Coaching your way to the top


Learning how to coach can greatly improve your veterinary practice. Here are some tips to get you started.

You don't need a coach in your practice—unless you want to play your best game possible. For example, if I want to have some fun playing a pick-up game of tennis with my neighbor, I don't need a coach—just a new can of balls. But if I want to play, compete and possibly win at a major tournament, it makes sense to have a coach because at that level of play, everyone is out to play the very best game possible.

The same is true in business. If you just want to just get by, creating a climate of coaching isn't necessary. But if you want to excel at the sport of business, then coaching can give you the edge you need to rise above the competition.

If you master the role of coach, your practice's productivity and profitability could soar. You don't need to go back to school for an MBA either. A better practice is possible just by shifting the management atmosphere from managing by control to managing as a coach.

How to coach

If you're at least willing to consider the possibilities that coaching has to offer your practice, you probably want to know how to do it. It's simple: Observe what great coaches do, and do that. What follows are some of the coaching tips and principles I've learned from working with and observing coaches in action.

Detect the player's commitment

One of the first things a great coach must do is detect a "coachable player" (have your team read an article about how to be a coachable player at A coachable player is a player who has a commitment to the game. As Woody Allen put it: "Eighty percent of life is showing up." If your staff shows up for work, you know they have at least some level of commitment to your practice.

Another way to determine a person's commitment is in what the person says. If a staff member complains, you may not be hearing commitment. If you hear suggestions after the complaints, you're hearing commitment as well as identifying a coachable person.

Be sensitive to how players listen

One note of caution: The best intentions of a coach can be tripped up by a player's response to coaching. It's human nature to hear coaching first as criticism, which can result in defensive behavior.

A good coach overcomes this problem by taking the players' natural reactions into account and getting them to listen to the coaching anyway. Suppose one of your employees, Alice Smith, is late to work. As a coach, the first step is to examine what's happening with her. See if there's a pattern here that you've noticed in the past. Next, ask yourself what would make a difference in her behavior.

Go to her and say, "Here's what I think is happening. What do you think?" Then, listen carefully to her perspective. How does she interpret the situation? Finding out how someone is interpreting an action is one of the most effective techniques of coaching, because our thoughts and feelings influence our actions. Understanding Alice's perspective will help you understand her behavior.

Altering the player's interpretation

As a coach, your next step is to have a conversation that alters the player's interpretation.Start by saying you noticed she came into work late.

Tell Alice clearly that it's not intended as criticism. Then ask: "Did you know you were late to work?"

Alice may say something like, "I knew I was a little late, but I didn't think it was that big a deal. My last boss didn't really seem to mind."

You could respond, "So you're saying, you think the time you come to work is more flexible and doesn't make that much difference?"

Once you've heard Alice's take on the situation, you need to choose your words carefully so you make this a real coaching moment. It might be something like, "Alice, you've been an excellent worker and your overall performance is fine. But I want you to know, from now on, I need you to come to work on time. When you come in late, you create unnecessary hardship on the rest of the staff."

Another note of caution: Don't use the above example as a formula. As a coach, you need to observe and let your actions fit the different situations you encounter.

Be responsible for the performance

Lastly, remember that you are the coach. To be effective, a coach must be responsible for the performance of the player. The best part of coaching is that it demands the commitment from you to perform beyond the level you've reached in the past. Above all, being a great coach demands that you find yourself a coach and be coachable as well. Your coach may be a colleague, an outside consultant, anyone. If you let people coach you, it will improve your own coaching abilities.

As an effective coach, you make the biggest difference in your results and the satisfaction you generate for yourself and your entire winning team.

Dr. Brad Swift is founder of the Life on Purpose Institute and helps professionals through writing, speaking and coaching.

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