Mar 23, 2021
Many surgeons reach out to the Academy with the preexisting belief that a Surgical Coach is supposed to give them advice. Or tell them what they’re doing wrong. Or tell them what to do instead of what they’re currently doing.
These assumptions are wrong.
While Surgical Coaches are not forbidden from giving advice, advice-giving is a small part of the Surgical Coach’s toolkit. You might ask, why wouldn’t a coach give advice? The answer is because working with a coach is different from calling a consult or talking to a mentor. A consultant or mentor can offer quick advice, but that undermines the principles of adult learning. And real, continuous learning — not quick answers — is the essence of professional development for surgeons.
The International Coaching Federation, the world’s largest professional coaching organization, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Advice, by itself, limits creativity because the answer is already provided.
As such, Surgical Coaches are taught during their training to give less advice. Rather, we have them practice asking more questions to unlock a surgeon’s potential to maximize their own performance. Instead of telling you what to do to get better, a skilled Surgical Coach asks questions to allow you to identify the answers to your own challenges. After all, you know your practice best, and you’ll only change your practice patterns if you decide to do so.
Although we need to distance our mental models of surgical coaching from sports, the closest thing to an accurate comparison between a Surgical Coach and an athletics coach is a tennis coach observing quietly in the stands. In Michael Lewis’s podcast about the rise of coaching, he interviews Timothy Gallwey, tennis coach and author of the 1974 book “The Inner Game of Tennis.” Gallwey’s interview describes his curious experiment of telling less and asking more — and how this led to dramatic improvements in his tennis players’ swings.
In surgery, a coach partners with a peer surgeon to improve surgical performance by asking insightful questions in a non-hierarchical manner. This starkly contrasts with residency or fellowship. Anyone who has been a surgical trainee has experienced the hierarchy of surgery and probably been told what to do quite often. All that “advice” may have led you to graduation, but let’s agree that most practicing surgeons do not wish to revert to their former selves in training.
Source: Memes Monkey, 28 Oct 2020.
A fundamental belief that Surgical Coaches hold is that they are not smarter or more talented or “better” than their coaching partner in any way. The coach and surgeon are considered equals in a coaching partnership. With this understanding, it makes sense that a Surgical Coach does not simply give advice, tell surgeons that they’re wrong, or tell surgeons what to do. Instead, they ask questions. And the power of a Surgical Coach’s questions rests in the surgeons themselves.
It can be confusing to understand what a Surgical Coach really does. We are happy to discuss in detail by phone or by email. Contact us to inquire further! We look forward to hearing from you.
Jason C. Pradarelli, MD, MS
Medical Director | Academy for Surgical Coaching