After a rare disappointing round on the golf course, Tiger Woods will often take a golf lesson.When I first heard about this, I asked myself, who could give TigerWoods a lesson in golf?
But that was before I ever really understood the value of coaching. The person who taught me that value was a young business consultant named Steve Hardison. Hardison taught me this: Tiger takes a lesson not because his coach is a better player who can give advice and tips, but because his coach can stand back from Tiger Woods and see him objectively.
Steve Hardison had created an art form of coming into corporations and seeing things objectively. In fact, his perception ran deeper than that.He had near-psychic power to “see what was missing.” It was a gift he could also apply to individuals, but only if they were ready for the rigors of his coaching.
I used to teasingly call one of his illustrative personal stories “TheParable of the Mission.” As a young missionary for his church inEngland, Hardison broke all records for enrolling congregants. He contrasted his own method with that of the other missionaries.While the others would rush out and knock on doors all day, Hardison would spend the first part of each day planning and plotting his activities. By creating his day before it happened, he was able to combine visits, economize on travel time, and increase the number of enrollment conversations in a given day. He also used his creative planning time to set up intra-neighborhood referrals for himself so that many of his visits came with a reference.
The other missionaries were very active, but they were focused on the activity, not the result. They were in the business of knocking on door sand scurrying about—Steve was in the business of enrolling people into the church. The records he set for enrollment were no accident. He planned things that way.
Steve helped me understand something that lives inside of all of us, something he called “the voice.” When you wake up in the morning, the voice is there right away, telling you that you are too tired to get up or too sick to go to work. During a sales meeting when you are just about to say something bold to a client, the voice might tell you to cool it.“Hold back.” “Be careful.”
“The trick is,” said Steve, "to not ignore or deny the existence of the voice. Because it’s there, in all of us. No one is free of the voice.However, you don’t have to obey the voice. You can talk back to the voice. And when you really get good, you can even talk trash to the voice.
Make fun of it. Ridicule it. Point out how stupid it is. And once you get into that way of debating your own doubts, you start to take back control of your life."
Many times I’d be in the middle of a large business project and ask to meet with Steve for an hour. After he listened for a few minutes, he would almost invariably see right away what was “missing” in my behavior. Like a great golf teacher watching Tiger Woods’ backswing, he would say, “Are you willing to accept some coaching on this?” And I would eagerly say yes. Then he would tell me truthfully, sometimes ruthlessly, what he saw. I didn’t always like what he saw, but I always grew stronger from talking about it.
Hardison’s coaching was so jolting that sometimes it reminded me of an incident that happened to me when I was a boy playing Little League baseball.
I had injured my knee in a play at third base and when the game was over the knee was swollen and my entire leg was stiff. As I sat on the bench with my leg straight out in front of me, a doctor whose son was on our team was kneeling down by my leg as my father looked on.“I’d like you to bend your leg now,” he said to me as his hands gently held my swollen knee.
“I can’t,” I told him.“You can’t?” he asked, looking up at me. “Why can’t you?”"Because I tried, and it really hurts."The doctor looked at me for a second, and then said simply but gently,"Then hurt yourself."I was startled by his request. Hurt myself? On purpose? But then, without saying anything, I slowly bent my leg. Yes, there was tremendous pain, but that didn’t matter. I was still mesmerized by his request.
The doctor massaged my knee with his fingers and nodded to my father that everything would be okay. I’d have to have x-rays and the usual precautionary exam, but he saw nothing seriously wrong for now.But I was still aware that something very big had just happened to me.After a boyhood that was characterized by avoiding pain and discomfort of any kind, all of a sudden I saw that I could hurt myself if I needed to, and that I could do it calmly without batting an eye. Perhaps I wasn’t the coward I’d always thought I was. Perhaps there was as much courage in me as in anyone else, and it was all a matter of being willing to call on it.
It was a defining incident in my life, and it was not dissimilar to the waySteve Hardison, as a coach, has required that I call on things inside me that I didn’t know I had.
One time I was having a hard time enrolling people into seminars and doing my prospecting calls on the phone. Steve grabbed the phone and started calling people and signing them up. Then he accidentally dialed a wrong number and reached some mechanic at a car repair garage.Most people would have apologized at that point and hung up and dialed again. But rather than waste the call, Steve introduced him self and then stayed on the phone—until the mechanic had signed up for a seminar.
Hardison is a gifted and courageous public speaker, a resourceful and relentless salesperson, a talented athlete and a committed family man and church member. The kind of guy who used to make me sick!I could write an entire book about Steve Hardison’s remarkable work in coaching and consulting, and someday I just might. Examples of ways that he coached me to higher levels of performance are plentiful. But I think the greatest thing he has taught me is the value of coaching itself.Once you open yourself up to being coached, you begin to receive the same advantages enjoyed by great actors and athletes everywhere.When you open yourself up to coaching, you don’t become weaker—you grow stronger. You become more responsible for changing yourself.
n The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck writes, “The problem of distinguishing what we are and what we are not responsible for in this life is one of the greatest problems of human existence…we must possess the willingness and the capacity to suffer continual self-examination.”
The best coaches show us how to examine ourselves. It takes courage to ask for coaching, but the rewards can be great. The best moments come when your coach helps you do something you have previously been afraid to do. When Hardison would recommend that I do something I was afraid to do I’d say, “I don’t know if I could do that.”“So don’t be you,” he would say. "If you can’t do that, then be someone else. Be someone who could do it. Be DeNiro, be Bruce Lee, beany body, I don’t care, as long as you do it.“Coaching’s contribution to my life is illustrated in these words by French philosopher Guillaume Apollinaire:” ‘Come to the edge,’ he said.They said, ‘We are afraid.’‘Come to the edge,’ he said.They came.He pushed them.And they flew."
You can get coaching anytime. If coaching is appropriate for your golf or tennis game, it is even more appropriate for the game of life. Ask someone to be honest with you and coach you for a while. Let them check your “swing.” Let them tell you what they see. It’s a courageous thing to do, and it will always lead to more self-motivation and growth.