As an experienced coach, from executive level to high potential junior talent to career change, part of my role is to help clients get to know themselves better.
They are fairly comfortable describing what they like but they often struggle to describe what they are like. They have a sense something is not right, or they are not happy with a job, boss or company. But the common denominator to all of the ‘unhappy’ is them.
And that’s where the real conversation begins.
I have spent much of the last 18 months informally coaching some bright, supremely motivated young women on a mentoring programme. Some were in the early stages of their career, barely five years post-grad and still earning their corporate stripes. Others were notching up a decade of service and starting to wonder if they were on the right path.
Having changed careers myself and coached several colleagues through their own ‘is this for me?’ moments, it was a joy to help these next generation leaders navigate their thinking. One bright lady, in a key role advising her C-suite boss, wondered if she was actually suited to the job as she found herself on occasion struggling with an overbearing boss. She wondered had she chosen the wrong career and if she should look for something completely different?
We conducted some psychometric assessments to look at her strengths, traits and preferred working styles and compared those with what she was doing. In fact, she was perfectly suited to the role (and the role to her) and so we set some timelines and actions around ‘the ask’; whether taking on different projects, diffusing and optimising the working dynamic with her boss. This became more about her developing and consolidating her reputation and preparing for future promotion opportunities than a looming career crisis.
Then there was another who had spent 12 months trying to neutralise a manager with toxic behaviours. She knew this person could damage her career prospects and had wisely built enough stakeholder support through other functional leaders to ensure her brand wasn’t at risk of being ‘trashed’ by one, less than mature, opinion.
Again, we ran through some assessments, looking at her optimal working environment, strengths and future runway with the organisation. We discussed conflict diffusion techniques, managing-up tactics and the impact on her mental health. Despite her best efforts to introduce more productive ways of working with her boss, and no realistic prospects of transfer to another department, she decided to cut her losses and move on. 6 months later, she has been head hunted into a global role- success really is the best revenge!
In both instances, it was important for the individuals to understand themselves and what makes them tick as well as their situation. While not everyone loves their job all the time and both had degrees of challenging boss behaviour, understanding your strengths, drivers and the environments in which you will perform at your best can help navigate those tough days and bosses and get a true read on whether a ‘rough patch’ at work is momentary or indicative of something more serious requiring career intervention or wholesale renovation.
When approaching new clients, I look at three key areas I headline as ‘wiring, ways and wisdom’.
- ‘Wiring’ refers to traits, the hard-wired personality lines that will remain largely unchanged over the years, though are a great deal more flexible when we’re younger. We tend to default to ‘type’ more as we get older and less inclined to flex.
- ‘Ways’ is an extension of traits but more around behaviours and style, whether as a result of ‘wiring’ or due to external pressures or stressors.
- ‘Wisdom’ is looking at an individual’s self-awareness; how well they understand themselves, manage their mindset and recognise when they’re their ‘best’ self and less ‘optimal’ self and can self-manage accordingly.
The three Ws are not about personal judgment or being critical of oneself.
They are simply about understanding why we do what we do, recognising the opportunities and limitations those actions bring and whether we want to stop, continue or enhance those outcomes.
Because when we understand ourselves, we can then make more informed, deliberate, affirmative choices for ourselves.
As the saying goes – the only thing you can change is you.
And if you know what makes you tick – your wiring, your ways, your wisdom- that can be quite a lot indeed.
Joanna Zadkovich specialises in organisational change and transformation and performance coaching.
She has recently returned to London after six years living and working across Asia.