Professional coaching can be one of the most powerful ways to develop your career and yourself, offering insight, new perspectives and growth through reflection and personal challenge in a number of key areas.
‘Most of the people I coach are looking at their leadership skills, how they can develop those and make shifts from being in the team to a manager, or a manager to a leader — and what that means,’ says Pippa Isbell, executive coach and everywoman trainer. ‘Sometimes people feel stuck, and don't know where their career is going. Or they might want to move into a different organisation, and the question is then how they can gather all their experience together to present themselves in the right way. Other times, it can be that they're stepping into a new role or shifting up a gear into a more senior position within their company. Or it can be about confidence and understanding the value that they bring to the work that they're doing and using that to put themselves forward for that next job. ‘
But while executive coaching offers tools that can take you forward, it can be expensive or perhaps it might not fit in with your schedule at the present time; in which case, self-coaching can be a useful addition to your professional development instead.
‘For me, executive coaching is all about change that is progress, how you make that happen and how you make that last — and you can certainly start the process with yourself,’ notes Pippa. We asked her for the key things to look at in any self-coaching process, what to consider and how to structure it to move your own growth forward.
Find a framework
A distinction between self-rumination and self-coaching is the absence of a framework to work in. ‘There is a simple, effective coaching model called GROW — that’s Goal, Reality, Options and Will,’ says Pippa. ‘Get clear on your goal or goals then look at the reality, in other words the situation as it stands today. What stands between you and achieving that goal? Where do you need to get to? Having done that, the third step is to say, ‘If these are the things I'm tackling, what are the options available to me?’ And then the ‘Will’ part is about asking, ‘What am I most likely to be able to do, what will I commit to and what will I make happen?’ I would take each of those stages and work on them until you really feel you've got to the bottom of it.’ Importantly, she notes, good coaching is non-judgmental. ‘Think of it as ‘developing’ not ‘improving’, because that implies something was wrong to start with.’
Make it regular
For Pippa, the power of coaching is about its sustained commitment to positive change and forward motion. ‘You have to make self-coaching a regular thing because none of us have enough time for ourselves. There is always something else that's a priority — the job is demanding, or the family needs, or there’s something you've got to do. Make the appointment with yourself sacrosanct, so that nobody can take that time out of your diary and remove yourself from your normal environment, so you don't get interrupted, because what you really need is thinking time – which is my definition of good coaching.’ Investing in yourself through self-coaching should be as time intensive as external coaching to really make an impact. ‘It's about stepping back from everything that's right in front of your nose and examining it.’
‘I encourage my clients to journal, writing down the things that trouble or trigger them and those sorts of issues,’ says Pippa. But she also asks them to write down the good things that happen to them too. ‘The boss might say at the end of a meeting, “you did a really great job today”, but we forget that and just dwell on whether slide 52 was badly presented. So, it's good to focus on achievement as well — and of course that helps you when you're trying to get your personal assets together if you’re seeking promotion or looking for a new job.’ For Pippa, journaling is also an excellent way to gain perspective and a key thing to include into a self-coaching practice. ‘Take the opportunity to scribble down whatever comes to mind at the end of each day, because that helps you keep a balance in the way that you look at things. And there will also be other times as well where you read it back and think, “I could really benefit, discussing that with somebody else”.’
Take a reality check
Even if you’re self-coaching it’s useful to have an external person you can talk to — and it doesn't always have to be expensive either; free resources for mentoring and coaching can be useful to prompt questions and take your thoughts in new directions, and some coaches are willing to do an initial pro bono session which can give you a point of new perspective. When working by yourself there's a great coaching question which is, ‘How do I that to be true?’ says Pippa. ‘Sometimes you can't answer that yourself, and you need to get a reality check from a colleague, mentor or a third party who's not too close to you — your mum or partner doesn't work for this though, as they can be ‘too supportive’ and might not be as candid as you need them to be.’
Measure your progress
Knowing if you are making progress is key to successful coaching, so metrics are essential. ‘Ask yourself, “If we were having this conversation in a year's time, what would have to have happened for you to feel that you'd made progress”,’ says Pippa. ‘That way you will also know if you're falling behind on your objectives.’ For her, it comes back to the ‘W’ of grow: do you have the will to make it happen? And if you aren’t meeting your targets, it’s a sign to take a deeper dive into the ‘why’. Is something holding you back? Are you perhaps not being brave enough with something? Or perhaps you haven't got down to the issue that you're really trying to solve.
Know when to take it to the next level
Knowing when you've gone as far as you can with change on your own is also important. Sometimes self-coaching may inevitably lead to a next stage, which could be training or even external coaching ‘There are lots of great resources out there for self-development such as the everywomanNetwork, but there also might just be a point where you think I would really benefit from discussing things with someone and look to sessions with a coach. That's where the value comes in working with an independent, objective third party because they can look at what you're saying and ask questions that make you think either more deeply or in a wider sense than you were perhaps thinking by yourself.’ Finding the right person to work with is vital. ‘Coaches have different styles so discuss what you're trying to achieve with a potential coach to get a sense of whether they can really help you go forward. My own style, for example, is to ask challenging questions. It's asking the questions like ‘How do know that to be true?’, or ‘Is there more you could have done?’ or ‘Is that a big enough goal to set yourself?’