The Value of Coaching
In early September 2020, a little over a year since I started my training, I certified as a life, leadership and executive coach through the Australian Institute of Professional Coaches. But why did a British Family Physician, residing in Australia at that time, embark on this journey and why is it relevant to you, the physician reader?
While I was working as an Associate Medical Director in the UK’s National Health Service in 2018, I was not the best leader. To be fair on myself, I had never held such a lofty position before, nor one with such responsibility where the spotlight is on you more than it is in your clinical job. Call me naïve, but I didn’t realize my less-senior colleagues, clinical and non-clinical alike, would be looking to me for strength and as a good example of how to conduct one’s self. I genuinely had no notion that I was being ‘observed’; not in a bad way, but that my actions and I were so visible. And why would I? I had actually been appointed to this position because I was both a practicing physician and a qualified lawyer, not because I had previous stellar form as a medical leader.
And therein lies the problem, there is no leadership training at medical school, certainly not in the UK anyway. The curriculum is so packed with basic medical sciences and clinical subject matter that there is no room for ‘softer subjects’ like leadership, even though arguably it is as essential as anatomy and physiology, just not as immediately. We simply have to pick it up as we go along, learning ‘on the job’ so to speak, often from seeing how our seniors lead and modeling our behaviour on their examples.
So, when my tenure in that role came to an end (it was a fixed-term contract), I asked my employer to fund some leadership coaching for me and thankfully they agreed. This was when my visual fields began to expand beyond the blinkered view that the medical profession offers physicians. All of a sudden, I was exposed to concepts like values, beliefs, mindset, emotional intelligence, wellbeing models, leadership styles, circles of concern / influence / remoteness etc. So much of who I was, how I was living my life and why I made certain choices all began to become much clearer and everything changed for me as I quickly came to understand the power of coaching.
I then began to live my life, not just my work-life but my whole life, by my values, which I now had a deeper knowledge of and appreciation for. It was liberating and empowering to try, wherever possible, to only engage in activities which were in alignment with my values.
I started thinking about my life and what I wanted from it. What kind of a person I wanted to be, not only with my colleagues but also as a husband, and father, and how I could achieve those wants and desires. I reframed those wants as ‘goals’ and, with the help of my own coach acting as both a strong supporter and accountability partner, I set about achieving those bigger picture five-year goals through more readily achievable monthly and three-monthly goals. It was like a switch had been flicked in my brain.
I decided that I personally could make more of a lasting and valuable impact in the world as a coach than as a physician, and so my transition from doctor to full-time coach began. I undertook my coach training and set about helping doctors work out things like:
How do I want my life to look in five years’ time? How can I achieve that in the shortest possible time?
What are my values and how can I use them to guide me down a pathway that I truly want to go down?
What do I really want from my career and how can I make that happen as quickly as possible?
What kind of a leader am I and what kind do I want to be? How can I create that outcome?
And as I have coached my clients, predominantly US-based attending physicians from all specialties, I have come to realise that coaching not only helps us achieve our goals in a shorter timeframe than if we tried to achieve them on our own, but it helps us maintain a standard of personal and professional excellence beyond the attainment of those goals, long into the future. In other words, it helps us become and stay our ‘best selves’. Dr. Jim Kim, President of the World Bank and former physician, put it much better than I ever could when explaining why every leader needs a coach:
“… anyone can get better. And if the best people in the world at what they’re doing [e.g. Tiger Woods and Atul Gawande] are getting coaching, then everyone should.
And just the notion that anyone can get better, including me, might be the first and maybe most important step you take in actually being a better leader.”
So, in summary, if you want to achieve personal, career and leadership goals, much more quickly than you would if you tried to do so on your own, and then maintain and improve upon the position you get to once you have attained those goals, instruct a coach and start your own personal journey toward transforming your life.