What a youth swim meet teaches about executive success and coaching

I have a confession to make: Most of the insights I get about being a coach, at least at this point in my career, don't come from other top coaches or business gurus.

They come from a combination of my work with clients and daily interactions with great people I meet in life.

I had such an experience this weekend, when I watched my 9-year old son swim in a regional swim meet. The meet had about 900 kids swimming, and at least twice as many family members per kid.

Here's what I observed, and how it applies to executive-level coaches….

First, it was amazing to see how much support so many kids have. The parents were there to support them. The coaches were there to support them. A whole organization of volunteers (parents and employees) were there to run the meet and support them. I was amazed to see everyone cheer like crazy for a kid who swam alone in a heat. I was also amazed at how quickly parents responded to loudspeaker requests for additional volunteers. Everything seemed busy and chaotic, and yet everything ran smoothly.

In executive coaching, we refer to this kind of support as one's power base. It happens to be one of the most valuable types of coaching you can do for your clients, because you set them up for a lifetime of support in their organizations and careers.

Kids — at least the lucky ones — come with a built-in power base, and I saw it in full force this weekend. (By the way, these are by no means rich kids. They are mostly just middle-class kids doing their preferred sport).

Executives and managers have to nurture and develop their power base. As I watched the swim meet, I realized that very few executives I know have a power base that is as supportive and, well, powerful, as what these kids have.

But then I turned this thinking on its head and asked this question:

How many organizations have employees, managers, and executives who support their colleagues the way that the parents, coaches, and swim meet officials were supporting these kids?

I don't know of any. Most executives and managers seem to be in "bunker" mode, trying to survive and focusing on their career in a pretty isolated, me-first way.

So that leads to an even richer coaching conversation for my clients: What are YOU doing to support the people in your organization and industry, so that they want to support you right back?

The second observation from the swim meet had to do with childhood and what we lose as we get older and get going into "serious" careers:

On the last day of the meet, my wife stayed home with our baby, and I got to hang out with my son. He's nine, and it was so wonderful to listen to him talk about how much he loves being part of this swim team, the friends he has made, and how good he feels about improving his swimming times. There was pure, innocent joy in how he talked about his participation in this sport and on his team.

He also has some big goals with his swimming, which he set on his own, and he wants to do as many meets as he can to
see his times improve.

I see lots of my executive clients who also have big goals, and are working to "improve their times." But I don't see many who still have the joy that a kid feels when he is engaging in an activity that he loves.

I feel it in my own career, and I am so blessed to have figured out how to create a life and work that fits me like a glove.

What about you? What about your clients? It is a really interesting coaching question about how we can help our clients tap into their natural aspirations and inspirations, so that their work feels like they are a kid again, just hanging out with the kinds of people they love, like one big, wonderful weekend swim meet.

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