Skills vs. Experience

During a conversation with an executive coach, something really hit home: “It’s one thing to have the experience to coach, but having the skill set is entirely different.”

That idea — the difference between skills and experience — has continued to resonate with me throughout my coaching journey.

In March 2016, I worked for a startup that hired an outside facilitator to lead a session with our senior management team.  And I feel eternally grateful for the experience because it provided me with some key insights and introduced me to the journey that I now embark on: coaching and professional development.

When I left the startup world, I took action and made my first phone call to…you guessed it…this outside facilitator, Glenn. Glenn is a man of high integrity who preaches and practices helping others. He immediately responded to my request to meet, and within a few weeks we started talking over a cup of coffee.

Aside from providing me with insights and advice on the world of coaching and facilitation, Glenn did what truly genuine people do — he made more introductions.  

Meeting with experienced people in your field is very important for several reasons. First and foremost, it serves as another reference point for the type of people you’ll be engaging with, potentially collaborating with, and potentially competing with.  Regardless of the competition, the type of people you encounter in the world of networking should provide you with valuable insights.  And that’s exactly what many of my meetings did.

What stands out to me about my meetings is the lesson I learned from one of Glenn’s introductions.

As I contemplated the difference between skills and experience, I realized I knew firsthand what this meant from my competitive tennis playing days. As a collegiate athlete who had been trained in tennis with a significant amount of instruction (private and group), I was more than competent on a tennis court.  On a pure performance level, I had achieved results in an activity that most people never do, and I was proud of that.  

But while teaching tennis in Washington, D.C. after college, I felt like the worst instructor, even though I could beat all of the other teaching pros in the tennis facility. My clients made improvements, but not to the same degree that others’ did.  My instruction was okay, but maybe not as engaging.  My drills and skill development came from my memory, but not from formal schooling.

The impact:  Great tennis player.  Mediocre instructor. I realized more was required if I wanted to keep teaching tennis. 

Experience is one thing, but skill sets are another.  

Like every other performance-based activity, coaching also sees this dichotomy.  And I feel appreciative, again, that someone brought this up to me. It would have been easy for me to dismiss the notion that I needed to learn additional skill sets to teach tennis. After all, I had achieved a significant level of success and experience during my playing days, even having competed against some of the top players in the world.  And similar with coaching, it would have been easy to dismiss the notion that I needed to learn additional skill sets for my coaching efforts. After all, I had gained a significant amount of experience in my 10 years of professional experience.

Maybe you feel the same way about your work. You put in the time and earned this promotion, so clearly you have experience in your organization. But stop and ask yourself: do you have the experience to lead a team, or just the experience that was required to excel at your previous position?

I’ve learned during my time as a coach that growth, learning, and mastery will never cease. And as I continue on my coaching journey, and on this journey that is NextGen Center, I truly believe in helping others to hone their leadership skill sets — so they help their teams and organization with not only their experience, but also the skills needed to help others excel.

Another thing I’ve learned as a coach is that because every client is unique, every coaching session will also be unique. My ability, as a coach, to interact and facilitate with each unique situation means that skill sets are not only helpful, but they are also required. I sharpened my coaching skill sets through my coaching program at N.C. State University, and I’m glad I did. Without them, I have no guide post or barometer for measurement — what I should be doing, how I am improving. How do I know if I’m delivering the most value to the client?

Similarly, if you’re managing a team, the individuals on your team will be unique. They will come to you with various challenges and may respond differently to different management styles. Learning and then applying skill sets to manage will help you to interact with each of your colleagues effectively. This will, in turn, help you gauge whether you’re delivering the most value to your team.