I listened to a training recently where the story came up AGAIN about “putting on your own mask before assisting others.” I assume you’ve heard it. I rolled my eyes, thinking, “Can we really not think of any other way to talk about taking care of ourselves so we can be available for others?”

That got me thinking about clichés in general and how many of them there are in life.

When I was a parent, I felt like every part of the experience was a cliché:

  • “The days are long, but the years are short.”
  • “Don’t blink!”
  • “They grow up so fast!”

The reason there are so many clichés is that there are so many challenges and so many moments, that most parents go through. As the parent of a college freshman, I want to shout these particular clichés at every new parent I see! They’re common expressions because they’re common human experiences.

The same is true when it comes to careers and leadership (and coaching). The advice becomes clichéd because the situations are so common.

Of course, there are different schools of thought about leadership, and different ideas about what it takes to be a good leader – tradeoffs between “top down, take charge” and “bottom up, create buy-in.” Even these are starting to converge, as it becomes clear that what works is somewhere in the balance.

I think if you asked 10 top thinkers on leadership for their most important advice, you’d pretty much get the same list of 20 or so core ideas. The truth is that the fundamentals of what it takes to be a great leader haven’t changed much in the decades since “leadership development” became a field. What it takes to look out for the needs of your team, meet your goals and still live a balanced life are still pretty much the same.

And yet, the majority of managers aren’t applying them. That’s why recent polls show employee engagement shockingly low – down around 30%.

And that’s the fundamental problem.

It’s one thing to know what to do, but quite another to put those ideas into practice consistently. Until you’re actually moving your body and using your voice and using your words to try something new and then reflecting on it, you won’t really learn it.

Even as I rolled my eyes about “putting on my own mask,” I could look back over the past few weeks and identify days where I let myself be completely wiped out by serving my clients – because I didn’t get up between calls to stretch or take a break. I know better, but on those days, I wasn’t implementing what I know.

That’s why reading a book or listening to a podcast or subscribing to someone’s blog full of great advice won’t get you as far as working with a coach. The shift from information to transformation requires practice. Like practicing an instrument, or your tennis swing, or a new crochet stitch (my latest hobby), real practice requires repetition, so you build muscle memory. You play the scales over and over again to improve your piano playing. You run the layup or go to the free throw line over and over again to improve your basketball game.

The same is true for building your leadership skills. Developing an unflappable executive presence takes practice: coming back to a calm state over and over again every time something rattles you. Speaking up when you’re feeling shy takes practice, over and over again, until it’s second nature. Using a calm and commanding voice takes practice, to get the tone right.

Most of us, even with good intentions, aren’t likely to sustain consistent, rigorous practice without some kind of outside influence.

More important, most of us can’t tell whether our practice is moving us in the right direction without some kind of observation – is our golf swing getting better, or are we simply reinforcing bad habits?

That’s where a coach comes in. A coach provides structure, accountability, and feedback. A coach helps you complete the learning cycle – from information to action to reflection. That’s what drives change.

I’ve personally had a coach of one kind or another for over 20 years – working on some part of my own development, building my skills as a coach, learning how to lead my business. I’m not perfect (see above about not putting on my own mask!), but I’m certain that I’m a much better coach and business leader than I would have been without that consistent coaching and practice.

If you’re tired of reading leadership books and blogs and hearing the same things over and over, maybe it’s time to shift from reading/listening to doing. Maybe it’s time to get into action and find a coach who can help you take those worn-out clichés and turn them into effective action, with real-time behaviors and strategies that will move your career forward.

My team and I would love to talk with you about how to do that. You can sign up for a free career breakthrough call. During the call, we’ll ask you about your career now and where you want to go. If we believe we’re a fit to help you get there, we’ll talk about what it would look like to work together. If we’re not right for you, we’ll see if we can point you to someone who is. Our goal for the call is to help you define the next steps that take your career forward, so you can have the job and the life that you want to have. Book your call at zmcoach.com/apply today, and let’s get your career in motion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Here’s a video if you prefer to watch and listen to me talk about this topic:

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