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How to coach the uncoachable

How to coach the uncoachable

March 06, 2017

Google “musical savant” and you’ll meet Derek Paravicini. Born over 3 months premature at 1 ½ lbs., he hung on to life but emerged from the experience blind and with tremendous cognitive disabilities.

Nonetheless, Derek is a savant. He has an uncanny skill at the piano. He’s able to recall any piece of music he’s heard, play that piece in a different key and play it in any musical style. For example, at the request of the audience, he can seamlessly improvise “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone” in B major, in the style of Ragtime.

[Watch Derek, the musical savant, in action on 60 Minutes]


How did Derek unlock his talent?

Adam Ockelford became to Derek, what Anne Sullivan was to Helen Keller. He is the unlocker of Derek’s musical genius. Because Derek is blind, he never saw a pianist in motion.

Adam recognized Derek’s potential and taught him not only scales, but that one uses fingers, not elbows, to play the piano.

Adam believes deeply in Derek’s ability in the midst of all of his disabilities.

Over their years together, Adam has nurtured Derek’s skill development, and just as importantly, provided him with outlets to perform. At age 7, Derek played a few songs at a charity fundraiser and a star was born. He now performs at events, homes for the aged, and fundraisers all over England.

How did Adam Ockelford coach the seemingly uncoachable?

You can only teach a musical savant so much before his skill overtakes your own. So in truth, after a number of years, Adam was coaching Derek more than teaching him.

How do you coach the uncoachable?

Let’s break it down.

1. Adam understood Derek’s communication. He understood that music is Derek’s language of connection and he answered back in kind.

Listen closely to your team. Get into their minds, and more importantly, their hearts and find out what makes them tick. Learn their language and speak it.

2. Adam ignored the limitations that might have stopped others. A blind man can interact with a conductor without seeing him? No problem. Taking requests from the audience? What fun!

Don’t be frightened by people’s external limitations. Think big and imagine what could be.

3. Adam encouraged Derek to explore his talents. To date, Derek has raised millions of pounds performing at charity events. As Derek’s father said, “Derek has done more good than most of us will ever be able to.”

Give your team an opportunity to be great. Let them explore their talents, try new things, and yes, make mistakes.

4. Most importantly, Adam believed in Derek. And in what he could achieve.

It’s not wishful thinking to believe in someone. Everyone has something they can be great at. Everyone. Look for their potential give people the wind beneath their wings to achieve their goals.

[Watch Derek and his coach, Adam in action on 60 Minutes]

Are you a coach or a cop?

This all sounds nice and make for great fridge magnet material, but when it comes down to it, are you really willing to be a coach, not a cop? Are you willing to make the mindset shift from “catching” your employees doing something wrong to genuinely coaching and training them to help them succeed?

It’s hard. It really is. Especially when you have more knowledge, experience and more skin in the game to make sure the books balance and the customers are happy.

But take a step back for a minute. What would your company look like if you really had a Team on Fire who was passionate, motivated, supported and coached?

It’s starts with you, my friend. Change your mentality from cop to coach. If Derek, the mentally handicapped child could be coached, so can your team.

My early coach - Michael.

Many years ago, I had a coach named Michael who helped me to overcome self-imposed boundaries. I believed in the conventional wisdom that I had to consult onsite at my client’s businesses. Michael said, “You’ll use Stephen Covey’s model. Clients will come to you. You’re good.”

I respected Michael. And after some convincing, I believed him.

We can’t really see ourselves clearly to know how we can improve. If we are all fish in a fishbowl, the coach can stand outside of the fishbowl and offer guidance on how to swim.

12 years of uncertainty.

I believe in my clients. I really do.

I recently had a Turning Point coaching client who was struggling with a monumental decision. Ensconced in a family business, Tom had been debating whether to buy out the business or leave - for 12 years.

Within 2 months of Turning Point, we gave Tom enough confidence to initiate the buyout, and layout the details. Coming from a position of strength, they negotiated, and he bought out the family business. We really believed in him, gave him support, belief and direction. We told him we’d be there with him during the negotiations and afterwards. This gave him the inner strength to do it.

“What if you don’t make the change?”

It’s a good question to ask to envision the inevitable future. Remember, the solution starts with you. You can make the shift from coach to cop.

I believe in you. :)

Taking you from where you are to where you want to be.


P.S. I’d like to hear from you. Who was one of your most influential coaches and what made him or her great? Shoot me an email at jongoldman@brandlauncher.com or give me a ring at 410-903-4653.