Deliberate Steps in Coaching Lead to Surprise Career Leap

Six months after Kathleen Hogan began coaching with Valerie Cherneski she was “noticed” at an external meeting. The subsequent cold call, offering her a second in command position in a large department at one of Canada’s major financial institutions was unexpected. But if coaching had taught her anything, it was that nothing happens by accident. A series of deliberate adjustments had led to larger change in her – the one the head-hunters noticed.

“It worked incredibly well,” said Kathleen, now Senior Counsel and Director of Knowledge Management at the Bank of Montreal, of her regular sessions with Valerie. “But not in the way I expected.”

Kathleen started coaching with Valerie in April 2010 to focus on how to balance her career with raising a young family. She liked her then-current job at a private law firm and thought coaching would help her work towards an internal promotion. As she and Valerie worked towards these goals, Kathleen learned to recognize and promote her value.

Kathleen was a good presenter but, conscious of hierarchy, she struggled to speak up in meetings and on team projects. She was naturally geared towards her knowledge management role, which centered on research, writing and technology to support partners across the firm. Yet this role was difficult to place within the usual organizational chart and its value even harder to promote.

Valerie helped develop a profile that highlighted Kathleen’s niche. To promote this profile, Valerie challenged Kathleen with a series of small, achievable tasks, which would ultimately expand her network.

“Valerie and I worked on how I could seek more opportunities for collaborative projects. I became less focused on hierarchy and more on getting the job done,” she said.

Kathleen went out of her way to support her colleagues, which she said has continued to pay off in her new role.

“Those people have really come through for me now. I can call and ask for help from a former colleague or a partner and that would never have occurred to me before.”

While coaching began with a broader focus on establishing Kathleen’s goals and promoting her strengths, Valerie also worked through project-specific issues. When Kathleen found herself so frustrated by a cumbersome process at her former company that she’d use the time with Valerie to vent, it was time for a small readjustment. Frustration, according to Valerie, was a waste of energy. They worked on Kathleen’s reaction, the only part of the situation she could control. She re-cast the impediment as an opportunity to work with someone who, Kathleen conceded, “does know a lot, is quite successful and has a process that might serve a purpose.”

“It became an opportunity to learn the process and tools for free, and interact with someone who had some power. I still came away from meetings with more spreadsheets to do but it made meetings easier – we seemed to be moving forward.”

Kathleen applied the principle at home. While it hasn’t changed the fact that mornings in working house-holds can be fractious, working around it has reduced the pressure of her family’s morning routine.

Kathleen’s latest coaching project focuses on her first management experience: how she’s going to juggle her responsibilities to her new direct-reports – their workloads, their career paths, their transition to their new boss – while keeping her family life on an even keel.

She credits Valerie’s coaching for the changes that led to her job offer and for the successful transition into her new role, but said the process is far from over.

“I have no intention of giving it up,” she said.

“I’d encourage anyone at a certain point in their career. You’re already on the way but where are you going to go? How are you going to get there and take control of your career path?

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