How to intentionally be a world-class coach—with world-class clients
Great leaders never stop learning. I’ve had coaches with a peerless reputation and a 30-year track record seek my support, to take their life and business to the next level. Top performers spend a lifetime building high-level skills. However, take heart because there are powerful shortcuts you can take.
In this article, I’m going to break down the two factors behind every outstanding coach and their top performing clients.
- First you’ll need to build world-class skills—and I’m going to teach you two shortcuts to do so.
- More importantly, you’ll need to build high-level will—to keep going in the face of failure and massive uncertainty.
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”
– Muhammad Ali
1. Build World-Class Skills
Great coaching skills include listening, learning, leading, questioning and client creation. Also, curiosity, intuition, writing, marketing and even your sense of humor. And storytelling, business-building, team-building, empathy, speaking to an audience, presenting on video, coaching one-on-one, coaching groups and coaching people who are smarter and smarter than you are.
I could add 50 more skills to the list and still not cover them all but fortunately I don’t have to.
You see, you don’t need to master every single coaching, teaching, leadership and business-building skill, in order to be world-class.
1. You need to get good at Talent Stacking
This is the term created by Scott Adams to describe how you can combine normal skills in order to become extraordinary.
Fifteen years ago, I was an average writer and teacher who had become a coach. I also loved to learn and I liked meeting fascinating people. When I met Steve Chandler, I was on the faculty of the same coaching school. I studied with Steve for years and one day he said to me, “Do you want to write a book together? You’ve already written half of it!”
Build your talent stack
Make a list of everything you’re good at, everything that fascinates you and everything that energizes you. Include your unorthodox passions, interests and hobbies. What combination of talents would make you really stand out in an overcrowded world? What one talent if you added it to your other talents would make the biggest difference? Storytelling, meeting interesting people and building community are 3 that I’ve added and worked on in the past few years.
2. You need to determine your Zone of Genius
This is Gay Hendricks’ term to describe the sweet spot between what you’re great at, what fulfills you, what energizes you and—I’d add—what pays well. For me that’s 3 things only. Coaching, creating and community. Combine that with my obsession with seeking out fascinating ideas about high-performance and when I wake up each morning, it’s easy to know what to do. (I fell asleep last night, reading a book called Group Genius and I’m writing this article on being world-class at 5am, the next morning—not because I have to but because you couldn’t stop me if you tried!)
Karen Goldfinger Baker is a former member of 4PC. She helped to raise half a billion dollars as a fundraiser before becoming a coach. Her clients now include some of the highest performing athletes on the planet, as well as one of the world’s top tech companies. Karen’s “secret sauce” behind raising so much money wasn’t one of the usual skills for fundraisers, like public speaking, grant writing or presentation skills. By her own admission, she’s a terrible grant writer and merely ok with public speaking and presentation. Her secret sauce is taking what’s happening behind the scenes of her donors‘ or her clients’ world and then connecting the dots to the dent they want to make in the universe.
There’s no coincidence that she’s created such extraordinary clients in her first few years as a coach. She’s doing what she always does—drawing a direct line between her clients’ dreams and their future. Karen is a highly unusual coach who is not afraid to talk to world-renowned athletes and tech leaders about the very darkest moments of their lives because she has faced such darkness herself. That’s not a talent you’d wish on anyone but sometimes our gifts come from our most challenging experiences.
Determine your Zone of Genius
1) Ask your clients, colleagues and friends to give you some very honest feedback. What do they see that you absolutely love doing? What are the top 3 words that describe your impact—on them, on your community, on the world? What’s missing when you leave the room? What can they count on you for? What impresses them about who you are?
2) Ask yourself what skills people compete on in your field. Then—given that everyone has these skills—what new skills can you learn to 10X your value to your clients? Ask yourself what skills your dream clients have. Then—given that all your clients have these skills—what new skills can you learn to 10X your value to these clients?
To become world-class, gradually add more talents to your stack and operate more and more in your Zone of Genius. And help your clients do the same. Or, as Hugh MacLeod once paraphrased Jerry Garcia, lead guitar of The Grateful Dead:
“Don’t be the best in the world at what you do; be the only one in the world who does what you do.”
2. World-Class Will
If skill is knowing your craft, will is having the drive and determination to be the best at it.
Will is your desire, determination and passion. It is the art of doing what you do, to an exceptional level. Will is what drives you to continuously learn and grow when others choose to stay stuck in mediocrity.
Skill can be measured, diagnosed and worked on. Will is harder to detect, diagnose and measure. It can also fluctuate, dependent on your circumstances and your mood.
The 4 Drivers of Will
I came across the concept of Primary Will Drivers in Robyn R. Jackson’s book, Never Underestimate Your Teachers. She proposes that we are all driven by a desire for four basic—even primal—feelings: autonomy, mastery, purpose and belonging.
- Mastery is the desire to get better at something that matters, to master something new and engaging. If you want to kill the will of someone who is mastery-driven, force them to do the same thing, the same way, year after year.
- Purpose is the desire to change lives, to save the world. If you want to kill the will of someone who is purpose-driven, force them to do things that clash with their deeper values, or without telling them why they need to do them.
- Autonomy is the need to feel that you have some control over your activities and outcomes. If you want to kill the will of someone who is autonomy-driven, force them to do things a specific way by a specific deadline.
- Belonging is the need to feel that you fit in or you are an important member of the team. If you want to kill the will of someone who is belonging-driven, force them to work alone or with people they don’t like.
Jackson teaches that we each have a primary will driver that matters more to us than the others and is key to our motivation. She created an assessment for educators that I’ve adapted for coaches and leaders.
Primary Will Driver Assessment
Write down the letter that you feel most strongly is the answer to each question. Great leaders are often high in all four drivers, so look for which answer is even the tiniest above the others.
1. What is most important about leadership to you?
a. You develop your leadership or coaching skills.
b. You create a big vision for your business or for your clients’ success.
c. You’re free to set your own priorities and pursue your own initiatives without the interference of others.
d. You build a great team, have great clients, or create a community you love.
2. If you were to be recognized for creating an excellent business, which of the following rewards would you value most?
a. You’d love the acknowledgment of the hard work behind your success.
b. You’d love the acknowledgement that you did something that mattered.
c. You’d love the freedom that success gives you, to do whatever you want.
d. You’d love the acknowledgement of having created an incredible community.
3. If you reviewed your personal calendar, where is a lot of your free time spent?
a. Learning, reading, in workshops or being coached.
b. Talking, writing or dreaming about your big vision.
c. In unstructured free time doing whatever you want to do that day.
d. Collaborating with others, or spending time with a community you love.
4. Which of the following do your goals tend to involve?
a. Mastering a particular skill set – or reaching a new level of achievement.
b. Working towards a bigger mission – that aligns with your passion or your deeply held values.
c. Freeing up the time you spend working – to do what is actually most important to you.
d. Building great relationships with peers and colleagues – to create a strong and close community.
5. How do you most make an impact?
a. Sharing your learnings and insights, or solving others’ problems.
b. Inspiring others with your vision.
c. Working independently to do whatever needs to be done.
d. Building and developing great relationships.
6. People who tend to drive you the craziest are those who …
a. Have little interest in improving themselves or getting better at what they do.
b. Lack a big vision or passion for what they do.
c. Always want your attention or need to be told what to do.
d. Seem cold, distant, or uninterested in making a connection with you or others.
7. When seeking feedback from others, what you really want to know is …
a. “Did I do it right?”
b. “Was my contribution valuable?”
c. “Did my way work?”
d. “Do you like/respect me?”
8. Which of the following questions do you usually raise in response to a new initiative?
a. “What’s the goal, and what are the criteria for success?”
b. “Why are we doing this?”
c. “Does it matter how we achieve the goal?”
d. “Who will be involved and how will it affect them?”
9. When working with your team or your clients, it is most important to you that …
a. You help them become the very best at what they do.
b. You inspire them to make a bigger difference in the world.
c. You help them think and work independently, free from restrictions or prescribed strategies.
d. You create positive relationships with them and ensure they feel valued and supported.
10. Which of the following is your worst nightmare?
a. You’re forced to do the same thing for years, learning nothing new and doing a really poor job.
b. You’re forced to do work that doesn’t make sense, seems pointless, or doesn’t align with your beliefs or values.
c. You’re micromanaged to the tiniest detail.
d. You’re forced to work alone or to work with people you don’t like.
If you chose mostly:
a’s – Your primary will driver is Mastery.
b’s – Your primary will driver is Purpose.
c’s – Your primary will driver is Autonomy.
d’s – Your primary will driver is Belonging.
My primary will driver is Purpose. I’m currently building a new business and every time we onboard new team members, I take time to tell them that we’re not building a coaching company—we’re changing the world.
But I’m also aware that our team members will each have different will drivers. So, I make certain to call them to be the very best they can be, in service of our clients (Mastery). I tell them my business values and then free them to do things their way—including the freedom to make mistakes (Autonomy). And I explain to them that we’re a company of top performers, building a community of top performers (Belonging).
What’s your primary will driver? How can you leverage that in every connection with your clients, in every program you design, in every article you write?
I’m a strengths-based leader. I have little interest in helping leaders improve on their weaknesses. I enable leaders to bring out the best in themselves and others by igniting their core strengths.
Once you know your client’s Primary Will Driver, help them double down on it. Then, go two layers deep—help them to learn the Primary Will Driver of their own clients or team members, so they can draw the very best out of them.
If you want to be a world-class coach and coach world-class clients, do two things to stand out in this overcrowded world. Build your skills—in unorthodox ways. Build your will—by focusing on your primary driver. And then—as always—help your clients to do the same.
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