By Sara Regan, Certified CliftonStrengths Trainer & Coach
I have always been fascinated with the process of change – both within people’s lives and within organizations.
My first career as a counselor taught me so much about what it means to offer trust, reflection, and compassion to someone who is making a brave change in their life. My background as a counselor built a strong foundation for my work as an executive coach. Recently I was asked about why I became an executive coach and it got me thinking about some of the differences between coaching and counseling. Here are eight things I have observed:
- Multiple Perspectives. As an executive coach, the starting place is often gathering input from multiple sources such as an executive sponsor, a performance review, 360-degree feedback or engagement survey results. These data points add clarity about the goals of coaching and keep the process focused and aligned. Often in counseling, you have access to one person’s perspective on the problem – your client’s. For me, this sometimes felt as though I was working in a vacuum.
- A Focus on Strengths. Counseling can tend to be problem-focused with less attention devoted to what is going right in someone’s life. I use the CliftonStrength assessment in coaching as a starting place because it affirms one’s natural talents. After all, it is our strengths that represent the sweet spot of our true potential. I also find that the strengths model jump starts the coaching process and provides us with a common language.
- Measurable Impact. In coaching, we can close the feedback loop. I can double back to the sponsor, check in with those who provided 360 feedback or see the uptick in the employee engagement scores on the team. For me, it is important to know we are working on the right things, and that there is a measurable impact. And, of course, we celebrate success!
- Feedback. There is a myth that strength-based coaching ignores our weaknesses. Not true. No one can dismiss critical behaviors that get in the way of performance. However, I find our strengths often zero-in on our blind spots. I love helping people experience the “aha moment” when this comes into focus. We hit the issues hard, but using strengths helps the client to step back, gain perspective and take in feedback more readily. From there we can target precise adjustments for maximum ROI.
- A Focus on Leadership. I have had a series of successive leadership roles and have dedicated my career to studying what the best leaders do differently. As one ascends in an organization, content expertise becomes less important, but the ability to work across the organization, to influence, to build strategic partnerships, and to manage politics becomes critical to success. And it is vital that leaders position others for success and keep the team engaged and motivated. I am “all-in” with my clients as a trusted partner in their leadership journey.
- Action-oriented. I like to move toward action in coaching and I find that busy executives do too. Sometimes they just need space to think, but they are often very driven towards accomplishment in their work and in their coaching. Otherwise, coaching risks being just a nice chat. As a coach, I find that I have greater freedom to press clients and serve as their accountability partner. I often encourage people to try “experiments” in between our sessions and together we debrief the impact.
- Authenticity. Perhaps the biggest difference I find as an executive coach is that I can be more open, honest and authentic. In counseling, we are taught to reveal little about ourselves and instead be a “blank screen” on to which the client can project their relational needs. Though I am certainly professional as a coach, I find I can be more of who I am. I can share a personal leadership story, offer to make a networking connection or talk about where my family went on vacation. It is a more natural way of relating to others that fits my personality and my own strengths.
- Ripple Effects. Coaching allows a better vantage point to see the impact of change throughout a team or organization. There are formal and often informal opportunities to check back in and see how 1:1 coaching has impacted so many others within a system, even years down the road. I like to know that people are still thriving.
What I have learned from both professions is that people are resilient, our personalities are stable, and our choices have great impact. I really believe that we are all a “work in progress”, that we gather new insights along the way as we become a better and truer version of ourselves over time. Sometimes people make very broad changes and sometimes it is a few little tweaks that have a significant impact. Either way, I am enormously honored and excited to partner with my clients on their journey to become better leaders.
Sara’s Top 5 strengths are: Strategic, Relator, Individualization, Connectedness, Learner
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