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Coaching definition: Cheerleader or drill sergeant?


Many people come to coaching to improve performance. This is true of people who are in sales, or in a business capacity where they have measurable objectives. It is also true of people whose accomplishments are not as easily quantifiable, but who feel that they could somehow accomplish more.

The other day, I got a call from somebody who said: “I’m looking for a coach who will be a drill sergeant, not a cheerleader”.

I thought that was a very interesting choice of words. I would like to use them to make some points about what helps people improve their performance.

First, a few words about cheerleaders. You can count on them to be there, rooting for you. It’s nice to feel their support… but this is not an incentive to perform better, because you know the cheerleaders are going to be there no matter what.

“Cheerleaders” will not be very effective in helping you perform better if you see their words of support as essentially empty… if you feel that the cheerleaders are just rooting for you because they have to, or because it’s the nice thing to do.

Now, for the drill sergeant. He will scream at you and berate you … but he’ll get you to go beyond your comfort zone, and to accomplish things you didn’t think you could. It feels good to be challenged by somebody who believes you have it in you to achieve more (when this challenge is a realistic one).

While the cheerleaders give you unconditional support, the drill sergeant builds your skills and your spirit. The person who called me feared that a “cheerleader”, while supportive, would be ineffectual.

Does this mean that the “drill sergeant” is the right approach for coaching? No, but neither is the cheerleader.

The drill sergeant’s way is all about pressure and performance – pushing people to the limit. It’s a way of selecting a certain kind of people, while others fall by the wayside. The idea is that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This kind of selection builds a very powerful team spirit - - among the people who make it to the team. For instance, the Marines think of themselves as “The Few, The Proud”.

It takes improving your skills, but also improving your spirits, your morale. In a team situation, the coach will appeal to your sense of being part of something larger than yourself, and this is a very important part of what is going to motivate the team players to give their all.

When you’re trying to reach your own goals -- be they life goals or business goals -- you are talking about personal goals. Chances are you will be more motivated if you consider, not just the goals themselves, but something larger than achieving these goals.

What is this something larger? It is a deeper sense of who you are. The ultimate reward of accomplishing your specific goals is getting in touch with this deeper sense of who you are.

On paper, this may seem like a subtle difference. But, in practice, it is a big difference. It's the difference between a goal that is an abstract notion, and a goal that you feel deeply committed to, from the inside out.


See also: Life Change Coaching



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