The Greatest Coaching Question of All Time

I recently finished a 4 day, intense persuasive communication course with 142 Executive MBAs. We heard almost 300 speeches.  I worked with the coaching team of Florian, Tobias, John and Tony.

Each told a story of the person, the change they seek in the world, the reasoning. By the end of the week, these stories were all what I call “hero stories”.

The Two Types of Stories: Victim & Hero

There are 2 types of story that we hear around us. Victim stories and Hero stories.

Victim stories can be as simple as “The traffic was terrible today”. They can be as vague as “They won’t let me”. In all cases the victim story removes the responsibility from the central actor. There are many of these stories in circulation these days. The press love pushing this.

Hero stories take responsibility. They take responsibility for errors of the past. “I still don’t understand why I didn’t say thank you while he was still alive”. They understand that sacrifice is necessary to achieve greater outcomes. “I eventually had to give up tennis because I was struggling with the workload”.

Hero stories in Homer’s Odyssey

I am currently taking an 8-week Coursera course in Greek and Roman Mythology. We are reading Homer’s book, The Odyssey for the first 5 weeks of the course. I haven’t read this book since I was a kid in school. It totally passed over my head back then, but now as an older, more experienced human, the trials and sacrifices of Penelope, Telemachus, Odysseus and Achilles resonate with me. This is a story of what it is to be heroic.

In the case of Telemachus, it is the story of his waking up to his responsibility. The hero should be angry in the face of injustice, and at the start of the book, Telemachus is angry but blames others. He blames the gods, he blames his mother. He is the perennial victim. He feels unworthy. This is his excuse to delay action. The gods come and tell him: “you are old enough, it is time to act”.

The Gods ask of Telemachus the same question that a great coach will ask you: “what are you prepared to change to make it better”

A hero is prepared to change to make things better. A Greek hero invokes the gods to act through their hands. The gods can shape the future, but so can we mortals. Personal responsibility, answering the question “what am I prepared to change to make it better?” is what begins the heroic story, the heroic journey.

The Greatest Coaching Question…

“What are you prepared to change to make it better?”

Author: Conor Neill

Hi, I’m Conor Neill, an Entrepreneur and Teacher at IESE Business School. I speak about Moving People to Action.

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