I invite you to play a game with me. Every time you hear, read or say the word “coach” in any of its variances in your personal or professional surrounding, you do 10 squads and 5 push-ups. America’s obesity problem would likely be solved within weeks. Joking aside, coaching is probably on of the most inflated and overused words in today’s world. Almost everyone is a coach these days, either in sports, business, career, personal or spiritual decisions. We like to turn to someone for advise, and it makes decision making so much easier to know that we have someone to rely on.
That does and should not mean that coaching itself is overrated, I believe in the exact opposite. The first point I want to make is that coaching in its original sense might mean something entirely different than what 80% of so-called coaches do. The second and even more important point is that a coach is not the only person who is important to your personal development. In this regard, I believe in a mix of different people to shape my path. I believe in the power of the “Magic Five”.
Let me introduce you to them, and to honor the coaching profession, I will start with that.
(1) Coach – A good and effective coach is almost glued to your hip for a certain time. Their goal in your relationship is to get you effective and competent at a very short-term and clearly defined situation, task, skill or project. They are very good listeners to understand your exact individual situation, help you see and understand the obstacles in your way and define a way forward. Often times and in a collaborative leadership environment, this can be your boss, but that sometimes leads to problems as in a true coaching situation, the person who makes a decision for action is you! A good coach is an absolute must-have for anyone that finds themselves faced with a new situation or challenge.
(2) Mentor – Mentoring is not as short-term as coaching, and the goal is usually not as clearly defined but rather lies in the areas of self-awareness, confidence and the shaping of your personality and identity. This person will not necessarily be present and available all the time, and you will gain your development from anecdotes, stories and the personal experience of the mentor. Often times, mentors are people that are some steps ahead on a similar path, able to give guidance on obstacles that they have already managed to overcome. For me, mentors have been crucial in eliminating anxiety in situations of rapid change, identifying and understanding new perspectives on things and learning to think out of my current box.
(3) Sponsor – Just like in any other business situation, where a product or service needs to be actively advertised to the market, a majority of your success both professional and personal will depend on being sponsored. A great sponsor is a very respectable member of the professional or personal network you are in (or even looking to get into). Their reputation and position of power allows them to influence decision making and perspectives on things. Without a sponsor advocating for you, it is very hard to get the attention of senior leadership or to influence decision making in regards to your persona. While a coach can be hired and a mentor can be found, a sponsor needs to be convinced, just like the ones you are looking to convince through them. But the catalyst power of their advocacy will make it worth going the extra mile to show them who you are and can be.
(4) Role Model – No surprise, we all need clearly defined goals to get excited, motivated and active in almost every environment. No difference at all when it comes to your personal development. There is no way to underrate the importance of having a role model that is exactly where you want to be when you succeed in your quests. It makes you believe in the possibility of reaching your goal, easy to visualize the end result, motivated for change and gives you a clear benchmark on where you stand. Finding a valuable role model is probably the hardest of all the above – at least it is for me. They’re still human beings, so every detail that you don’t like about their style, life or achievements will throw them from their pedestal and make their situation less attainable. Never forget that this is still about an idea and picture, so don’t be to tough on them or yourself in terms of your expectations.
(5) Challenger – As hard as it is to find a role model, as easy it is to find this very important person in your life. Briefly think through your environment. Who is the person that gets you nervous just at their sight when they suddenly show up in the hallway, makes you feel really uncomfortable in meetings by intelligently contradicting all of your points made, and clearly does not (yet) have an appreciation for who you are and what you do? There you go – you’ve found your challenger! It’s probably the relationship that will cause tons of unease for you, but many of my best teachers have been former challengers of mine (some never turned into fans, and they have fair points). Try to understand which of your weak spots they are uncovering and hitting on. Then turn to your mentor, or even a coach, to work on them. Convincing challengers is one of the biggest victories in personal development.
Although coaching is extremely important, the other four are in my view absolutely mandatory for everyone who wants to achieve long-term growth beyond just being developed through a specific subject. I owe my own development to numerous people that have been invaluable along the way, and the path is long not over but rather just starting. The more wisely you choose your Magic Five, the faster your growth. And after all, never forget to give back and be a coach, mentor, sponsor, role model or challenger for someone else. We’re all in this together!