Do you know who you are and what your identity is?
Four years ago I was fortunate enough to deliver an impromptu presentation on Branding and Marketing for Coaches at the Triathlon Australia Performance Coach Course in Canberra at the Australian Institute of Sport. I was pretty excited to be able to speak to the next generation of performance coaches on this topic, as it is an area that isn’t given much time in the coaching world, but is extremely important to succeed in a world of limited opportunities.
“If you don’t know what you stand for, you will fall for anything.”
What follows is not only practical to sports coaches, but also to business coaches. managers and leaders.
It is common for coaches to launch into coaching as a profession, with a world of passion and emotion, and fall into the trap of coaching everyone, no matter what age, ability, desire and characteristics. Coaches are like kids in a candy store without any boundaries, and before they know it they have consumed too much and are barely able to tread water, let alone have enough energy to lift the weight off their shoulders.
A coach is a salesperson, whether they know it or not. To sell something effectively they have to know its heart and soul. To convince, motivate and inspire an athlete and team of athletes effectively, a coach needs to be able to deliver messages authentically and consistently. They need to know what it is that separates themselves, to stand out, from the rest.
It doesn’t matter whether a coach is a volunteer, works on a performance program or sets up their own coaching business, being able to clearly define and nurture their identity will allow them to cultivate a successful career and most importantly deliver an environment where success, for the athletes, is inevitable. The coach needs to position themselves in a way that allows potential and current athletes to perceive, think and feel more connected to them compared to other coaches or coaching businesses. (Bence, 2012)
“Your SMILE is your logo, your PERSONALITY is your business card, how you LEAVE OTHERS FEELING after an experience with you becomes your trademark.”
Photo Credit: David Sun
Leave Your Mark
So what is branding for a coach? It’s about creating a consistent message through the way they talk, move, act, deliver, motivate, inspire and bring the best out in the athletes they are working with. It’s about developing an underpinning philosophy that the coach whole-heartedly believes in and is passionate about. It’s a way of life for the athletes the coach works with. Most importantly, it’s the distinctive aspects of the coaching style, personal characteristics and environment that leaves a mark on everyone who comes in contact with the coach.
It is important that a coach can identify what types of athletes (markets) are most suited to their coaching identity and market effectively to them. Whether it be speaking with a potential athlete for the first time or setting up a new website, the messages need to be clear, consistent and from the heart. A successful coach-athlete relationship, the foundation of coaching, is based on factors such as trust, emphatic understanding, acceptance and respect (Jowett, 2005). A clear, concise and consistent coaching brand will go along way to ensuring a successful relationship is created and developed.
People Sell, Not Products
For those starting a coaching business, it is important to know, that it’s the “person” that people are attracted to, not the product. Athletes are attracted to the personal characteristics of the coach and the business. The coaches ability to sell the products requires a consistent and powerful (coach) brand that they can passionately communicate. It is important a coach doesn’t just copy what other successful coaches are doing. They need to create their own identity.
“ Every time you shake a hand, you market your brand.”
You may notice that the worlds geniuses, gifted people and creative artists are different. They have unique characteristics that seem quirky, a bit weird and don’t quite fit into the normal way of life. So why are they somewhat social misfits, renegades and a real challenge to deeply connect with?
People who have a higher level of intelligence, creativity, willingness to contribute to society and possess an amazing talent, are those who change the world for better and sometimes worse. Let’s clarify who we are talking about:
As an athlete, it would be a multiple Olympic Champion, World Champion, and/or World Record Holder.
As an entertainer, it is someone who redefines musical genres; and produces multiple Emmy’s, Grammy’s and Oscars.
For an academic, it could be someone with high intelligence, a Nobel Peace prize winner or discover a scientific breakthrough.
In business, it is people who have revolutionised the way we work, a billionaire or successful multinational CEO.
In society, it is those who build communities, effect social change or pioneer inspiration.
Everyone is unique and possesses their own blend of characteristics, but for some reason the high achievers of this world have something different that stands out in a crowd. It is not always the same characteristic/s but there is always some awkwardness to them. A good way to describe this is like trying to put the rectangle peg in a square hole as a toddler. It looks like it should fit, but just doesn’t quite go in there.
“Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.” Arthur Schopenhauer
The game changers of our world, start with a search for ideas, not necessarily for a known problem, but for a pure sense of curiosity. They tend to ask more questions than the every day person, as they seek to find a higher level of understanding, and an ability to outperform and deliver something never seen before or are even aware of. Their desire to contribute, create something different and go somewhere that no one else has been before fuels them to begin a long series of trials and errors. They do not fear failure, they in fact thrive on it as they know that with every failure they are learning and trending towards a world of clarity.
“Exceptional thinkers, it turns out, stand on common ground when they launch their arrows into the unknown.”
Margaret Thatcher (www.theguardian.com)
Life is not simple when it comes to creativity. Creative ideas have a tendency of rising to the surface whether we have the time or attention to deal with them or not. Expression of creativity is enjoyable but can also be a burden or a great challenge to those who are gifted, as ideas usually arrive in multiples. A creative person needs to make important decisions on which idea to explore further, ideas to shelve and those to disregard. They have to determine what is real and what is not, especially when no one else sees the idea through the same light.
“Some people see things others cannot, and they are right, and we call them geniuses. Some people see things others cannot, and they are wrong, and we call them mentally ill.”
Highly talented people tend to be divergent in the way they think, as well as their interests, values and behaviours. Their appetite for learning is raised, as their minds run deeper and faster than the average person. They are often aware that they don’t fit in, but are unsure why. Their thoughts and feelings sit outside the box, and are uncomfortable and strange to most people. Tall poppy syndrome is prevalent in society and quite often the highly talented people are seen to have a somewhat unfair advantage over the every-day-person due to jealousy of them having higher observable abilities.
“High intelligence entails not just being able to learn new things quickly and easily, but affects a person’s entire experience of life. People with unusually high intelligence take in and acquire information differently, process that information differently. They frequently experience emotions and physical stimuli more intensely than others. They have motivations and drives, which others often find odd or bizarre.”
The high achievers tend to be optimists, who see puzzles and problems as opportunities, whereas others see them as barriers. They have a curious nature that thrives on multiple questions and ideas. Their instinct is to look at puzzles from a variety of angles, come up with multiple potential strategies and have a great hunger to find the ultimate solution.
“They may realize that they learn things more quickly and easily than others, but may be wholly unaware that others don’t share their endless curiosity and may not have the strong feelings about things that they do. Highly intelligent people may also find themselves odd man out because it is in their nature to think and work outside of the box. They may know that they are doing this, but may not realize how threatening and disconcerting this often is to others. They can be blindsided by the negative reactions they receive for doing things which they see as positive.”
Gifted people often feel a sense of loneliness, awkwardness, alienation and deep anxiety as they find the pace and intensity of their thinking exhaustive, and their struggle to deal with most people finding it difficult to comprehend their abilities and actions. They may become impatient with those who are critical or unable to keep up with their problem solving ability and thought processes. As they are dealing with fundamentally different ways to interact with information they can feel ostracized from the rest of the world. Awkward social interactions can be common as their higher level of thinking, understanding and futurism is typically misunderstood and underestimated by peers, society and usually themselves.
“Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you.”
Mental illness is commonly associated with the highly intelligent, gifted, creative and talented. Sometimes they can be high achievers as a result of their mental illness and other times they occur a mental illness because of the high levels of achievement. Common diagnoses of mental illness associated with high achievers include bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, alcoholism and drug addiction.
“I don’t think people understand how stressful it is to explain what’s going on in your head when you don’t even understand it yourself.”
High-achieving athletes, entertainers and leaders tend to have an aura about them, be charismatic, enthuse energy and be very engaging. They have a natural ability to influence, lead and inspire people with ease. They may not always be the ideal role model, but have that ability to take you on a journey and sculpt your ideas and ways of thinking, for better and sometimes not.
“I like weird people… The black sheep, the odd ducks, the rejects, the eccentrics, the loners, the lost and the forgotten. More often than not, these people have the most beautiful souls.”
From a cognitive point of view, high-achievers generate original, creative and unusual ideas. They have an innate ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas, think abstractively and have complex and deep thoughts. Their imaginations are vivid, rich and have superior abilities to reason, generalise and problem solve. It is common for them to have excellent long-term memories, learn things quickly and think fast.
“Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity is characterised by the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.”
Emotionally, high-achievers are highly sensitive, introverted, have a quirky sense of humour, a child-like sense of wonder, and are good observers. They perceive the world differently as they are aware of things that most people aren’t, and have a high tolerance for complexity and ambiguity. It is normal for high-achievers to be very passionate and experience intense feelings.
“Successful people never lose their sense of wonder and possibility. Instead they retain a childlike quality to see the world of opportunity.”
Roger Federer (www.brilla.com)
Setting high standards for themselves and others, as a perfectionist, is common among high-achievers. They are usually very independent and autonomous. The search for meaning in life, finding patterns and seeking the ultimate truth, is a key driver for high-achievers. It is common for them to be overwhelmed by a wide range of interests and abilities. Their high drive and sense of destiny fuels their visionary outlook on life.
“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 things that won’t work.”
Needing times of solitude and contemplation allows high-achievers to deal with their complex world of thought, understanding and spontaneity. Their persistent nature leads to sustained concentration on topics of interest as well as holding long attention spans.
Why do people like Steve Jobs, Margaret Thatcher, Roger Federer, JK Rowling, Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, Bono, Lady Gaga, Leonardo de Vinci, Marilyn Munroe, Robin Williams and Richard Branson not fit inside the box?
Why do we fall down the trap of thinking and making things more complex than they should be?
Simplification is Sophistication. Do you find it easy to make something difficult, but a challenge to make it simple? The simpler you make something the more sophisticated it becomes.
KISS – Keep it simple stupid is a great acronym too seldom used. We often make everything very complex, leaving both ourselves and those we are talking to confused and unsure.
As Albert Einstein once said:
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.
A common trap people fall into is thinking that it is the people were are talking too’s fault for why they don’t understand, rather than placing the emphasis back on ourselves, as the one (s) presenting the concept or information.
Being able to deliver a compelling message to our athletes or employee comes down to your ability to make it understandable to the audience you are speaking or writing to. It is common for coaches to send their athletes off with a task and for them to return as a failure, in the their eyes. This is not because the employee or athlete wasn’t capable of doing it, but because they didn’t understand what was being asked or provided to them.
It is important that you, as a coach, are able to analyze a situation and determine whether the message they are presenting is actually being understood. If you can’t explain it in less than 20% of the words you used, then it is probably too complex and you don’t understand your subject matter well enough. The ability of an athlete to understand what the coach message is, can have a major effect on the trust and support they will provide.
Richard Branson summed complexity up with the following:
“Complexity is your enemy. Any fool can make something complicated. It is hard to make something simpler.”
How do you check if your message is being understood and whether you understand your message well enough?