If I say: “coaching,” what is likely to come to mind is either an athletic coach or coaching for an executive leader. Many people have a narrow definition of what coaching is and the benefit that it offers.

I recently watched a TED Talk by Atul Gawande who advocated for a broader view of the practice. “Coaching is how people get better at what they do,” he said. “If professionals don’t realize there are problems, then they stop making improvements.”

Gawande, a surgeon and social entrepreneur, has used coaching to improve himself in the operating room and to decrease infant mortality in Indian hospitals. He was reluctant to allow an outside observer in his operating room but did so when evidence convinced him of the value of coaching. Gawande thought he conducted a flawless surgery, but the coach provided him with a page of observations that Gawande did not recognize were happening, and recommended changes that have made a marked difference in his practice.

The TED Talk provides examples of how Itzhak Perlman’s wife used to coach the great violinist from the audience and how most people could benefit from the perspective another person provides. I know from firsthand experience that a coach can see things that elude you or become so much a part of your routine that you no longer question them (even though you should!).

“Coaches are external eyes and ears, providing a more accurate picture of your reality,” Gawande says. “They recognize the fundamentals, break your actions down and help you build them back up again.” 

No matter what your line of work, if you are serious about improvement, don’t rely on just yourself to get you there.

Watch Gawande’s TED Talk: Want to get great at something? Get a coach.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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