Lifelong Learning: Self-Driven or Community-Supported?

By Roshan Thiran

At what point are we ‘done’ growing in our leadership journey? Is it when we become a manager? A regional manager? Group CEO? When can we be done with learning and just enjoy doing?

It’s a tricky question to answer, particularly in business when there exists the view that you’re the master of your own destiny (and as such, responsible for your own growth). And yet at the same time, we know that the business landscape is always changing and there is need for support from others to grow.

Indeed, if someone has been ‘in the business’ for 20 years or more, even mentioning the thought that they might benefit from coaching would almost be seen as an insult.

In fact, many CEOs I have met advocate coaching for others, but not themselves as they know better and are in a better space. So, while the business world treasures the ideal of growth, it’s not something that’s readily embraced by the leaders in business.

"However, in other areas, growth is not something that is self-learnt but backed by a support community."

Take sports, for example. If we look at Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – two of the best footballers on the planet – they continue to train on a daily basis with a number of coaches who help them maintain their peak fitness and stay sharp on the pitch.

Football is a multi-billion dollar industry, and so it’s vital that top performers keep to the best standards possible. Football coaches don’t need to show Ronaldo or Messi how to play football – but what they do show them on a regular basis are the small improvements they can make, which add up over time and separates their phenomenal abilities from every other player.

In music, the world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman has been performing across the globe for 60 years and played at the 2009 US Presidential Inauguration, as well as a state dinner at the White House in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.

In 2015, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. Interestingly, his wife Toby gave up a career as a classically-trained violinist in order to become her husband’s coach.

She would attend performances of his and then advise him on how he might improve the flow of a particular section, or how he engaged with a particular piece. Even a great classical musician benefits greatly from feedback on the little things he can’t see for himself.

Are we being the best that we can be?

In business, if we’re truly set on being the best leaders that we can be, we have to realise that, even if we’re experts in our field, we need to keep learning, growing and improving.

We could be the best creators, innovators and problem solvers, but there will always be room for improvement – and it’s always the little tweaks here and there that can make a world of difference.

The tough part is this: we cannot get ourselves to the next level of success. We need the help of others.

Having a coach to guide us in business – just as in sports or music – can bring us a whole new level of awareness that raises our game to the next level and far beyond.

A coach can refocus our attention on what’s important, and help us build on our expertise, skills and abilities in ways that have a profound effect on our performance and the performance of the organisation as a whole.

Here are four ways that having a coach by your side can help you to unlock even more of your potential:

1. They shine a light on your blind spots

Coaches never change who you are, and they rarely help you directly achieve your goals. Instead, a good coach will be an excellent observer of your behaviours and habits, and they’ll be able to highlight the obstacles that are holding you back, which you might be unaware of or are ignoring for some reason. Once your blind spots are brought out into the open, your coach will then help you to move beyond them.

2. They show you (or remind you of) your ‘why’

As a leader – particularly within a growing company – you can fall into the trap of getting caught up in the day-to-day running of things that you lose perspective, which also means you lose sight of the bigger picture.

Your values, goals and mission can get buried beneath the administration, meetings, travelling, speaking engagements, in-house mentoring and so on. These are all important aspects of being an effective leader, but a coach can help remind you of and realign you to the deeper purpose of why you’re doing what you do.

As a result, you’ll not only become more efficient, but you’ll rediscover your joy and drive as you reconnect to what’s important.

3. They tell you the truth – no matter how hard it might be to hear

If you run a business, the chances are that there are few people who will tell you when you’re dropping the ball as a leader. As the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top, and there is a degree of truth to that.

When no one speaks frankly to you, how can you know where you might be going wrong? Great coaches will be more than happy to observe, listen, evaluate…and then give their honest opinion about what you’re doing well and what needs improving.

They will care just as much about your goals and progress as you do – if not more so – and they’ll make sure that you’re stepping up to the plate and giving everything you have to ensure your growth.

4. They will help you improve your weaknesses

Some might say that people should ignore weaknesses and instead focus on enhancing their strengths. That sounds great in an ideal world, but the reality is that we all have weaknesses that we need to address in order to be the best we can be.

Whatever skill or behaviour is lacking, having a coach to help you close the gap between your strengths and weaknesses will help enormously in your professional development.

Furthermore, they’ll be on hand to offer guidance on how to progress in as smooth a manner as possible, eliminating much of the trial and error process (and wasted time) we encounter when we try to grow on our own.

The big change

A big change I envision that will happen to the coaching space in business is that it will move from becoming a one-on-one executive coaching experience to something more akin of what happens in sports.

In sports, even kids aged nine years have a coach for their football or basketball team. Every age group has a coach. This coach helps to sharpen them as a team to execute better and win more games.

The same will apply to business. Business is changing from a one-man game to a team-based collaborative production. We need to collaborate and work seamlessly with each other for the success of our organisation.

So, coaching has to become more team-based (like football or basketball) where the coach will help the team to succeed by helping each individual sharpen their game to enable team success.

In fact, at Leaderonomics, one of the key elements we are helping organisations with us do is to drive group coaching initiatives that are team-based and not just as individuals.

So, if you are part of a team at your workplace and do not have a good coach to help you navigate your way to success, make sure you go to your HR leader and get a coach. This will be a huge game-changer for you and your organisation. Keep learning all your life – with each other!

4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Enlisting a Coach

1. Am I where I want to be?

Having a vision of your ambition in mind is a great start, but sometimes it can be difficult to roadmap exactly how you’ll get there. This is where a coach can help you plan out an effective strategy.

2. Am I receiving messages that I need to change?

Leaders can often be subjected to negative feedback; however, it’s difficult to act on negativity (even if it’s valid) due to its discouraging nature. A good coach will put things into a more positive perspective before setting a plan of action in place.

3. How ambitious am I?

Some of the most successful people in the world have received coaching at some point in their lives: just ask Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates how well it worked for them. Enlisting the help of a coach can propel you to even greater heights than you imagined, so if you really want to be successful, having a coach to guide you is a wise investment.

4. Can coaching help me to help others?

It stands to reason that, as you get better as a leader through coaching, your team is bound to benefit from the progress you’ve made. Having a coach to bring out the best in yourself isn’t just a self-investment – it’s also an investment in people, as your growth will help others to develop as a result of your own improvements.