Editor’s Letter

Learner, Know Thyself
Mike Prokopeak Editor in Chief

oaches learn just as much from their players as their players learn from them. When the person you’re coaching is your own kid it’s even more so.

I was my son’s soccer coach last year. Pick any player from his team of 7- and 8-year-olds and it was guaranteed they had more playing experience than their head coach. We had a good season despite that. They learned to play as a team, developed fundamental skills and had fun. Well, most of the time they did.

During one game, a loose ball squirted out of the pack right at my son’s feet as he stood a couple of yards from the other team’s goal. He had a clean shot on goal for his first score of the season. He hesitated and in that moment a teammate swooped in for the goal. He was mad at the kid.

So before the next game I took my son aside and counseled him to act fast. If the ball comes anywhere close give it a swift kick and go. Don’t think, just follow your instinct, I told him. Without missing a beat, he said, “But Dad, my instinct is to think.”

Lack of skills isn’t what holds people back. It’s what they don’t know about themselves.
I paused a second, said a few words of encouragement and the game went on. But I kept thinking back to that exchange on the sidelines. It made me realize just how much more the person being coached knows about a situation than the coach. And how much coaching isn’t about a skill being taught but about the capability being built.
Self-awareness is a powerful thing. It’s often not a lack of knowledge or the absence of a specific, quantifiable skill holding a person back. Rather, it’s the lack of knowledge of self. Alongside the ability to adapt, learn new things and embrace change, being self-aware is one of the key meta-skills of the modern talent economy.

Knowing our tendencies and emotions, our patterns of thinking and acting — and how to avoid the worst and bring out the best in ourselves and each other — is a source of significant power. In learning and leadership development it’s a place where you can make game-changing plays.

My son knew enough about himself to recognize his own tendencies. He just didn’t quite know what to do with them yet. That’s where coaching can help.

A good coach can build up valuable meta-skills like communicating persuasively, listening without judgment, thinking critically, reflecting and being self-aware. This isn’t just soft stuff without hard results. Studies show the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions and your resulting behaviors leads to success.

A Korn Ferry study found companies whose employees exhibited higher levels of self-awareness enjoyed a higher rate of return on capital. Further, employees at low-performing companies were nearly 80 percent more likely to have low overall self-awareness than those at higher-performing firms. Knowing thyself pays dividends, literally.

Brené Brown, author of five bestselling books including her latest, “Dare to Lead,” argues leaders in particular need to develop self-awareness. For good reason, many leaders have a bias to action when they encounter a challenge, she told the crowd during a keynote at the Society for Human Resource Management conference last June.

But rather than go straight into problem-solving mode, leaders need to learn to step back and think, Brown said. The aim is to spend the time and energy needed to accurately identify problems. The challenge isn’t to know what to do — it’s to embrace ambiguity and be comfortable not having the answer.

For learning and development, that often means slowing down to accelerate results. Valuable meta-skills like self-awareness aren’t mastered in a single course. They require time, practice and reflection.

For good reason, a lot of attention is focused on reskilling and upskilling workers. The half-life of technical skills continues to shrink. But in the push to quickly retrain and upgrade the skills of workers, it’s important not to lose sight of the tools that can lead to personal and professional success, no matter the environment.

Success sometimes means recognizing it’s time to change course, not just learn a new skill. That’s the conclusion my son came to. He figured out soccer isn’t where his passion lies. Baseball is more his speed.

Mike Prokopeak Signature
Mike Prokopeak
Editor in Chief