Updated: Oct 30
I took up golf in my early twenties. My step-father purchased a set of clubs for me, took me to his favorite course, and gave me a few pointers. Like most people, I was pretty bad when I started. My drive rarely landed in the fairway and my putting game was weak. However, after a month of regular play, my score dropped considerably. Then I plateaued. I just couldn’t seem to get any better.
In the process, I learned an important lesson that applies to many skills: Without the help of a coach, it doesn’t matter how much you practice on your own, at some point you won’t get any better.
My step-father then introduced me to his golf coach. I took a couple lessons and she identified some issues with my swing. Advice from an expert made an immediate difference. My game improved for a little while. The problem was that I thought of my golf coach much like my car mechanic who I only visit when I have a problem and want help fixing it quickly. That’s when I learned that if I was going to be serious about getting better at golf, I would need regular and systematic coaching.
As I came to realize the importance of receiving feedback in my golf game, I recognized that this isn’t a lesson unique to golf. Truly mastering any skill, be it a sport, an art, or a career competency, often necessitates guidance from those who have walked the path before us or who can provide insight we might miss on our own. This becomes evident when we look at professionals at the pinnacle of their careers.
Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, made a career-long commitment to improving his fundamentals. Tom Martinez was Brady’s personal throwing coach from 1992 until 2012. They worked together during the off-season and before the playoffs. In the lead up to winning his sixth Super Bowl, when most players were enjoying some downtime, Brady was working on his throwing technique. Tom House, Brady’s personal throwing coach since 2012, once said, Brady is looking for a 1% gain.
Even business leaders recognize coaching enhances high performers. For example, the former Chairman of GE, Jack Welch, received coaching from Ram Charan for many years. Welch knew that when things are going well leaders are prone to blind spots.
What kind of coaching do business leaders need? A Stanford University/The Miles Group survey of CEOs, board directors, and other senior executives found managing conflict, listening, delegating, and communication to be the most important areas for skill development.
As you can see, true professionals make skill development a career priority. Investing in yourself isn’t something you should do when you are struggling; it’s something you should be doing constantly. Give some thought to areas where you may have plateaued. Then find an expert to help you get 1% better.