After many years in a successful consulting career, I was able to take time off and provide eldercare to my parents. When the time came to reenter the workforce, I struggled to define the next steps. I wanted to try something different but had been out of job-search mode for so long, I was ill-prepared to discover on my own how best to define the next phase of my career.
Little did I know, and never bothered to find out, the business school I attended offered several free coaching sessions to its alumni each year. But the stumbling block remained: I had a successful career; what could a coach offer me that years of experience hadn’t already taught me?
Because I hadn't worked with a coach before, I mistakenly expected to experience a process like the consulting process that was so familiar to me. Specifically, I thought the coach would help me “fix” my problem by defining my next role and helping me obtain the job. In other words, I was hoping the coach would give me the answers. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
If you haven't worked with a coach before, or if you were not happy with results from a previous coaching experience, I invite you to consider the following if you are open to trying the process (again). Understanding exactly what you should expect from an effective coaching relationship must be determined upfront.
Define exactly what the coach does and doesn't do, and what their coaching process entails.
My coaching relationship was ultimately successful because my coach did not judge, direct, or make decisions for me. Instead, I was fortunate enough to find someone who provided a framework for accomplishing career goals that I defined for myself. The process was based on a lot of work around increasing my self-awareness through rigorous honesty and defining my leadership style authentically and succinctly.
Take the time to speak with several coaches before committing to one. The effectiveness of your work together demands it. A good coach does not promise to give you the “answer”; rather, they ask the questions that allow you to discover for yourself what your path should be. That’s how real transformation occurs.
The relationship, which may last from months to years, can support you during times of transition or help you improve your leadership capabilities. It’s worth the time upfront to make sure you are on the same page and you trust the person with whom you will share your journey.
Determine if you are willing to do the work and act on the results.
Many coaches begin their process with some form of a self-assessment exercise. These exercises can be valuable to define how you are wired, what strengths those traits support and areas in which you can grow. Increasing our self-awareness can be uncomfortable, so determine if you ready to do that work.
Being open to the insights offered by a strong coaching relationship and committing to exploring gaps that may exist in your skill set are key to achieving the maximum benefits from your time spent in the process. This is also critical to help you further define the roles in which you are most likely to be fulfilled professionally.
Know what the 'result' looks like for you.
Your coach will have their own processes and specific tools to guide you through the self-discovery phase. Based on what I discovered about myself through the self-assessment, we created a strategic action plan for both my personal and professional lives, with next steps and timing associated with each. I took ownership of my action plan. My coach was my accountability partner. She kept me true to my vision, providing resources to teach me new skills to fill gaps as needed. She was an invaluable sounding board, and because we trusted one another, she was able to deliver to me all the messages I needed to hear.
Even though I started out hoping my coach would do the hard work for me and point me in the “right” direction, I got so much more out of the process by owning it and finding the answers to define my path.