Coaching (in one form or another) has been around for millennia and the broad tenants of coaching haven’t changed a lot in that timeframe; it is essentially supporting someone through change. Looking at the definition of coaching it is “a training or development process via which an individual is supported while achieving a specific personal or professional competence result or goal. The individual receiving coaching may be referred to as coachee.” (Wikipedia). There are many forms of coaching; informal coaching like the help you receive from friends, family and co-workers (supportive but often made up of advice more then anything else), coaching in sport to increase specific skills and abilities (rigorous when applied by professionals). Some workplaces have a program to provide coaching from manager to employee (either formally through a methodology or informally through regular touch points and conversation). Many of us are familiar with these types of coaching, but what about the professional coaching you hear about people investing in to the betterment of their lives and careers? What benefits can it provide?
There are many types of coaching methodologies and practices you can invest in as a way to further your own competencies and goals. You may be familiar with the term “life coaching”, which is available to help with parenting, relationships, or other skills that are found prevalently in most people’s daily life. Coaching with a focus on professional or work related topics is also prevalent where people seek to become more effective in business, their profession or in a current role. It’s important to ensure you know what kind of coaching will be most effective for you and that you find a qualified practitioner, one who has a designation certified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Why is certification important? Certified coaches are committed to a standard of morals and ethics that protect you the consumer. Certified coaches are also trained to identify when an individual may be better served by another kind of assistance (i.e. direct skills training, a therapeutic program provided by another professional, etc.). Coaching is a process by which people seek to evolve or change something about their current practices that isn’t working for them – it’s important to ensure the services of a skilled and qualified practitioner are there to support this process, even if that support includes directing you to a more appropriate resource. While many people who coach apply practices, without the rigor, methodology and the ethics of a trained practitioner they may not be of benefit to you (wasting your time and money) or worse, may create a greater concern.
Professional coaching as a service can be broken into two broad categories; transactional coaching and transformational coaching. Note these are my definitions of the two categories of coaching services you typically see in the marketplace (there are many other definitions out there). Transactional coaching is there to assist people with a very specific skill or process; career transition or delegation skills for example. The focus of the coaching is on steps an individual may take to reduce the amount of time needed to achieve their objective and is often a prescriptive program that focuses on delivering specific content to the coachee within a particular time frame; this type of coaching is designed with a singular purpose and intent. Most individuals who have come into contact with this type of coaching have received it from a third party, like an employer, who wished to support them through a difficult period in time and/or with a process that may be unfamiliar to them. In the hands of a skilled practitioner transactional coaching (also sometimes referred to as counseling or advising) can be of great benefit - akin to one-on-one instruction. However, the intent of transactional coaching is to provide a specific, prescribed benefit and while it can reflect the specific transactional needs of the coachee it cannot address more foundational concerns that may be preventing the coachee from moving forward in his or her process. The design here is pre-set, and moving beyond the scope of what is outlined would require a renegotiation of the coach and coachee relationship (and likely the associated services rendered).
Transformational coaching has the ability to go deeper; it is entirely focused on appreciating the needs and concerns of the individual and looks to understand the underlying causes that lead to an individual’s area of concern. Transformational coaching should be undertaken with a coach who is certified through ICF as this type of coaching should only be practiced by someone with the knowledge and skills needed to help achieve desired outcomes in a responsible way for the coachee. This type of coaching is typically undertaken over an identified but flexible period of time and specifically designed to support an individual in making the changes needed to achieve the desired outcomes. It is also a path to evolution (as opposed to revolution), changes experienced by coachees are not across-the-board but incremental changes to be explored, tailored and adopted as part of new practices that are consistently sustained. It is a subtle process that takes place over months, and is collaboratively built between coach and coachee.
Note that transformational coaching is not about directly providing solutions or answers. Coaching is about providing an individual the support, time and resources to determine her/his own solutions, building them into practices that can be implement successfully, addressing the area of concern. This is sound coaching practice as no change is likely to be sustained if it does not come from the individuals’ perspective and become adapted to his/her current practices (remember, evolution not revolution). This process produces transformative, sustained results that (over time) prove to be of great benefit to the coachee, especially as they are undertaken in a measured and positive way. There are several different coaching methodologies available in the market place, no one better then another. In fact, success in this process is often dependent on the coachees’ needs (which the methodology should meet) and the comfort level achieved with the coach.
When looking for a coach you should speak to a few practitioners (as you would with any other service provider) to find the one that has what you are looking for (methodology and approach)…and with whom you feel very comfortable. Ask lots of questions to understand a potential coaching practitioners’ methodology and how it can help you. Certified coaches will speak to their area(s) of practice and help you to understand the range of results possible when working with them; they can also help you to understand the scope of change (depth and breadth) they can support you to undertake (with respect to your area of concern) and an estimated time to address your needs. Look into coaching as a way to support your change or as part of a robust professional development program; the investment will repay itself through your well being and continued success.
The world is changing rapidly, requiring us to change with it. Sometimes the ever-increasing pressures on our home and work life can make it difficult to see where we are going or why we are going there. When was the last time you took a few hours, or even a day, to reflect on your professional endeavors or quality of life? It seems almost selfish to think of doing such a thing doesn’t it?
Successful professionals (leaders and non-leaders alike) share a common practice of periodically stepping away from the daily grind and taking a mental inventory of where they are. Think of it this way – the daily grind is a pin-point of light, stepping away allows you to expand that focus to a flood light, throwing into sharp relief the things that are working and those that are not. This period of dedicated reflection (be it an hour a week or a multi-day annual retreat) allows these individuals to be present for their jobs and personal life in a way that gets lost if you are not giving yourself the space needed to re-gain your focus and balance. From the CEOs of successful multi-nationals to your family doctor, many successful professionals know that “showing up” requires you to plan time to “step away”.
So how do we accomplish this? In looking at your schedule it is likely a myriad of meeting bookings and reminders; in an informal poll I took this week 4 out of the 5 professionals I spoke to had time double booked 1-4 times during the week in their calendars and less then 1 hour per day of unscheduled time during the business day. This is the reality of today's’ workplace and we feel less and less empowered to say “no” to all the meetings and events we are scheduled to attend. Yet there is hope. I point to those that have constraints that transcend work schedules or who are acutely self aware of their need for balance, and create responsible space for it. We work with these individuals every day; you will find them present at your workplace if you look. These are the individuals who leave work “on time”, who shut off their smart phone at night and who are clear and transparent about their availability without seeming to say “no” to things yet are considered great at what they do. How do they manage it?
Motivation comes into play. An example can be found in a single parent to three wonderful and active children. Having lost her spouse while the kids were quite small she doesn’t know any other way to operate to make it all work – boundaries are key. She is also one of the most effective people I have ever had the pleasure to work with, which points to why she is very successful at her profession. She is present for her kids, they have not missed an opportunity to play whatever organized sport they were interested in or pursue hobbies. She is present for her profession, which is apparent in her effectiveness and enjoyment of her career. This individual developed a picture in her mind of the kind of life she wanted for herself and her family after the unthinkable happened, she planned it out step by step, through trial and error, until she found the balance that works. Not only is she incredibly resilient, but she is flexible too. When asked to do something at work that conflicts she is quick to offer alternatives that work (win-win). She knows how to say “no” without saying “no”.
I provide this example as a new way to think about things. Hopefully the majority of us will never have to face the unthinkable, but many of us would like to think we could rise to the challenge if we had to. Why wait? If you really want to “show up” for yourself, your family and your career take the time to look at things in a different light and do this not every once and a while but on a regular basis. Step back and take a longer view, the results will speak for themselves.
Stress is an ever-present part of life today and we’re seeing it’s effects in our homes, schools and workplaces. While not all stress is bad (getting a promotion, buying a new home, etc.) the negative impacts of too much stress cause concerns that are well documented by health care professionals and media alike. While we all know we should be eating right, exercising more often and getting more sleep to help us manage the negative aspects of stress, it’s a leap to go from knowledge to action. To complicate matters there is the matter of boiled frogs. If you haven’t run into the “boiled frog” metaphor before it’s often used as a quick way to help people visualize the stealth aspects of stress. You start with water that is a very agreeable temperature for frogs and they are happy to be there, but over time the temperature of the water is slowed increased and as it increases the frog adjusts…until one day the water is boiling. Graphic? Yes. But relevant to many peoples lives concerning stress.
Stress tolerance is a component of emotional intelligence; our ability to manage both our own stress and that of others is key to navigating many complexities at work (and at home) and reducing their impact, which helps us to manage our stress rather then adding to it. There are all kinds of factors creating stress in our lives, some are situational (like a fender-bender on the way to work) and some are more systemic (facing ongoing financial pressures). We don’t have complete control over what is going to happen to us on a daily basis, but we can control how we react to whatever is coming next. As I am fond of saying, I can be very emotionally intelligent…until you rear-end my car. However, even here I have the opportunity to react in a way that will help foster a much better outcome and reduce the stress level in an unavoidable scenario. Whether we were responsible for the stress or not it’s important to remember that we always have the opportunity to effect the outcome. Remaining calm and working towards being objective go a long way to getting what everyone needs in any given situation.
So how do you do that? Especially when you take into account the “boiled frog” scenario which points to a more systemic version of stress? It starts by taking stock, to see if you are enjoying the quality of life/experience that you had identified for yourself. In one case my client was convinced she needed to change employers, so I worked with her to assemble all the factors contributing to her current situation. This ensured that in making any changes she would be able to address her areas of concern and would know what to look for in a more appropriate role. Through this process she discovered that, in fact, she was contributing to the majority of the factors that were making her current role untenable. By understanding that information she realized it wouldn’t matter what job she held, they would all end the same way. The way she approached her work was her “boiling water” and we then worked together to disassemble the constructs she put in place that made it so.
For another client is was recognizing his situational “tipping point” as his stress came not from an on-going concern over the quality of his work-life but a lack of consistent quality. Some days work was great and he loved it, at other times he felt despondent and overwhelmed by the competing demands. In examining his concerns more closely he was able to determine that the lack of consistency had a pattern to it; on-going and “known” work made him feel confident and gave him feelings of accomplishment. New work that came in was “dumped” on him and took him away from being able to perform well with the work he already had. Understanding that pattern allowed him to examine his own reactions to new work coming in and to work with his organization to ensure there was a better process in place to help all employees on the job (not just him) be able to absorb this type of new work in a more measured way. The outcome allowed him to experience more consistency at work; he still had slight feelings of dread when new work came in, but it was no longer overwhelming and he could excel at it. He also took a lot of pride in the fact that he was able to effect positive change for other staff members, and his organization as a whole, as they were now more effective with the new process in place.
These are a few examples of individuals who recognized they were sitting in “boiling water”. It’s not always easy to see (until you hit that “tipping point”) and once identified the contributing factors aren’t always apparent either. However, for anyone with the motivation to closely examine their stress points, using objectivity and an open mind, the outcomes can be very positive contributing to your emotional intelligence and over-all well being. So, what is the “water” like where you are?
One of the demands of today’s labour force is resiliency. You won’t find it listed in your job description or even in a job advertisement, but it is in high demand. The world is moving faster and many employers endeavor to keep pace; they are making changes more quickly, from the expansion and contraction of their workforce to the way work is being accomplished to the type of office space they inhabit (open plan anyone?). This is now the case in all sectors and not just in for-profit companies – it can be found prevalently in public sector and non-profit organizations as well.
When exploring the reasons for this there are numerous ways to look at it (technology, market, economics, demographics) but the reality is that many of us who’ve been in the workforce for some time can point to a difference from when we first began; we may not be able to articulate specifically when or why, but it has changed. For those who’ve managed to keep pace it’s been beneficial as there are those who embrace change and thrive in it. Most of us prefer things to be handed out in a measured way that allows us the time and space to adjust as needed before moving forward. That is where resiliency comes in and why it has become a key attribute in the workplace today – that measure of time is no longer consistently present in the workplace today and you may find yourself outpaced (by someone younger, older, less experienced, more experienced, etc.) because what she or he posses is a greater degree of flexibility. It is not just another person’s ability to absorb the change; it’s their ability to synthesize change and make it work that sets them apart.
Here is the good news – you can increase your flexibility and demonstrate resiliency in the face of change – this is something we all have control over. It begins with understanding that things will change (or are changing) and re-evaluating your own professional context based on what is being asked of you. This requires an open mind and a measure of optimism, which can sometimes be in short supply when you are experiencing change. There are many roads to flexibility - they all start with finding what will motivate you to undertake the change needed to move forward. Whether it is re-framing the change in a way that works for you (looking for the positive side of an office move) to ensuring you don’t become pin-point focused on an issue and missing out on wider opportunities that others are sure to grasp. It’s important to pull yourself back, acknowledge that you don’t like the change (a perfectly human response) and then figure out why. Once you understand your own concerns around change you need to explore these concerns (this is where having an open mind comes in); ask questions, test your assumptions and be ready to receive information that may not align with your beliefs about the situation and spend some time to explore that as well. There is a lot of reflection and introspection that needs to take place during change - some of it will allow you to embrace it some of it may require you to bring forward points of concern that likely need to be addressed for everyone (not just you). Pursuing this process in and of itself is a demonstration of flexibility and will add to your resiliency in the long run (it does take practice).
Perspective is a really important tool in all of this; it is a normal and natural state to look at things from our own singular perspective first. Remembering that workplace change is never undertaken specifically to target a single individual is key to giving yourself time to look around and find objectivity. If you need a demonstration of what perspective can do to your ability to see things differently follow this 30 second exercise: Look up at the ceiling, point your hand over your head to a spot above your head on the ceiling and begin moving it in a clockwise circle. Continue moving your hand clockwise as you gently lower your arm until your hand is circling below your head. What direction is your hand moving in now?
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I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Facebook or Linked In.