July 2022 marks the start of my 28th year of full-time working since completing my studies. As I reflect on my career to date, I have met and worked with some great people, seen many highs and some lows and had some great fun along the way.
We started Red Tiger Coaching in September 2020 and since personally embarking on the Barefoot ICF/Postgraduate Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching in January 2022 I am so much more enlightened about the practice and benefits of coaching. I have received so much value from the coaching I have had from the course (thanks to all the free coaching from my coaching buddies!) and it has been extremely valuable for my own coaching practice to elicit change in other people too. The wider Red Tiger team are also benefiting from my coaching experience and each week we try out a coaching method together.
Prior to meeting my colleague Steph Durbin when she became a qualified coach, and prior to doing the Coaching course, I must admit I had little knowledge of what coaching was and how it can help. I could possibly go as far as describing myself as a coaching sceptic, admittedly through ignorance rather than first-hand experience.
This blog is not about the benefits of coaching, which are wide, varied and well documented. Many organisations have coaches as employees or utilise external coaches to help support their workforce and there are many individuals who use coaches from time to time.
I would like to focus on two things, firstly, to try and demystify the preconceptions about what coaching is (or isn’t) and secondly, to bring coaching to life with me personally and highlight some examples of where I look back at challenging moments in my career and think about how coaching could have supported me.
WHAT IS COACHING?
Until 5 years ago I had never really heard of coaching in a business or life context. Then I met a former client of mine, Steph Durbin, and everything changed. Steph talked with so much passion about how her work enables others to be the best possible version of themselves and how she has helped her clients achieve real transformational results. Great coaches really buzz off facilitating that change in other people.
Of course, in my personal life I have obtained and paid for specialist help before. From sports coaches (badminton, golf, squash, football) to personal counselling (marriage, bereavement) but I haven’t, until recently, received any formal life or business coaching.
I’ve never been fortunate enough to be at a company that proactively encourages their employees to be professionally coached. My only indirect experience of coaching has been an awareness of ‘underperforming’ colleagues needing specialist external help at previous organisations. The notion of someone only needing coaching when there is underperformance is vastly outdated. Coaches work on the premise that clients are not broken and don’t need fixing. Coaching can be beneficial to anyone regardless of current performance levels.
My many years of consulting have conditioned me into thinking that the more you say the more value you are adding. Of course, the value is about what you say rather than dominating the meeting space. Coaching is very different, coaches add value by creating a safe, confidential space where they facilitate the client to explore whatever it is they wish to discuss.
Coaching requires me to ‘quieten the voice within’ – it is very much more about listening, about observing, about asking incisive questions, about probing further – it doesn’t usually involve me giving advice or recommendations. My clients always have the solution to their challenges that they bring to me, but it may not be immediately apparent. It is my job to help the client think freely and discover or formulate the solution or transformation.
The space created between a coach and coachee (client) is very precious. In adult life it is extremely rare that we are given the time and space to confidentially say what is on our mind. Particularly without judgment or opinion from the listener. In coaching we refer to this as unconditional positive regard – everything our client says we hold as a precious gift, without judgement or prejudice.
Good coaches help transform people but don’t seek to create a dependency. We may work on a specific area with a client but our involvement is usually short term compared to other forms of professional support or therapy. This means that a typical coaching engagement could span a couple of weeks to a few months, from a single half hour session to a more sustained programme over 3-6 months. Every client is different.
We at Red Tiger Coaching recognise that coaching could require a significant investment from our client in terms of time and money, particularly if individuals are self-funding. There is great variety in terms of what you can pay for coaches in the marketplace, but coaching doesn’t have to be expensive. I have personally received significant value from a single 30 minute coaching session from many of my Barefoot colleagues. It doesn’t have to be an extensive programme of coaching spanning many hours and many months in duration.
When considering the overall cost – think about the value or the results of a desired outcome. How much value do you place on being happy and fulfilled in the workplace? How much value do you put on improving your management of a difficult client/colleague/boss? How much value do you place on getting promoted to the next level in your organisation? How much value do you put on being able to impress at interview to land your dream job? How much value do you place on reducing your stress levels and improving your sleep patterns?
HOW COACHING COULD HAVE HELPED ME
I am where I am today but I can’t help but look back and think about how coaching could have supported me at specific times in my career. I think about how coaching could have helped me deliver improved performance, saved me time, reduced my stress levels, provided better focus and helped me navigate through some of the more challenging times.
The following is a small selection of such times (I’ve done quite a lot in 28 years). I have tried to give a high-level overview of the challenge or problem that I was faced with and then thought about how coaching could have supported me at that time.
FINDING A ROLE AFTER GRADUATION
I graduated in September 1995 and at that time I didn’t have a clue about what my strengths were or what I wanted to do. I had some technical skills in GIS and a keen interest in retail but apart from that I was good at pouring pints, waiting on tables, operating the cash machine and being polite to customers, I had no idea on what to do next. I applied for all sorts of roles – I remember being on a Joshua Tetley Graduate assessment day with a load of aspiring sales people thinking “what am I doing here?”. I also remember being very disheartened when I sent out many CVs and didn’t hear back.
Having a coach at that time would have helped me in a number of ways. Firstly, a coach would have been able to help me explore my skills, strengths and values and allowed me to be clearer about the types of roles I should be applying for. Secondly, this work could have fed into articulating these strengths in my CV and thirdly, helped me focus on my strengths in interview.
No-one I know is born with perfect interview skills and it is certainly a case of practice makes perfect. Most of us have learnt pretty quickly after having interviews that didn’t go so well.
I recall being in an interview for a job I didn’t really want (their office was out in the country and I liked the idea of working in the countryside) where the face to face chat went well and then I got invited to do some sort of programming test. I just froze – my mind went blank and I can proudly say I must have scored the lowest mark ever in the test – I just hoped that I got a few marks for writing my name at the top!
Having a coach would have better prepared me for interviews, ensuring that I had done all the necessary research, anticipated any questions, and thought up relevant questions for the hiring manager. Most importantly, I am sure coaching would have helped me decide that this particular role in the countryside was not the right role for me.
TRANSITIONING TO MY SECOND JOB
After 18 months working for a Real Estate Advisor in London I decided to go client side at the Rank Group and become part of a larger analytics team where I would be one of many GIS specialists. It was a very daunting move as I was one of the youngest members of the team in terms of experience and I had gone from a business where I was the GIS ‘expert’ to a business where I was one of many GIS experts. There were some stark contrasts to my previous role in terms of culture and focus of the role. The pressure was on for me to fit in and be a success.
Having a coach would have prepared me for that transition into my new role and made my ‘landing’ a little softer. It would have given me increased confidence in my own abilities, there was certainly a feeling of imposter syndrome in the early days (more on that later) and having the support of a coach would have helped me navigate through those initial 6 months.
IMPOSTER SYNDROME AT A MANAGEMENT CONSULTANCY
I joined Deloitte in 2008 as a Senior Manager in their Enterprise Risk Services division. It was my first experience of working for a ‘big 4’ management consultancy and the scale of the organisation was more than daunting.
I was brought in to help support the formation of a specialist location planning consultancy which didn’t quite go to plan – Deloitte’s inflated fee expectations were tricky to justify during a global recession particularly when competing businesses were offering similar solutions at a fraction of the cost. This meant that we got involved in all sorts of other projects – utilisation is key to survival. Whilst I met some incredibly inspiring and bright people during my short stay there I felt like an imposter when I was getting involved in a wider variety of projects outside of my skill and knowledge set.
Having a coach would have supported me through this transition and helped me understand that imposter ‘syndrome’ (the word syndrome is now replaced with ‘thinking’ as syndrome implies some sort of disease) is a state of mind that can be coached. A coach would have focused on my confidence and transferable skills and possibly looked at my motivators to see if the role was in fact right for me. In my coaching and recruitment work imposter thinking is extremely common and it’s very rate for someone to not experience it at least once in their career.
UPHEAVAL IN MY PERSONAL LIFE
The next period I can recall was when I was Head of Property Consulting at CACI. My team was expanding, we had great clients, and the work was varied and interesting. I had a lovely dream family home in the countryside and two young children. Life couldn’t be better. The breakdown of my marriage caused a significant upheaval and caused me to ‘drop the work baton’. I lacked motivation, confidence and it showed in my work. My success to date had resulted in more responsibility (Head of International) but its fair to say that I underwhelmed in my new role – for the first time in my life I had a real problem with lack of motivation.
Having a coach would have supported me through an extremely stressful time. A coach would have helped me better deal with my loss (wife, family home, kids) as well as helped me ensure that my work life was not affected in the way I let it.
TIME OF CONFLICT
I have been fortunate that in most of my career I have avoided any significant conflict. I am definitely a lover, not a fighter! I’m a people pleaser and I certainly don’t thrive on conflict. I had one time in my career where a work colleague of mine and I were not really aligned at all. This wasn’t on just one specific area, it was across many areas. They would say chalk, I would say cheese. On paper we were a great combination, yin and yang, but the divide was so deep I think we both deliberately went out of our way to have polar opposite points of views. The relationship was toxic and it wasn’t enjoyable in the slightest.
This situation would have been like honey to a bee for a coach – so many interested dimensions to explore. It could also have been an ideal opportunity for me to try group coaching. With two polar opposite views the ‘truth’ is somewhere in the middle.
The examples above have all been focused on the business application of coaching but coaching can also be using in wider life circumstances. For me, after finding new love again and settling down with a new family (with step-children thrown into the mix) there are numerous complexities to navigate, including parenting differences and dealing with ex partners! There are also the challenges associated with getting older – the loss of parents and the ongoing support for my remaining parent.
Coaching has and will continue to support me in navigating through these life challenges. It gives me the thinking space to explore options, think of things from multiple perspectives and also give me an opportunity to discuss my thoughts with someone who holds those thoughts without judgement or opinion or prejudice.
Coaching is not for everyone but if anything I have put today resonates with you then why not book a FREE clarity meeting with me or one of my colleagues and we can discuss in more detail how coaching can support you in your work or personal life?
YOU MIGHT ALSO BE INTERESTED IN READING:
- What Is Full Potential and Why Aren’t You Reaching It?
- Zone of Peak Performance: A Strengthscope Model
- How to Play to Your Strengths in Your Career
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