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Shopify founder and CEO Tobi Lutke says working with an executive coach offers one of the highest returns on investment of anything you can do – a 10 to 100 times return on time spent. It’s vital because the learning curve of being a great executive is a lot less like learning the guitar and a lot more like learning skydiving. “It’s the kind of thing you should not do without an instructor,” he said in an interview with The Observer Effect.

But before you decide to work with an executive coach, leadership consultant Brenda Steinberg suggests you assess your readiness to ensure you can actually benefit. It starts with whether you have a tolerance for discomfort and an openness to experiment. “Successful coaching requires you to be pro-active in embracing new ways of perceiving and acting,” she writes in Harvard Business Review. It’s about experimenting with new approaches, and that will bring discomfort. She stresses that waiting for the perfect timing or perfect performance before trying different ideas will block progress.

It’s hard to change if you don’t believe you have the power to shape your future. So you need to take responsibility for your situation, the good and the bad, and your ability to change things. “Blaming the organization, the boss, too many responsibilities, and so on will block you from growth. Even if there is some truth in your reasoning, it’s impossible to move forward if you see yourself as a victim. You have to hold yourself accountable for making progress,” she says, and as well be willing to forgive those you blame.

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You will need considerable self-discipline. The coach doesn’t do things for you. Instead, you must change behaviours and deal with the emotions that churn up within you and others. Your development will almost certainly require you to let go of ways of thinking and behaving that helped make you successful in the past. It may be hard for others to accept those changes in your personal or work relationships.

That’s why executive coaches often encourage involvement by colleagues, rather than working in stealth. “You will develop faster if you make yourself vulnerable to others (judiciously), including your boss, peers and even direct reports,” she says. “Share goals, ask for advice, listen with curiosity, and most critically, accept and act on the constructive feedback you receive.”

You also need to push past some prevalent myths about coaching, Bob Biglin, CEO of the Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence, advises in Training magazine.

It’s often assumed, for example, that coaches should have similar backgrounds to their clients to offer the best advice. But coaching is not mentoring and so the coach doesn’t need relevant industry information. The coach needs enough relevant experience to understand the context in which you are operating.

People entering coaching might think their coach will tell them what to do. But he says that’s the opposite of coaching. The coach expects you to be smart and resourceful, given your success to date, and will help you to identify strategies that might allow you to close the gap between what you are capable of and how you now perform. “Coaches don’t fix people,” he adds. “Rather, they provide dedicated time and space for reflection, as well as the tools to enable their clients to find their own authentic path toward achieving their goals.”

Finally, another big myth to beware of: Being selected for coaching means you must be underperforming. He says coaching today is not about fixing “bad apples” but about pro-actively supporting and investing in promising leaders – which is why Tobi Lutke hired his own coach full time to work at Shopify, accelerating the progress of its talent.

Quick hits

  • Chess masters know that to win you have to avoid losing, notes Shane Parrish, in the Farnam Street Brain Food newsletter. So after every move by their opponent, they set aside their own strategy to focus initially on the threat. His lesson: Avoid stupidity before seeking brilliance.
  • Don’t pine for the good old days. Everything is disappointing and dissatisfying when compared to the glittering past our memories conjure up. Get busy creating the future, says executive coach Dan Rockwell.
  • Here’s a probing question to ask when being interviewed for a job, from Adam Grant, of the Wharton School: What’s something that would only happen here but wouldn’t at other organizations?
  • Colour contributes to the visual hierarchy you need to create on your website pages. User experience specialist Kelley Gordon advises you to avoid too many colours, limiting yourself to one primary and two secondary colours, and no more than three contrast variations.
  • Zoom meetings have a performance aspect. When the curtain goes up – in other words, when you hit the video button – speech coach Gary Genard reminds you that a whole new level of energy is required.

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

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