“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.
I remember the first time I hired a coach. I had no idea what to expect, nor did I know what coaching was really about. Our first meeting was like getting to know a friend. Sure there was trust building through our conversation, and he was super nice. But when I left I didn’t feel challenged.
I returned to our next meeting and again it was more of the same – great listening on his part, but I still wasn’t sure where we were going. Eventually I realized that I had entered into this arrangement without enough information to give me the greatest impact. Was the coaching helpful? Yes, but I believe it would have been way more powerful if I’d asked the right questions at the beginning to make the most of the experience and to really get the “right fit” with my coach.
It’s common practice to interview a coach before signing on. Here are 7 critical questions to ask to make sure you get the most out of your experience – after all, you or your company are paying good money for the service so why not get the absolute best for you?
- What are her credentials and work history?
I don’t know about you, but knowing my coach is trained and credentialed is really important for me. It tells me she isn’t a flash in the pan or someone who’s just decided to hang out a shingle. Knowing my coach’s background is key. I want to know there are common milestones we can both relate to. After all, you wouldn’t hire a CEO who doesn’t have the requisite credentials.
- Does she give advice?
If I’m going to work with a coach on my vision and goals, I don’t want advice. I want the focus to be on my story. I’m looking for clarity and direction that works for me. I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of friends waiting to give me advice. For my coach, I want them to listen and ask me the powerful questions so I can figure things out.
- Is she available in between sessions if something important comes up?
Life doesn’t just happen in a one-hour time slot every few weeks. It happens constantly and sometimes we find our self in a sticky situation. If that occurs in between our sessions, I want to know I can email or call her to talk about the issue. That’s what I’m paying my coach to do; be my thinking partner when the going gets tough.
- Is she willing to challenge me?
I’m looking for change. I want to shift my perspective and find out what I don’t know. I know this will be tough work, but I’m committed so I want to make sure my coach is comfortable challenging me with tough questions. It’s like peeling an onion and if I’m not challenged we’ll be sitting with a smelly vegetable rather than getting to the essence of the issues.
- Will she be my champion?
This is especially critical if my company is paying for my coaching. I want to know that she’s in my corner, and even though there may be common goals with my organization that we work on, the sessions are about my success and me. Having a champion thinking partner will enable me to be open and know that even when the going gets rough, I have her in my corner.
- What is the process of coaching and what can I expect will happen?
Would you leap off a cliff edge into a cold river without asking what to expect? Not likely. So why enter into a coaching relationship without knowing what the process will be. I use the Essential C process that clearly describes how the client and I move toward sustained change (check out my Essential C blog). I want to know my clients are in expert hands and that we aren’t just meeting for tea.
- Will the coaching sessions be confidential?
This is the most important question of all. Like question five, if my company is paying for the coaching, I need to know that anything we discuss is completely confidential. Confidentiality creates trust and safety, and believe me, coaching can bring out deep ideas and emotions that most of us would prefer not be made public.
Let’s face it, coaching costs money and getting the most from it requires entering into the relationship with eyes wide open. Not every coach will be the right coach for you. So before you hire a coach, take in your list and don’t be afraid to ask your tough questions.
You deserve the “right fit”!
The truth can hurt sometimes and we often find out our hard truths indirectly.
Maybe you’re left out of a gathering of friends.
Or a job you thought you were perfect for, didn’t pan out.
Of course, one-off situations like this are not cause for alarm but paying attention to patterns in the way people respond to you can give some clues as to where your blind spots lie.
Your friends tell you that you weren’t included because you aren’t flexible and it was a last minute event.
And the hiring panel provides feedback and tells you they need a candidate who is conceptual.
Do any of these stories resonate with you? If you’re like many clients I’ve worked with, when faced with a truth about yourself (from someone else) – you might feel gob-smacked.
The good news is that you’re in great company. Almost all of us have qualities we don’t have full awareness about. Or we believe we have certain shortfalls or characteristics and they’re not at all how we’re perceived.
How does this happen?
Let’s break this down by starting with how others perceive us versus how we see ourselves. These two perspectives could be miles apart like in the examples above. But before you jump to the conclusion that others’ perspectives of you must be the truth, it’s important to understand that self-awareness does in fact have two sides:
Internal awareness – your own perceptions of yourself
External awareness – how others perceive you
Now here’s the key – it’s as important to know who we are as to know how we show up in the world.
Let me give you an example.
I’m highly resilient but I hate conflict. I tend to avoid difficult situations and challenging conversations with others. In the way I see myself, I run to the hills when the going gets tough but I’m known to others as being able to handle high-pressure situations. Funny that.
So what does this mean? What I think of myself and how others see me in the frame of conflict is miles apart. There must be something here I’m just not getting. Shouldn’t the two perceptions – internal and external – be congruent?
Let’s dig a little deeper.
We all have a persona from which we think and behave. But did you know your persona could actually be broken down into three distinct personas?
You have your:
underlying persona – you at your most natural (this is where you get your motivation from)
everyday persona – how you tend to behave and how others might see you
overextended persona – who you are and how you react under stress
Lumina Learning, a tool that I use to help my clients build self-awareness, makes use of years of research and psychometric testing to figure out exactly how we show up in different situations and how to leverage the strengths in each area. Lumina testing measures 24 different qualities that make up you and figure out the amount of each quality for your three personas.
So when I was thinking about writing this blog, I became really curious about my tough quality. So I pulled out my Lumina Spark portrait and guess what I discovered? My peeps are right!
My tough quality measures at 3% when I show up in the world (everyday) but I have 64% toughness in my underlying persona. Hmmm. For years I’ve bought into the idea that I just didn’t have the ability to face conflict despite the fact that underneath it all I’ve got a fair amount of capacity for facing conflict.
So why is this?
Well it could be many reasons. But, I do know that even though I naturally have toughness, somewhere along the way I must have believed it wasn’t a “good” quality to have or didn’t value it enough to develop aligning behaviours. It really is just undeveloped.
Whatever the reason, the point how others see me is spot on. I know that people see me as being able to be tough when it’s called for. But my take on my own ability is off. So, now that I have that bit of information, I can focus on how I can show up comfortably (to me) and appropriately when conflict does arise. I actually have it in me to do it.
The same goes for when people perceive you one way and we know differently. When this happens, it’s time to sleuth out which is closer to the truth. And then put that strong quality to work or stop using up energy when it isn’t in you.
That my friends, is self-awareness!
It’s understanding yourself, as objectively as possible, and leveraging that understanding to create a life and business that aligns with our natural inclinations, not challenges them.
Curious and want more? I’ve got a FREE webinar May 12th that takes a deep dive into why getting to know yourself is critical for your business – Build your Biz by Being YOU!
For years I thought that competitiveness was non-negotiable – a survival skill, a tool of war, a race for first and the only path to success.
Growing up in an all girl family with three very smart and accomplished sisters, being competitive was the only way to stand out. I didn’t know any other way to shine.
It didn’t matter that I don’t have a competitive bone in my body. Who cares what my preference is – this was about doing what I needed to do. It was about fitting in, showing up and rising above my sisters.
Of course, this belief didn’t stop there. I carried it into my career and used my practice of competitiveness to climb the corporate ladder and step boldly into conversations and situations that made me cringe.
I didn’t know at the time that I was exercising a muscle that just simply did not want to grow (and didn’t need to, either). I always had a really uncomfortable feeling in my tummy when I attempted to be competitive. It bordered on traumatic. And yet this is what I thought was expected of me.
As I shifted my career to one of executive coaching, I focused on the process of self discovery. Not just what I’m good at or what I like but deeply insightful and disruptive learning about who I really am and what my natural tendencies are.
I learned one day that I have ZERO tendency for competition. This was equally earth-shattering and liberating at the same time.
On one hand, I had spent years trying to be good at something that just doesn’t fit.
On the other hand, I felt so free. I gave myself permission to sit back and watch while others fought the race. And the funny thing is that I wasn’t left behind. I moved at exactly my pace so I could be successful without the noise and stress of someone else’s game.
FINALLY, I could work with my strengths and stop worrying about anyone else’s expectations about what I should or shouldn’t be doing.
Here’s the beautiful colorful splash that set me free:
What is it, you ask?
It’s my personal Lumina Spark Mandala. No one else has exactly the same splash. It tells me where my strengths and tendencies are as well as my gaps or non-preferred qualities.
The mandala is made up of four quadrants marked by different colored energy. I have a high degree of yellow energy, which denotes enthusiasm and optimism, conceptual thinking and ease in social situations. Big Picture Thinking and Extraversion mark this.
The green energy in the top left quadrant speaks to being in touch with feelings and the ability to resolve conflict through listening. Inspiration Driven and People Focused mark this.
Red energy comes across as very direct and upfront. It can mean comfort with competition and the willingness to initiate and provide direction within a group. Outcome Focused and Discipline Driven mark this.
The lower left quadrant, of which I have very little, is reserved for organized people, having a penchant for evidence-based behavior. These are often our introverted friends who like to work independently. Introversion and Down to Earth mark this blue quadrant.
It’s not that we have one thing and not another. We all have all qualities to varying degrees – like a continuum for each characteristic. Unlike many other personality assessments, we aren’t one or the other of opposing aspects. We can have both – it isn’t either/or.
It’s not that I didn’t know myself before I used Lumina testing. It’s just that it provided insight that I just couldn’t put my finger on. It revealed truths about who I am that helped me step into those qualities instead of trying to conceal or override them.
All this to say it’s had a profound effect on how I manage my business. I continue to refer to my mandala and my Lumina Portrait to make sure that I’m not straying too far from the things that make me, me. I have to – my business depends on it!
What about you? Could your business benefit from a little more YOU?
What would you say is the number one barrier between where you are and where you want to be?
A) I don’t know where I want to be!
B) I know where I want to go but have no idea how to make it happen.
C) I’m scared!
D) I don’t think I have the skills/knowledge that I need to get to my goal.
Join me for Build your biz by being YOU!
This FREE webinar will set you on your road to action by starting with you – your biggest asset.
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!