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Becoming a Better Coach: The Journey Happens at Their Pace

By Randy Hall

This article is part five of a five part series about coaching. Each part explores a different element of what it takes to be an effective coach. Learn how to empower your team to help them accomplish more than they ever imagined. If you master these skills, you can consistently build outstanding teams that provide top medical care and extraordinary client service. Get ready to establish your practice as THE only place to go in town. Not by your prices or equipment, but by how well you coach your team.

Several years ago I coached a practice owner who seemed to get a lot out of our conversations but was making little to no progress. She said all of the right things to me. She appeared to be focused on the goals we set together. What was the problem?

The answer was fairly simple. She wasn’t ready to let go of where she was, to get to where she wanted to be. There was too much comfort in the familiar. She found security in spending her time the way she was accustomed. She liked the familiarity of staying busy and occupying her time with routine tasks. Checking things off her list was a tremendous sense of satisfaction. Unfortunately, they weren’t the important things that would move her towards her goals. Think of it like a comfortable pair of old, ripped jeans that are hard to throw away. Humans cling to what we know.

Leaving Comfort Behind

There is a point for anyone we coach when they decide to leave their comfort zone. They step away from the security of what they know and reach for something better. They make the choice to stretch, learn, grow and yes, be uncomfortable. “New” sometimes means “difficult.” None of us like the feeling of not knowing what we are doing. But in any new endeavor, some of that awaits us.

Our job as coaches is to take our team member to the spot where they have to make that choice. We can help them build the new path and show them how they can achieve what they want in life. Ultimately though, they have to decide to take those critical first steps.

If we make the new trail clear and help them remove some obstacles, we hope that they will move forward. But we cannot push them down the new path. And there are times when the comfort of the old path, while it leads to nothing better, is more attractive. The old trail is smooth, well worn and easier to walk.

Parting Ways If Need Be

It’s easy to get caught up in the potential you see for someone. As a coach, it’s exhilarating to see what the future holds for your team member. But, you cannot move the person to greater places if they don’t want to go. If they aren’t willing to take those first steps out of their comfort zone, you have to give them the time to wrestle with that choice. Then it’s time to shift gears and coach someone in your practice who is ready. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part of coaching.

I stopped working with that practice owner. When we spoke six months later, she updated me on how things were going for her. She finally decided to make the changes we talked about. She stopped surrounding herself with people who were enabling her old habits. She started seeking out colleagues who pushed her toward new and better habits. She spent more time thinking and refining her goals and crafting ways that would help her reach them. She finally broke free from the mindset that trapped her on the old path. She created a new mindset that would let her choose any path she wanted.

Using Coaching Time Wisely

Spend your coaching time with employees who are ready to change the way they work and live. Help them see the possibilities and envision the steps that will help them achieve their success. Work with them to navigate the challenges and obstacles that will inevitably line their new path. And then, if they are ready, help them go get everything they want. If they aren’t ready, walk away and give them time.

For a moment, think of the members of your veterinary practice team. If you coach a poor performer who’s ready to make changes, your investment will improve your overall team performance. If you coach a high performer who is content with their abilities, the return on your invested time is minimal. Your responsibility as a coach is to spend your time with employees who are willing to make the trip.

It’s hard when you help someone imagine a new future and then they don’t want to go get it. Don’t worry. Just give them time. If you’ve coached them well, most often they decide to make the needed changes. They will always do it on their timeline, not yours. That’s ok; it’s their journey.