It was a nice compliment – as a finished a full day of facilitating and flipcharting – from a participant at an offsite I facilitated in Hong Kong.
“You have,” she said, “an amazing ability to distill what somebody said to a few words and capture it perfectly.”
“Thanks” I offered; “I’ve had lots of practice.”
The reality is for some work the stuff that really counts is experience: good experience. The difference from facilitating 100 teaming sessions and 1,000 isn’t simply 900 sessions; it’s the 10 times the amount of data to know what works and what doesn’t, when to tread lightly and when to nudge hard, and an ability if you work really hard to hear things with an inner voice that can spot the difference between what’s being said and what’s being meant.
When my spouse and I went looking 8 years ago for a new pediatrician for our now 10-year old son, one of the qualities I wanted to see is someone who was good at what they did, had a zest for their work, and lots of experience. When you’re pulled into being a parent in a 2-dad family at age 50 you want to have all the help you can get.
When I saw Dr. Janet Stafford’s hands – worn like she’d worked lots of years helping grow vegetables or great kids – I knew we had found someone who loved what she did and had the badge of honor (experienced hands) and likely wisdom to show for it. Apart from the solid academic background she had what you can’t buy: A love of her work, experience of many years, and the smarts that comes along with those first two qualities to share with a newbie parent like me.
Daniel Coyle’s book The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills identifies 5 key characteristics for a great teacher or coach – the sort of stuff I do coaching executives and working with startup and leadership teams:
- “Avoid someone who reminds you of a courteous waiter.
- Seek someone who scares you a little.
- Seek someone who gives clear, short directions.
- Seeks someone who loves teaching fundamentals.
- Other things being equal, pick the older person.“
Good hunch is I hit the mark on all five, and fortunate to have the sort of practice from 30 years of experience that lets me distill what somebody says to its essence and keep a leadership team session moving in full stride.
Some things are luck. Many other things are a matter of good, hard work and experience. Like hands like Janet’s.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.
A pair of hands filled with cowpea seeds (Vigna unguiculata). Photo credit: Wikipedia