What’s the one thing the greatest athletes have in common, no matter the sport? They have a coach. Or multiple coaches. It’s a bit odd when you think about it. The men and women performing at the peak of their chosen profession seek advice and counsel from someone who clearly is not as good as them. Assuming you consider yourself a top performer in your field, do you do that?
When Tiger Woods was winning majors almost at will, he worked with a coach. There was no one on the planet better at golf, so why did he bother?
Tom Brady knows more about playing quarterback than anyone alive (as much as I hate to say it). Why does he need a coach?
Can anyone teach Serena Williams something about tennis that she doesn’t already know?
These are dumb questions for any sports fan. The answer is obvious: athletes become great because they’re obsessed with getting better and the way to do that is to work with a coach. They know they need an outsider’s perspective to point out the little things they might miss. The best athletes work with coaches because they know achieving greatness is a journey, not a destination. They became the best and stay that way because they are always looking for an edge, and the right coach can give them that edge.
Yet as painfully obvious as this is in the world of sports, in too many corners of corporate life a stigma about working with coaches endures. Hiring an executive coach is seen as a form of remedial discipline. The employee has been deemed an underperformer and the assigning of a coach is the move of last resort. The message is clear: improve or you’re gone.
This is crazy, especially when you consider that being a business athlete, to borrow a phrase from Ed Erhardt, former head of global sales & marketing at ESPN, is much harder than being a pro athlete. Obviously given the extreme rarity of the skill sets required to play any sport professionally it’s a much, much more exclusive field to break into. However, think about it for a moment, star athletes are asked only to perform for very short periods of time. And they know exactly when their moments of truth will be.
Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes know they have a 3 hour window this Sunday in the Super Bowl where they have to deliver. Tiger Woods knows the schedule for the mere 16 days that will encompass all the 2021 majors. Same is true for Serena and the Grand Slams.
Corporate executives on the other hand are judged based on how they perform 5 days a week, often more, for 40 hours a week, often much more, for a period of decades. Moreover the moment of truth for an executive could come at any moment, without notice or warning. The CEO wants to see your marketing plan, tomorrow. An employee on a critical project gives notice two weeks before launch. A competitor surprises you with a new innovation that renders your product obsolete.
This is the environment in which we work today. The need for coaching is more acute than ever, so one would expect every employee to want a coach. We also should expect companies would want to do everything in their power to ensure employees had access to outside coaching. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a coach in the past (thanks, John McKee, you’re the best) but I’m not writing this to advocate any specific coach. What I am suggesting is that as leaders we examine our development and hiring practices through the coaching lens.
Set a culture where coaching is welcomed and encouraged. Identify rising stars and get the access to an executive coach. It will make them better and probably more loyal. And for prospective employees, don’t just look at their work history and education, ask them if they’ve ever had an executive coach.
Think about it as you watch Brady and Mahomes this Sunday. Win or lose, I bet both of them will be working with their coaches next week. Will you?