So What’s the Deal with Coaching?

So What’s the Deal with Coaching?

Long, long ago, it was the goal of every young adult to land a job with a great firm where you would have a job for life. Once you landed in the ideal company, you would be part of the family – starting at an entry level and working your way up the corporate ladder.   Along this journey, more senior members of the team would guide and mentor you, keeping a keen eye on your progress, \ giving advice and perhaps a recommendation or reference, and helping you to choose the right challenges to help you develop and broaden your experience.  At least, this is the story I’ve heard – this was before my time.

My father had a cradle-to-grave position at IBM, which really did have some strong family-like cultural practices (the annual Christmas party for families with family entertainment from a children’s television program celebrity, Santa Claus, and the first Christmas present of the season, for example, or a policy of never laying off or firing anyone unless they committed a felony), but I am not sure if the managerial fairy godmothers ever existed.   There was, however, a clear career plan, and a lot of training and support for both professionals and managers that focused on the company’s ideals and promoted the corporate culture.   IBM even had a company song, though I never heard it sung.  There was something real there, though – IBMers had an identity, and a mission.    These mentors helped their people develop character; there was an ideal based on a set of shared values that guided them.  They felt like they were really part of something.   And they were.   Sure, the stock price was important, but nobody looked at it as a day-trade.  It was their piece of the legacy, not just the profits.  It was a community. Like a family.

My career was different.   I left my third job with a big corporation when I was 24 and my boss revoked a leave of absence I had arranged months before to travel for 6 weeks in Europe, both because I was already feeling the need to recharge from the stressful atmosphere of Wall Street and because I knew that if I got much older I wouldn’t have the energy or courage for that type of adventure. My father was apoplectic.   “You can’t go to Europe now,” he raved, “you have no job.” “I know, Dad.  That’s the point.” “What about job security?  What about loyalty?” “Where is their loyalty, Dad?  They made a deal with me and revoked it with no reason, not even an offer to repay me for all my tickets and outlays.   I followed the rules.  I’ll get another job,” which I did,  and that trip is one of my most treasured memories,  and served me well when I subsequently traveled to Europe for business,  enabling me to be comfortable in other cultures.   Although

I was familiar with the concept of this business culture, I could see that that model was no longer the sacrosanct practice legend had it to be- the world was changing. If the companies I worked with were families, they were very dysfunctional ones – the type to scam for their inheritance and pawn the family heirlooms.

In my next jobs with big corporations there was some of the old infrastructure of the previous generations, mainly in the training areas, but loyalty was a thing of the past.   Most corporations still demanded it, but loyalty must have a basis in reciprocity, and that was not a promise anyone would make.   But the real thing that was missing was the corporation’s means to pass on its teaching in its day-to-day life.   Boss-employee relations changed like the seasons. The corporate values and history were replaced with policy memos and rumors, and the double standards were laughably obvious.   I was lucky to get a wonderful mentor through a cobbled-together HR program, someone I still rely on as a mentor to me, but I am the only person i know of in the entire company who ever used the program for more than a single cursory session. To be honest, many of the so-called mentors didn’t have much to pass on, except that they had survived in the organization’s structure.  These were people there for the paycheck too, not interested in the ongoing legacy of the organization.

So what has all this to do with coaching?   I believe coaching replaces the lost relationship of organizational mentorship and the process of passing on wisdom through the organization.  Somewhere along the line we replaced our value on character with a fascination of personalities, and while the latter are far more scintillating and entertaining, the former provide the foundation from which we can truly flourish and grow.

Coaching replaces the lost relationship of organizational mentorship and the process of passing on wisdom through the organization.

The cult of personality has no room for mentorship. Since mentoring is not a norm, we look for another method to create our success by ourselves.  We seek a model to emulate – someone real or imaginary we see as successful, and copy that pattern to achieve happiness and adulation.   But when we dig deeper, we see there is a price – there is a trade-off that wasn’t mentioned. And what can we really learn from that person from afar?   Often this idol is too absorbed in his own journey to take an interest in yours.  Coaching is a means to create a relationship with someone who has a vested interest in your path, and accompanying you on that journey for a while as a guide and companion.

Clients come to coaching to get past a point where they feel stuck, often not knowing its cause, only that the progress of their journey is impeded. What coaching offers is a space to examine the block they face, and often created, to continue on toward a clearer understanding of success and happiness.   And while many of us who work for big corporations don’t find the sense of belonging and contribution that is associated with the legacy of yore, we can find our own legacy and contribution, and perhaps even create the community we want with whomever we encounter on our shared journey, and to build our character to a set of ideals that drive us and sustain us as we continue on.