Explore Multiple WorkLife Pathways Through Self: Coaching Directing and Leadership

“You must expect great things of yourself before you can do them.” Michael Jordan

SelfCoaching is the process of guiding your growth and development, particularly through periods of transition, in both the professional and personal realms.

SelfDirecting is a series of independent actions and judgements free from external control and constraint. Independent individualism from an independent mind, without intervening factors or intermediaries.

SelfLeadership is having a developed sense of who you are, what you can do, where you are going coupled with the ability to influence your communication, emotions and behaviours on the way to getting there.

A Case Study

Matt’s Story: His Journey To and his Discovery of his Ability to Self-Coach, Direct and Lead

Matt loved the autonomy of his WorkLife. He had worked in accounting at an advertising agency for fifteen years. He was quite a loner, enjoying working alone and loving the solitude of his role. On many occasions he found himself to be invisible, and he was actually OK with that. He had a sense he was on the outside looking in, and he quite liked that: it allowed him to be an observer without being observed.

However, he was required to deliver monthly presentations on how the company was doing financially. This was a challenge for Matt and took him out of his comfort zone in different ways:

1. Talking for fifteen minutes was a very big challenge, as he actually never spoke very much. Matt was a man of few words.

2. While he loved numbers, he knew that when he talked about them he did not do it in an interesting way. He would see people’s eyes quickly glaze over, followed by them making a hasty exit.

3. The monthly presentations were preceded by a networking breakfast. He really hated small-talk, and found the experience both contrived and banal.

He did, however, want to continue to learn, grow and develop. There were various workplace coaching, training and mentoring programmes that Matt could have tapped into to facilitate this, but he resisted all of them, simply because his participation would require him spending more time with people than he wanted. 

He knew he had to take ownership of doing what he needed to do. He was OK with that because the other side of being a loner was that he was extremely self-sufficient.  So he figured he could help himself achieve what he wanted and needed. His thinking was that he could model what the coaching, training and mentoring programmes were offering, and adopt a self-coaching, directing and leadership approach. 

Being an accountant, he was quite a logical thinker, and so he thought through the three challenges he was facing:

  1. The fact that he spoke very little. 

He knew he needed to have the words, so as to have the thoughts to develop his presentation. He knew that of course people think in words, and so if he did not have the vocabulary to describe the things he wanted to talk about, he literally could not give the presentation or have the conversations that came from the Q&A at the end of each presentation.

He needed to find a way to overcome this. He needed to invest in himself and his learning. He needed to find a passion around this learning.

Although Matt was a man of few words, he did actually have a love of words. He read and listened to audio recordings extensively. That was his thing – what he was doing when he lost himself, and when he whiled away the hours.

So, he began by setting out to be more intentional in his reading and listening to learn how writers drew in their audiences. Being analytical allowed him to recognise patterns which he noted in a spreadsheet. His focus on how he could learn what he needed led him to discover an online writing course by one of his favourite authors. This really appealed to Matt because it was something he could do on his own, in his own time, at this own pace, and so he signed up.

His focus on being intentional about his reading and listening helped him to build the vocabulary he needed, and the course helped him with his second challenge:

2. To talk about numbers in an interesting way. 

To do that he needed to build a story around the numbers. Matt began to think about what it was about numbers that he loved so much, that he could develop into a story.

He knew he enjoyed finding solutions. He was curious and asked himself a lot of questions, particularly around the status quo of things. Questions that usually began with: “why”, “how”, “what if”. He got a lot of satisfaction from knowing he had dealt with a problem and had made things better. He actually had quite a creative mindset that was driven by possibility, because his solutions emphasised what was possible. His creative mindset inspired his curiosity and passion, which lead to the action needed. 

He needed to talk about these solutions, and the course gave him a framework to develop these into stories. 

Focusing on overcoming challenges one and two, allowed him to know what he needed to do to overcome his third challenge:

3. The networking breakfast – making small talk that didn’t feel contrived or banal.

The answer lay in the questions he loved asking of himself. He just needed to make a shift to asking questions of other people. Questions that would elicit more about who people were, what excited them and what they cared about. This would make for much more interesting conversations. 

He thought about the questions he wished people would ask him. He started with a question that really got people to open up: 

  • “What’s a passion project you’re working on at the moment?”

Then moved onto questions that were a little more daring (well for Matt anyway!), and that also had an element of fun:

  • “Which part of your job would you like to kill or eliminate?”
  • “If we could hire five more people, what unconventional skills would they have and why?”

Throughout the process Matt found that he was developing his ability to self-coach, direct and lead quite naturally. In fact, he recognised because of his self-sufficiency this is something he had being doing all along.

For Self-Coaching the questions he posed to himself included:

  • What’s standing in my way?
  • What will happen if I take this step? / What will happen if I don’t?
  • What does success look like?
  • What do I want?

For Self-Directing:

Having felt like an outsider looking in observing what was going on around him, allowed him to do the same for himself. His power of observation was so finely tuned that he was able to observe and direct himself in the moment. During his presentations, the Q&A, the networking, his ability to be observant allowed him to be fully present and in the moment, which in turn meant he was fully attuned to his audience, resulting in him being able to self-direct and react on the spot in real time. It actually felt quite surreal. At times Matt felt he was both performing and watching his own performance. 

For Self-Leadership Matt asked himself questions that included:

  • Is this the best way to do this? Is there a different/simpler way? 
  • What do I need to stop/start doing?
  • Will my approach be successful?
  • What do I need from myself in order to help me reach my full potential?
  • How can I help people? Through my presentations, the answers I give at the Q&A sessions, the conversations I have over networking. 

A few presentations later Matt realised he was no longer invisible. People would come up to him and tell him how much they enjoyed his stories, and how he made it really easy to understand the financial side of things – something they admitted to not having much of an interest in before. He was able to manage this interaction and still maintain a good level of solitude, which was important to him. If at any stage he found himself thinking “I Have to do this”, he shifted his thinking by telling himself, “I Get to do this.”

A Case Study

Janet’s Story: From the World of Publishing to Companion Animal Practitioner, Making Personalised Dinnerware for Discerning Pets and Dog Walking

Janet worked in the publishing industry. It was a natural fit because of her love of literature, and she was happy there for many years. However, as time went on Janet’s interests in other areas grew and developed. As well as being very creative Janet has always had a strong passion for animals, and with her partner had two beautiful cocker spaniels and a cat called Flora.

It is always good to make time for your interests and hobbies outside of work and for many people this is enough; while for others it can lead to building a business in line with their passions. This is what happened for Janet.

Embracing her creativity, she enrolled on a ceramics course making art ceramics. Her obvious talent was recognised early, which resulted in her work being displayed in galleries in the UK and Germany. Although a major achievement, it did not bring in a lot of money. By way of a filler, as Janet figured out what to do with the art ceramics, she began making dog bowls.

The reason she focussed on this specifically was because her own two dogs, being cocker spaniels, had long floppy ears that got in the way when they were eating; and so she designed a bowl that helped to overcome this problem. The bowls proved to be so popular that Janet decided to let the more abstract arty stuff fall by the wayside and focus on building the bowls (for both dogs and cats) as a business. She developed a website to market her wares, and this took off overnight, with the orders flooding in, and her business was featured in Vogue magazine. Because she was doing this alongside her day job, she had a waiting list; and her clients were quite happy with this – after all they were getting a unique gift for their much-loved pet. 

Phase one of Janet’s new career and business was underway, and although it was not exactly planned it had in essence evolved from nurturing her creative ability and filling a gap in the market she identified with the bowls. Then through her love of animals she came across TTouch, which is a therapy used in training, handling and rehabilitation of companion animals. She undertook the training needed to develop her skills and ability to set herself up in practice as a TTouch therapist. Having gone through the process she has now established herself and has developed a new website to market her services. Along with word of mouth, it is amazing how quickly the word is spreading; and her business is developing. She is now working as a companion animal practitioner.

As phase two was developing Janet had the realisation that she was now in a position to move away from her publishing career and become self-employed. She needed to develop her business plan and strategy to ensure the timing was right, and that she had everything in place she needed to make a smooth transition. Obviously for anyone leaving a secure job where they know they have a salary at the end of each month, they need to take financial considerations into account and be comfortable with their projected income. Because Janet established her business alongside her current work, she was in a good position to understand the potential demand and income from her products and services, and so it was from an informed standpoint she planned her transition.

Once she began to talk to people about her plans, she actually secured another piece of work to add to her portfolio. As both her and her partner were working full-time, they engaged the services of a dog walker to exercise their dogs during the week. This is another successful business, and once the woman who did the dog walking learnt that Janet was moving on from her permanent job, she asked if she would like to join her business and do some dog walking when time permitted. This was a win/win situation for both women. Janet has regular paid work on top of her earning potential from her products and services, along with getting paid for her daily exercise! And the other woman could focus on developing her business in the knowledge her client’s dogs were in good hands.

The moral of this story is: even if you do not know where your journey is taking you, take the first step. I like to use the analogy of driving in a fog: you need to travel from Land’s End to John o’Groat’s (the whole length of Great Britain between two extremities, in the southwest and northeast), but you can only see a few yards ahead as you begin your journey. Nevertheless, that is enough, as you know the fog will clear and you move towards your destination at a pace that is safe and manageable. You may eventually come to a crossroads, and when you do the time you have taken thinking and reflecting during your journey will help you figure out which road to take.

Some people will say to me: if you don’t know where you’re going how will you know when you get there? Others will say that not knowing where they are going may take them along more interesting paths. Just remember we are all different, and there is no right or wrong path to your destination.

A Case Study

Working Remotely: Lawyers in Cyber Space

The types of changes to our way of working brought about by the last economic downturn have, I think, been quite interesting, and have caused the entrepreneurs among us to get creative in our thinking of how to make the best of a bad situation. In a lot of cases the doom and gloom caused has brought about quite enterprising and more fulfilling ways to work. Life’s most difficult situations can also be the most transformative, as I expect many of you have come to learn.

Take, for example, the world of law and how severely it was impacted by the last recession. Bearing in mind the historically traditional approach to work in this profession, there have been a number of successful spin-offs where lawyers, having found themselves out of work, made the most of combining their considerable experience, while also utilising technology to join forces with other equally talented lawyers across the various disciplines of law to offer a solution that provides the same professional service the client would expect from a leading law firm – only much more affordably. Virtual Law. Who would have thought cyber space law would work in the law profession, which is steeped in tradition. But work it does for Gerald and Barbara: two clients who have established their work in this way.

Gerald is a senior commercial lawyer, who joined forces with a newly formed virtual law company. Barbara is a family lawyer who chose this way of working to facilitate being a mum and wanting to be at home bringing up her daughter with the ability of being able to attend those all so important school events, in the knowledge that a sudden transaction would not take over her life.

Both provide quality work in the same way they would have done within the organisations they worked in. Surely this has to be a win/win situation all round: the client is happy; and each lawyer has created a way of working that in the short term can fit into their lifestyle in the way they want.

They may choose to continue with this arrangement, and they may find that it completely works for them; or they may choose to return to a more corporate environment, and if so it is a great way of demonstrating their ability to develop business, which of course is a key factor on that road to partnership and beyond.

Develop Your WorkLife Story

Discovering multiple WorkLife pathways will allow you to write new chapters as you continue your growth and development. Make your WorkLife an extension of your personality, where you thrive the most. Make doing what you love, and loving what you do, a reality. 

Discover Multiple Pathways Assignment 

  1. Think about what you want to do, where you want to go in your WorkLife. A good question to get you started is: If I could give myself the perfect assignment, what would it be?
  2. Consider possibilities based on what you enjoy doing both inside and outside of your workplace.
  3. Note everything you already have that will allow you to achieve this: skills, abilities, experience, attributes.
  4. Identify the gaps – what you are missing or what is missing in your market.

Design a Course of Action Assignment

A course of action increases your commitment to your plan: 

  • Brainstorm all of the steps you would have to take to realise your best choices. 
  • Develop contingency plans for each. That way, if one is blocked, the other paths will already be laid out. 
  • Work to identify the obstacles to each path, then brainstorm ways around the obstacles. During the process, maximise everything you already have. 
  • Learn to stimulate yourself into identifying skills, development opportunities and knowledge areas required for each alternative. 
  • Work to build your plans. Ask yourself what you can do differently in the future, reflect on what you’ve done in the past, and what you learnt from that. Write these principles down.

Develop Your Self-Coaching, Directing and Leadership Abilities Assignment

Have forward looking reviews, that you actually look forward to, by posing the question: 

“In one year from now what will I have done?”

Actions to Put in Place to Help you Achieve this Assignment 

  • Identify quarterly objectives and set top priorities for each quarter.
  • Track your progress weekly to stay focused and aligned with your priorities.
  • Have a weekly check in with yourself to acknowledge your successes and challenges.
  • Use this information to coach yourself through your most pressing challenges.
  • Focus on being fully present in every situation. You can do this by paying attention to what is going on around you. This will support you in developing your ability to self-direct in the moment, by knowing what to do.
  • Lead yourself to do big things by starting small things.

Plan a Personal Quarterly Offsite

The purpose of a personal quarterly offsite is to create space for you to think away from the distractions of day-to-day life. A full day once a quarter away from everything else, to think about your short- and long-term goals. To get a clear view of your WorkLife, what is happening in the moment, and to gain perspective on what you want to achieve.

This comes together in the best self-review, a practice based on forward growth and development for you at every quarter. You are creating a process that helps unlock your potential.

The Moral of this Story

All of these stories demonstrate that if you can conceive an idea then you can achieve it. You can learn to self-coach, direct and lead, and you may well discover you already have the ability within you. It will take planning, preparation, the necessary learning and development, and a good strategy; but as Matt, Janet, Gerald and Barbara discovered, you just need to take the first step, and what you need to navigate the rest of your journey will unfold along the way. 

Develop a Practice of Continuous Self-Feedback

Remain open to input and feedback along the way. This will be your best teacher. Whether it is from what works or from what does not work, it will allow you to know the adjustments you need to make to be and do your best.

Develop a Practice of Insightful Self-Questioning

The most important meeting you have is the one you have when you come back from a major WorkLife event/experience. Have a de-brief and ask yourself:

What did I learn from this?

What did I do well that I need to keep?

What didn’t I do well that I need to change?

Words of Wisdom

The road to self-sufficiency begins with taking the first step in your course of action towards reaching what you want to achieve. Get comfortable being in over your head, put yourself in a position of being challenged, set your intention,  and after a short time you will find you are on top of it, and ready for the next step in your challenge. 

© Carmel O’ Reilly 2019 First published 2019 by WorkLife Incorporated

Feel free to publish an excerpt from this chapter, wherever you like. Your blog, your book, your newsletter. It’s all good. 

Just use my full name and kindly link back to my website: You’ll find my bio right here: Thank you. Be Well and Stay Safe.

Published by Carmel O' Reilly

I’m Carmel O’ Reilly, Founder of I’m the author Your WorkLife Your Way, blogger and podcaster on the subject of WorkLife. My work focuses on helping people to live their best WorkLives, by managing their learning, development and growth, through effective self-feedback, insightful self-questions and the ability to shape and tell their unique story. My Mission is: “To spread the power of WorkLives lived with Passion, Purpose and Pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.”

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