Star performers or high achievers can often pose a real challenge for a coach or mentor. They are not used to mediocrity or failure, and typically have high self-belief and high expectations of themselves. They are ambitious (often to the point of single-mindedness), competitive, goal driven and can be very challenging and demanding within both their team and any coaching relationship.
Coaches and mentors working with star performers, no matter what their field, will have to be credible and confident in their own right in order to build a meaningful, trusting and respectful relationship. So what do you need to do to set the coaching or mentoring relationship up for success?
Make a connection
There needs to be a strong personal connection – and a relationship of mutual respect – between a coach and a star performer. The coachee will almost certainly expect you to demonstrate capability in areas they wish to focus on. If they want to talk about how to handle fellow board members, for example, they will typically expect their coach to have significant board-level experience themselves, either as a coach for others or as a board member. Establishing credibility early in your relationship is key.
Focus on outcomes
A good coach will always challenge their coachee to continually explore, improve and develop – but with a star performer, it is equally important to demonstrate the outcomes from their sessions. Work with them to explore improvements and incorporate change into their day-to-day life. Be willing to follow their lead on the agenda for a session - your antennae should be on high alert for cues and clues indicating they are ready to move onto something different. High performers tend to prefer fast-moving discussion and may not feel the need to dwell on issues once they believe they have ‘got it’.
Some star performers have already achieved a lot, but they may have an inflated view of their capabilities and are not always quite as good as they think they are! Top performers often focus their efforts on very narrow criteria. They may only focus on results, for example, forgetting to take care of relationships with colleagues. This can result in them being regarded as somewhat arrogant and often means that others have to get involved to pick up the pieces. Be ready to challenge the individual’s opinion of themselves and it could pay dividends.
Focus on the coachee's needs
High achievers need to feel that they are in control, so specifically explore what their dreams and ambitions are and how they believe a coaching relationship can help with this early on. Be prepared to challenge them and ask if they could do even more, even better. Focus on the future to keep them engaged.
Don't shy away from difficult areas
It is important to help a high achiever identify blind spots, over-developed strengths or self-limiting beliefs, as these are the areas that could trip them up at some point in the future. Ask them to talk about their strengths, explore what the flipside of these might be, and how this might come across to others. High achievers can and do plateau, and some completely derail: your job as a mentor is to help them avoid these situations.
Article taken from The Leaders guide to coaching and Mentoring: How to use soft skills to get hard results, by Mike Brent and Fiona Elsa Dent, FT Publishing. Mike Brent is a member of faculty, and Fiona Elsa Dent is an associate member of faculty at Ashridge Executive Education.