In a special BlackEnterprise.com series, career coach Michelle Awuku-Tatum offers insights and strategies for executives of color to find fulfillment and advancement.
When coaching executives, they often want to know what I think about a particular situation and their reaction to that situation. After posing several questions, a common discovery is that a client is struggling to accept their circumstances and choosing to focus on what the reality should be, essentially failing to address the predicament.
While most coaching strategies encourage you to reflect on the future or imagine your future self, this approach does not apply to matters which are beyond your control, such as dealing with an insecure micromanager or a direct report who has yet to prove their value, or in environments where it is critical to anticipate and act on shifting dynamics as you define strategy or develop products.
Avoidance or denial can ultimately derail your career and negatively impact the perception of your ability to lead. After observing signs of denial repeatedly, a client may hear me say, “Look no one is coming to save you, only you can save yourself,” or “I understand things are not what you expect them to be, but what you are going to do about it?” My intent is not to be harsh but merely to provide a wake-up call to jolt a client into action. As Jack Welch has said, “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it were.”
So how do you go about this?
The first step requires you to take ownership by defining your reality. What is your actual reality—not perceived? What challenges are your team, product or company facing?
Once you have answered these questions, you can then get a grip on why you are struggling. The disconnect often boils down to your beliefs, values and assumptions. A client deeply entrenched in denial would often share insights such as “I have been on the fast track at this company, they have invested in my development, I am considered high potential, surely they must know that, I am more qualified than my manager.” Stress testing your assumptions will help you to move forward.
For example, let’s assume the aforementioned assumption is true. How has the company addressed your problem?
The second step requires you to act by determining how you are going to turn the situation around. Adopt a positive mindset by reflecting on what the opportunity is and then act on it.
For example, a client built a profitable multimillion-dollar business unit for his company and was struggling to define the strategic vision and road map to growth for the CEO. After several coaching conversations, the client came to realize that “strategic vision” was not an area of strength and decided to partner with a strategist internally to solidify the vision.
By confronting their quandary, the client picked up some great insights that shaped the vision and modeled a willingness to develop. Yes, this approach required the client to show some vulnerability, yet by being open about what they did not know and focusing on what mattered from the company’s perspective, the client was able to move forward and was ultimately promoted because of their efforts.
As a leader, when you face things honestly and objectively, you can encourage others as well as continue to push yourself, to respond or adapt as needed.
#Soundoff: What steps do you take to ensure you and/or others are facing their professional reality? Follow me on Twitter @mawuku, and share your story via the comments below.
Michelle Awuku-Tatum (@mawuku) is a career advancement & transition coach and founder of myfactor Coaching & Consulting. Since 2007, Awuku-Tatum has coached hundreds of clients to secure new jobs, transition into entrepreneurial endeavors, and implement leadership strategies to enhance their effectiveness and overall performance. She holds a bachelor’s degree in process technology & management studies from London South Bank University, in England; and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.