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4 profound ways coaching changed my leadership style—and my life

This startup founder admits he feared coaching would expose his weaknesses, which it did, but this has made him stronger in the long run.

4 profound ways coaching changed my leadership style—and my life
[Images: block37/iStock; Artem Peretiatko/iStock]
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A common misconception is once you reach the pinnacle of your career—whether it’s CEO or all-star quarterback—you’ve achieved all possible success. Your focus shifts to an adult version of king of the mountain, where you’re wondering “How do I stay on top?”

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But success is an ongoing journey, measured by your own growth. After conquering today’s peak, that means it’s time to find another mountain to conquer. Can you climb it smarter, faster, and with more empathy?

Whether you’re an executive of a Fortune 500 company, founder of a startup, or any leader in between, there is always more to do to better yourself if you have a growth mind frame.

Success is not a solo endeavor

Some of the most successful individuals in their fields relied on others to help them achieve continuous self-improvement. Steve Jobs had Apple board member Bill Campbell, Michael Jordan had Chicago Bulls’ coach Phil Jackson, and both Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard had trainer Angelo Dundee.

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The desire for self-betterment motivated me to work with an executive coach, Jason Jaggard, over the past three years. Working together, we flip-turned my leadership (a swimming term that means reversing your direction at full speed), transforming my motivation from outward “shiny objects” to internal aspirations.

The results have transformed my approach to work and life. With the help of my coach, I set and surpassed goals I never thought possible like launching my new venture TiiCKER during a pandemic. The following four pillars have empowered me to be more productive, resilient, and a better leader.

1. Meet 100% of your commitments by making fewer

While working with my coach, I realized I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew. I prided myself on saying “yes” to every task but felt shame and failure when I could not follow through.

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I’m not the only one who struggles with overcommitment. In fact, it’s quite common. One in three people are always overcommitted—and that number jumps to two in three for “usually overcommitted.”

With my coach, I learned to make fewer commitments, but follow through 100% of the time. Selecting commitments you’re invested in will lead to higher motivation, balance, and work quality. As much as you can, commit to tasks where your contribution will be impactful.

Guard your time as a scarce resource, when possible. Rather than an open-door policy, consider hosting regular office hours. Being selective in meetings and commitments has made me more productive and the experience of work more enjoyable.

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For the commitments you do make, treat them as though they’re immovable. Whether it be family dinner, coaching sessions, or leadership positions at two companies (in my case), following through is powerful and liberating.

2. Seek critics, not cheerleaders

While working with yes people is a nice ego boost, it stunts your growth. Every year, Gallup finds one of the top traits of great leaders is great decision making. To make great decisions, you need to seek out diverse—sometimes contradictory— perspectives.

During my coaching, I realized the value of critique in scaling my skills and working the right leadership muscle groups. My coach challenged me and my assumptions, often pushing me out of my comfort zone and prodding me to take action on things I normally complained about or tolerated. I now make more informed and courageous decisions.

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If colleagues agree without criticism, you subject yourself to confirmation bias. This can lead to short-sighted, even catastrophic, decisions. It can also cap your team members’ growth, preventing those around you from critical thinking and developing as leaders.

Empower those around you to be independent and vocal. I trust the leaders on my team to do their jobs and provide critical input. Also, be sure to hire or surround yourself with individuals with diverse backgrounds and life experiences to ensure you’re getting a range of perspectives. Companies with diverse executive teams are 33% more likely to see above-average profits thanks to increased innovation and inclusivity.

3. Set the bar at legendary

I keep a sticky note with the phrase “#positivelylegendary” on my computer as my daily motivation. I challenge myself and my team to make everything we do legendary, to approach every decision as an opportunity to achieve greatness, rather than just problem solving. Ask yourself: Is what we’re doing the stuff of legend?

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While preparing to launch consumer marketing and investor platform TiiCKER in the spring of 2020, the pandemic hit. Many of our seed investors, the capital markets, and potential customers withdrew. Despite these disruptions, I never saw delaying or giving up as an option. And with a legendary mindset, these hurdles became opportunities to build a new type of company—one that is excelling in a virtual-first world.

My executive coach often metaphorically says, “What if I put a gun to your head, could you figure out a solution?” While intentionally over-dramatic, it converts fear into focus no matter the circumstance. I’ve learned from this you can always work through a solution when the alternative isn’t an option.

Will you look back on a decision and think, “Was that brave? Was it legendary?” With this mindset, leaders can guide their company and push themselves to achieve more than they ever thought possible.

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4. Be “for” others and their success

Three years ago I would have said the most critical role of a leader is to lead by example. I jumped into the fire and expected others to follow suit. While that mindset served me well for two decades, I now believe a leader’s primary responsibility is to cast vision and inspire others to achieve their own greatness.

Greatness looks different to each person. And as a result of the coaching process, I learned that a successful leader brings out the passion that drives everyone to perform at their individual best. Empowered workers have stronger job performance, job satisfaction, and commitment to the organization. That’s being a leader of future leaders.

Work on your emotional intelligence to build strong relationships with those around you. When working with employees, be authentic, bring positive energy and listen deeply. Be “for” others and their growth. As one of my 2021 goals states, “Celebrate the wins of others five times more than your own.”

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This seems counterintuitive as a born competitor who reached the top by leading by example. But celebrating others improves your ability to support, inspire and develop them as leaders in their own right. It also keeps you focused on strategies rather than tactics, a helpful big picture mindset to have as a leader.

Don’t let doubts or excuses stop you from leveling up

Truthfully, I delayed the executive coaching process for years. I told myself I didn’t have the time, it wasn’t in the budget and I was already an experienced leader. I feared it would expose my weaknesses, which it did, but this has made me stronger in the long run.

I’ve seen 10 times the return on my investment over these past three years and have achieved results that changed my leadership and life. Without coaching, TiiCKER would never have come to fruition along with many other dreams on the to-do list. I am a better CEO and boss, and I have a renewed sense of happiness, tenacity, and productivity.

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Jeff Lambert is the founder and CEO at TiiCKER.