There may come a time when you feel stuck or frustrated by the lack of advancement in your career. Before you can move on, you may have to overcome some of the challenges you’re facing and boost your performance at work; you must perhaps improve your leadership, relationships and essential soft-skills. If the challenge revolves around your own business and you’re in a bind, you probably need new ideas and new strategies. Should one of these situations arise, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone: that there exist a variety of alternatives that you can reach out to for assistance.
The key expression here is “reach out to”. Companies and individuals may resort to internal or external consultants, mentors, coaches or therapists. Sometimes, even a friend can help. The key difference here lies in the way in which these experts or supporters tackle the situation and in the methodology they use to help you.
Let’s start with your friends. They may not be trained professionals, and when you turn to them for advice, keep in mind that they may not be very objective in what they suggest regarding the path you should take to solve the issue at hand. One way or another, they’ll be affected by what you do and what comes of your actions, so their assistance may not be entirely unbiased.
A mentor—a very popular concept in many companies—is usually a person that has “been there and done that”. Mentors will share their experience with you, but they may not necessarily be very knowledgeable or have much information on the matter under discussion. They are great for wising you up and showing you the ropes based on what they did and what worked for them. Having information on their experience is certainly a great asset, but it may not necessarily work for you as well, mostly because situations, values and resources change. You’re not playing on the same field and their advice, while well-meant and frequently valuable, may be misleading.
Consultants are usually hired to fix a problem or design a strategy. They bring expertise that their client lacks and knowledge in the field in question, and as a result, their contribution to people and corporations can be fundamental. Their agenda is to diagnose a problem, suggest a solution and sometimes accompany the client on implementation. They have a lot of information and high-quality product delivery, but—unlike a mentor—they don’t necessarily have personal experience. Consultants are usually external agents and their independence is particularly valuable, because it makes them less susceptible to sensitive situations and company politics. There is no conflict of interest between their services and the client’s organization.
When you work with advisors, mentors or consultants, they are the experts. They are the ones who know. They are your superiors in knowledge and will tell you what to do. Their ideas are frequently valuable and their suggestions can be very beneficial but, other than a potentially successful outcome in the project you are working on, the benefit they provide is usually limited to the project.
Coaching emerges as a rather recent alternative. It draws its roots from Socratic dialogues, under the premise that questions can stimulate thinking and generate new ideas. However, the utilization of coaches by executives and other individuals in large corporations dates back only two or three decades. A coach helps the client find solutions through dialogue, relying on mind-opening questions and accompanied reflection and profiting from the client’s own skills and abilities. The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”.
Essentially, when working with the coach, the client is the expert. All coaches do is help people find answers based on their own expertise, knowledge and resources. This can result in a life-lasting and transformative experience because the knowledge remains with the clients, who may end up dramatically improving their outlook on work and life while developing leadership skills and genuinely unlocking their potential.
Finally, there are therapists. Their role mostly revolves around helping people heal their emotional wounds. Therapists focus on the past and help clients—or patients—move on from the past and assist them in fixing their problems and moving ahead with their lives and careers in a more emotionally healthy way. To help clients move forward, therapists focus on the “why” of a problem; coaches focus on the “how”.
The times are long gone when asking for support, guidance or advice on how to move on was considered a symptom of a failing career. Corporations now realize that it’s to the benefit of all to have external or internal professionals helping their own key employees develop their skills and removing obstacles to their development.
Published on LinkedIn on June 8, 2017