What I Learned From My Driving Coach

Ever had an “Advanced Driving Experience”? Basically, it’s where a driving instructor –  from the passenger’s seat – teaches you techniques which you then practice on a race track. Courtesy of a birthday present, I was recently on the track and keen to advance my skills. But before turning the key I found myself being coached myself. Exchanging details with my instructor (Shannon McIntosh, a nationally recognized racecar driver), I found she called herself a coach too. We quickly realized how similar our coaching techniques were. Even Shannon’s description of how she worked with successful drivers resonated with me:

[blockquote]“As with any profession, the highest performers are continually striving to get better and this typically comes through working with someone who both advocates for you as well as pushes you to take calculated risks.”[/blockquote]

Sounds like something I’d say!

As a coach yourself, I thought the comparison of techniques could be useful (whether or not you’re keen on speed):

1. Objectives at the Starting Line. A driving coach doesn’t know if you’re keen to race to 150mph or just manage the way you respond to a skid. Whatever your goal, they also want to know your current skill level and, until they do, they won’t let you turn that key, that’s for sure. As coaches we do the same: take time to understand what the individual wants to work on – where they want to improve, why it matters, what it will lead to; then evaluate their current level and approach, analyze and formulate a plan, and define what success looks like.

2. Focus. If you try to learn to brake as late as possible, corner at the fastest speed and perfect your line all at once you’ll not make nearly as much progress as if you break them up into individual activities. Same with us. We work on a limited number of things, and focus on one thing at a time, building on the learning at each stage.

3. It’s visual. Of course driving is visual – you’re on a Hot Wheels track, only bigger! But think of it as a practice environment used to: bring focus; build muscle memory (mental muscle too); repeat a specific action (taking that corner); and get feedback from how the car responds. It’s the same thing we do when changing the way a client does something: create the appropriate environment, practice, provide feedback and try again.

4. Expertise Not Required. Driving coaches are often successful race car drivers themselves, but that background is not required. How you articulate techniques, help another person apply them and give developmental feedback can come from personal experience OR from studying success in others. Sometimes it’s a combination. Ross Bentley was a successful driver before he became a coach but Marshall Goldsmith had never run an organization as large and complex as Ford when he started coaching Alan McNally.

5. Shared Trust. Perhaps it’s easy to see how a driving coach needs to trust their student – they’re in control! They trust the student won’t do something crazy or dangerous, and that they’ll work hard to achieve the set goals. At the same time, the student trusts the coach won’t push them into a situation they are not yet ready for, and that they’re truly doing their best to help them succeed.

6. Ongoing Learning. We paid good money for that driving experience, and we expected the instructor to know the latest techniques to use with the car’s advanced technology. Coaches learn from each other, are curious about their field and continually update their methodology. The business landscape also continuously evolves, challenging not only our clients, but the methods we need to employ to support their success.

After an exciting day on the track, I definitely left with improved driving skills. I also gained an appreciation of how broad and diverse the coaching field is and how it can be used to help people with all sorts of challenges. So in a way I had two coaching sessions in one. Happy birthday to me!


Gavin Pommernelle helps leaders solve business problems, develop their teams and reach their potential. You can find more information on his executive coaching, talent assessment and HR solutions at talentdrivenvalue.com