March 2008 Newsletter

As I thought about writing this article on ‘physician coaching’, I couldn’t help but think about my life as an athlete and my own experiences of being coached. Some of my most endearing relationships were formed with my coaches. As a result, many of life’s most important lessons were learned through sports. The meaning my coach made of my winning, losing or missteps largely influenced my perception of myself, my capacity, and what it meant to be on a team. Today ‘s parents are justified in their effort to protect their children from the zealot coach who places winning the game above critical developmental tasks, such as character and integrity. Coaches teach us important lessons such as why it’s important to play all team members, how to play well with others, how to play fair, and how to learn from mistakes and losses. Coaching has been a time-honored tradition that helps people experience their personal power and reach their full potential in sports, in relationships, in careers, and in life.

After many years of working with battered, beat-up, and unhappy physicians within a remedial education setting, it occurred to me that there are no coaches in medical school and not many ‘physician playbooks’ to reference. Instead there were many abusive or dismissive role models who, like the win-at-all-costs zealot coach, taught what was needed to be clinically competent; the equivalent of making the score to ‘win’ the game. And you played the game the way you were told you to; it was their way or the highway. What has been missing from the physician’s playbook has been chapters entitled: ‘Widening Your Stance to Change Your Trajectory’, or ‘Changing Your Mind to Change Your Game’, or ‘Loosening Your Grip to Improve Your Drive and Distance’. Some physicians were lucky and found a mentor who became a coach-like figure. Unfortunately, many physicians describe practicing in isolation, receiving very little support and guidance, and worse yet, receiving no feedback until they find themselves facing some sort of complaint or law suit.Just like in sports, on the field of your career, coaching can make a huge difference. Executive coaching is not the exclusive domain of the faltering physician. Coaching is for any physician who wants to:

  1. Improve their professional performance
  2. Improve or expand their leadership capacity (communication skills, emotional intelligence, etc.)
  3. Develop competencies and new skills
  4. Improve team building and organizational skills
  5. Accomplish specific goals
  6. Make a significant life or career transition
  7. Successfully navigate challenges or obstacles

A physician coach is a thought partner who helps their client focus on the present and future. The role of the coach as a thought partner is to ask provocative and powerful questions designed to help the client think in expansive ways. Sometimes the partnering relationship helps solve problems or explore options. The relationship is supportive, yet goal and action oriented. Just as a golfing or batting coach would examine your stance and grip, an executive coach will examine your patterns of response, suggest changes, offer observations, and challenge you to think and consider a new direction. The goal is to empower the physician to reach his or her full potential by bolstering strengths, developing or expanding skills, and learning how to think differently. For many physicians, feeling trapped or dissatisfied in their career is a combination of how they think and old response patterns. Just like the golfer who lifts his head during his backswing, bad habits can undermine a high level of competence. Good coaching from a new playbook could be what’s needed to get your career moving in the right direction.