Two traits are shared by all good coaches and mentors. They push those that the lead and they believe that the goals they push towards will be achieved. Much like the concept of “tough love” the people that do it best find the perfect balance. Pushing too much can cause defeatism and burnout. On the other hand, too much focus on the positive reduces the urgency of a push. Let’s look at some indicators that you are pushing too much or believing in a fantasy. Although there are differences in goals and approaches, I think these indicators work in mentor-student, coach-athlete, parent-child, and many other situations.
Burnout may be the hardest thing for a coach/mentor to avoid. It is easy to get in the heat of the moment and push to get someone over a hump or across a finish line. However, just like trying to squeeze a little more power out of an engine, there is a danger of “overheating.” The situation is complicated by the student/child/etc often wanting to push “a little more” to get them to their goal as well.
It is often recommended that we learn our limits, but a leader must understand the capabilities of those they lead. A good baseline is general human capacity, but we are pushing beyond those. Thus, a good leader will reset that baseline and adjust it to the capabilities of the individual or team. Just like a car engine, we show signs of stress when we are pushed too much. This is the “check engine” light a good leader will monitor. With an individual, there might be big signs like irritation and exhaustion, but more often it will be subtle. Things to look for include, slight drops in performance, loss of focus, and a rush to complete the goal.
A Positive Push
Pushing someone can be accomplished through negative means like telling someone they are worthless. This is an attempt to get them to prove you wrong. This is not a good long-term strategy. Once the goal is achieved, it is hard to keep up the “I have no respect for you” facade required of the leader. A positive push is accomplished through phrases like “you can do better” and “you are just getting started.” These acknowledge that progress is being made while still driving to greater heights.
The key to using this approach is to have a goal in mind for the student. Make that target bigger than the one in their mind. Crossing the finish line may be their aim. However, a leader will push them to finish sooner, or with more breathing room between them and those, they leave behind. When push comes to shove I think most people underestimate their abilities. A good leader sees the real capability of their student and does not settle for anything less.
The Secret Sauce
Interviews with people that cover what great leaders did for them almost always come down to “they got me places I never thought I could go.” Thus, the coach saw a better result from the student than even the student did. This is where a good leader will focus. They get to know the capabilities of their student and then look for ways to go beyond those capabilities. It often comes down to hard work, but that comes from a leader that drives them to get it done.
It is painfully simple but often overlooked. The next time you have someone looking to you for leadership, just do not let them settle. When they think they are done, find ways to get them to take another step and go beyond their goal. However, if you find yourself saying “they can’t do it.” It is time to find another coach or knock some positive back into your head.