When Career Coaching Takes a Turn

Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Robert Holmes (Australia).

Career coaching is one of the most rewarding and challenging tasks a coach can participate in. It is different from executive, life or high performance coaching because of the involvement of other stakeholders like supervisors or HR.

Apart from handling multiple agendas, we also have to be ready for an agenda to change or pivot in a moment for a range of other reasons.

This is because career coaching sits at the intersection of personal ambition and direction (including family); the person’s abilities and availability to work on their career (including money); and the organisational constraints they sit within at work (figure 1).

The career coach is usually engaged to explore possible career paths for an individual. This conversation will usually explore three related areas.

Career coaching considers:
Personal ambition, their desired outcomes, the direction of their career and the desired position the individual wants. Coaching may end up including the work of in-house mentors and learning & development systems. When this intersects with ability and skill it may result in professional development.
The individual’s abilities, availability to study, work overtime or weekends and their flexibility; desire to learn and grow; and willingness to change. Coaching may end up including knowledge acquisition or skills coaching. When this intersects with organisational constraints this may result in a career change.
Organisational structure and constraints, including how much scope for progress there is; and the place age or maturity has on each position. Coaching may end up including a discussion of remuneration expectations. When this intersects with ambition and desired direction is may result in exit coaching.

The confluence of these influences sometimes produces unexpected, puzzling or contrary results. I can think of at least three occasions in the last year where career coaching produced either an outcome the organisation did not expect, an outcome the individual had not expected, or the content of the coaching changed from the original intent. But in the end, they were all happy.

Professional development
Marlene was excellent at her work, and often acted in her boss’s position when he was away. People did as she instructed, and she held various meetings as chair. I was shadowing her during this time as a coach mentor in the accelerator program. When her promotion came through however, two things happened. First, people wouldn’t recognise her authority (it seemed that they recognised her boss but not in her own right). Secondly, the pressure during meetings now brought her to tears. L&D put forward a range of professional development including improving executive presence, building charisma, projecting voice and tactics for dealing with her imposter syndrome. It is not uncommon, when discussing performance coaching, for people to assume we mean helping someone with poor performance. Just as often though, coaches are asked to come in to help someone reach up to the next level of excellent performance.

Career change
Raymond was an up and coming police detective. Facing promotion he sought coaching for methods to deal with the increasing stress he faced, and the reduced ‘on the street’ time he so valued. Right in the middle of our sessions however, Ray had a breakdown during a routine doctor’s visit (with a likely prognosis of PTSD). After three weeks of stress leave, our sessions continued, but the passion Ray had for his career was changed. As the wind went out of the very reason for our coaching (his promotion), Ray decided to make a change of career, to return to his first passion as a spare parts mechanic. Coaching 101 tells us to suspend our expectations and our judgement. Because Ray had paid for the coaching himself, no negotiation was required for changing the coaching outcome.

Exit coaching
Johanne was an executive in Defence senior management. The remit was to take her to the next level, preparing her for a step up in her career. However by the third session she had used enough ‘dark’ and unsure language to ask the question, “Are you happy at work?” This resulted in soul searching, and an admission that she really wasn’t, not at the core. She had hopes and dreams that would never be met here. With a quick check in with her boss, Johanne’s sessions became exit coaching and she ended up leaving the organisation. As the ground moves under you, manage stakeholder expectations, and in the first place make sure provision for change is made in your coaching contract.

About Robert Holmes, Ph.D, Th.D, PCC
Robert is the Lead for People & Change in RSM’s Management Consulting Division in Australia. He is an industry expert in human behaviour, focussing on improving performance, increasing resilience and dealing with stress. Robert works regularly with executives, senior government officials, and business owners coaching career and business issues. Robert is the Secretariat for the Inter-Departmental Forum on Mental Health, Research Fellow for the Neurocoaching Institute and publishes on Neuropsychology.

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