Coaching highlights from coaching Columbia Business School students: Practice!

December 2, 2013 by Joshua
in Blog, Education, Leadership, Tips

[This post is part of a series on Coaching Highlights from coaching Columbia Business School students. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

I mean practice in two senses here.

The first is the more relevant one for the one-hour lightning coaching sessions — as a coach, I try to find ways for my client to practice their new behavior during the session, all the more important in a lightning session when they won’t have access to their coach again. Improvement in leadership means nothing if it only exists in your head and doesn’t translate to new behavior. Leadership is fundamentally social, meaning it requires other people. Other people respond only to your behavior, not to your thoughts, except as communicated through behavior.

So a major goal is for the client to adopt new behavior. I mentioned in an earlier post in this series the importance of finding a relevant exercise. Exercises give people the chance to practice behaviors that will help them achieve their goals better. What skills do you have that didn’t take much practice to get good at? Even walking, which you do without the slightest effort, took you painful months to learn. And you had to learn to crawl first. Most leadership skills require more focus from you. (That’s why I advise thinking of yourself like a baby learning to walk in learning challenging tasks.)

Practicing them with a coach gives them a chance to make mistakes with me, learn from them, and do them better with others. It makes them more comfortable and gives them experience so they won’t do them for the first time with others, but rather the third or fourth time. It lets them explore the practice and learn what it does and doesn’t do. It lets them try it different ways.

Practice never wastes time, at least in my experience. No matter how well a client says they understand the new practice, they always make a mistake they can learn from. Or they discover something they didn’t expect  in the practice. Even when an exercise requires only that they follow a script word for word, they always seem to change a word or more and learn the value of each word.

Practice is the major way short-term coaching turns into long-term results.

Clients always have questions or have moments of realization leading to discussion they couldn’t have followed up if I hadn’t been there.

The second sense of practice is the one you expect, that once they learn the new technique, they have to practice it until they internalize it. Behavioral skills are like any other skill — they develop with experience and atrophy with lack of use. The more you practice them, they better you get at them, the more problems you realize you can solve with them, the fewer mistakes you make, the more you can build on them, the more you anticipate problems before they happen, the more you can teach them to others and improve your environment, and so on.

Long-term practice ties in with accountability, which I covered in an earlier post in this series.

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