As a young professional, I got very lucky. My first manager was perhaps the most natural coach I have ever met. Most of anything good I’ve achieved I owe to him – he gave me opportunities, believed in my ability far more than I did, and spent time with me. He also gave me a timeless piece of wisdom about coaching people: “Feedback,” he said with a mischievous glint in his eye, “is the breakfast of champions.” My own work (and plenty of academic research) bears this out. More of my clients and colleagues hunger for useful feedback than any other kind of assistance.

Sadly, most coaches are in no position to give it.

Say you have agreed to coach a professional. You have built credibility, created comfort and trust, put yourself squarely on their agenda, and gotten focused on where you can add significant value and expertise to that agenda. Beautiful. You’ve done an important bit, but probably the easiest bit as well. Nearly anything you do now will require you to actually see this professional in action to provide anything of value.

For illustration’s sake, let’s say the professional wants help improving their presentation skills with key clients or colleagues. They’re smart enough, but they have a sense that they aren’t as persuasive and clear as they need to be if they want to achieve their goals. Maybe you sense this too, either by intuition or by word in the grapevine. But for you to really help this professional to move to the next level, gut feeling and gossip just won’t cut it.

Instead, you will have to go to the hard work of figuring out a way to get into an observing position in this professional’s life. In this case, you will have to find some way to be present during Moments of Truth – those critical times in the professional’s daily/weekly/monthly life where the skill is on display for all to see. In our imaginary case, that may mean finding (or even inventing) reasons for you to be present at a key client presentation. It may mean explaining to some colleagues that you’re trying to help this professional, so you want to give them the chance to present at a particular staff meeting and you want to attend.

This can be complicated. It may cost you money or (God forbid) time. But this is coaching we’re talking about – it’s not cheap. It’s a long-term investment in the most precious commodity your organization has – its rising professionals. Yes, long-term investment is counter-cultural. And yes, a pattern of long-term investment usually pays off handsomely.

But ask yourself, if you don’t get yourself in position to observe your colleague in action, how can you expect to give them anything resembling useful feedback? And without that food, it’s hard to breed a champion. Just ask my first boss!

I’m curious. What do others find challenging about positioning oneself to give feedback?

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