Career coaching is gaining a foothold in Australia, several years
after the practice became firmly established in the USA. It's
an interesting tool that people are using to solve or address
wide-ranging issues that cut across distinctions between work
life and private life.
At 46, Lisa has had a mostly rewarding career with the Australian
public service. Lately, restructuring and a new boss have seriously
impacted on how she feels about her job. "I'm less than nine
years away from being able to claim my government superannuation,
but I want to enjoy the rest of my working life," says Lisa.
"I really didn't want to spend the rest of my working life
getting up in a state of misery to have another unhappy day in
the office. Life is too short."
Lisa found an unexpected ally in a career coach. "It's been
fantastic," she says. "It's given me the confidence
to know that I can start a new working life, if I'm aware of my
weaknesses and deal with them, if I'm passionate about what I
do, if I'm prepared to think flexibly about solving issues."
One American coach describes his mission as "closing the
gap between where you are and where you want to be." The
gap might be the next promotion you want so badly or what work
will really make you happy or how to better balance time between
work and family and self. Coaching may be the answer, wrote a
journalist in the Dallas Morning News "when people need a
push in more than one part of their lives or guidance in setting
broad lifestyle goals".
Coaching isn't therapy, although many American coaches come from
a counselling or psychotherapy background. Mostly, a coaching
relationship is short-term. Coaching goals, solutions and methods
are practical. The focus is more on changing behaviour that limits
the client, rather than understanding the source of the behaviour.
"A boss who sees a coach because of a tendency to belittle
subordinates will be encouraged to find ways to control the outbursts,
not explore childhood memories of a dominating father," Trip
Gabriel writes dryly in the New York Times.
Interest in coaching has surged. A virtual university for coaches
has sprung up, as has an International Coach Federation, complete
with standards, practices and ethics. A number of reasons contribute
to coaching's' growing popularity, says Trip Gabriel. As organisations
flatten and middle managers disappear, senior managers are stretched
further, often over areas and issues they do not understand well.
This stress can show up gaps in personal and communication skills.
At the same time, a younger generation joining the workforce is
more diverse in all respects and is less likely to accept decisions
without questioning. This is a challenge for older managers, used
to "command-and-control" styles of leadership.
Lifestyle and career coaching also seems to fit with a growing
rise of the service industry in general. It is a flexible practice
that lends itself to working in different ways to attain different
goals. Different coaches will work with clients over varying time
spans. Some consider results must be generated within a few days
while others commit to working with a client to achieve longer-term
goals over months or a year or more. Coaching styles differ, from
supportive and nurturing to demanding and critical. Some coaches
work face-to-face, sometimes shadowing the client in his or her
workplace. Others never meet their clients, working solely by
telephone and/or email. Many coaches work directly with individuals,
who may want assistance with finding a new job, returning to the
workforce, making initial career decisions. Other coaches are
hired by organisations, either to help key managers who are faltering,
or as part of a standard programme of improving star performers.
In the USA, corporates like Avon and Texaco offer coaching as
a prerequisite to proven managers, "in the understanding
that everyone has blind spots and can benefit from a detached
observer," says Trip Gabriel.
Executive coaches, as organisation's hired guns are sometimes
called, are among the toughest of their breed. "Usually the
person hates me for the first three months," confessed one
coach who spoke to Trip Gabriel. "But by the fourth month
they'll love me. In a tactful way, you're holding [a senior manager]
up on things no one's ever tackled them on before."
"Executive coaches are not for the meek, Claire Tristram
writes in Fast Company. "They're for people who value unambiguous
feedback. If coaches have one thing in common, it's that they
are ruthlessly results-orientated. Executive coaching isn't therapy.
It's product development, with you as the product." Submitting
to a coach's scrutiny could be challenging, especially for an
executive who's had no say in the decision. Some coaches will
use tools like 360-degree feedback, where the feedback of superiors,
peers and subordinates are all sought. Such techniques require
a healthy dose of humility, but can produce powerful insight.
"Coaches are best when they push you out of your comfort
zone ? and don't let you back in," says Claire Tristram.
Lisa's coach (SEEK contributor Gail Dollimore, of Whatworks)
uses a less ruthless approach. "I wasn't sure what I could
get out of coaching, but I felt desperate enough to try anything,"
admits Lisa. "I wanted a bit of reality testing ? was I really
on a good wicket but just couldn't see it? Anyway, being a longish
term public servant, could I really do something different? Would
I be able to survive, say, in the private sector, or even just
set up a little business doing something I enjoyed? Would that
pay the bills? Could I "compete" with everyone else
trying to do similar things?"
The coaching process has been fantastic, reports Lisa. "Working
with a coach helped me start back at the basics, go one step at
a time, ask questions, bounce things off her, have ideas or values
reaffirmed or affirmed. I've learnt from Gail's experience. She
also approaches life from a "holistic" perspective and
always from the heart. She was a good external adviser. She helped
balance my thinking."
by Rachel Rose
First published by SEEK Communications, Australia's leading job
search and career development website. Republished with permission.
c SEEK Communications 2002.