Nov 292014

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

Sometimes breakthroughs come in pairs. By that I mean that two of my clients seem to reach similar realizations at almost the same time. I always wonder when this happens. Specially when the coaching engagements are ostensibly focused in significantly different areas. This happened recently.

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The first engagement was focused on relationship building. I was helping a CEO improve her skills in that area. We had started with the initial contacts that she had with potential team members and were systematically moving through the process. One of her weaknesses was that, although she was very good at initial meetings, the potential highlighted during those meetings tended to be lost. Second contacts were no where near as positive and, in many cases, potential relationships simply evaporated over time.

The second engagement was focused on career change. This person had built a very successful career and was now thinking of heading off in a totally new direction. He had developed a vision for that new direction and our task was to test it.

Where the first engagement was inward-looking; the second was outward focused.

The realizations that were reached by both of my clients at roughly the same time had many similarities.

Imaging is not reality

As we drilled into experiences and behaviors, both clients came to realize that they had a poorly based understanding of the drivers of their behaviors. In the first case, she wasn’t even aware that her aversion to developing new relationships was a factor in her behavior. She had tried to chalk the results up to how busy her schedule was and how disorganized she often appeared to be. But, when we finally broke through those straw men, it became clear that these were only symptoms. My second client had been in a field for so long that his understanding of its dynamics was almost reflexive. When he began to envision a new direction, he adopted the same somewhat casual approach to sketching it out. In both cases, they had posited explanations for their behaviors and the results. But these were imagined realities. Convenient explanations.

Turning Towards

So, I found myself helping two individuals work through challenges. Pretty normal stuff for my coaching practice. We identified a challenge, defined it, developed a strategy for confronting it and then set off to master it. One involved a turning inward while the second involved a reaching out to others.

In both cases, we started to develop a more detailed understanding of the behaviors and drivers. The first client undertook a series of self-reflection exercises. Almost a meditation regime. The objective was to better understand who she was and why she responded to particular situations in certain ways. The second was tasked to reach out to others who had worked in the space he has targeted and reach a better understanding of what was involved and how he might or might not find it the right place for him to migrate to.


Two-roads-diverged-in-a-wood-3Realizations came literally within hours of each other. Both clients came to me with broad smiles on their faces. They had independently come to very similar conclusions. ‘Skating on the surface is no way to make a journey into a new experience’. What was particularly important about this realization is that neither of these people were ‘shallow water sailors’. Both of them had built successful careers by paying attention to details Both had realized that they had abandoned that tendency in specific behaviors. Those realizations alone would have been worth the effort. But both went the extra step.

‘I was outside of my comfort zone in this case’, was how one of them put it. The other described the same understanding from a slightly different perspective. ‘I was staying within my comfort and imagining the new challenges in those terms.’ Both realized that they needed to use their skills at understanding and managing new experiences. Those abilities were more important outside of their comfort zone than within.

Coaching and Mentoring

All gains that my coaching clients make are reasons for celebrations. And I do like to celebrate them. But some are sweeter than others. The best are those which a client is unlikely to make without the help of me as their coach. Avoidance behaviors are high on this list. As I think about both advances, the thought that dominates is ‘They now can go where they hesitated in the past. The barrier is gone’. That is pure gold to an executive coach.

© Dr Earl R Smith II

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