Book Excerpt: Get a “Shrink” or Coach – But Remember, Training Only Works When You Show Up

Call it what you like, a work coach, a trainer, a life coach, a “work shrink,” it helps to have someone experienced guide you through some of the more important physical and mental behavioral exercises in a safe setting. At a keynote presentation I gave in 2011 to a group of undergraduate business students, I talked about the day my boss insisted I get coaching or else risk losing my job. Like physical trainers, there are many different types of work-related coaches. They specialize in a whole host of areas including communication techniques, inter-personal skills, decision making skills, 360 feedback, basic management techniques, etc. They all have different styles and personalities, and I encourage you to seek one through referral or try a few out until you are comfortable with a particular person.

I have worked with several. Jen was a little wacky but really helped me focus on conciseness and the ability to summarize key points succinctly, teaching me to think in “3s” and use other simple but powerful techniques. Suzanne was a keynote presenter at a CFO conference I attended, who really impressed me and has written several books on how to speak like a CEO and how to develop a powerful brand. I took one of her speaking workshops and then had a one-on-one branding session where I learned what it takes to create an authentic and sustainable brand. Jerry taught me how to put powerful presentations together, whether they were “elevator pitches” or road-show decks for an initial public offering—that was his specialty, having helped many famous silicon valley start-ups explain their story and value proposition. Then there was Rose, who I initially sought for voice and presentation training. Rose was a good match for me; she has an innovative style with an interesting mix of corporate and holistic knowledge, and she is an extremely authentic, effective and talented coach. The point I am making is that, like doctors, trainers or financial advisors, there are many coaches out there with different specialties and price ranges for you to consider and select. 

Timing and Cost / Benefit – I encourage everyone, no matter what level you are, to consider investing in a coach, and I would say the earlier you start in your life, the better. If you are just exiting college and starting a job, this may be a perfect time to consider one. Many of us spend money on hobbies, gyms and additional tuition (e.g., MBA classes), but few of us are willing to spend a few hundred dollars a month of our own money for several hours of focused coaching to help make us better people, better employees, better managers and better leaders. This investment can pay back many times. If your company or organization is not willing to support the cost, think about making it personally. Your coach can help you tighten up areas you are not comfortable with or help you assess the direction of your career. I view Rose as part shrink, part friend, part expert coach. We have many different challenges to deal with in the workplace and this independent counselor can help alleviate many of your pain points and make you a better and more effective person. 

Avoid the Band-Aids or short-term fixes – GE has a world renowned management development program. I had several ‘360s’ at GE where an independent consultant would gather positive and negative feedback from a wide variety of people I worked with or for. As I look back on the results of these 360s, there were some common recurring themes including “poor listening skills” and “lack of conciseness.” I took several related classes over the years, but now I realize those classes were just Band-Aids. They did not cure the problem. What I really needed was more intensive long-term support, such as a coach, working every two weeks for six months or more, supplemented with related reading and most important, focused practice! It required a third party that you could work with privately from your manager and colleagues. A safe-zone where you could practice without that fear or embarrassment of a colleague seeing you fail.

 You have to show up – I saw a sign the other day, can’t recall precisely where, but it read “every expert was once a beginner.” If we want to get better at things, we need direction, focus, and practice. The easy part of this is getting someone to help you identify the areas you need to work on (as I described previously with the personal trainer), but the hard part is making the time and commitment to “show up.” In the same way, a coach can help you get better in areas of behavior. That expert’s eye and the need for a personal appointment are just as important as the personal trainer.

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