There isn’t much good that has come out of the Great Recession to date except the humbling of some big egos on Wall Street. However, there might be one small benefit that I’ve noticed after doing some coaching with executives pondering next steps in their careers.
Being out of work has forced highly capable men and women professionals to consider what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Some, due to financial pressures, need to get back to work immediately — and so are ready, willing and able to take a job, any job that comes their way. But a good many others, particularly those with more than two decades in the workforce, have an opportunity that has not occurred to them since college: The chance to ask themselves, again, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”
To answer this question, you need to do some homework… on yourself. The five questions below will prompt responses that challenge your assumptions about the way you live your life now — and the way you want to lead it from now on.
Where do your talents lie? Talent is a mixture of ability and proclivity. You have a capacity to do certain things, whether it’s think creatively or keeping a disciplined schedule. At the same time, you have preferences such as working independently, collaborating in teams, or leading projects. Some talents are evident in youth, others emerge over time in the workplace. Recognizing both your abilities and proclivities is essential to your personal growth.
Before you meet with your coach, ask yourself what specifically you want to get out of it. The need for coaching could be remedial, that is, you are doing something that bothers others — being too abrasive — or you are not doing enough — too much indecision. For example, the executive may admit that he is focusing too much on details and not enough on big picture challenges. Or the executive may recognize that her failure to make timely decisions is wasting time. Such admissions serve as points of recognition that can leader to greater self-knowledge. What issues are getting in the way of your ability to achieve your potential, or the potential of the organization?
Even if you don’t want to work with a coach — but you have to, because your boss or the board has asked you to — you must enter the engagement willingly. Try to find some way of framing the challenge of improvement so that it feels more palatable. That might mean focusing on the outcome you want, like winning a promotion or avoiding being let go. Acknowledging that you need to improve in one area or another isn’t easy, but it is necessary to letting coaching be successful.
Don’t let your coach ask all the questions. Ask them some questions. And ask yourself, “Why do I want this person to be coaching me?” Often a coach comes recommended by others. The coach’s track record and reputation may be outstanding, but that doesn’t mean he or she is right for you. The coach must be able to demonstrate an awareness of the issues you’re facing and a willingness to help you confront them. Yes, executive coaching is a journey of self-discovery — but the coach is your guide. Make sure you get someone you can connect with.
Give yourself some early wins. What are you willing to change — right now? Coaching occurs over a period of time, but long-term growth must have a starting point. Why not today? For example, if the executive needs to loosen up his heavy-handed management style, a coach can ask what he is willing to give up. First steps may include speaking less and listening more, or learning to ask open-ended questions that are designed to elicit information, not intimidate. He can take those small steps right away and start making progress towards his big goal. That’s incredibly motivating.
Truth be told, our self-assumptions protect our self-image. If we knew how often we irritated others, or failed to deliver on expectations, we might lose faith in our ability to do our jobs. We are human after all.
But a coach’s responsibility is to encourage self-examination. Unexamined behaviors can cut us off from the very people we need to engage and inspire. You’ll get a lot more out of your coaching experience if you start the process by examining and challenging your own assumptions.
First posted on 7/19/2010