Watching the closing ceremonies of the summer Olympics yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel emotional as yet another Olympic games came to a close. These elite athletes have worked for years, some of them their entire lifetime, to make it to this very moment. To represent their country, their sport, their city and their families on this global stage. But as the world watches the athletes, I have been thinking of the teams of individuals who work behind the scenes to get the athletes to this level – their families, their friends and the communities who often remain anonymous, including a very important person for each athlete – their coach!

(Excerpt from page 22) Research from the Institute for Psychology of Elite Performance at Bangor University in the UK suggests that one of the key differences between a gold medalist – known as a super-elite athlete- and those in the next tier of top athletes Is their relationship with their coach. Beyond providing technical and tactical support, coaches of the super-elite develop a close relationship with their athletes and in doing so are able to encourage, motivate and provide emotional support to get the best out of them. Every athlete knows that, regardless of how successful they are, they can always keep getting better at what they do. They know that their sport is both a technical game and an inner game, each requiring not only practice and determination but continued coaching. 

As an executive coach, I of course think about the pride that must be felt by these coaches on this final day of the Olympics. There is no better example of the emotions of those coaches than the Australian swimming coach Dean Boxall who went viral after his display of incredible emotion pacing around, jumping up and down, pumping his fists and shouting with happiness for his swimmer’s win in the women’s 400m freestyle competition. It’s hard not to feel his excitement, which almost made up for the empty stands in Tokyo this year. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever shown that level of excitement outwardly, but I relate to the feeling of pure elation. Executive coaches, like athletic coaches, take great pride in seeing our clients succeed in their work.

Our coaching might not have quite the same cinematic pull as a medal ceremony at the Tokyo Olympics, but top executives are in many ways like top athletes: they strive to be the best at what they do. Without someone offering an informed perspective, they can only go so far. There may not be an Olympics in the business world, but there are everyday challenges that can be won with the support of a coach in your corner. 

So, just as I am thinking of the Olympic coaches who helped the Tokyo Olympians prepare for their moment on that stage, when I read the profiles in the New York Times Corner Office or see a new CEO announcement, I can’t help but think of the coaches who are jumping up and down, pumping their fists and celebrating their client’s successes.  

….

What do you look for in an executive coach and what do you think makes that relationship most successful? Share your thoughts in the comments below.