We’ve all been a beginner at something and looked to someone else to coach us and help us become more successful. Sometimes we find a mentor or coach who is really skilled at helping us, and other times, their experience doesn’t seem to translate to being able to help us very well.
It is easy to see this challenge when you are the beginner, but when you are the expert coach – the person who knows the task like the back of your hand – how easily do you see the beginner’s challenges? In other words, how successful are you at coaching on skills you’ve performed forever?
These five suggestions will help you step back from your expertise long enough to be most helpful to those you are coaching. These suggestions will help you get your mind out of your expertise and into helping the other person become more successful most rapidly.
Don’t assume anything. When you get in to start a car, you go through a number of steps in your mind automatically, without thinking. Things like checking the mirrors, adjusting the seat, applying pressure to the brake and others. If you were to teach someone how to safely start a car, you might assume that your student already knew many of those things. Why? Because the steps are so automatic to you; they are so obvious that you assume “everyone knows that.” Coaching a beginner requires you to lay out every step making sure you don’t assume your student knows the “obvious” stuff – because it isn’t obvious to a beginner.
Tell people why. One of the biggest assumptions experts make is thinking that people will automatically understand why each procedure is done and why each is important. The opposite is actually true. To give better coaching you need to explain more than just what to do, you need to help people understand why. With the context of why we are all better able to understand the task more completely – and begin to give ourselves feedback on how we are doing.
Be patient. If someone is a beginner, you can’t expect them to be an expert immediately. You can have faith and belief that ultimately they will be an expert, but it will take some time. Did you reach your level of expertise after one try? Since you didn’t, you can’t expect others to either. Choose to be more patient and more willing to help the person improve a little bit at a time.
Space feedback out. As the expert you likely can see many areas for improvement in the beginner’s performance. You may have an entire list of suggested changes or pieces of advice. If you offer all of that feedback and helpful advice at one time, your beginner will become overwhelmed. And when we are overwhelmed we are only able to take advantage of less advice, not more. Start by giving basic advice that will make the biggest initial improvements. Give people additional nuances and expert tips as they have improved and become more comfortable. Then they will be able to take advantage of new advice in a way that will allow them to continue to improve.
Reduce their risk. Confidence plays a big role in the ability to succeed at any task. Confidence is especially lacking when for beginners. It’s only natural for beginners to be afraid of failing; especially if they are comparing themselves to an expert (who has tons of experience and knowledge). When coaching beginners, give them a safety net by being there to aid them or by letting them know how to get the help they will need. Providing actual help and reassurance are both ways to increase the confidence, and therefore the skill, of your beginner.
In the end you will coach others more successfully when you remember what it was like to be a beginner, in this area (or any other), and teach from that perspective, not from your expert perspective. When you do this, you will create more confident and competent performers in less time.
Potential Pointer: Often as an expert you must coach beginners. And if you know a subject well, it might appear easy to give advice to someone just starting out – after all, you already know it (all). Yet, your expertise itself can get in your way – because you sometimes forget what it is like to be a beginner.