What It Takes To Be A Coach — Do You Have It?

I’ve been in the coaching game full time since the late 90’s and have coached hundreds of people over the years. I’ve realized that the skills I employ are mostly the same ones my Financial Advisor clients need to be successful.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what it takes to be a coach, so let me lay out what I think are the essential elements:

The love of helping others succeed. It’s no accident that I listed this first. If you don’t understand that the only way to win the game of coaching is to help others define what success means to them, then help them get it, you’d better consider other options. It also means you’ve got to check your ego at the door because it’s all about the players, not you.

Hunter vs. Farmer mentality.  A great coach typically has a “farmer” mentality, willing to grow his people over the long haul. Many organizations promote top performers to become leaders, then witness them stumble. An example from the sports world: Michael Jordan is considered by many (me included) to be the G.O.A.T. (“Greatest Of All Time”) player in the NBA. But he has hardly been successful in his leadership role as a team owner.

The joy of playing the game. I LOVED pick-up basketball. I played at the local YMCA and outside on the playground for 40 years. (I’m gonna take up golf when I get old …) The guys I played with KNEW that when I was in there I wanted to WIN. With my clients that means that I will do whatever it takes to prepare them to win their game — whether it’s giving them an article to read on networking skills, rehearsing sales interview questions before big appointments to asking if they’ve recited their Mission Statement every morning.

Character counts.  People can spot a phony a mile away. If I’m asking certain things of my clients I’d better be walking the talk myself. So I continually read books on business development, use consultative interview skills with my own prospects and never miss a day of doing my Morning Success Ritual.

Willingness to learn. Innovation through learning is one of the keys to success — great coaches are students of their game. In my case, I have a goal of reading at least 40 business-related books a year. Some people wonder how I do it — I tell them it’s part of my job. My clients are looking to me for ideas to help them improve, and these ideas are NOT going to come from watching my Chicago sports teams blow another close one on TV.

Willingness to teach.  It appears the best coaches are also great teachers. Sports examples include Tommy Lasorda of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots. And “the ZenMeister” Phil Jackson– with both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers, he was known for giving philosophy books to his players. Some people say Jackson was just lucky because he had superstars Michael Jordan, Kobe and Shaq — baloney! Phil was able to expertly teach his role players how to fit in with the stars — that’s why he has so many championship rings.

Patience. Every coach knows the patience it takes to instill good habits or change bad ones. It can be frustrating at times to drill down on the same concepts every week. I always take the position that there are no bad clients — I just must not be delivering my message in a way that the client will “get it.” Luckily, these experiences are few and far between. But they come up often enough for me to know that in order to help my clients win I’ve got to hang in there with them during the learning process.

Accountability. Coaching without accountability would be like a parent lecturing their kids on not crossing the street, then ignoring it when they do. You’ve got to hold your people accountable for doing what they say they’re going to do. I believe this can best be accomplished through a “Socratic inquiry” with the following questions:

1. “What would you like to achieve, by when?” Let’s use an example of a branch manager of a financial services firm who is coaching a financial advisor. When he asks this question, the advisor might say that he’d like to net an additional $30,000 by the end of the year.  This is a good start — having the FA define what he wants by a specific date.

2. “What would it mean to you if you could do that?” This is where the branch manager can elicit the underlying “why” of the advisor’s monetary goal. The responses the manager gets will uncover the FA’s true motivation: Maybe it’s for putting his kids in a private school, perhaps he and his spouse want to travel to Tuscany for their 20th anniversary, an ailing parent might need additional financial support, etc. This is how the manager and the FA deepen their relationship.

3.  “What behaviors/activities would you like me to hold you accountable for, in what time frame?” Talk is cheap — the rubber meets the road when the FA commits to specific, measurable behaviors. The time frame can range from once a week to once a month, depending on the FA’s need and experience. This is how the manager will help an FA stay on track to not only make more money but to fulfill his underlying goals. And that’s the essence of the coaching relationship. (As an aside, FA’s want to use these same questions with their prospects and clients to deepen their relationships.)

4. “What can I do to help?” As a show of support, the manager wants to indicate to the FA that he is willing to help in any number of ways: Remove minor administrative hassles, upgrade the office decor, host client social events, underwrite a portion of the cost of hiring a coach, etc. Probing for specifics is what makes this work. Of course, following through on any promise is critical.

Corrective feedback. You know enough to give “high five’s” when your clients do well — to be a great coach it’s important to give effective feedback when they don’t. I “review the game film” of events, then let clients know where they might have “missed a block.” An example: After a sales call, my client does not set a follow up appointment with a prospect. When we review what happened and this becomes apparent, the FA may be able to immediately make amends. Calling my client’s attention to a missed opportunity is often enough for him to correct a situation and not make the same mistake twice.

Marketing and sales.  One year during the NCAA’s “March Madness” I saw a commercial featuring legendary Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski hawking the American Express Card. If it’s OK for him, it’s OK for me. Like it or not, to get to the top of any profession, you’ve got to be willing to market and sell your services. I view these functions as “communication with a purpose.” And if your purpose as a coach is to expose yourself to the greatest number of people you can help, why would you want to rob anyone out of experiencing who you are and what you have to offer?

I love this game! There’s nothing I like better than the kick I get from helping my FA clients score early, score often, get into the end zone and do the touchdown dance. (Translation: Turn prospects into paying clients.) I don’t see myself doing anything else for the foreseeable future — if I’m a reasonably good coach now, imagine how good I’ll be in 20 years. That’s motivation enough for me to stay with it.

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