by May Bleeker-Phelan, 9 Feb 2021
If you are exploring career coaching it may be helpful to have a quick sketch of what coaching is.
There are many coaching approaches, not to mention fields in which coaching is applied. The debate about how to formally define coaching is very much active.
To keep things simple, I will focus on a few attributes of coaching that are central for me.
A creative conversation is one through which new ideas, perspectives and insights come into being.
In the coaching conversation you get to share and explore your experience. You also have the situation reflected back to you (by the coach) in such a way as to afford you opportunities to see more of what-there-is-to-be-seen.
The skill of the coach comes in the area of facilitation. If you don’t know what you should be talking about, or how to talk about it, their job is to skilfully invite information and tease-out the main themes.
If you find it easy to share, but sometimes get lost in the storyline, it is the coach’s task to manage the flow, listen, test understanding and simplify in such a way that things become clearer for you both.
When the coach does it well you might not notice what they are doing at all. Yet ideas will flow, connections will be made and options will become clearer.
The focus in career coaching is usually on change of some kind.
This can mean external change, such as changing circumstances e.g. job, location, field of work etc.
It can also mean internal change. Such as changes of perspective and inner attitude.
Internal change could involve finding a new appreciation for what is in the current situation. Or changing your mind about certain priorities. It can also relate to changing the types of thoughts you habitually think in response to certain types of events. Having this ‘change of mind’ can enable you to move beyond your usual barriers.
An example of perspective change is when someone starts to appreciate the opportunities found in a particular challenge.
For example, you might begin to see working with an exceptionally difficult set of colleagues, not just as a pain-in-the-neck, but also as an opportunity to practice and really fine-tune your interpersonal skills (or learn new ones).
At the start of the process you might be mainly focused on alleviating the pain. Through the coaching conversation you might begin to feel more curious and ready to explore the possibilities.
The type of change that is relevant to you will become obvious in the conversation. Often for external changes to occur, internal shifts in perspective are needed first. And sometimes, when internal shifts have taken place, the need to change the external circumstances changes too. There is a chance it will increase, if this is what is needed. There is also a chance it may disappear altogether.
It can be a wonderful experience to have an issue dissolve itself in this way.
A process usually involves a series of internal or external events leading from one point to another. Although the amount of time may vary between people, because it is a process, you can expect it to take a bit of time.
It takes time for new thoughts, perspectives and learnings to percolate through to action. It takes time for actions to reap benefits.
For this reason career coaches usually include a few sessions as part of their offering.
In the traditional medical model there is a something of an ‘up-down’ relationship between health professional and patient. The doctor dispenses the expert advice. And the patient is the (more or less) passive recipient of prescriptions and medical guidance.
Within this model the patient hasn’t always been seen as an active role-player in their own health, or even the final decision-maker. This is changing and has been changing for a while.
In a career coaching relationship, you can expect the power dynamic to be more equal. While coaches can, and often do, bring expert knowledge in a particular field, their real expertise lies in their ability to facilitate understanding, growth and effectiveness in their clients. This requires expertise across the field of human interaction, over and above a specific business knowledge base.
The advantage of career coaching is that you are seen and treated as the master of your own life. Your self-reliance and confidence are ideally strengthened through the relationship.
At the same time, the challenge is that you are seen and treated as the master of your own life. Ownership can be tough. But it has to be this way.
No-one knows or understands your life circumstances, motives and pitfalls as well as you do. And no-one will have to live with the cascading consequences of your decisions/actions, but you and those around you.
For that reason, no-one external to you can give you the ‘definitive right answer’ of what you should do.
Every bit of advice, no matter how well-informed, is merely opinion, based on an outside perspective. Advice is far less valuable than you developing your own internal mechanisms for making good decisions and finding your own internal source of knowledge and wisdom.
“Wisdom is knowledge put into practice.”
- School of Practical Philosophy
What a career coach can do is allow you to find solid ground for yourself. A skilful facilitator can assist you to:
Clarify your own thinking
Gain relevant information and insight
Identify your strongest motivations
Recognise the possible consequences of difference courses of action
Generate options for action
Build and sustain motivation for change
Manage uncertainty while making changes
Find your own inner wise counsel on which to rely
No change happens without insight. Insight is the recognition of what-is-there-to-be-seen.
We all have only a partial view of the reality in front of us. Add to that the various skewed perspectives we pick up through conditioning and external influence, which also obstruct our view.
Career coaching is a process of clarifying, broadening and deepening that view. The wider your perspective, the more factors you can take into account. The more factors you can take into account, the more benign your approach is likely to be. The more benign your approach, the better the outcome for everyone concerned.
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