In the UK, when meeting a stranger in a strange place, it’s a fairly safe bet that the opening gambit of small-talk will be something to do with the weather. In the US, nearly every social conversation will lead with what someone does for a job, or how work is going.
These are the broad patterns of nations – weather, work, food, religion, suffering, and on, and on. And we each live within them, we each make them happen. We are these patterns.
It’s no surprise to me that the majority of my coaching work is emerging from a societal pattern. And, as I mention above, being US-based, it’s the world of work that’s driving my business – no great surprise, of course, I’ve been long focused on why people do what they do, and how organizations either enable or disable the opportunity to get it done; an endless source of questions; a lifetime’s quest of learning.
Over the past year, I’ve begun to notice a pattern within the pattern. And it’s where my best coaching happens, where I see my clients shift radically.
My greatest contribution to others seems to take place when they are at an inflection point, where there is a need for a shift of identity FROM who they have been TO who they need to be.
- a new graduate entering the work-force for the first time
- a leader making the transition out of supervision/management into senior leadership
- a person exiting long-term employment thanks to job restructuring/downsizing
These clients know, or are learning, that the patterns of behavior and belief that have served them to date are outmoded, unlikely to support success in the future, and maybe even threatening to derail progress. We are working together to literally sculpt their new identity – and, though the work is often hard
[like building new muscle]
the journey is fascinating, and the results astounding. What an honour to support such transformation!
Nowhere is this more clear than with Sue*, who is making the shift from first-line management into senior leadership. Sue is very talented, with great potential and, unsuprisingly, has experienced rapid career growth, with regular promotions
[including a risky shift of company to obtain an early boost]
however she’s now running into the central dilemma of her transition: what she’s been rewarded and recognized for historically isn’t what she’s expected to deliver now. She’s been a great hands-on manager, and got the results, both in terms of performance AND the loyalty of her people.
But now she’s in a global role.
Now she’s having to influence people who don’t report to her.
Now she’s having to control budgets and performance without any face-to-face or hands-on contact.
Now she’s having to trust people she doesn’t really know very well.
When we first spoke, Sue had begun to doubt her capabilities; worse, she was feeling like a fraud, like she hadn’t earned this role.
In our first couple of meetings, we spent a lot of time talking about “impostor syndrome”, which is very prevalent in leadership. I was able to bring several examples of “stuffed suits” that I’d known and worked with – leaders who were completely out of their depth, yet unable to admit this due to the work culture surrounding them.
Gradually, we eased her off the ledge, and began to get the challenges in a row:
- Focus upon the work – the decision and actions she needed to take
- Focus upon the results – what she was on the hook for delivering
- Focus upon the people – who she needs to influence directly and indirectly
- Focus upon the context – the organization-political landscape, culture and climate
[any guesses as to which of the four areas had the most need for change?]
This is the work I love doing, finding a route into my clients’ core dilemma and then working with them to detail the roadmap – it’s different every time, and yet the patterns within the patterns remain pretty consistent.
So, if you’re stuck, use the four areas I outline above to breakdown your challenges – then build your plans to move forward powerfully. And, if all that seems too much to do alone, give me a call.
* All my coaching work is strictly confidential, so that’s not her real name, though she has given me permission to speak about our work together.