Even though Atul Gawande is at the top of his profession—he’s a leading surgeon, journalist and winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant—he knows he’s capable of improving his professional performance. That’s why he hired a coach.
After practicing surgery for eight years, Gawande concluded that he had reached “a plateau” in the operating room. While it comforted him that he had hit his stride, he was no longer sharpening his skills and learning from each surgical procedure.
Robert Osteen, a respected surgeon, agreed to watch Gawande in action and offer constructive input.
Osteen’s comments greatly improved Gawande’s results. For example, Gawande learned to adjust his elbow height during surgery so that he struck the proper position to do more precise work.
Gawande’s humility and willingness to learn underscore his high standard of excellence. Successful midcareer professionals often figure they no longer need coaching. Gawande rejected that assumption. He felt that if he paid for tennis lessons, he could just as easily pay someone to critique his work.
Gawande, author of The Checklist Manifesto and other books, challenges the prevailing view that leaders reach a point where they transcend coaching. Skeptics might suspect that hiring a coach to improve your craft is only for rookies or underperformers. But it can also illustrate how a high achiever never stops improving.
— Adapted from Practice Perfect, Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi, Jossey-Bass.
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