Anthony Haynes writes: This week’s post is the first of a two-part case study focused on the impact of personal coaching. This week we hear the coachee’s perspective in the words of one coachee, who wishes to remain anonymous. Next week, we’ll publish the coach’s perspective.
The coach concerned is Alison France, who we introduced via an interview last autumn — Behind the scenes in talent management and development (10 October 2013) — and who provides coaching and leadership development services for FJWilson.
THE COACHEE’S STORY
First, could you tell us a little about the context: what line of work are you in? And what stage of your career are you at?
I’m working in a project management role within a global regulatory body.
I’ve been with the company for several years and have had a variety of administrative roles. Over the last year or so I’ve been taking on more ‘hands on’ work to support business development products and projects across international markets.
What made you decide to seek a coach? And how did you go about it?
I had been having difficulty coping with the additional workload and responsibilities that I’d been given whilst progressing my career. I was concerned that I didn’t have the skills and confidence to perform to the levels expected.
As a result I was looking for some development opportunities beyond those offered by my managers. I wanted to get unbiased feedback about my current situation.
I also wanted someone to help me with advice and direction for my future, including deciding on goals and working on my self-confidence.
How did the coaching process proceed?
We first had a phone call during which the services were clearly outlined. Once I’d decided to take part, we arranged a first face-to-face meeting shortly afterwards.
I completed a questionnaire in advance of this meeting, the outcomes of which were discussed, along with a list of what I would like to gain from the sessions, plus a list of tasks to complete before the next sessions.
My first task was to create a mind-map of my priorities and goals in all aspects of my life, so that we could discuss career and development options from a holistic perspective. This created a great base to work from as our sessions continued.
We met a few times face-to-face but also worked together over Skype and email, ensuring we met around every 4−6 weeks. The sessions varied in length, but were generally around two hours. We had 6 sessions in all.
How did you begin to develop through the coaching?
The first major hurdle that was overcome during my coaching sessions was identifying my priorities. Many of these in fact lay outside my career goals, but it was very beneficial to take the time to note down what is truly important to me and where I wanted to be in the near future.
This sounds like the sort of thing that most people just instinctively know, but I had always struggled with the gap between what I valued and prioritized and what was required to achieve these goals.
However, by having the one-on-one support I was able to finally feel confident in my decisions and use these priorities to build my first professional development plan.
What insights emerged?
Identifying seven of my greatest strengths were completely fascinating. Mine were critical thinking, detail orientation, creativity, efficiency, results focus, self-improvement, and strategic mindedness. Although there was no major surprise in what came top, it was fascinating to learn more about each of these, how each can be over-used, and how I can use them even more than I do to my advantage.
Over-use was of particular interest to me: without realizing it, I was over-using quite a few of my strengths. This was one of the factors leading to my heightened stress and lowering of self-confidence. Once I was able to work on putting steps in place to use my strengths in a balanced way, my stress levels became much more manageable.
The clearest example of this was my propensity to get too stuck in the detail and spend way more time than necessary on particular tasks. Since I started actively prioritizing my work to combat this tendency, I have been much more successful at keeping overuse at bay.
Again, for me the emotional and relational skills were all relatively low scorers. This wasn’t surprising. However, it was great to talk through how, instead of focusing on these weaknesses, I could use my strengths to the same end.
Also, very importantly, I think my self-confidence, and even self-esteem had suffered in the past due to my feelings of being inadequate with these interpersonal skills. Working with Alison made me realize for the first time that my introversion is never something to feel ashamed of, but rather that I should accept those elements of who I am and use them to my advantage.
Alison also really helped me with communication tools for work situations and dealing with colleagues, so that I can be comfortable and they can be comfortable too.
I think it’s all too easy to get ‘bogged down’ in how life and the world seem to each and every one of us individually. As I can only be sure of the experiences and feelings I’m having, it can sometimes be difficult for me to interpret, analyze and know how to respond to others who are clearly having a very different reaction. So, one of the best parts of coaching was getting this insight into how to deal effectively with others and how to see things from another point of view. This has had a huge daily impact on how I get along with colleagues and, ultimately, how effectively and pleasantly I am able to do my job.
I also learned some practical tips, such as looking at my strengths and identifying situations, tasks, actions, and results associated with them − a task which I found very useful and encouraging: it was amazing just how many situations I could brainstorm in a few simple sessions!
Overall, I spent quite a lot of time developing, populating, and working through a professional development plan based on all of the work we had done together. Some of the actions contained therein I was able to implement quite quickly, though some are more long term or challenging.
What was working with Alison France like?
Working with Alison was exactly what I had hoped working with a coach would be like. She took the time to get to know me and, while we did focus on working towards my goals, we were also able to have a bit of a laugh and share stories, making it more like fun than like development work.
Alison was always very fair in her assessment of the situations we discussed. She often played devil’s advocate and offered me alternative insights or views to explain or understand difficult situations − a skill that really helped me to open my eyes. Any elements of change do not come easily to me, and sometimes this can mean accepting pretty hard messages, but the way that Alison and I worked together meant that, although it was challenging, it was also enjoyable − especially when I started to see the positive results.
Alison also tailored my ‘homework’ to things that suited my strengths, focusing on creating visualizations to support my development plans, or reading articles or books that satisfied my quest for knowledge and understanding.
What would you say to anyone considering taking on a coach?
I would highly recommend using a coach, but would like to offer a few hints and tips. First, don’t, like me, be put off if you don’t have defined goals and priorities at the start – as long as you have a quest for self-improvement I think that absolutely everyone could learn something from this process.
My biggest piece of advice would be to not underestimate how much work you will need to put in if you truly want to get something out of it. Coaching provides fantastic help, support and direction, but your coach can’t actually solve problems for you – you have to do that yourself.
Although it was quite tiring at times working through my various development plans, goals, and actions to achieve them, I now have a firm grounding for keeping much more control on my progression. It has actually now become second nature to refer to my plans and make sure I’m on track as I’d like to be.
Also, I’ve been working to carry out a similar exercise with some areas of my personal life too, outside work, in order to reach some additional goals I have for myself. Now that I have the tools in my arsenal I feel confident and motivated to make all sorts of changes that are long overdue!