This is part four of a five part series on becoming a better coach. Each article explores a different element of what it takes to help others accomplish more than they thought they could and become the kind of coach that can consistently build high performing teams and an unstoppable organization. You can start at part one by going here
In the 1960’s a study was done to determine the power of positive expectations on the performance of school children. In the landmark study done by Dr. Robert Rosenthal, former chairman of the Psychology department at Harvard, it was found that 47% of the children who were labeled as “having unusual potential for intellectual growth” demonstrated IQ gains of 20 points or more while only 19% of those in the control group showed such gains.
The students in both groups, however, were chosen completely at random. There was no group of specially gifted students. The only difference in the control group and the “gifted” group was the expectations of the teachers.
Since the completion of that study, hundreds of studies have been conducted in schools and workplaces, that show a correlation between the expectations of a coach, mentor or teacher and the performance of the individual. In these studies, the coach or teacher was unaware that the individual was selected at random. This means that they honestly and completely believed that the person they were coaching or teaching was capable of more than the average person.
In order to coach any individual effectively, you have to set expectations for them that are higher than the ones they have for themselves. If you can’t do that with complete sincerity, they need a different coach. People are already capable of achieving what they believe they can accomplish. The purpose of a coach is to push them past that, to stretch that belief, to help them achieve their true potential, not their limited version of that potential.
Here’s the hard part; most people are very effective at convincing you that they aren’t capable of the things you expect from them. If you are not very careful as a coach, you will soon buy into their lower expectations for themselves. The moment you do, you lose the ability to help them.
In the studies I referenced it was important that the teachers fully believed in the increased potential of their students. As a coach, teacher, parent or even friend, we make millions of quick decisions on how we treat someone based on that belief. How we talk to them, approach them, focus on them, listen to them, react to them all will change based on what we really believe they are capable of. We can’t fake that.
Think about the differences in how you act around someone you respect, admire, and believe in, versus someone you don’t. No one is good enough to artificially create that kind of behavior consistently over time. Yet it is that subtle shift in how we treat others that will slowly erode that limiting belief about their own capability, or confirm it.
It takes incredible patience. In a school environment teachers interact with kids on a daily basis. It a coaching environment we don’t always have that luxury. It may be months before you see any evidence of a shift. Then, all of a sudden, little cracks in their picture of their own potential will appear and then they are capable of forming a new picture of what they can accomplish. They make incredible progress when that happens. Keep in mind, they have worked their whole life to build this image of what their capabilities are, you won’t change that quickly. You must have more faith in them, than they have doubt in themselves. That’s not easy because often, they have been practicing the doubt part for a very long time.
This element of coaching is the single biggest reason that most people don’t achieve success as a coach or don’t become the kind of coach who can change the way others think. It’s too easy to allow others to convince us that they are at their best, even if they aren’t even close. When they firmly believe it, and you aren’t sure, they will win the battle every single time. If you don’t believe that someone is capable of more than they are currently accomplishing, don’t coach them. All you will do in that situation is confirm the limits they have set for themselves and make it harder for them to move forward.
People are where they are for a reason and only in rare circumstances is it because circumstances have conspired against them so that they have no choice. They are there because, in essence, it’s where they believe they should be or all that they believe they are capable of. If you are going to help them move forward, accomplish more, achieve greater things, you have to help them change that mental picture. To do that, you have to be completely convinced that they can. You have to see their potential, even before they do. Only then, can you help them reach it.
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