An executive coaching session can go in many directions. One person is fixated with getting her resume perfectly positioned. Another is stunned by job success and suddenly not sure what is real and what is dumb luck. One person spent 90% of the conversation narrating a blow-by-blow tenure process as if academic politics would temper themselves behind his indignation.
Each person is on a unique course of bumps and straight-aways. And, the dignity and humor that can emerge is wonderful to witness.
The common thread for me in conversations with clients is the notion of being personally strategic -- making choices with the right set of perspectives. I think of it as "working in and on" yourself. While we apply our expertise, manage our bills, collaborate with colleagues, and maintain our schedules we are working in our careers -- doing the business at hand. At the same time, we need to see patterns, recognize our habits, understand the context, and hold a finger up to the winds that are blowing around us. That is to work on our careers.
We don't make good decisions if we only think in one of the two dimensions. We must deliberately work at both: the particular and the contextual; the daily beast and the larger passion and purpose in us.
Coaching is often a rare moment of working on. It is the chance to step away and understand the point of it all. Particularly for women, but also for men, the coaching session is a breather, an hour of setting the IPhone aside, putting away the To-Do List, and asking what it all means.