The Talent Whisperer – March 2010

Sam bellowed more than whispered when he coached championship 6th grade football. Yet, to this day, his former “players” tell me how my dad inspired them to be better men. He was a true talent whisperer, a special coach. My now mellow 83-year old dad led his Blue Bruisers to an undefeated decade of wins. A red-faced, huffing and puffing bull of a coach, stampeding up and down the field, Dad passionately gestured and snorted commands along the sidelines. A trip to the ice-cream parlor celebrated the completion of each game and was part of his coaching ritual.

Writer Daniel Coyle says in his recent book The Talent Code “greatness isn’t born, it’s grown.” He backs up his premise with three research-based concepts, jiving with my experience and LodeStar Universal‘s philosophy:

*  how myelin works to build great skills
*  how inspiration ignites motivation, and
*  how gifted master coaches, or “talent whisperers” play a critical role in talent development

Dad pushed boys. He inspired them with his passion and joy. He didn’t coddle, but he recognized the value of a good ice cream cone. Somehow, it all worked–and changed people’s lives for the better. He did the same years ago when he opened the Dallas office of Goldman, Sachs. Many young men moved on to become legendary successes from business icons to a Secretary of the Navy.

Coyle’s research says takes about 10 years to turn skills into world-class athletic or artistic talent. My experience is world-class leadership takes much longer to achieve. It never stops, only evolves.

None of us is immune to our blind spots. That’s why many of the most successful people I know consistently invest in coaches. The ones who think they can get by without or for whom this isn’t even on the radar screen, ultimately are left behind. If there is one rich and ripe area in the American economic landscape, it is the emergence of the professional coach.

When I was first introduced to the idea of executive talent whispering almost two decades ago, the concept was edgy. Today, leadership consulting is standard operating procedure worldwide. Just as no Olympic athlete is capable of peak performance without a coach, I can’t imagine any professional today functioning at peak levels without one either. Competition is too intense and emotional hazards too great.

Describing legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, Coyle says “master coaching is…more art than science. It exists in the space between two people, in the warm, messy game of language, gesture, and expression.” Wooden was famous for his ability to read the individual personalities of his players and apply his huge bag of “tricks” and techniques individually to help them play their best.

Within my repertoire, I have gathered over a lifetime a treasure trove of techniques, data, and tools to give my clients what they need to be successful. “Mistakes,” as Coyle says, are stepping stones to success, versus something to fear. He adds, “…the greatest work of art anyone can construct: the architecture of their own talent.”

The first stepping stone into leadership is dominion over your own singular life. To that end, here are five tips for finding a coach, no matter where you are economically or professionally:

*  Hire the smartest person you can afford. “Smart” doesn’t mean PhD or former CEOs. Smart means people gifted in helping others achieve their goals. Ask around. Talk to people with this in mind. “Smart” also doesn’t mean “most expensive.” (John Wooden never asked for a raise during his entire time at UCLA.)
Chemistry matters. If you don’t resonate with the consultant, no matter what the credentials are, move on.
*  You will most likely need to work with different people at different ages and stages of your life. Be open to change. Be open to new ideas and fresh ways of looking at things. Although I’ve worked with some clients for decades, sometimes a few months does the trick.
*  Look for honesty, integrity, and courage. If you think it’s easy to tell you the truth when we know it’s something you don’t want to hear, think again. The other side of this coin is: you must be willing to accept instructions. There have been many famous people in the news lately whose significant lives have been shattered. Don’t think you are so important as to be infallible. No one was willing to stand up to them and tell them the truth. If you already are quite successful, a pro in your court means it is more likely you’ll stay that way.
*  If you can’t afford a coach right now, buddy up with the best colleague you know. Work with one another diligently over the next year with the goal being to hire a professional coach at the end of 12 months. If your organization isn’t willing to pay for coaching right now for you, don’t let that stop you from getting help.

Interesting note, while doing the research to write this article, I discovered that although born on different years, my dad and John Wooden were both born on the same day, October 14. It was a lucky day for talent.