Coaching, mentoring, counselling, supporting – whatever you name it, the process of being guided by an expert to achieve your goals is an incredibly valuable activity. It should be an eye-opening, motivating, and sometimes surprising process in which the ‘coach’ directs the student towards identifying not only goals but also potential hurdles, strategies and the transfer of expert advice.
Now, obviously as someone who earns a living coaching and supporting others to increase their career development skills and confidence to become the woman they want to be, I could be considered (at least) moderately biased at spruiking the wonders of this approach and I could even be questioned as to whether I was merely trying to drum up business. And to those who experienced that as their initial reaction, I say “I would be thinking that too!!” – as most who have met me would know, I am someone who is quite sceptical of much of modern marketing and self-promotion and my gut reaction is often to query motivation.
But I digress.
I’m not only a coach for others but am myself a mentor's student. And I’d recommend the same to you.
You see, whilst we are all experts at something (career-wise or avocational) we can ALL stand to learn something more in that field. Regardless of how competent an expert we are, or how long we have held that skill. In a professional sense, many of us are provided with or require mentors (sometimes known as clinical supervisors) as part of our employment – for psychologists, medical practitioners, lawyers, social workers, nurses, and therapists, this is quite common. For others, it is important to seek out a coach or mentor.
So how do we all get the most out of our coaches or mentors?
Relinquish being precious – now this is likely to be the most confronting obstacle for many of us, as it means that we will be showing vulnerability and admitting to our coach that we a) don’t have of ALL the answers b) are fallible and c) recognise that we still have growing to do, despite wishing to present the image that we have already reached the apex. Most of us are fairly conditioned to ‘fake it ‘til we make it’ as far as outward presentation goes – we tend to try and project an air of complete competence that we are not at all comfortable having challenged. But in order to grow, we need to accept that there may well be an individual who has something new to offer us.
Symptoms of preciousness include: combativeness (in the absence of returned aggression), and close-mindedness (even if you disagree with another’s point of view, if you are open-minded you will still be able to acknowledge it’s still a valid point of view), unwillingness (to consider or take on board suggestions and recommendations). Now don’t get me wrong – an element of preciousness is normal, and I’m certainly not immune to it (cue some previous bosses and colleagues…..) but it can be a destructive force that inhibits us in so many ways. My suggestion: if you notice yourself displaying any of the above symptoms, ask yourself why you’re there at all – after all, you are sabotaging the coaching process by cutting yourself off with preciousness.
Prepare – now this doesn’t refer to studying furiously beforehand and attempting to come up with the answers that you believe will impress your coach (in fact, by doing just that you may actually be doing yourself a disservice and getting closer to demonstrating some of that ‘precious’ behaviour), but rather you should be preparing yourself to enter the learning zone. Why not spend some time considering the types of questions that you have of your coach, or collating some examples of scenarios that you would like to learn improved ways of managing? The more that you are prepared and therefore engaged with the coach, the more you will get out of the process – it’s as simple as that. Like Benjamin Franklin once said “By failing to prepare you are preparing fail”.
Choose well – As part of the typical confidence building process we surround ourselves with those people who we feel most comfortable with, and those who are generally complimentary towards us – which is great – we all need a supportive team behind us! The difference with a coach or mentor however, is that while these people often become our biggest ally, they need to be unbiased enough to be able to provide realistic feedback that assists us to grow rather than simply appealing to our need for flattery. Now, I’m not saying
that you should choose a coach or mentor that you don’t click with – in fact it’s important that you DO have a good rapport (or the ability to build a good rapport) and trust with your coach, however, when choosing a coach or mentor, it is important to place as much stock on qualities like expertise in the area you seeking guidance, their ability to lead and mentor (ie that they can guide you to improvement without doing the work for you), and their current skill level (ensuring that they are able to pass on up to date or best-practice information).