Most successful women have a mentor, life coach, or a group of sister-friends who they can share almost anything with. While having a support system like that is incredible, women often find that there is someone missing from their circle when they feel like they’ve hit a roadblock or have come to a crossroads in their career. That’s where career coaches come into play. By definition, a career coach is someone who guides professionals in the planning, managing, and development of their career. But Marsha Haygood, author and founder of StepWise Associates L.L.C., is so much more to her clients. That’s why we spoke to her for a five-part series on career coaching in anticipation of her coaching session at the Women of Power Summit.
In the first part, we’re covering why every professional woman should invest in a career coach, the best career advice for black women, and the steps to finding one no matter where you are in your career.
So, how do you even know if you need a career coach? Haygood says that if you have ever felt stuck in your career, want to extend your network but don’t know where to start, or simply don’t know what you want to do next, then you probably need a career coach.
Conduct a Self-Evaluation and Set Goals
First things first, as a businesswoman it is important to be real with yourself about what you know and where you are.
Before you look for a career coach it is critical to do some self-evaluation so that you can identify your needs and be open to receiving new and transformative information. A good way to start is by being honest about where you are and who you are. From there, think about whom you’d like to be and where you’d like to get to with the help of a coach. “Being open and honest with yourself about what you don’t know and being open to listening and to new ideas is key,” says Haygood.
While Haygood says that most people in need of a coach can’t concisely articulate what they’d like in a one, most people can tell you how they feel and express where they’d like to be. “People might say I feel stuck in my career or I’m looking for a portion or to expand my network. Some people don’t know what they want to do next. And, that’s fine.”
You can start by setting goals for yourself that you will be able to share with your coach. Maybe you’d like to be more assertive and confident in the workplace or you’d like to work on being less defensive.
Whatever your goals are, coaches will find out what you think your issues and challenges are and what you’re having a hard time with and help you work through them.
Haygood also conducts a program called D.A.R.E. that helps clients develop a strategy around whatever goals they are trying to attain.
Using the D.A.R.E. model is a great way to assess yourself.
• Dream – What are your intentions and what would you like to do? Dream big!
• Act – What are little things that you can do now to move you closer to that dream?
• Review – Ask yourself, what’s worked well for me and what’s been my biggest challenge?
• Excel – Do more of the things that have worked really well for you
“Sometimes we spend all of our time and energy on things that don’t do well for us and in our weak spots rather than our strengths, ”says Haygood. And, to that point, Haygood says, “Work on the strengths and try to delegate the weak spots.”
At some point in your career you begin to ask yourself, “What does that even mean?” and Haygood says that it’s not about balance at all. “I get a lot of people who talk about work-life balance. I challenge people and say ‘guess what girlfriend, it’s not going to be balanced.” It is about making adjustments. “You have to make adjustments and those adjustments can change, weekly, monthly, annually. But you’re never going to have a 50/50 split and if you do then that’s a really good day and that’s an exception.”
Making adjustments will put work and life into perspective and make your goals feel more attainable. One simple word is what you need to hear to unlock your thought process.
The Makings of a Good Coach
One of the things that Haygood stresses is that no matter what you’re looking for in a coach they should possess these two qualities: good listening skills and the ability to think strategically. “You’re looking for someone who doesn’t think they know it all. They should have the experience to share the things that they have seen, heard, or experienced that may be helpful to you.” You also want your coach to become one of your partners. “I am my client’s strategic thinking partner. Sometimes you’re thinking about things and you think, ‘I wish I had someone to talk to about this because I’m not sharing this with my girlfriend or because I can’t share this with my spouse because it might be about him or her,’” says Haygood.
Now that you have this information, it’s time to do your research.
Do Your Research
While your search for a coach can begin with Google, Haygood says that some of the best ways to find one are to ask around for referrals, attend professional conferences or networking events, and read books.
“A lot of women find and reach out to me after I’ve done a speaking engagement or after they’ve read my book. There are also women who find me through other clients.”
Once you have found someone you would like to start your career development journey with, not only should you do your research on the person but you should be prepared to interview them. Which means you should have a list of questions that you want the answers to. Haygood offers guidance on the key questions to ask:
Key Questions to Ask a Prospective Career Coach
• Tell me a little bit about what you do?
• Who are your clients?
• Where have you gotten the best results?
Of all of the questions that you could ask, Haygood says the most important one is, “Will our sessions be confidential?” You should ask this question up front to protect yourself and set the foundation for your relationship with your coach. “Women have to be comfortable enough to share freely when they are seeking guidance and support from a coach.” It is also important to note that you are not the only one who can request a career coach, so can your employer. And they do require coaches to divulge certain information. “When a company is paying for a coach, you want to know how much of what you discuss will be shared because in that case, you’re not the client the company is—so pay attention to that.”
Coaches hired by companies are typically tasked with assignments to help professionals and Haygood insists on keeping the needs of both clients a top priority.
“When working with a company, anything that I discuss with them you would have known it first because we would be coming up with the right answer to share with them. So your information will still be confidential but the concept around why they gave you a coach will be discussed.”
Like with any relationship and process, establishing trust is key for success.
Now that you’ve got that all squared away, it’s time to start investing.
Invest in Yourself
“I think that everyone should have a coach and invest in their own development. You invest in the things that are most important to you. And, I say when you can’t afford something then if you really want it you’ll save up for it,” says Haygood.
With that being said, if advancing as a professional is important to you, focus on what matters. Or, in the words of Haygood, “Save up for a coach the same way you would save for a pair of red bottoms!”
Your best self requires all of you. And, you’re worth the investment.
Well, that wraps up part one of the Women of Power Career Coaching Series. In part two, we’ll be sharing how to manage your relationship with a coach. Until then, join Marsha Haygood for her book signing event here in New York City on Feb. 8.