Coaching Across The Career

Coaching has seen several changes over time in terms of how, by whom and for whom it is used. There was a time when coaching was for the few, and now it is much more for the many, becoming a widely accepted and utilised tool for the development of employees at all levels.

However, coaching has not typically been viewed as requiring a different method or approach based on the social categories of the person being coached (for example: their race, gender, age group, etc.) and scholars have recently suggested that more attention should be paid to the social context within which the coaching takes place. (O’Neil & Hopkins, 2015; Shoukry & Cox, 2018)

In a previous article, I shared how coaching can be beneficial for people based on different types of experiences and events in their life. Here are some considerations for coaching people at various stages across their career.

Let’s start by looking at age as a contextual factor.

In Building Coaching Cultures with Millennials and Millennial Leaders,we shared some useful information and resources around what is important to people within that age group when it comes to being fulfilled and engaged in their work life. Key themes emerging from research indicate that meaning, purpose, alignment of values, new experiences, development opportunities, inclusivity, flexibility and feeling valued and heard are of primary importance to this age group. Millennial employees are often highly open to coaching and see it as a valued developmental tool with coaching topics being associated with either challenges or aspirations around the aforementioned criteria.

Looking at age groups more broadly, John Schaffner from the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University references three career phases and their associated key issues and areas of focus and how coaching can support the person in different ways depending upon their specific needs, values and priorities during that phase:

Phase 1: Idealistic Achievement (age 24–35)

  • Key issues: self-confidence and self-identity

  • Focus areas: challenge, growth, vision and goals

  • Typical coaching inquiries: • What is your ideal role? • Who might serve you as a mentor/model? • What support networks do you have?

Phase 2: Pragmatic Endurance (age 36–45)

  • Key issues: self-esteem and a search for meaning

  • Focus areas: encouraging re-connection and re-engagement, and re-igniting support mechanisms

  • Typical coaching inquiries: • What most energises you? • When have you felt most confident? • What resources do you have?

Phase 3: Re-inventive Contribution (age 46+)

  • Key issues: recognition, respect, integration and authenticity.

  • Focus areas: contribution, opportunities to mentor others and on-going development

  • Typical coaching inquiries: • What do you see as your legacy? • How can you make your best contribution? • What’s non-negotiable?

Moving further into the age spectrum, Scott Taylor of Babson College, USA, specialises in leadership development and organisational behaviour and has shared some insights on coaching senior leaders in transition:

  • Typically, CEOs/Senior Leaders do not allocate sufficient time for the personal impact of the sale of their business or their transition into retirement.

  • This can result in a diminished sense of self.

  • Their ability to work through this can be accelerated through coaching.

  • There is often a real or perceived lack of a support group at that level to share openly their questions and vulnerabilities.

  • There is quite a high focus and amount of coaching work being undertaken around transitioning into roles, much less on transitioning out of roles (especially when it is out of a whole career, which can imply identity re-definition).

  • Leadership coaching at this career stage is most helpful when planned ahead of time.

He proposes four key phases of coaching for this career stage:

  1. Celebrating experience (the existing self)

  2. Creating new self (before they end their career)

  3. Constructing a new ideal self (the key to sustained change)

  4. Moving towards the new ideal

Apart from the context of time or age, our careers can also be punctuated by what might be called “defining moments”; these could be the transition into parenthood, a promotion, an overseas assignment or a redundancy. EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young) has successfully developed a coaching culture of which a characteristic feature is that coaching is offered specifically around some of these defining moments to support people in finding their unique strengths and unlocking their full potential. Read the case study here.

What other contexts would be useful for you to consider when engaging with your coaching clients? The ICF Core Coaching Competencies seek for us to be responsive to and work with the whole person of the client, as well what they want to bring into the coaching conversation; to understand what is meaningful or important to the client about what they bring into coaching and to communicate in ways that reflect their frame of reference. We do this well when we have an understanding of the context within which the client brings their work into the coaching space. Coach the person and not just the topic.

Tracy Sinclair has more than 20 years' experience in leadership development, and she currently works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability as a core leadership competence. Tracy also specialises in working with a wide range of organisations to support the development of coaching cultures.

A Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Tracy is dedicated to the development of the coaching profession and the coaching community. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, and she has served on the International Coach Federation Global Board of Directors since 2016, in a variety of positions including Treasurer, Global Chair and currently as Immediate Past Chair.

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