Yes, high performers need coaching too: A behind-the-scenes sneak peek at what happens

Whenever people learn that I coach high performers remotely, they assume this has to do with the Zoom exodus and mental health since the COVID pandemic. Except that, my global boutique practice precedes this by 6 years, when I qualified from my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

This curiosity converges around the assumption that high performers should be able to figure it out on their own. Of course they can. But as one of my mentors quipped, with the abundance of self-help books, we should all be fit, rich and happy. Often, we’re not.

Many high performers— often double- or triple-hatting people who reach leadership positions years ahead of their peers— get their first taste of executive coaching in their organisations, and then want a sustainable system that integrates well with their lives. Others have sought out mental health therapies, but just talking is getting them nowhere.

They understand that as leaders, they have to walk their talk by seeking support. And much as they could devour entire books with hits-and-misses, it’s more effective to engage someone to guide them to specific areas. As responsible, diligent and reflective individuals, high performers understand we all hit plateaus in our lives. At some point, what gets us here, won’t get us to where we want. At least, not without a bigger cost.

This cost often comes in the form of overwork, burnout and a busy mind that cannot stop. The hours invested in juggling their multiple roles means the fatigue adds up, and they know the odds are stacked against should things continue this way. They wonder if they’re weak for feeling this way, and if they burn out or break down, someone will discover that perhaps they’ve been faking it all along— that dreaded Imposter’s Syndrome. From there, the house of cards that holds together their responsibilities— from mortgages to children’s education to much-needed holiday and fun expenses— will collapse.

Alongside these are other mental and physical health challenges. Plenty tell me about the migraines, palpitations and stomach ailments. They lament the balding patches and dull skin, mourning their loss of virility. Others reveal the shame of panic attacks— the inability to take that plane or train, or be in a crowded place. Panic isn’t just about feeling incredibly anxious; it’s as though an alien has possessed you, and you’d do anything to take away that terror that you may die or collapse. Others may secretly be in toxic relationships, meaning enduring abuse from narcissists, psychopaths and sociopaths. Whether in or out of work, the toll on their bodies and minds gets heavier.

But because things seem okay or even fabulous to everyone else watching, the pressure to keep up appearances mount. And the bigger the gulf between what’s really going on inside and what everyone sees, the more tormented one feels.

“I’ll be fine”

If you recall the last time you had a headache, I’m willing to bet you weren’t functioning at your best. Like me, you may been clumsy or made a hasty decision. Imagine carrying all the things that suck your energy away, on a daily basis— a compound interest that works against you.  The truth is, human beings can tolerate plenty of subpar conditions— it’s easier to adapt to gradually-eroding standards, than redesign your life. After all, we slap on a label like ‘it’s not that bad’, ‘it’s a first world problem’, or ‘I’ll be fine’.

But what if fine wasn’t good enough? And what if you decided that you didn’t want to tolerate multiple rounds of burning out over the next three decades?

Bespoke for high performers

The science is clear— we need to regulate our brains, quality human connections, learn to say ‘no’, and take care of our bodies. Buzzwords like self-care, meditation and balance abound, but what are they really? For the high performer, mental health challenges look different— the depressed high performer is still going to work, leading their teams, and smiling whilst they drink with you. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work here.

High performers come to me because we speak the same Type A language. They don’t want to meditate for two hours a day. It’s well-and-good to feel healthier after a retreat, but how do we continue these changes, making some of these habits work on autopilot. And, they want to understand the science without wading through medical journals, because their brains need to be onboard first. With a background in psychotherapy and multidisciplinary medical settings, I work with the nervous system. Understanding neuroscience and trauma, means we circumvent how our nervous system inevitably sabotages the changes we make.

We work in structured eight-week programs, so they create and sustain changes. We first map their personality, what’s going on now, what’s led to now, and where they’d like to be; and then map how to get them there. Our sessions are their Mental Gym— we start with an agenda, and this could be a sounding board for personal or professional conundrums, from how to lead better to dealing with a brain that’s working against them. Instructions are explicit, perhaps a script or two, and we work on exercises to regulate their nervous system on-the-spot, so things are easy to follow through.

Contrary to ideas that you can’t engage much remotely, there’s alot you can tell from a client’s body language and facial expressions simply from FaceTime. We run regular reviews to measure success and finesse our working relationship— often, clients will hit goals early and decide to amp them up. High performers have lawyers and doctors on retainers; I’m their psychologist on retainer. They reach out as-needed between sessions, stay accountable, or even request more reading material for what they affectionately dub DrP’s Book Club. And then they also engage me to coach their teams.

Clients tell me that working remotely means they have access to me without geographical constrains, meaning they can simply dial in and then continue with the rest of their day.

Coaching high performers globally keeps me engaged and on-my-toes, it has been my favourite way to run my psychology practice since qualifying. I could be working with elite military to an Olympian to someone in multinational sports to a CEO, in a given workday, it challenges me to be at the top of my game so I walk my talk. It’s a win-win-win.