How to coach a king

If you haven’t seen the movie The King’s Speech, see it. Aside from being a wonderful movie, it has important lessons about how to be a great coach.

Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who must coach Prince Albert, soon to be King George VI, to overcome a serious speech impediment. The way he goes about coaching his royal client is masterful, and every coach can learn from it.

Following are eight key lessons about coaching that Rush’s character reveals:

One: Be on equal footing with your client, even if he is royalty. Kings, princes, and executives can all be arrogant. They will not respect people who are not equals. Logue starts the coaching relationship by making this clear, and demanding to be an equal to the prince. He insists on calling the prince by his nickname Bertie, using expletives with him, and even making fun of him. He even negotiates with the Prince, for instance, by not letting him apply glue to a model plane unless he does an uncomfortable exercise that might help his speaking. By being on equal footing, he earns the prince’s respect — and the right to be taken seriously.

Two: Do not coach someone who is not coachable. Logue has the opportunity of a lifetime — to work with a star client. However, he is willing to drop the relationship and give up this client when Prince Albert appears to be uncoachable. It is painful to watch the prince walk out of his office after the first meeting, and at a few other points in the relationship, but Logue understands that you can’t coach someone who isn’t willing to be coached.

Three: Results matter more than credentials. At one point in the movie, we discover the Logue has no formal credentials. However, he has a compelling story to tell about how he has learned things about curing speech impediments that no one else knows. The prince has worked with dozens of speech therapists with the right credentials, and none of them did them any good; Logue’s methods are unconventional, but get results. This is a crucial distinction for coaches, because so many coaches these days are seeking a credential — as if that makes them suddenly able and worthy of working with executives. However, the best coaches understand that credentials don’t guarantee that you can results. Having tools and a process that gets results is much more valuable.

Four: You need a methodology that works. Logue developed a methodology that got results. It was unconventional at the time, but it worked. Coaches need the same thing. In fact, one research study noted that 68% of executives choose a coach based on their unique methodology. If you don’t have one, you need to create one — or you end up being yet another plain-vanilla commodity of a coach.

Five: Integrity, integrity, integrity. Logue comes from modest circumstances, where bragging about his client could turn his career around. However, he doesn’t even tell his wife that he is coaching royalty, in order to honor the request of his client. Similarly, even though Logue does not have formal credentials, he never misrepresents himself by calling himself a doctor or adding letters after his name.

Six: Seek a long-term relationship. Many coaches suffer because their average coaching relationship with a client lasts no more than a few months. That’s because of one thing: They aren’t delivering ongoing value. Logue develops a life-long relationship with his royal client, helping him long after the King’s first crucial speech.

Seven: Be authentic. Geoffrey Rush portrays Logue as a completely authentic person and coach. He speaks his mind, shares his concerns, is completely present, and never pretends to be anyone except who he is. At one point, he realizes that he has perhaps overstepped his boundaries as a coach, and resolves to apologize for his error. He is completely human throughout his coaching relationship, and this makes a huge difference.  

Eight: Shut up and understand. We see at least one self-proclaimed, well-credentialed experts try to help the Prince, as well as family members offering their advice. None of this works, because no one takes the time to listen and understand the situation from the Prince’s point of view. They just shout out unhelpful commands. Logue sits down with the Prince and tries to really understand the problem and its root causes. Great coaches do this, too.

Speech therapy is a form of therapy, and not exactly a form of executive coaching. However, the situation applies quite well to executive coaching. If you apply them to your own coaching practice, you can coach anyone — even kings!

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