Coaching is quite the buzzword right now. What makes coaching so effective, and why do more people want it? Done right, coaching focuses on who you are uniquely and how you can use what makes you special to achieve goals that only you can dream up. Who wouldn’t want that?

I myself have benefited immensely from very good coaching. I was formerly a managing director at Accenture. I liked my job well enough, and I loved my clients. Many of my clients, however, were in the wrong jobs and were miserable. When I asked them what they wanted in a job, many could not answer the question.

Imagine being that stuck. You are unhappy, but have no idea what will make you happy. And then I observed that some of my clients were getting out of this rut. They were getting coaching. Some made small changes in their jobs. Some bravely made career moves into new jobs that were better suited to them.

That got me thinking. Was I as happy in my job as I could be? So I took a lesson from my clients and got a coach myself. She helped me understand what I was doing really well and where my stressors were.

I did the same as my clients. I made some small changes. For one, I stopped doing all those group conference calls that consulting firms are so famous for. I could have easily spent fourteen hours a day on those, and it really drained me.

So, I delegated many of these to various members of my team. This freed me up to concentrate on some areas where I really excelled—designing big global solutions for my clients. And over time, my coach supported me in a change of careers. I retired early from Accenture to focus on areas I knew were good fits for me—teaching, research, and writing.

Really good coaches have developed a skill at uncovering what is unique about YOU (what you love, where you excel, and what stresses you out) and getting YOU to clearly state YOUR goals. Using this information, the coach then focuses YOU on achieving this in a way that, again, is unique to your interests and strengths.

Often, coaches have innate strengths in these areas, but all have invested time and resources in learning the art and skill of understanding and unleashing YOU. This skill is then made available to you for a fee, and because it is so often delivered one-on-one, it becomes a limited resource.

All of this makes the process expensive. Unless it is paid for by the company, it is often out-of-reach for many women. One solution that companies have pursued is training managers to be coaches.

Managers are keenly focused on achieving their organization’s goals, and if they can harness what is unique about each person and focus it on achieving those goals, doesn’t everyone win? This is a good idea if the process and skills can be made simple enough that a manager can easily assimilate them into the bag of skills he or she must carry as a manager.

But if the manager is not already so inclined, it could take a lot of time, attention, and energy to learn to do this well. Frankly, most managers have limited bandwidth themselves, so they have limited time to learn and practice new skills and abilities. And how much time does the typical manager have to spend in extended coaching sessions? When I was at Accenture, I found it hard to get detailed one-on-one interactions with my boss. This is not unusual. 

So, where does that leave you? If you are lucky enough that your company has invested in coaching for you, or if your manager is a great coach, you are truly one of the lucky ones. But what if that is not the case? What if you do not have a company-provided coach? What if “coaching” is not on the shortlist of your manager’s strengths? 

There is still something you can do. You yourself can turn anyone who knows and cares about you at work into your own coach with some simple steps. With the help of a good assessment and some diligence on the part of the coachee, we can arm every woman with a simple one-page description of her interests, her behavioral strengths, and her motivational needs (or stressors, if these are not being met).

She can add to this her own career goals and/or short-term performance goals. Every time she interacts with her boss or mentor (or, actually, anyone who is supporting her development), the two can reference this sheet and ask the following questions:

  1. Are the personal goals aligned with the needs of the organization right now? If not, are there any tweaks that would create a better fit?
  2. Are the goals making best use of her interests, strengths, and needs? If not, what changes can be made? 
  3. What obstacles and challenges is she encountering? Can she use her strengths to overcome them, or does she need additional help?

And there you have it: the personalization that makes coaching so effective, and a simple three-question approach that anyone can use to make sure forward progress is being made on goal attainment. Armed with this, everyone is empowered to turn anyone who knows and cares about them into an effective coach.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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