Why I coach

I was working late one night, my door open as usual. Around 10 pm, he saw the light and came to my doorway, surprised HR was open at that hour. He asked if I had a few minutes to talk. I welcomed him in and asked what was on his mind.

He was frustrated with a few of his direct reports. They were good people but didn’t have his work ethic. They seemed to be there just for the paycheck. Nothing sparked their energy to do more or think creatively about what they were working on for departments around the company. It was driving him mad.

Jim was an ambitious, quick thinking IT manager, reflective and thoughtful, too. People liked working with him. He’d made a mark with leadership because of his can-do spirit and commitment to do whatever he said he’d do, or he’d let them know in advance if he couldn’t.

Knowing this about him, I asked questions about the conversations he’d had with his people, what they did well, why they were in his department. What was their vision for their career and why was that important to them? What did they enjoy most, hate doing? What was his vision for the best possible outcome? What could talking with them about their and his vision possibly do? And more.

He was thoughtful and forthcoming with every answer. He’d furrow his brow, put his chin on his hand and think, like he was mining his brain for gold. He spoke freely about his shortcomings as a manager. Clearly, he wanted to do what was best for his people.

After about an hour, Jim looked me in the eye as he stood up and said “Thank you. Thank you for being here at this hour and taking the time to talk with me. I feel like I’ve been through a therapy session, and I’ve never been to therapy. I feel energized and ready to handle this. You’ve given me a lot to think about and action I can start working on tonight. Thank you for listening, for your insightful questions, for making me feel like I’m not losing it. I can do this. Thanks, Mary.” He was out the door in a flash.

I sat back in my chair and smiled to myself. It felt good helping Jim think differently about his situation. Asking questions and listening impartially came naturally to me, and I’d been told many times I was good at it. I didn’t call it “coaching” then, just helping a manager deal with a challenge, as I had hundreds of times before. But that conversation 25 years ago filled me with a joy that touched me at my core. My inner voice said, “This is what you’re meant to do.”

Of course, I was dealing with a myriad of other things. But that seed, planted deeply, was nurtured in the years that followed before I left the company and started my coaching business.

I believe I’m doing what I’m on this earth to do: Help others stretch their thinking to be better leaders of themselves and others. That belief was strengthened recently when I participated in a program where one of the exercises was for everyone to write their legacy in SIX words. The facilitator said, think tombstone. Immediately, I wrote: Helped others be their best selves.

That’s why I coach.

Share Button