Coaching According to Alex

by Jean Marie Johnson

My nephew, Alex, arrived on planet earth an athlete. That's quite an accomplishment, given the family gene pool. His commitment to excellence, continuous improvement and winning spirit were evident from the start. As Alex matured, he demonstrated another set of unexpected abilities. He had this way of bringing out the best in others. Little did I realize that this young man would teach me a thing (or two or three) about coaching.

Having perfected my ability to avoid any activity involving a ball, hoop, bat or net, I never expected to find myself taking a sports lesson from my young nephew. But as he shot hoops one summer afternoon, he gently encouraged me to give it a try. In a split second, the little voice in my head screamed: "I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS." Then, my sense of adult responsibility and my need to be a good role model took over.

As I stood there facing the dreaded hoop, I felt every bit like the twelve-year old; that I was "the kid," and Alex, the "adult." But as I tested my wings on this unfamiliar turf, I realized that this wasn't about age, it was about roles. He was the Coach, and I, the student.

I got off to a rocky start. Standing several feet away, Alex let me stumble a bit, not interfering. Then he said, "That was better." I kept trying. And Alex's comments followed. He gave me the space I needed, and lots of encouragement and tips along the way. Before long, I was hitting the rim, and finally, a basket. Before I could say a word, Alex let out a great big "YES!" I was beaming.
 

As I reflect on that afternoon three years ago, I am touched by the wisdom of this young man. Hadn't he beautifully modeled the fundamentals of great coaching? 

Here's how I see it:

Coaching, According to Alex:

  • Believe in others, even when they don't believe in themselves

  • Acknowledge small wins along the way

  • Support and encourage with your words, tone and actions

  • Model your own commitment to excellence and continuous improvement

You can make a great difference in the experiences of your direct reports and peers if you applied these fundamentals to your coaching. Here's how:

  • Believe in others, even when they don't believe in themselves:  Mastering the 33 best practices of exceptional service that serve as the foundation for MAGIC can sometimes seem overwhelming. Regardless of what pointers and examples you may provide, the most important contribution you can make is to communicate to your associates that you believe they can do it. Imagine what the outcome might have been if your dad told you you'd never be able to ride a bike without training wheels!

  • Acknowledge every small win along the way:  I don't know a single MAGIC participant who could demonstrate all 33 points on every interaction after attending a MAGIC program. Exceptional performance in any field takes discipline, time, and yes, practice! Your feedback and examples provide inspiration. But please don't stop just with examples. Discipline yourself to tell your associates how you see him improving. When you do you may be surprised by the positive changes.

  • Support and encourage with your words, tone and action: So now you're noticing, and you've made a note to yourself to tell your associate what you are seeing. But before you do, remember to be specific when describing the behavior you noticed, make a point of seeking out that associate, and when you communicate, say it like you mean it. Remember, much of your meaning will be conveyed through your tone.

  • Model your own commitment to excellence and continuous improvement:  So often a coach will share with me her uncertainty about appearing "vulnerable" with her direct reports. When I engage in a deeper conversation with that coach, I will often learn that she is afraid of being "exposed." She believes that her direct reports will not respect her if she does not demonstrate perfect MAGIC skills in every interaction.

Think about it:  What could be more powerful than sharing with others your own learning journey and your commitment to continuously improving your daily practice of MAGIC? When you share your learning successes and challenges, others will be inspired to share theirs - the essence of MAGIC Coaching.
 

Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • What would happen if I applied these ideas to my coaching of others?

  • What would make the biggest difference with your team: believing, acknowledging, supporting or modeling?

 
Jean Marie Johnson is a Communico facilitator and has helped clients with their MAGIC initiatives. And for 20 years she has specialized in cultivating the customer experience as a key competitive advantage.
 
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