Coaching, Mentoring, and Career Development
The Power of Coaching at Work By Kasia Nissanka
When I first met Emma*, she was just starting her stress leave from work.
Shaking her head and fighting tears she said: “I am pretty sure that I am going to resign. This isn’t my dream job, and I am not good at it.”
It was her first job. After graduating, she joined the graduate scheme at a prestigious consultancy. She felt inspired to apply after seeing their training programme and client list. She felt it would give her invaluable experience and a great exposure to potential future clients. She was also offered a very competitive salary.
She was the perfect candidate: graduated with distinction with a long list of achievements proving that she was ambitious, working hard, and delivering high standards results throughout her academic years.
So what went wrong? Was it really that this talented, creative, intelligent woman wasn’t able to make the right career choice? Was it the wrong work environment? Was she really not good at her job?
After a few moments of talking to her, I knew she had the ability to exceed at anything she wanted. So why wasn’t she? Why was she at home, still in her pyjamas in the middle of the day, crying, instead of unleashing her talents and fulfilling her potential?
Emma was asking herself the same questions. She was desperate to stop feeling like a failure and to find happiness and fulfilment at work. This is when she was referred to me.
I’ve been working as a life and career coach for over 3 years. My background in Occupational Psychology helps me identify patterns that determine whether employees’ mental health issues have been a direct result of an organisational culture, management; demands versus capabilities imbalance, or whether it is a matter of the individual’s mindset… or both.
I often get asked why is coaching more powerful than training, mentoring, or reading a good book?
As an answer I like to quote Adam Grant – an American organisational psychologist and writer, who – in his foreword to “Trillion Dollar Coach” said:
“I’ve come to believe that coaching might be even more essential than mentoring to our careers and our teams. Whereas mentors dole out words of wisdom, coaches roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They don’t just believe in our potential; they get in the arena to help us realize our potential. They hold up a mirror so we can see our blind spots and they hold us accountable for working through our sore spots. They take responsibility for making us better without taking credit for our accomplishments. “
So, when I met Emma, I rolled up my sleeves and got in the arena with her. I joined her in re-living every single moment that led to her feeling inadequate and left her feeling drained and emotionally crushed.
Emma signed up for a programme of six 1:1 coaching sessions. We met weekly and each of our conversations usually lasted 1 hour.
My main role in any coaching partnership is to use the powerful tools I have learned and developed throughout my career and to create an equal, supportive relationship with a clear goal.
The tools I chose to use with Emma were:
GOAL SETTING – the ability to distinguish between “What I think I want” and “What I really want” is the crucial step to change and transformation. With time Emma was able to realise that “Finding a new job that she will be good at.” wasn’t really what she needed. During our clarity session, she realised that what she really wanted was to “No longer allow the feeling of not being good enough sabotage her career. “
PRESENCE - silence, active listening, curiosity, and acceptance provoked Emma to dive deep inside her own beliefs and thoughts, helped her connect with her body, and discover behavioural patterns that she was not aware of before.
POWERFUL QUESTIONS - “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.” – Eugene Ionesco
When I started working with Emma, she already had a set of powerful questions she had been asking herself but wasn’t able to answer on her own. But the most enlightening moment for her was when she heard a challenging question that she never asked before, or maybe didn’t want to ask.
One of such questions was: “If you suddenly became more powerful than the feeling of not being good enough, what would happen?”. After a long pause, Emma said “I would have to start doing things that make me very uncomfortable.”
It is that moment when we changed the direction, and her main goal became to “Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
COACHING TOOLS: one of Emma’s favourite was a short exercise that was helping her deal with being overwhelmed with negative emotions. It was called Harnessing the Power of Emotions by Jim Dethmer. Its power lies in the ability to acknowledge and observe your feelings rather than deny or reject them.
ACTION AND ACCOUNTABILITY - Action plan, specific dates, and commitment to each step was one of the successful outcomes that Emma was hoping for. She liked being organised and structured, she also wanted to have a clear direction and a plan. One of the steps on Emma’s plan was to:
“Go back to work and allow myself to be uncomfortable, to fail and not to be perfect”, “Accept negative feedback as a necessary step towards becoming an expert.” Accept that negative emotions will appear initially”. “Become the observer of my feelings rather than allowing the feelings to crash me.”
I am grateful to Emma that she allowed me to become the witness of her transformation. I am happy that coaching worked for her, and I am pleased for her company that they haven’t lost another young talent.
Emma said the following about the coaching sessions:
"I came to Kasia when I was struggling a lot (especially in my work environment) with feeling worthy and lacking in self-confidence, so much so that I felt like I could not work. Kasia helped me to accept who I am for who I am and supported me along that journey, accepting that I will make mistakes in my life but that does not mean that I am not capable or worthy. She helped me through guided meditations and to understand my life scripts - subconscious thoughts which guided me, and to accept that although these may still exist after seeking help, they will not define me or what I choose to do with my life and that I can find healthy ways to deal with these. Seeking help from Kasia helped me immensely in my recovery and I will be forever grateful for the guidance she gave me. I would not hesitate to recommend her to friends and family who are struggling."
If Emma’s story resonated with you but you are still not sure if coaching is for you, here are a few questions you could ask yourself to determine if you are “coachable”:
Am I open to change?
Am I ready to become vulnerable in a safe and confidential environment?
Am I ready to be honest?
Am I willing to change?
Am I open to constant learning and growth?
Am I ready to become uncomfortable?
If you’ve answered yes to the above questions, then it might be the right time to say “yes” to coaching.
*Not her real name
Kasia Nissanka, MSc Occupational Psychology, MSc Educational and Family Psychology, ICF Accredited Diploma in Transformational Coaching.
Kasia is a certified confidence, career and work performance coach. She has been supporting young graduates to improve their work confidence and social skills. She also works with experienced professionals who struggle with self-confidence and work performance. Having over 10 years of experience in the mental health field, she recognises the importance of a holistic approach to improving employees’ wellbeing which focuses not only on their mind and body, but very often applies to the widely ignored spiritual life.