The Best Business Coach I Ever Had

By June 7, 2010Learn!

It took me just over a year to realize I was being coached. That’s how good Bob Barham was. Frankly, I didn’t think I needed coaching at the time. I was 42 years old, and for the 20 years of my career up to that point, I had steadily climbed up the proverbial ladder and had finally landed my dream job as VP of Sales. It was me who was responsible for doing the coaching, and the sales team who needed to soak up the the wisdom I had to dispense.

Not only that, from day one on the job, Bob would frequently say, “Hey do you have a minute?  I need another perspective on something.”  Even the founder and CEO of the company wanted to dip into my vast intellect.  Ah, ego!  He’d lay out whatever conundrum he had on his plate and we’d bounce ideas back and forth until he finally “got” it.

It was a dark and stormy night.  (Seriously..  it actually was a dark and stormy night.)  I was having dinner with the most senior sales manager on the staff.  She was extremely well respected with a great track record, but had been in a big time funk for the past 3-4 months.  Performance of her whole team was starting to dip.  I hadn’t planned on asking, but what popped out was a question about how she thought Bob – nearly 70 – was able to sustain his high level of energy and enthusiasm after almost 50 years of doing basically the same thing.  I added that I often wondered if I’d be able to do the same.

The details of what followed aren’t the point here.  The point is that I unwittingly “pulled a Bob” on her.  If ever there were a situation where a sales manager needed some coaching, this was it.  The discussion however, turned into her providing advice and counsel to me.  Two or three of the things she mentioned were intriguing enough that I jotted them down.  It was me that picked up a few useful tips, but she beat me to the punch the next day and thanked me for the pep talk.

Pep talk?  I thought I had failed in achieving the objective of the coaching dinner.  I really hadn’t spoken all that much.  She did most of the thinking, and was focused on helping out her boss the whole time.  And that, gentle reader, is the point.  We both won.

It was also that moment when I realized how utterly ill-prepared I was to be a VP.  If the big boss had to apply his role-reversal coaching technique on me multiple times per week, just how badly was I mucking things up?

Since then, I’ve found a major side benefit.  Team-building.  The “Bob Method” rubs off.  It nurtures a culture in which everybody asks everybody for advice.  It’s the best coaching/learning model I’ve ever seen, and it’s absurdly easy to do.

Thanks, Bob.  Rest in peace.

Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Brad Farris says:

    Todd:

    Great anticdote. I have stories like this from CEO’s I’ve worked under that I cherish, that have transformed my life…

    Asking for advice works in so many areas, with kids, co-workers, even prospects. I think we have a natural desire to “help someone out” and so we lower our guard when someone asks for help or advice.

    Thanks,

    Brad

  • Karl Foxley says:

    This is very inspirational and something I wish some of the people I have worked with would do more often with their teams.

    I do this with my seven year-old daughter all the time and it amazes me how grown-up her advice and suggestions can be. She, more often than not, relates her own advice to situations and events that are happening in her life (at school).

    This is certainly a great way to facilitate personal growth.

    Karl

  • Often coaches don’t understand what coaching is- the LISTENING aspect of coaching is the most powerful.

    It’s about providing a space for the client to find his/her own solutions.

    People are bright, smart and intelligent (generally, there are some exceptions), they are more than capable of working out the right solution for themselves, but a little help is sometimes needed, effective coaching is such a powerful way to help people connect to their own wisdom.

    If a coach starts telling you what to do, run a mile!!

    A coach that asks questions is worth their weight in Gold, hold onto them!

    P.S- Where’s Bob now & how can I get him to coach me? 😀

    • Claire – Your advice to “run away” from the “teller” coach is right on the money! Sadly, Bob passed away a few years back. The lessons he taught me though, are still in my head – and in fact, I’m going to his grand-daughter’s wedding this weekend! – Todd

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