Sunday, January 5, 2014

Spot me

If you've ever done any weight training you understand the importance of a spotter. You're slinging heavy weights around and to get the reps in without dropping dumbbells on your face you need someone to keep an eye on you. You can ask some stranger nearby for some help. That will at least keep you out of the hospital, but what do you do when you want validation that your approach is sound? What do you do when you plateau and need advice? What do you do when you're frustrated and need encouragement?

You need more than a spotter. You need a coach.

Professional development is no different. There have been many articles written about the need for coaches, mentors and accountability partners. Call them what you will. We'll stick with the term coach for the sake of the metaphor. If you haven't got one already. Stop now. Read this, this, this, and this. Then come back here. My point is to challenge you to get more out of this relationship than you already have.  

Now you've found a coach. Maybe you talk once a week. Maybe you get some advice that occasionally makes a difference. If that's how it feels, you can do better. Much better.  Based on my own experience as well as conversations with serial entrepreneurs I can say this with certainty - If you're starting a company or are involved with a start-up the urgency to get high performance feedback cannot be overstated.  

If you want to achieve growth whether it's personal or professional you should be having "Aha!" moments. If you're on the same level with your coach the exchange can go both ways. The point is you should view your sessions like exercises for a body builder. They should push you outside of your comfort zone. They should challenge you. Not sometimes, but most of the time. Also, read. A lot. Talks with your partner don't have to be like a book club but if you aren't regularly exposing yourself to new ideas, you're denying yourself the leaps in perspective that approach can provide.

It's also possible that you were once excited but things have waned. It's tough when you've had a long stretch of success with someone and that shared history makes it hard to let go. Don't be afraid to find another coach if the fire has gone out. This is a mentor or accountability partner, not a marriage. If your coach isn't regularly challenging you and pushing you toward your career and life goals it's time to move on. Don't delay. Keep moving. Your career will thank you.

Lastly, the two of you should be measuring and recognizing progress. This is easiest if you're running a startup or a business unit because there are usually textbook metrics to consider. It gets more challenging the further afield you get from those roles, but don't think that means you can ignore their importance. Just like reps in a workout, if you're not measuring anything there is no way to gauge progress and the whole effort devolves into an exercise in vanity.

If your mentor is just a spotter find another. When you choose well they can help you manage your weak spots so you can push yourself harder and farther than you thought possible. They help keep you consistent. They challenge you, but also act as a safety net.  You don't want to spend time with someone that isn't proactively working with you to help you achieve your goals. You should dig until you find someone that excites you; that changes you. The time spent with them shouldn't just be rewarding. It should be transformative.

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