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Pilates and the power of great coaching

At the beginning of this year, I started doing Pilates for the first time. My wife and I were both keen to try it, and so we booked a private class to learn the ropes. It has now been 10 months (and counting), and the experience has been fantastic. The key to this all has been our brilliant instructor, who is as kind as she is skilled at coaching and pushing us to achieve new goals. She has a real talent for what she does, and the EQ to match, enabling her to connect with people and to create a safe space for novices like us to learn something new.

After a recent class I was driving home and thinking about how much we had progressed since our first lesson, and that these classes were a great example of how development should occur. They were consistent, practical and guided by a great coach, helping us to gain knowledge (at time of need), apply theory and more so, practice and hone our skills over time.

It immediately made me think of an excellent book, ‘The Talent Code’, in which author Daniel Coyle identifies 3 key ingredients vital for the development of any skill; namely ‘deep’ practice, motivation and ‘master’ coaching. The part that really stuck out for me, was the importance of the master coaches, and how they work with people to improve their skills through deliberate quality practice, and real-time reflection and feedback.

They also play a crucial role in holding that person accountable, and walking a journey with them as they practice, fail, succeed and ultimately learn and grow through this process. Without this, the ability to truly develop a skill is severely hindered, and the brain simply cannot embed the necessary new pathways to bring about a change and/or improvement in behaviour and performance.

However, when I compared this to how we develop skills in business, I realised that we seem to forget the importance of this critical coaching element. In my opinion, coaching is still seen as a ‘luxury’, perhaps reserved for Executives only, and if time allows. Development still primarily occurs through a formal course or programme of sorts (classroom or online), which is still focussed on the delivery of information. Even courses or programmes that include pre-reading, discussion forums, some practical application and evaluation, still do not have the influence needed to truly bring about sustainable change in an individual post that intervention.

I would suggest that this would account for the disconnect many businesses feel, after having trained their people on something (often at great cost), but still not seeing that new skill emerge in their behaviour.

Now I am not saying that these forms of development are not important…not at all. They are, and if designed correctly are powerful tools needed for any training to occur. But my assertion is that no matter how experiential we make them, we know that development of skill takes time, and requires intentional practice, observation, reflection and correction, in order to manifest as a new behaviour. In my mind, this can only be achieved through individual or team coaching.

The opportunity we have as Talent Management professionals is to find ways to utilise coaching as a standard practice in all our development initiatives, in order to truly inculcate new skills and help people to change behaviour and improve their performance.

If my Pilates experience has taught me anything (apart from the fact that I do not like ‘the hundred’!), it is the importance of great coaching and the power it has to develop skill, even in areas we never thought possible.

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