When I was a young Air Force cadet, I had a mentor who would say, “When people see me, I want them to see a turtle on a fence post.” It seemed like an odd thing to say, but he would continue by asking, “If you ever see a turtle on a fence post, what do you know?” The answer was, “It didn’t get there by itself.”
As I’ve matured as a leader over the last thirty years, I’ve come to realize that my mentor was right. I have yet to meet a truly great leader or mentor who became great without the help of a coach in their life.
Have you ever noticed that even the best athletes in the world have coaches? What do you imagine Michael Phelps might learn day after day from a swimming coach?
Near the end of his career, tennis legend Andre Agassi was interviewed about the role that his coach played in his life. He confided that, the older he got, the more important his coach had become. His coach provided accountability, helping him from slipping into bad habits, challenged him to avoid resting on past successes, and pushed him to keep giving his personal best.
If we’re honest we know that, left to our own devices, we do those exact things that Andre Agassi’s coach was helping him avoid. We slip into bad habits, we rest on past successes, and we can even become apathetic.
I’ve had leadership mentors or coaches in my life almost constantly for the last thirty years, for two main reasons. First, I want to continue to grow as a leader even as I train others. Second, I want to model the value of being coached to others. I currently have a coach and two mentors whom I meet with on a regular basis. I meet with one of them weekly, one bi-weekly, and one monthly. They keep my focused on my highest priorities and improving in areas that I still need to refine as a leader. I wouldn’t want to make the kinds of investments in others that I do without their investments in me.
Great leaders know themselves well enough to know, and have the humility to admit, that they don’t have all of the skills they need to be at their best for those they lead, and they care enough to make the effort to improve.
If you want to be a great leader over the long haul, seek out a coach who you respect and ask them to invest in you as a leader. They’ll help you last over the long haul and help you take your skills to the next level.
Jay Pullins is the founder and owner of Anchorage-based Catapult Leadership Solutions, providing expertise in developing the character and competency of leaders in all sectors. He is also a leadership course facilitator for Academy Leadership, LLC.