“Who do you work with?” is the question I get when people find out I’m an Executive Coach. This makes me laugh because I wonder if they think I’m the executive. Or, to be a client they have to be an executive!
The answer is muddy. Yes I do coach executives in C-Suites. But I also work with business owners, new leaders, senior leaders, professionals such as doctors and high-performers heading upward in their careers and business. And lets put an emphasis on high-performers.
As a coach, I’m not in it to performance manage anyone. That responsibility lies with the employee’s direct manager. From time to time I do however, coach those same managers on their people-managing and communication skills.
I digress. The name Executive Coach has become part of the industry nomenclature distinguishing it from other forms of coaching (life, performance, career, sales, retirement and the list goes on).
Lewis R. Stern, in his article Executive Coaching: A Working Definition, explains the difference between Executive Coaching and other forms of coaching; there’s a dual focus on working one-on-one to develop the executive as a leader while helping that them to achieve business results.
You may be wondering why does an executive even need a coach?
For the seasoned leader, Executive Coaching provides a methodology to slow down, gain awareness and notice the effects of their words and actions. The objective is to make explicit to the coachee that they have choices in their approach rather than simply reacting to events.
And let’s face it, executives and business owners are people like everyone else. They have their doubts, their egos, and their own beliefs or habits that trip them up. I become their thinking and strategy partner because believe it or not, it can be lonely at the top.
With the newer leader heading toward the C-Suite floor, we most commonly work toward letting go of the “expertise” that got them to their new position. The objective is to help them realize they’re now required to lift their head toward a bigger vista. What they view and how they approach their work means shifting to a broader orientation to understand how to influence, who to influence and why this matters.
For successful coaching it’s critical to understand it takes commitment, regular sessions and work in-between. While I’ve got my clients’ backs, executive or not, I’ll challenge the thinking, beliefs or habits that may not be serving them anymore.
How, may you ask am I qualified to work with this clientele? Was I an executive myself? Did I train for this or take an introductory weekend course?
These are exactly the kinds of questions you and any leader must ask when hiring a potential executive coach.
I recently re-read an article in Harvard Bazaar from thirteen years ago, The Wild West of Executive Coaching. The authors described executive coaching as a chaotic frontier largely unexplored, fraught with risk, yet immensely promising. They were drawing attention to the many self-proclaimed coaches with wildly diverse qualifications.
The profession has come a long way since 2004. The International Coaching Federation has become the profession’s governing body. It assesses not only potential coaches, but the executive coach training institutions as well. Since 2007 it has invested in over 8 international coaching studies to demonstrate the highly effective nature of coaching.
Are all executive coaches now certified? Not yet, which is why it’s so important to check credentials.
In my case I was a senior leader in public service, back-filling for my executive boss in her absence. So yes, I’ve sat at the executive table. But more important, I completed a university masters level executive coaching program. I’ve combined experience with the skills and methodology of coaching to provide an optimum experience for my clients.
Whether or not you’re at the top or halfway up the ladder, executive coaching promotes reflection, produces learning, behavioral change and growth. Executive or not, that produces a solid financial return on investment for both the coachee and the business.
It’s that time of year again. The pressure’s on to buy buy and buy more. On the heels of Black Friday (whoever came up with that name was cheekily brilliant), we now have Cyber Week! Everywhere we look there’s some corporate giant waiting to pounce on our wallets.
This mass media marketing is, of course, designed to make us think we must have that new electronic, or fancy pair of shoes. But do we really need it?
The same thing happens in our careers. We’re told we must develop our leadership competencies so we can climb that ladder that beckons us to the top. Managers tell us we must directly supervise employees to become a Director. And the message is, everyone must aim to be a leader.
If you’re an entrepreneur you’re hearing so many “must” do’s to earn multiple figures or market to our target niche. Business mentors are ripe with recipes for that one path to success.
Like the pre-Christmas mass marketing that dupes us into thinking we must have the toys, gadgets and latest of the latest, so do the manager, mentors, leadership books and business publications demand we need to be and act a certain way.
But are they right? Or are they really telling us how to reach their goals and their vision of success?
I’ve recently had the privilege of coaching a large number of rising stars in a sizeable organization. Their managers tapped them on the shoulder to attend an intensive leadership program. While some of them truly do have the goal of making it up the ladder, others are confused and feeling pressured.
What I find most interesting is when we peel the layers off their onion we find that their own career goals are in contrast to what they believe they’re “supposed” to do as defined by their manager, organization or business mentor.
This is when the confusion sets in. Questions invariably come up:
- Will the company still value me if I don’t want to move up?
- Will I be passed over for interesting projects?
- How will my colleagues view me?
- What value do I bring to the company?
If you own your business, your questions are likely:
- Why do I have to follow what everyone else is doing?
- Will I be a failure if I don’t make 6+ figures?
- Why does my sales funnel have to look like B-School’s?
These are natural responses and reactions. But what if I asked you, “What’s your definition of your purpose and the legacy you want to share with your organization or business?”
That changes everything!
I know this may seem obvious, but it bares saying: it’s unlikely you’ll ever be happy following what others do or what they expect you to do.
So now what?
While having a coach guide you forward is an asset in gaining clarity and perspective, you can start by tossing aside the previous questions and focus on uncovering your true goals and a path to achieving them. Start by asking yourself:
- Who is responsible for my career?
- How important is my work/life balance?
- Am I passionate about the work I do?
- Do I like being an expert in my field?
- Do I crave greater responsibility for and interest in leading others or the bigger picture?
- Is financial achievement my primary motivation?
- Am I open to moving laterally versus up, in the organization?
- Do I actually care what others think of my career direction and me?
The next step is getting clear on your beliefs. Try writing down 5 beliefs you hold regarding work and career. Compare these with your answers to the questions above. Do they align or are there disconnects? These disconnects are critical holes that need your attention; this is the vacancy between what you believe and what you desire. The idea here is to go into this space and honestly ask yourself which is your truth – your so-called belief or your so-called answers to the questions.
Please know there is no right or wrong answer. You’re entitled to your own career goals and a path to reach them. You’re also entitled to question your beliefs.
There are no musts or rigid rules in your career – only your ability to discover what is right for you. Like the catalogue full of enticing trinkets guaranteed to bring you joy and happiness, so too are your managers’ or mentors’ expectations for you – illusions painted by someone else.
The bottom line is – you get to decide. You actually need to decide. Getting clear and forging your true path is no doubt the most important career development step you can take.
A career success consultant whose blogs I follow, Kathy Caprino, wrote “How Authenticity Can Prevent Professionals From Growing Into Leaders”. I hit upon a paragraph quoted by Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader that knocked me over:
Don’t stick to your story. Most of us have stories about critical events in our lives that shaped who we are today and taught us important lessons. Consciously or not, we allow our stories… to guide us in new situations. But our stories can become outdated as we grow our skills and styles, so occasionally it’s necessary to alter them dramatically or even throw them out and start from scratch.
Not only was I surprised to read something original and fresh, I could feel the light bulb switch on above my head.
We not only allow old stories to guide us in the present, we run the risk of letting those stories define who we will be in the future.
And that my friends, can have a huge impact on your career success!
There’s two reasons I’m excited about this idea. First, I went through a tough period and after two years, a coach colleague of mine asked why I was letting my story define me? Why indeed! It was time to shed the crazy narrative I was clinging to. And quite frankly, it wasn’t doing anything except hold me back. At that moment I realized I’m the one that gets to create my own narrative.
I also learned the stories that got us here will not, I repeat, not get us to where we want to go. Think of the snake that sheds its skin in order to live and thrive. So too must we let go of the stories we tell ourselves, the beliefs that no longer serve us and the tried and not always true behaviours and approaches we’ve clung to.
There’s no place more important to adopt this perspective than in our careers. I work with many new senior leaders. The absolute one thing they share is the idea that what got them to where they are right now will definitely not get them to where they want to go. In fact, it’s unlikely they’ll be successful in their leadership if they don’t shed their skin. More often than not, this is what brings them to seek a coach.
Even the most accomplished leaders get caught up with their old stories and history, allowing these to blind them to what’s really going on in the present moment.
I worked with a client who’d lost her job months earlier. The story she told herself was about being victimized by her Board of Director’s mismanagement. She saw no other options than to be an Executive Director. She so identified with her story, she believed her only way forward was to vindicate and prove herself worthy of leading a similar organization.
We deconstructed her story and separated her emotions from the events. Through lots of work, she eventually realized her version of the story was holding her back from being open to a world of new opportunities. So powerful was this awareness that she ceremoniously let go of the old narrative. She’s since moved on to a whole new career based.
We all have the tendency toward a one-dimensional view, especially with events that have strong emotions attached. Holding our view long after the story is over can be a way of justifying our actions, soothing our fraught emotions or simply a way of making sense of a confusing or difficult situation.
Here’s the difference between a perspective based on what’s current and one that’s manufactured through the past, our emotions and imagination. A healthy perspective has us open to possibilities and unlimited ways of seeing things. It offers a respectful way of engaging with other colleagues and making good decisions. Ultimately, with old stories left in the past, our burdens can be lifted and we can be present and wholehearted.
How can you leave behind your old stories? I suggest these four practices:
- Begin by realizing you may be showing up with tainted lenses from your past – good or bad. Is there one particular story that’s emotionally charged when you think about it? One that still doesn’t make sense or one that you still talk about all these years later?
- Revisit each story one last time. Hold it up like a globe and look at it from different vantage points. See it through the lens of others and you’ll likely discover aspects of your story that weren’t quite as you’d imagined or believed them to be.
- Notice how the story may be getting in your way. It happened, it’s over. Be compassionate with yourself. Take one key learning from the story and let the rest fall away. You may even find it useful to symbolically let the story go by setting free a balloon or throwing a stone in the ocean.
- Hold the value of the learning close, tapping into it when you find yourself slipping into the past. The learning is all that matters and all that should influence your present and future.
As for me, I’m learning to not give someone trust without it being earned. I rarely think about the old story. It’s been shed. Since then, it’s not that my world has opened up, rather it’s that I’ve opened up to my world!
What stories are holding you back from career success?
My question is why do you need to ask such a question? Glib perhaps and we could end the blog right there, but let’s talk about this.
I heard this question from a friend in a large corporate company. Apparently it’s stuck with me.
The way this question is posed makes it seem like the asker is looking to someone else (or the universe) for the answer. If that’s the case, then I’d say you probably have less than 10% chance it is this year, or any year.
A while ago I wrote a blog, Your Career, Your Responsibility. If there’s one thing I learned as a senior manager, it’s that no one is going to hand you a promotion or dream job, nor does the company owe you a thing.
So let’s pretend I’m coaching a client and we’ll call her Clare. She asks, “Is this the year for my promotion?” I let the silence hang for a moment and I repeat the question back to her. Only this time I phrase it, “Is this the year of your promotion?” – with an emphasis on “is”.
Taken aback, she spews a laundry list of why it’s her turn, how she deserves this and that so-and-so got promoted last year. I let her rant for a moment. Silence again.
“What will it take YOU to be promoted?”
It was so quiet I heard the light bulb go on in Clare’s head. In that moment she realized if anyone was going to boost her on the career ladder, it could only be her.
Okay, by now you’re likely wondering where is this all going? We’re into the new fiscal by several months and chances are if you work in government or corporate, this is when the yearly planning happens. Performance plans are laid, budgets set and re-organizations planned.
This is also the time for the Clares of the business world to reset their career path. If a promotion is the desired objective, then here are the key things Clare and others must do for themselves:
- Take an environmental scan of the business and industry. Is it growing or stagnant? What are the corporate priorities? Where are the job growth opportunities? Understand the current and five year context.
- Ask for informal chat sessions with a senior leader and/or HR Director within your organization. Take an interviewing approach to mine their perspectives on current needs and culture of the organization. Focus on them, not you. It will give you good insights, and let them know you are committed and invested in the organization.
- Pull out your past performance reviews and any psychometric personality assessments you’ve done. Start doing research on yourself. Take a dispassionate look and ask: What are this person’s strengths? Do these and their skills match their current position? What would they need to do to develop gaps in their leadership? Are there potential new areas of work they could evolve into?
- Mind map all the information gathered so far. Grab an empty sheet of paper and get scribbling. See what comes up – a straight path upward, a lateral detour to get new insights and experience, or a run for the elevator?
- Decision time. Is there likely to be openings in your current organization that match your path? If so, then stay close to home and jump on job postings when they’re published. If opportunities are stagnant, the decision to look farther afield is obvious. So get networking and suss out where the lights in the cracks are. This means reaching out to friends, former colleagues and even cold calling people in organizations that just may be expanding.
- Don’t just dust off the old resume – re-craft it! Nothing smells like an old running shoe than a resume written for your current job. Let’s face it, with the onset of social media, how we write about who we are and what special talents we have has changed. Google resume writing and click only on blogs written since 2016. Follow the recipe.
- Like the running shoe says – just do it! The bottom line is (in case you haven’t figured this out yet) you are responsible for your next career move. Promotions don’t come to those who wait; promotions come to those who go after them. So what’s stopping you?
There you have my seven steps to getting your promotion. But wait, there’s one more. Be really honest with yourself; do you have what it takes for the next step? Not sure? Then go back to step two for feedback from those who see your current performance, and ask for what you need to develop to move ahead. Listen carefully and act upon what they tell you.
The paradox is that just because you want the promotion, doesn’t mean you’re ready for it. But if you know you are, it’s up to you to make it happen!
There are very few of us who can create and build a thriving business completely on our own. I admire those who can.
I don’t know about you, but I have a small list of go-to women (okay, plus one man) whose expertise and encouragement enables me to grow and prosper in my business.
Each person has some piece of the “must have” information, perspective or expertise that I don’t have. For example, my pal in Toronto is a marketing whiz. I have my content strategist who always steps in and grabs the details out from under me at just the right moment (in case you didn’t know I’m a big picture kind of girl). There’s my techie guru across the continent and my mastermind American coach/entrepreneur buddies who help me wrestle down my next big idea. And not to forget my own executive coach – she’s always got my back.
Grateful is an understatement.
Naturally, we all come with unique skills, experiences, and viewpoints so no two businesses will ever look alike. I’ve taken courses and bought the books; learned the winning formulas for this and that; tested and failed; adapted and flourished. And my truth from these experiences is that, yes, I can learn the logistics but I will never succeed to my own standard of achievement if I don’t bring ME to the business equation.
Let me explain.
I’m driven by my values of uniqueness and professionalism. Therefore, I believe that for me to be successful, I must bring my distinctive thinking and way of being to my business. And I must do that by using my expertise to provide my clients with a respectful, encouraging and authentic experience.
My differentiator in business is me.
I’m super clear on what strengths I bring to the equation. I’m also well aware of where I fall short.
I’ve always placed a high value on self-development and I’ve done tons to understand who I am and what makes me – well, me.
When I started my business I relied heavily on my strengths, and I still do. Unlike many people, I didn’t have fear or doubts. I didn’t have sleepless nights of worry and panic.
What I did have is a deep belief in myself.
And that, my friends, has come from being really committed to working on my personal and professional development.
Doing the work includes time, curiosity, coaching and a deep-seeded focus on the process. And now I bring a similar process to my business.
The best part is that I’ve created flow in how I run my business. I know what I’m good at and what causes me sheer havoc. I know how to shift things around to draw on natural strengths that minimize my stress when my computer crashes!
Why am I telling you all this? Because I believe we all have the capacity to succeed. And the truth is, we just need to understand our uniqueness and our qualities and capitalize on them to create our own flow.
I quickly became tired of the “formulas to success” – other people’s methods. I’m sure they work wonders for them, but not for me. Having my business isn’t about cutting corners. It’s hard work. And when I use my strengths and fill the gaps by hiring others who have those talents, I can move mountains and I am happy!
I tell my husband that my quality-of-life-meter when up 50% the day I hired a graphic designer, brand strategist and technologist. And it zoomed higher when I added my content strategist to the mix. You see I’m a knucklehead when it comes to labouring over details. Ask me to create the vision and I’m good.
By now you may be wondering why I’m focused on my business and what it takes to run it. Here’s the thing, this same approach, no matter what you do or where you do it is key to your career. Know yourself, understand your own process that works for you and surround yourself with top-notch people who are better than you at what they do!
My team gets me and I give them space to do what they’re great at. With them, I’ve created my own specific, unique and successful process for my business.
You get to where you want to be by knowing exactly who you are. (Tweet It!)
Have you ever found yourself desperate to find and move to a new position or career? Or you’ve been let go (outplaced) and need to find your next corporate home? The pressure is on. You start applying for everything under the sun. You’re sure the “right fit” is just around the corner.
Whoa! What you might really need is a time out. And I don’t mean taking a holiday or battening the hatches.
I can’t tell you the number of clients who’ve found themselves in this spot. And, more importantly, they share one thing in common. In their frantic quest, what they don’t realize is they’re doing more harm than good to themselves.
Let me explain. Ever heard the expression, “I can smell a rat a mile away?” Well, there are two things prospective employers can smell right away in a candidate: low confidence and desperation. Yup, walk into an interview with either odor and you may as well walk right back out the door.
Heck, the best piece of advice I got when I lost my job was, “Don’t even think about applying for positions, let alone search the want ads for at least a few months. You aren’t the best version of yourself right now, so wait until you can bring your best to an interview.”
Here’s the truth: nobody wants to hire someone who has a current dip in their confidence, no matter what the reason. Nor do they want to work with someone desperate. Not that there’s anything bad about being earnest, but desperation tends to make others suspicious.
Moving from one job to another means cleaning up your last job – be it emotional, spiritual or a whole lot of paper to be shredded – and moving forward with clarity, positivity and an open heart. You just can’t take your baggage with you.
So what does it take to realize you are in one or both emotional states and what do you need to do to get past them and job-hunt ready? Remember those clients I mentioned? I’ll tell you exactly what they did.
First, they listened to me asking them to listen to themselves. They discovered their self-talk was less than compassionate and kind.
I asked how they thought they’d appear to prospective employers? For most, it doesn’t take long to get an “aha” – meaning they may not be putting forward the best version of themself.
Net we reacquaint them with their strengths, talents and gifts. We all need to be reminded of how we make the world a better place. Then we move into readjusting their expectations of time. Getting the next job isn’t going to happen right away.
This whole process is done within the construct of coaching (check out my Essential C process). The clients do the work; they have everything they need to figure it all out. I just help steer them to a place where they can clean up and put away any outstanding issues while reminding them they’re capable, experienced and have much to offer.
I know this sounds easy but it takes courage and a lot of self-reflection to move from here to there. Especially since for most of us, identity and self-worth are tied with our work.
I use a metaphor with my clients. It goes like this: when we’re feeling low and all consumed (as we are when our confidence is low and desperation high) we look downward. I’ll ask the client to look up and over the fence toward the horizon. Practicing this throughout the day opens up their chest, breathing and vantage point. It moves them from being an isolated island to being part of something bigger. It’s called perspective.
I know the client is ready to put all their hard work into action when I see them look up at me and I hear “I can do this”.
They can move ahead realistically and with sureness. Having an open attitude improves their chances of finding the “right fit” position.
To recap, if you find yourself lacking in confidence and over the brim with desperation, here are 7 steps to move you from the sour odor of despair to the scent of a front runner:
1. Check if your self-talk is negative, self-sabotaging or unrealistic.
2. Think about how a prospective employer would view you should you interview with them today. Who and what would they see?
3. Talk with a trusted friend or family member about how you view your situation. Or hire a coach to guide and be your champion.
4. Think back to a time you were in a job you enjoyed. What made you successful? Write down the skills, attitude, and service you brought to that position (only the positive ones). Read the list every single day.
5. Take an athlete’s mindset. Set a realistic time frame – like several months – before you start applying for positions. Use the time to train to be successful again.
6. Practice lifting your head and noticing things around you everyday. Whether at home alone or in a crowd of people, notice what is going on way over there.
7. When you hear your own voice say, “I’m good. I’ve got this”, you’re ready to go and create your future.
So go ahead and put on your best scent – you’ve got this!