Coaching (myself) for Performance

Emotion. Values. Perspective. bigstock-A-namtag-sticker-with-the-word-44104717

I looked at these words closely, scrawled on a white board in a conference room. They came to me as familiar, although it wasn’t clear at first why. The last day of the last module of an executive coaching course was unfolding. I pulled my attention away from the instructor, for a moment, to think about what these words meant to me; about how they fit together in a pattern of inquiry, discovery and resolution. How could I use these expressions of character and reality to help others, as a consultant, as a coach, as a friend?

What I contemplated with greater depth, though, was how emotion, values and perspective show up in my own performance. Where I flow into delicious emotion and where I bump into discomfort. What I value and how often does value enter my work. Whether my perspective is grounded or if I need to check myself more often.

For many years, I experienced my career as a climb through the ranks, with sporadic outbursts of creativity, presence and magic. It was, fundamentally, about the work (small “w”) and the rewards. The satisfaction I derived was mostly from external recognition as measured by external metrics. What made it all real to me was external as well – the bonus, the title, the seat at the table. I coached myself to be a reward seeker, and I coached myself well.

I decided to stop. Not because I was trying to prove anything profound about the incredible misalignment that crooked my perception of accomplishment. I decided to stop because it was time for a reorg. I’ve lived through a lot of them, externally. It was time for a more personal restructuring.

As I looked at those words on the whiteboard, and froze at how quickly I recognized them, I realized they were the markers I had used to redirect my work life. All of them had previously arrived together like a gorgeous, interactive monkey wrench to push inquiry, discovery and resolution.  In the end, they created a new code for what I wanted to capture professionally:

Emotion: fun, connectivity, purpose

Values: collaboration, integrity, realization

Perspective: articulating vision and its impact, aiding transformation, building a sustainable business

The code brought me to this: I am a storyteller. I derive great inward joy from seeing and articulating a deeper meaning, a meaning that clarifies, joins and moves people forward. It is the professional space where I feel most alive and where I want to play. The code also defined my role as a builder, someone who pulls pieces together to create something lasting.

In coaching myself to answer these questions, I set an intention to uncover a lasting outcome. As basic as it may seem, just sitting for a while with these three simple words was a sea change. The luxury I afforded to coach myself in this way was one of the smartest steps I ever took in the cultivation of my work life. It led me to unmoor myself from a prior mental and emotional construct of performance mid-way in life, permitting the freedom to explore, to fail, to change.

Have I eschewed external rewards? No. We all like to hold up tangible stuff and say, “Look what I did.” It’s just that this stuff now holds a different place in my rankings. The right place vis á vis all the other metrics. Which is why seeing those words so prominently displayed that afternoon pulled me out of the moment and brought me back to my own coaching experience.

Coaching is, at its heart, an exercise of accompaniment. The person being coached possesses, or can possess, what is needed. The dilemma is that the steps are unclear, shrouded, mysterious. By accompanying, and, at times, pushing the process of discovery, a coach attends the uncovering. Doing this for oneself is no different. It is only the splitting of one’s attention between guiding and exploration that is the distinction.

In my experience, coaching myself at that point in my work life was about creating a new code based on three markers – emotion, values, perspective. Three markers I can use across a number of situations. So how can I use these markers as a consultant, a coach and a friend? How can I use them with myself to stay on track? Simple: by measuring my performance against them every single day.











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