There are some words nowadays that have become extremely fashionable and everyone seems to be making a conscious effort to squeeze them into their jargon every now and then: blockchain, GDPR, mindfulness, coaching, agile talent… and the list goes on. But how much knowledge do we actually have about these terms and is our knowledge accurate?
Roughly two years ago, I embarked upon a career in the coaching world. The skills and knowledge I gained during this time have been invaluable and I wanted to share some of them with you. When I started my journey, I had a vague understanding of what coaching was and zero understanding about how it differs from other similar practices such as mentoring or counselling. As time passed by, and through my studies and experience, I started to build a stronger foundation about the concept of coaching; I also started to realise that most people out there really misunderstand the true meaning behind a life or career coach.
What is coaching?
Coaching is simply a conversation between two people, the coach and the client. But not just any kind of conversation, it’s a structured conversation focused on helping your client to achieve their goals. A good coach should have certain skills and attributes in order to conduct an effective session such as: be able to lead the conversation, have excellent listening skills, have the ability to ask meaningful questions, know when to challenge you as well as when to empower you, and most importantly, deliver results for you. Similarly, a good client should have certain attitudes to really make that relationship work. From my experience, the most important attribute of an ideal client is when they recognise by themselves that there is something in their career that they want to improve, something they want to work on and they feel ready to ask for help in order to reach their desired position in life.
In a nutshell, coaching is an interactive and thought-provoking process where your coach will guide and facilitate your progress towards your end goal. Could you achieve your goals without the help of a coach? Of course, in the same way that you could do your gardening without hiring a gardener. Coaching is not magic, but the results can certainly be magical. By using purposeful and insightful questions, a coach can help you discover your best way forward. By doing this consistently in every session, it’s inevitable that you will achieve your goals faster than you would on your own.
How does coaching differ from other similar practices?
There are a number of disciplines, such as therapy, counselling, mentoring, consultancy and coaching, that share some of the same techniques; this can cause great confusion among those who are not experts in this field. The common points are that all of these practices involve a confidential conversation between two people, where the professional will be building a high level of rapport and will be actively listening to what their client says in order to enable that person to move forward. However, how the skills and techniques are used in each of these interventions, varies greatly.
In an attempt to clarify the difference between all these practices, I’ll use the driving metaphor taken from The Coaching Academy:
- A therapist will help a client to explore their past in order to uncover what is stopping them from driving a car.
- A counsellor will listen to the concerns and anxieties of the client about driving the car.
- A mentor is likely to share their own experience of driving a car, offering handy tips and hints to help the client.
- A consultant will give the client clear, logical advice about how best to drive.
- A coach will encourage and support the client as they drive the car so that the client becomes the best driver they can be.
Needless to say, none of these disciplines is better or worse, they just serve different purposes and offer different outcomes.
How can a career coach benefit you?
At different times in our lives we seek the help of different professionals, such as dentists, plumbers, hairdressers, gardeners, and so forth. It would never occur to us to ask our mom or our best friend to come and sort out our kitchen sink drain, unless they are professional plumbers. However, surprisingly, we do seem to be careless enough to seek career advice from our moms, best friends and whoever crosses our path. Our working life is where we spend most of our time and yet we treat it as a second-class priority.
A career coach is essentially a professional who can make a real difference to you in achieving your career goals. Although not exclusively, a career coach can help you in the following areas:
- Career exploration: A statistic released by Allaboutcareers.com in 2015 revealed that 44% of undergraduates have no idea of the industry that they would like to work in once they graduate. The lack of high quality and easy to access careers information for young people doesn’t help. A career coach can assist you with a self-assessment process for you to learn more about your personality, interests, aptitudes, and values. Once this initial exercise is complete, your coach will come up with a list of career options that are a good match for someone with your characteristics. They’ll provide you with enough information about each occupation so you can determine which one is a good fit for you.
- Career change: The number of people describing their career situation as being “stuck in the rat race” has no limits nowadays. I have clients coming to me with queries such as “I hate my job, I want something else, but I have no idea what I’d like to do instead”. For those of you who can identify with these thoughts, it might come as a relief to know that there are a number of tools and exercises that career coaches can use to help you take that step forward.
- Confidence building: Most of us associate competence with workplace success. However, without confidence, competence will only take you so far. But, unfortunately, too many perfectly capable managers lack confidence. An experienced career coach will help you visualise where you want to be and will help you realise your potential by subtly pushing you out of you comfort zone in order to get there.
- Performance improvement: When something goes wrong in the workplace, the easiest card that line managers pull out from their sleeves to beat you up with is a Performance Improvement Plan. But let’s be honest, “If your boss really wanted to improve your performance, he or she would sit down with you and talk to you like a friend or a coach” as mentioned by HR expert Liz Ryan. Whether you’re working towards a Performance Improvement Plan or simply have your eye on that promotion coming up soon, I have some good news for you. An external coach can actually work with you and help you achieve your peak performance at the workplace by identifying your key strengths and aligning them with the needs of your role or your organisation.
- Accountability: Most people over-plan a day and under-plan a year. Why? Among other things, because accountability and structures are not in place to succeed. But what gets measured, gets done, and in that sense, a career coach can help you track your progress and will keep you committed to your wider goal so you don’t lose sight of your final objective.
Hopefully, now you have a better idea of what career coaching is and how it can help you. If you’ve already worked with one, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section below.