The Leaders Notebook

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A Surgeon’s view of Coaching

November 1st, 2011 · No Comments · Follow the Leaders, Playing a Bigger Game

New Yorker Magazine ran this article on coaching in their October 3 issue.  It is surprising for a few reasons, not least of which is that it is written not by a coach but by a surgeon.  Realizing the importance of continuous improvement, he decided to find someone to observe his work and then engage with him about how to get better.  This despite the fact that he was considered at the top of his profession.

The article is long, tracing through the doctor’s thinking process about engaging a coach. as well as his experience working with the one he chose- not all of it easy or comfortable.  For those considering working with a coach or wondering why anyone would ever want to engage one- this is a great article.  The title under the article’s lead art says it well: “No matter how well trained people are, few can sustain their best performance on their own. That’s where coaching comes in.”

And, for my fellow coaches, there are some wise and interesting points that may run against what is considered dogmatic for those of us who earn our living as professional coaches.

  • In most coaching engagements, we get little time to observe our clients actually working.  Our information comes from, and is filtered by, our client or perhaps from stakeholders we check in with from time to time.  The author’s view of his coach was primarily as outside and objective eyes and ears that could observe first hand.
  • By sitting in during surgery, the author’s coach could share observations about what he saw, and the impact of those things that drew his attention.  The examples in the article make it obvious that the coach was not just a smart guy and disciplined observer, but someone with enough familiarity with his client’s field of expertise to be able to be specific, to the point and informed.  This is a hot debate in the coaching world.  Psychologists and personal coaches will often claim that executive or leadership coaching is no different from more personal forms of coaching.  But a coach who has no familiarity with the environment in which his or her client works is limited in the topics s/he would even know to watch for or notice.
  • Lastly, the coach’s expertise is not left out of the conversation with the author.  Strict coaching convention often argues that answers and solutions must come from the client; however, that also limits even incremental improvements to those that a client can see for themselves.

I found this a wonderful example of true partnership in service to improving the work of a professional who already had mastery in his field.

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