Professional coaching made me a better father. Here’s how

Instead of telling someone what they should do, we need to empower them to discover their own path to achieve success and lasting happiness.

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In my career, I’ve been privileged to coach people from many walks of life, from award-winning professional athletes to accomplished executives at Fortune 500 companies. I’ve also built a business and authored several books. But without question, the most rewarding part of my life – by far – has been raising my two children.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way: The majority of moms and dads see parenting as central to their identity and find it incredibly rewarding. It’s no surprise then, to think that who we are as parents can inform the way we act at work, but often people don’t realize how their work skills can impact their own homes. It’s about establishing a framework that gives people – even young children – the safety and freedom they need to make their own decisions.

Explain reality in a non-judgmental way

I have come to believe, with a passion, that the finest thing we can give a human is a safe place to explore their own thinking. We can do this by explaining reality in a non-judgmental way.

I once worked with a woman who was really passionate about our business. When someone did anything below her standards, she became so critical and judgmental that her colleagues refused to work with her. I finally had to meet with her to determine whether she could keep working with us.

When we sat down, I didn’t demand she change her behavior immediately. Instead, I explained what she’d done, then asked which route she would prefer: to figure out how we could help her get that behavior under control or to plan out how to find somewhere else to work.

By clearly describing reality, she was able to take ownership of her decision. She ended up making the necessary changes and became a valuable contributor to our company.

I had a similar experience with my son, Tim. He told me he wanted to quit the violin because he wasn’t enjoying it and hated practicing. However, in order to remain in his current school, he had to play a musical instrument.

I told Tim, “I don’t care if you play the violin – I just care that you’re learning and you’re happy. And I’m fine if you want to go to another school, but if you want to say at this school with your friends, you have to play an instrument. It’s okay if you choose something besides the violin, but if you do, you’ll be two years behind in that instrument. What would you prefer?”

Tim decided to stay at his school and stick with the violin.

I have learned that by giving others a clear grasp of their reality and outlining their possible choices, we often help them point themselves toward the “right” outcome.

Remove “interference” that keeps others from thriving

Once we have given others a safe place to explore their own thinking, we have to make sure there aren’t any other “interferences” that keep them from being successful. As a tennis player and coach, I’ve often seen that a player’s greatest interference is the voice inside their head.

I recently coached a college tennis player who was stressed because her coach was constantly reminding her of what she was doing wrong. When I met with her, I asked her to describe what she wanted to happen when she hit her forehand, and what was actually happening. As she hit balls with that in mind, her subconscious corrected her mistake just as the coach had instructed her to, simply because she’d diverted her focus away from the worry about what she was doing wrong to what was actually happening.

As parents, we watch our children struggle with similar mental interference. My daughter Kelly loved to play the piano – not traditional classical music, but stuff like music from The Lord of the Rings, which she played constantly. Her piano teacher saw her promise and suggested she play classical music and start competing, which made her feel performance anxiety about an activity she previously enjoyed. She resisted and her teacher persisted until eventually, Kelly quit playing the piano all together.

Sometimes when we think we know what’s right we impose our own ideas and fail to realize the interference it causes others to experience. Ultimately this creates even more interference that keeps others from thriving.

Get rid of ‘should’

German psychoanalyst Karen Horney had a phrase for the damage we do to ourselves and others when we overly emphasize what we believe is right, or what one should do: She called it “the tyranny of the should.”

As coaches, managers, and parents, we often try to impose our knowledge on others by telling them what they should do: ”you should hit your forehand this way,” or “you should be nicer to your colleagues” or “you should play classical music if you want to excel in piano.” I believe this is not only ineffective, but it is often harmful.

People, especially children, are much smarter and more capable than we give them credit for. Instead of telling someone what they should do, we need to empower them to discover their own path to achieve success and lasting happiness. We do this when we help others understand their boundaries, get rid of debilitating shoulds, then give them the freedom to think and choose for themselves.

Alan Fine, co-creator of the widely recognized GROW® Model, is the founder and president of InsideOut Development. Alan is considered a pioneer of the modern coaching movement, and many of the world’s most respected organizations have adopted his InsideOut approach to performance improvement, including IBM, NASA, Honeywell, Gap, and Coca-Cola. Alan has dedicated the past 25 years to helping people from all walks of life elevate their performance and unlock their potential, including athletes such as Davis Cup tennis star Buster Mottram, record-breaking triathlete James Lawrence, and PGA golfers Phillip Price, David Feherty, Colin Montgomerie, and Stephen Ames.