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Winning in the Shallow End

Vince Lombardi famously said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

I disagree. There are other things.

Flooding Back

A former colleague included me in the slate of candidates being considered to coach an employee in his organization. During the vetting process, I spoke with a member of the executive team who asked me to share one of my client’s results. I chose an outcome I feel proud of.

I had coached a director of marketing who felt belittled and humiliated following an interaction with a sales leader much earlier in her tenure with the company. She tried to forget the experience, but it came flooding back during an exercise I assigned at a group workshop.

She confided in me the powerful, uncomfortable feelings she experienced in the leader’s presence since the incident. As a result, she’d avoided him which negatively impacted their relationship and her ability to collaborate with and influence his team.

I told her, “If you want to move beyond this, rather than avoid it, you’re going to have to face it.”

When she did, the fear, shame, and humiliation began to melt away. Free from the weight of those feelings, she could show up as her competent, confident self with the sales leader and his team. He noticed the change and gave positive feedback to her manager. Soon after, she was promoted from an individual contributor to a team leader.

In Too Deep

After hearing this story, the executive said, “That sounds kind of… heavy. Can you help when the issues aren’t so deep?

I recognized his question revealed his own discomfort with what he considered “heavy” stuff, but instead of shying away, I leaned in.

It’s easy if all that’s needed is some training, but in my experience, there is something deeper going on. If there wasn’t, the issue would likely be resolved through the interventions you’ve already implemented.

I knew my reply might cost me the opportunity, so I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to meet the client.

She and I immediately clicked. We had an easy rapport and a candid conversation. As we wrapped up, she said she’d be speaking with a few other coaches and would let me know when she’d made a decision.

I was confident she’d choose me, so I was surprised for the second time in this process when I learned she’d selected another coach. She said it was a difficult choice, but she was looking for some “quick wins.” She described my work as deep and more transformational than she wanted.

There was that word again–deep.

Learning to Swim

Months later, my former colleague contacted me again. He was seeking a coach for another employee. I’ll spare you the details and cut to the chase: She didn’t choose me either.

The feedback this time? “It felt like it was going to be too much like therapy.”

I was 0 for 2—a two-time loser. 

Was I disappointed to be rejected again? Sure, but when I had time to reflect, I realized something important: I honestly reflected who I am and the type of work I do. If these leaders didn’t want to work with me because of it, they made the right decision for themselves.

Am I doing therapy with my coaching clients? No, but I do ask them to reflect on the past experiences contributing to how they show up to present challenges. We don’t spend time processing the past, but we acknowledge and honor it, and we implement strategies to help them overcome it, so they can reach their goals.

I take it as a compliment when someone describes the work I do as deep, and I welcome it as a metaphor. I invite my clients to move towards the deep end of the pool, and I support them as they learn to swim.

If my approach causes me to lose some clients along the way, I’m okay with that. I can think of a few things more important to me than winning, like authenticity and facilitating lasting change in the people I serve. But that’s just me.

How about you? You ready to leave the shallow end? If you are, I’ll be there to help you keep your head above water.

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