Episode: How to Get the Most from Coaching

Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.

Megan Hyatt Miller: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.

Michael:  And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. For the last couple of episodes, we’ve been talking about hiring a business coach, and that’s something every high-achiever, every entrepreneur, every senior executive needs. Today, we’re going to take this a step further and show you how to get the most out of that coaching relationship.

Megan: This is important, because you’re making a big investment in coaching. You’ve probably spent time researching, you’ve made a big financial commitment, and you don’t want to waste that. You want to get the most out of it. The problem is it’s not always as straightforward as it seems. A lot of people have been burned by bad coaching experiences.

We talked in a previous episode about the fake coaches, or coaches who don’t have the credentials they need to really create transformation for you. That could have been a bad experience. Or you could have come away just feeling like it was a waste of time or maybe the coach just didn’t deliver what you expected. That can all make you shy about recommitting to coaching, and as a result, not getting the most out of it and not getting a return on your investment. We don’t want that to happen to you.

Michael: That’s right. I think we have to say at the outset that coaching when it’s done best is a creative collaboration. It’s like dancing. It takes two to tango. There’s something the coach brings, but there’s something you have to bring, and if you don’t bring that thing to the relationship, then you’re not going to maximize the value of it. It’s going to be a waste of time for you.

So, we’re going to put that under the rubric of three commitments we need to make to virtually guarantee that you see positive change out of a coaching relationship or, frankly, even attending a conference or any other learning experience. Before we dive into it, we have to bring Larry on, because Larry is the guy who guides us through this stuff.

Larry Wilson: Hey, guys.

Megan: You’re the guy.

Larry: I’m the guy. Right now I am. Glad to be here. Michael, last session, or maybe the week before that, you had shared about a bad coaching experience. I had a bad coaching experience.

Megan: Did you? Tell us about it.

Michael: It wasn’t with me, was it?

Larry: No.

Michael: Okay, good.

Larry: It was in the eighth grade when I decided to go out for football, because every junior high kid wants to play in the NFL, seemingly. Can I just say that that was the eight weeks of my life that made me firmly decide I wanted to be a writer? It was mostly yelling, very little instruction. There was no rapport or any relationship with the coach. It didn’t set me up well for success. I’ll put it that way. I also didn’t like getting knocked down.

Megan: Other than that.

Michael: Do you think that kind of experience does keep people from seeking out coaching, because they think of coaching like that?

Larry: I wonder. We talked a couple of weeks ago about maybe a generational difference in the way people think about coaching, but for somebody of, shall we say, my particular vintage, coach is a pretty harsh word. That’s a very strong, authoritative word. It’s not your friend who comes along beside you. So, yeah, maybe there is that for some people.

Michael: Just to make it clear, we’re talking about that positive, encouraging, affirming kind of relationship. Certainly accountability, but I kind of believe this about accountability too: I don’t really believe anybody can hold you accountable. What I do think they can do is make a space for you to hold yourself accountable to the promises you’ve made. I think that’s an important distinction, because I really don’t want to be accountable to somebody else; I want to be accountable to me and to what my goals are and the life I’m trying to create. Does that make sense?

Megan: Yeah. What we know from goal research is that when you have only extrinsic motivations…they’re not coming from inside yourself…they’re really short-lived. You burn through them fast. The most successful transformation happens when those motivations are internal.

Larry: Well, we’re talking about three commitments that are going to help you get the most from your coaching experience. Megan, you brought us to the first one, which is a commitment to your own growth.

Megan: Yeah, because you’re responsible for your own growth. This is not going to magically happen. You’re not going to somehow just get it by osmosis or any other kind of magical thinking you might have. You have to make a commitment that you want to grow. That has to be a value to you, and that’s something that’s a core value of ours at Michael Hyatt & Company…continuous growth…that we think about and talk about regularly.

That’s applied to our product development, but it’s also applied to ourselves, as leaders, and that’s really what we’re talking about here; that we never want to stop growing, and that you’re willing to make an investment in yourself in terms of time and in terms of a financial investment. You’re willing to back yourself for the future. I think that’s what we’re getting at with coaching and making this commitment to your growth.

Michael: I would say, half of the results you get are going to be what you put into it. There’s this verse from Proverbs that I love. It says, “To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” Think about that. If you’re hungry enough, you can learn even from a bad teacher. I’m not suggesting that you find a bad coach, but I’m saying there’s a lot of the responsibility for the experience that’s on you and what you bring to the table, and particularly this first commitment, your commitment to grow.

If you’re absolutely committed to grow, you can learn from all kinds of people, all kinds of situations. You won’t be satisfied until you squeeze the juice out of every experience. You can take a stimulation you get from listening to a book or reading a book or from your coach and apply that, but you have to do that part of it. You have to meet the coach halfway. You have to have a commitment to your own growth.

Megan: You talk a lot at our coaching program, BusinessAccelerator, when our clients are there for their first intensive, that their breakthrough is their own responsibility. It’s not your job, as the coach, to create a breakthrough; it’s your job, as the coach, to create the fertile ground for a breakthrough, but it’s the client’s responsibility to get that breakthrough, to show up, to really have a commitment to themselves that they’re not going to leave without a breakthrough no matter what.

I’ll tell you what. We can tell the clients who have that commitment to themselves and the clients who don’t; the ones who are taking personal responsibility for their own growth and progress and the ones who are just kind of looking at you with their arms crossed, expecting you or one of our other coaches to deliver some kind of magical fairy dust of a breakthrough. Those people don’t last very long, and they also don’t get the breakthroughs they were hoping for.

Michael: It’s almost like the people who have their arms crossed… Thankfully, we don’t have too many of these, but the people who have the body language that says, “I dare you; wow me. It’s your job to create the breakthrough for me…” No. I’m sorry.

Like you said, I’m going to do my best to facilitate a conversation where you can have a breakthrough, but the people who I know take their own personal growth seriously are the people who are taking voracious notes, people who are fully engaged in the conversations in the room, people who come up and ask me questions. Those are the people who I know are committed to personal growth, because they’re doing their own work.

Megan: That commitment really needs to precede you showing up for coaching the first time. We’re going to get into some things in a minute of what you need to do when you’re there, but before you ever start, this is really about having the right mindset. If you have the right mindset before you start coaching, the value, the return on investment you’re going to get from whatever program you’re engaged in, is so much greater than if you come into it cynical or not taking responsibility or distracted or something like that.

Michael: I would take it a step further, even, to say if you come in with the wrong attitude, I don’t care if you have the world’s best coach, the most brilliant coach who has ever been born; you will not get jack out of that experience. On the other hand, even if you don’t have a brilliant coach, if you have the right attitude, if you’re committed to your own growth, you’ll find something there to fuel that.

Larry: We’ve cited a couple of times over these last two or three weeks this study of executive coaches that was conducted, and one of the conclusions of that study was that the executives most likely to benefit from coaching are those who have (and this is a quote) a “fierce desire to learn and grow.”

Megan: You can tell the difference. When you’re coaching, you can pick those clients out without ever talking to them. You can tell by their body language. You can tell by how they engage with other people. All those things you can tell, and they are the ones who become the star clients.

Michael: I hesitate to say this, but oftentimes, you can tell by the people who sit at the front of the room, because they want to be in close proximity to the teacher. They want to be where the action is. Or if it’s in a one-on-one coaching call, they’re not late, they’re on time, they’re prepared, they’ve done their homework, because they’re ready to get to work and study and grow.

Larry: Well, the first commitment is a commitment to your own growth. This isn’t like compulsory education when you’re in high school or junior high. Nobody is making you be there. Show up because you want to learn and grow. The second commitment is a commitment to fully engage.

Megan: This reminds me of the idea of playing full out; that when you show up to something, you are going to give it 100 percent. You are going to take notes, like you were talking about a minute ago. You are going to answer the questions. You’re going to dig deep. You’re going to push yourself past your comfort zone. You’re going to be all in for that period of time.

You’re not going to be checking email. You’re not going to be making calls, leaving your coaching to go make a call to your office. You’re going to treat it like the most important thing you’re going to do that quarter, if it’s a quarterly program. That’s called playing it full out. Again, you can tell the difference between the people who have made that commitment to themselves and the ones who haven’t.

Michael: I remember going to a conference years ago, and I was sitting next to somebody who had their arms crossed, who wasn’t doing the exercises, wasn’t taking any notes. I finally asked at a break, “How’s it going?” and he said, “Oh, I’m not that impressed.” Well, of course not. He wasn’t engaging at all. He wasn’t doing any work. He wasn’t doing anything, so it’s no wonder. You’re doing this for your own benefit. You’re engaging for your own benefit. If you don’t engage, you’re not going to get the experience; you’re not going to get the breakthrough.

Megan: Another way you can engage is by being vulnerable, asking questions of the coach that maybe make you feel a little bit exposed but are really important, or your fellow clients; to really be vulnerable and also to be generous, to be generous with the way you help people, the advice you share. We have an aspect of our BusinessAccelerator coaching where the clients get to help each other with the problems they’re facing in their business, and it’s so fun to watch. They get tons of breakthroughs.

That’s a great place where you really need to be both vulnerable and generous, because somebody at the table probably has the answer you need, but they’re only going to be able to help you if you’re vulnerable, and you probably have the ability to really help someone if you’re willing to be generous, but all that is an aspect of being fully engaged once you’re in coaching.

Larry: It takes a little bit of humility to really do that, doesn’t it?

Megan: It really does. You can kind of sit back and be asking the question the whole time you’re there, “Am I ahead of these people or behind these people?” In other words, “It’s all about me. It’s all about what they think of me or what I think of them.” That’s just a waste of your time and everyone else’s. It’s not about you, primarily.

Michael: This is where it sometimes gets manifest: people pretend to be something they’re not. It kind of goes back to the point you were making about being vulnerable and being willing to admit. It’s kind of like if I go to my financial adviser and try to pretend… Fortunately, he knows all the depths of my financial mistakes, the good things and the bad things and all that, so I can’t really pretend, but it would be easy in a coaching relationship to make it sound better than it is, to put the icing on the cake or, as somebody said, put lipstick on a pig. The more you can admit that you have a problem and the more honest you can be, the faster you’re going to get to a solution.

Megan: It’s like going to the doctor and not being honest about your symptoms, and then you don’t get the diagnosis you need or the treatments you need. The more honest you can be the better. That aspect of being fully engaged is critical to success in coaching.

Michael: I want to say one other thing here. I think it’s really important to suspend disbelief. Here’s what I mean by that. All of us have opinions, all of us have experience. We think we know the ways the world works, and we have these narratives about how the world works. You come into a situation where somebody doesn’t share those same beliefs or those same narratives, and you have to kind of put yours on the shelf and say, “Maybe there’s another way to approach this that I haven’t thought of before. Maybe there’s a different perspective or a different viewpoint. I’m willing to put mine on the shelf and not be defensive but be open.”

I think the Buddhists call this beginner’s mind. To approach this with beginner’s mind, like, “What if I didn’t really know the answers? What if I didn’t have any experience in this particular topic that we’re talking about right now? How would I approach it as a total learner from ground zero?” I think that’s helpful.

Megan: By the way, we’re not talking about violating your conscience. We’re not talking about being in a situation at some conference, for example, where you’re being asked to do something you just feel like is totally antithetical to your belief system, but you also, as a mature leader, should have the ability to be in a situation where people have great diversity of thoughts and beliefs and glean something useful out of those, in many cases, even if you’re not in alignment 100 percent. It’s not all or nothing, necessarily.

Michael: I’ll give you a good example. I walked into a conference one time that was actually put on by my coach. It was a situation where I was in a room with about 80 people from a couple dozen different countries. A lot of different religious viewpoints represented. I’m thinking to myself as I go into this conference, “Wow. I don’t know how this is going to go, because I don’t have that much in common. Not all of us speak the same language. We have English as a common base, but all of these different religious viewpoints, and all of that, from all over the world.”

One of the first exercises they did is they said, “We want you to get with two other people at your table, and we want you to come up with a list of everything you have in common.” I can remember, on my list, with the two people I had, we had 82 things we came up with that we had in common.

Megan: Whoa!

Michael: These were people from different religious backgrounds, from completely different countries, yet we had all of the big things in common. I’m not talking about the intimate details of our belief or our religious beliefs or any of that, but I’m just saying…

Megan: Like, being human.

Michael: Yeah. We all love our kids. We all want a better life for them. We value honesty and integrity. It was amazing. Then, all of a sudden, I felt like, “Even though there are a couple dozen different countries represented here, all of these different religions, I have so much in common with these people.”

Megan: That’s really cool.

Michael: That comes from being open-minded. I’m not saying I went into that conference with an open mind, but I saw the value of being open-minded.

Larry: Well, from the learning environments I’ve been in, I can tell you some of the behaviors that have been valuable to me and I think would be valuable to others. One is to get rested and go in refreshed, especially if you’re paying money for it, maybe traveling for it. You have to allow the margin to enter it with full energy.

I like to arrive early. It shows respect to the presenters. It shows that you’re all in. You get to meet some of the people you will be participating with, and that’s helpful. Sit where you can see and hear well. I find that sitting up front avoids distractions. You can be focused on what’s happening. This is really hard, but put your phone away.

Megan: This is critical.

Michael: Very critical.

Megan: Probably of all of the things on this list, this is the most important. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen people sit there, and they’re answering email. They paid all this money to be at a coaching intensive or a really expensive conference, and they’re just doing their day-to-day work, and you’re thinking, “You’re leaking money right now, and your breakthrough is just passing you by.”

Michael: To say it another way, you can’t engage unless you disengage with the other stuff.

Larry: Like the principle in the book Scarcity. You’re putting a bandwidth tax on yourself. You’re not getting the full download because you’re using some of your bandwidth to upload other thoughts and be somewhere else.

Michael: That’s a good metaphor.

Larry: I think taking notes is so critical. Writing reinforces learning. We talk about that a lot on Lead to Win. Taking notes will help you get more from the experience. And asking questions. What a shame it would be to go to the place where you can get questions answered and not ask them.

Megan: I have to tell you a story, Larry. We just finished our Focused Leader live conference this week, and we had a guy who was there. I think he said he was 26 years old. We did a Q&A after every one of our six sessions and had a handful, maybe 5 or 10 people, who would come up and ask questions. This guy came up three times, maybe four, and every time, he had a really thoughtful, humble, vulnerable, eager question to ask. He was probably the youngest person there by 10 years, easily. I was so impressed by how eager he was, because he was not going to leave that conference without whatever breakthrough he came for. That’s what we all need to do.

Michael: Curiosity is a mark of a good leader. It’s also a mark of intelligence. The more curious you can be, the more questions you ask… Those are the people who go farther faster.

Megan: That’s right.

Larry: I think it’s critical, too, to engage with other people. The break time is not time to make the phone calls. I mean, some of you have to do that, but that’s time to drill down with your peers and find out what they’re learning and what they’re taking away and get your questions answered from them. It took me a long time to learn this one, but do the exercises and the assignments. It’s not just busywork. This really helps you learn and apply what you’re learning to your own situation.

Michael: I can say, in our own coaching program, we are so thoughtful about that. The questions we have for the group discussions, the questions we have for the personal exercises… Those are not busywork. That is work that’s designed to take the content and help people import it into their life and make it part of their life, and that doesn’t happen unless you fully engage.

Larry: I can say for myself, when I started to make the most progress in my life is when I began to go to these learning opportunities, like conferences and coaching, and not try to discount the success of people who had succeeded above me but try to find out what they know. It makes such a huge difference to be open to learning from others. Finally, stay for the entire time. When you’re thinking about making that flight or “Can I skip the last Q&A and squeeze out early to get home?” you’re just not going to get the most benefit from the event.

Michael: No. Sometimes the breakthrough comes in that last 15 minutes. It may be something somebody else says or something your coach says, but sometimes it happens in the last few minutes. I want to milk every bit of it. I’m paying for all of it. I want all of it.

Larry: The first commitment to getting the most out of a coaching experience is a commitment to your own growth. The second commitment is a commitment to fully engage. The third commitment is a commitment to take action.

Megan: This one is so important, because at this point, you’ve gotten yourself into the right mindset, you’ve attended the coaching event, but now the rubber meets the road. What are you going to do with it? If you don’t take action, if you don’t implement the things you’ve learned, then it’s just more information, and none of us really need more information. What we need is more and better application and execution, and the only way that’s going to happen is if you carve out time to implement these things.

We recommend in our coaching program that people book the day after the coaching intensive to implement the things they’ve learned, whether that’s more forms or things they want to fill out, tools they’ve learned that they want to complete, or delegations they want to send to someone on their team, or things they want to think through at a deeper level.

Those things are very, very difficult to do once you get back in your business. When you’re in the throes of the daily operations of a business, there’s just not time to think about taking action on new stuff. You’re already consumed with taking action on the stuff you decided to do months and months ago. So strike while the iron is hot. As you often say, Dad, never leave the scene of a breakthrough without taking action. That’s what we’re encouraging people to do here.

Michael: Absolutely. We want to give space inside the coaching program for people to take action right there, but there’s only so much you can do in the context of the coaching session itself. The real transformation happens afterward. If you come in with the mindset of, “Okay, I’m going to give a day to this,” or if you’re in one-on-one coaching, “I’m going to give an hour to this, but you’d better fix me or give me a breakthrough or do something, because I have no time outside of this to do it,” well, you might as well not even do coaching, because you have to allocate that time.

I would say it probably needs to be a one-for-one kind of exchange. In other words, for every hour you’re in coaching, you probably ought to think about another hour that you’re going to do the application. It may not all happen on the day after; it may happen in the weeks that follow, but plan your execution.

Megan: That’s a good point. In addition to giving yourself time to continue to think through what you’ve just learned, maybe the day following or the hour following if you’re doing one-on-one coaching, you also need a booked time for the execution. Maybe it’s a meeting you need to have with someone. You had a big breakthrough in your coaching intensive. Now you have to go have a meeting with somebody on your team or you need to spec out a job description for somebody you want to hire or you want to create something.

Whatever it is, if you don’t schedule it before you leave and do it immediately, chances are it’s going to get crowded out. You’ll forget about it. You will be amazed at the amnesia you have once you’ve left. So you have to take action while that inspiration is there, because really, coaching is all about creating breakthroughs, but then it’s on you to execute on those breakthroughs once you leave.

Michael: That’s right.

Larry: Let me come at that from another angle. What about coming away from an experience like that and being so overwhelmed with the massive changes you need to make that it’s either very disruptive to your business or paralyzing? Perhaps you’ve had a boss or been that boss who comes back to the office, and everybody dreads when they get back from their coaching or from the conference, because it’s going to be a whole paradigm shift, and they’re going to want to throw out everything that has happened before. How do you make this actually doable and manageable in the context of a business that has to keep functioning?

Michael: Well, here’s one of the things I do. During the day (I’m part of a coaching program now that’s a day-long event once a quarter, and that’s actually the format we use for our coaching clients too), I’m taking notes, but I have one sheet at the back of the workbook or one page at the back of my notebook that’s allocated specifically for actions. So every time I think of an action I want to take… It may be a book the coach mentions that I want to buy. It may be something much more radical. I’ll just list that. Then I want to go back and prioritize those things.

I can’t do everything, but what are the most important things I can do that are going to drive the biggest results? Then, as a leader, you have to be self-aware enough to know, “How much can my organization metabolize at once?” What I don’t want to do is force-feed them and cause them to choke and die. I want to be able to mete out the kind of change that needs to happen in the right order and in the right frequency so nobody gets sick from it. I don’t want to be the guy who comes back and everybody dreads me coming back, because, “Oh my god! What did he learn at the coaching session this time?”

Megan: One of the things that can be really helpful to that end when you’re talking to your team about some changes you want to make (and this is good with any kind of change) is to frame it up from the perspective of why this is good for them. How does this help them? How does it alleviate a problem, create an opportunity?

If you just make it all about yourself… “This is going to make my job so much easier. This is going to help me make so much more money. This is going to help me get so many things off my plate.” Why does that matter to them? If you don’t communicate that, it’s really difficult to get buy-in, and then it’s really hard to get alignment. So, if you come at it from that perspective, you’re going to get a lot more enthusiasm than if they feel like you’re just coming back and creating chaos and a ton more work for them with no discernible benefit.

Michael: I’ve increasingly tried to frame these up as an experiment when I come back. “Hey, let’s just try this.” We did an entire episode on developing an experimental mindset. I think it’s a good way to sell anything.

Megan: It is. The truth is probably half of the things we try we don’t continue. We really do see them as an experiment, and they can be great. Some of them have been really lasting, and others we tried, and they didn’t quite work for us, and we’ve just moved on.

Michael: Honestly, everything is an experiment. There’s nothing we don’t implement that’s not an experiment, because the moment it stops working or doesn’t continue to work, we’re going to abort and go to something else.

Larry: Today we’ve learned that every leader can get maximum benefit from a coaching relationship by making three commitments. The first is a commitment to your own growth, the second is a commitment to fully engage, and the third is a commitment to take action. So, Megan and Michael, any final thoughts?

Megan: There is so much agency you have as a coaching client. It’s easy to think so much about the coach you select and the program you’re getting into, and all that is really important. We’ve talked a lot about that, but you are the other half of the equation for success. When you implement these three commitments, your chances of success, of having huge breakthroughs and tremendous return on your investment, are really big.

Michael: I just think to think of it as a dance and “How could I bring my best self to this equation so we have the best performance together? How can it be a creative collaboration that works for both of us?”

Larry: Well, this is both practical material and, I think, inspiring too. It inspires us to take our own growth more seriously. So thank you, guys.

Megan: Thanks, Larry.

Michael: You bet. Thank you, Larry. Thank you guys for joining us today, and we’ll see you right here next week. Until then, lead to win.