiencing prolonged periods of adversity, frustration, heartache, disappointment, discouragement and much failure.” This period of time tends to happen in the early portions of people’s careers, and this period has been known to either refine a professional or break their spirit. Bednarz says, “It is how people respond to these circumstances that ultimately defines their character, their critical thinking and their legitimacy as a leader.” Additionally, he points out, “Individuals who do not undergo the crucible development early on in their careers will not develop the critical thinking skills and character needed to handle adversities, problems, and crisis that will arise in their future. This will result in more difficulties, which will place them at a disadvantage, and undermine their ability to lead.” Anthropologist Joseph Campbell profiled ancient leaders across cultures and revealed a shared ability to transcend a crushing defeat. Campbell states, “Resilience from the trials of life’s adversity has always been the filter that separates folk heroes from other leaders.” Based upon this evidence, it would appear, expertise in one’s specific field of practice will not fully develop until someone reaches their mid to late 30s. Taking this into consideration, how often to do we sit back and think more critically about the information we take in via the traffic from the social highways? Who is it coming from? Has the information we consume been tried, tested and validated, or is the information coming from someone who is full of charisma and lacks long-term experience? How often do we take into consideration the age, experience and even the teachers of those we learn from? Finally, have we chosen teachers who have not only spent years practice their work, but who have also practiced their work in a deliberate way?
What does it mean to be coachable? Physical therapist, Laura Di Franco says, “Being coachable means you're open to listening to feedback and you are able to receive constructive criticism without taking it personally, (and) willing to take a look at your own performance in order to improve it.” This aligns well with the definition of a beginner’s mindset. Essentially being coachable means being teachable. When someone is teachable, they leave their ego at the door. They embrace the ill feelings that come along with exposing their vulnerabilities to others. Being coachable is an important role that needs to be played when one pursues their greatest work. Being coached for the sake of learning is significantly different than consuming information via books, articles, etc.… for the sake of learning.
Although these are all great source of information for learning, these sources alone can lead to very restricted perspectives and strong biases.
When someone desires to bring their performance to new heights, it is only possible to do so when they can take the new knowledge from their reading and combine it with the authentic feedback from a teacher. Being teachable does not suggest a person must give up their opinions, it just shows their willingness to let go of their specific bias. Coachability is a sought-after trait in athletes. Being teachable is essential if we want to continue learning, improving, and maximizing our potential. However, when coaches step down from the role of being the teacher and assume the role of being the student, it may not be as easy as it sounds. This challenge is present, especially in teachers who have allowed their egos to become overly inflated. Author Ryan Holiday covers this topic comprehensively, given the bold title of his book: Ego is the Enemy (2016).
7. Why Saying “No” Might Be Our Best Move
Everyone wants to feel special, and we all have a desire to be liked and wanted by others. However, how do we respond or react when we are presented with outside opportunities? It can be tempting to say “yes” to anything that may seem like an opportunity for us. However, is this the best route to go given our own goals? Do we get called into helping others build their reputation and help them meet their goals at the sacrifice of our own? Everyone wants to build their resume and increase their chances of getting their next job, right? Taking opportunities, such as writing, or speaking may also serve as a means to communicate with one’s superiors. This notion may be more common in some settings than others. For example, in a collegiate setting, coaches may work under administrators who might lack an understanding of what coaches actually do. By writing articles, authoring books and by being featured on podcasts, these coaches can create a platform which may be used as a platform to help educate a supervisor on the specifics of what his/her employee does and how they do it. However, one must proceed down these routes with caution. While such a communication strategy may serve as a line to educate coaches and superiors, such behaviors may also be viewed as attention-seeking or branding building. Coaches should consider asking more questions prior to engaging in such actions such as: “How much time may be required with my involvement?”, “How much free time do I currently have to devoted to another project?”, “Does the opportunity align with my core values and career goals?”, and lastly, “Who are the recipients that will benefit from the extra time and effort I am investing?” As stated earlier, it can be very tempting to say “yes” to everything and everyone. However, by doing so we can very quickly, be stretched very thin. Our desire to feel wanted and feel special can push us into these traps. Sometimes even a great opportunity may not be worth taking when the work required is high. Before we say “yes” to anything, it is important for us to think more critically. Aligning our values, our objectives, and our personal lives and being truthful to how much time we can truly allocate to outside activities is more important now-a-days than ever before. FOMO is a real phenomenon, and we cannot make decisions on fear of missing out on an opportunity. If the work we do is truly valued, it will say far more about us than we ever could every say with our own words. Saying “no” is okay! If an opportunity doesn’t align with an individual’s goals, by saying “no”, a person can create space to think, find time to reflect, and engage in their work with more depth. When we can create space and allocate time to process our thoughts, the potency of our efforts compound. We can all add more depth to our work by doing less, not more!
Some people struggle telling others “no”. They become afraid of the possible consequences that may come from saying “no”. We often feel as though when we say “no”, we portray to others that we do not care or that we are uninterested in their efforts. Should we be asking: is it better to be liked? Or is it better to be respected? This misconception is an underlying concept we all must come to grips with. True friends and respected colleagues will understand our circumstances. It’s not worth the time it takes to try and be friends with everyone, especially if some will attempt to take advantage of us. If a person is afraid of turning down an opportunity they may want later, instead of saying “no”, they can try saying “I will get back to you” or “I’ll have to check my calendar”. These phrases provide a person time to collect their thoughts and sort through their priorities prior to giving an answer, as opposed to being forced to make a decision under pressure. Delaying a decision is always a better strategy than committing to something right away that we can’t do or don’t want to do. We are all capable of doing much more than we believe, but a person can only coach so many athletes, run so many businesses, speak at so many events, author so many books, and write so many articles. In line with the diminishing return theory, at some point, the quality of everything we do will decrease, if we continue to try to do more.
What many fail to consider is the importance of taking the time to think and contemplate. Newport stresses the importance of thinking ahead and planning the “day within a day.” The “workaholic” may be glorified in many cultures, but as Jason Fried writes, “Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day; they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way.” Without a plan in place on how a person will achieve what they need to achieve that day, there will be countless moments of idleness and distraction. Newport’s law of productivity says, the amount of high-quality work produced is a product of the amount of time spent and the intensity of focus. We can produce the same quality of work in half the time, if we are twice as attentive. We all have the same limited pool of time to spend each day, and every aspect of our lives is fighting for a share of this time. By being more focused, we can achieve more every day than previously thought, but how do we do this? Much like deliberate practice is used to increase skill acquisition, deliberate (or deep) work can be used to increase productivity. The key to this is eliminating distractions. As a society, we have become dependent on smartphones and addicted to social media. Our phones are kept ether on us at all times or nearby while working. When they go off, we stop what we are working on to check them. This hijacks our attention and prevents deep work from occurring. Additionally, Nicholas Carr writes, “When we constrict our capacity for reasoning and recall or transfer those skills to a gadget, we sacrifice our ability to turn information into knowledge. We get the data but lose the meaning.” Having these smart devices allows us to find and store information better, but we don’t retain the information ourselves since we know it’s only a few clicks away.
At the end of the day, it is the team that matters most, not our ego. When a coach puts their time and effort into building their brand, through speaking engagements, writing, and/or social media use, they have less time and effort to devote to their team. Every human has a need for recognition; it validates our skills and achievements and allows our self-esteem to blossom. The challenge is not to go out seeking recognition, but to let recognition happen on its own. Jeremy Sherman writes, “Heroes in history and fiction are often lean ego-boost consumers. They’re like camels, able to do without praise through long hard deserts of discouragement. . . it’s amazing what you can get done so long as you don’t have to take credit for it.” Coaches should recognize their own virtues and strengths and not turn their cheek from their weaknesses and limitations. They should never be satisfied with the knowledge and skill set they currently have. Instead, they should maintain a beginner’s mindset and strive to always continue learning. Coaches should seek a mentor who can coach them up to become better versions of themselves. Coaches should not allow themselves to become infatuated with other coaches on podcasts or on social media, and they can’t let a victory allow them to abandon the practices that led them to win in the first place. Psychologist Jordan Peterson says, “a person should compare themselves to who they were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” It’s ok for us to have an ego, but we cannot let it be the sole purpose for why we do what we do. We shouldn’t give a personal brand more time than we give our athletes, our colleagues, and our continued pursuit of knowledge. As we continue developing in our professional career are we becoming just another Tony Stark, or can we become something greater by finding the joy in the thankless jobs that happen in the shadows?
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