The vast majority of my clients are working with me for one of three reasons. Reason #1: they’re stuck in a career they don’t like and need to find another calling. Reason #2: they’re out of work and need to find employment. Reason #3: they’re in a relationship that is souring and want to either put it back on track or decide that it’s time to move on. But a number of clients call because they want to improve skills that they know are going to be necessary to maximize their chance of success*. These skills generally fall into one of five areas: interpersonal (either relating to emotional intelligence or to communication), organization, leadership, creative, and clarity of communication. Hour for hour, or dollar for dollar, clients get a better return on their investment when they contact me before a serious problem has arisen, and are instead looking to enhance qualities they already possess (but in insufficient quantity).
You may find useful an analogy coming from science (high school physics, actually): think of the energy required to accelerate an object’s movement along a path versus the energy needed to divert a moving object from the path it is already traveling. Another analogy comes from the humanities: which is easier, to improve your skills on an instrument you already know how to play, or to begin to learn a new one? Which is easier, improving your ability to speak a language of which you have a basic knowledge, or begin learning an entirely new one?
Is it realistic to expect improvement in the five skill areas listed above? I will briefly review them one at a time:
1) Interpersonal – Emotional intelligence is certainly something many of us are born with, but there are a range of skills that can be taught that will dramatically enhance one’s ability to relate with others: active listening, cultural sensitivity, learning how to use “I” statements, seeking to compliment rather than criticize are just a few.
2) Organization – Most people who are disorganized are that way simply because they’ve never been taught how to be different. There are many common sense, easy-to-implement techniques that will greatly improve your ability to organize, particularly with today’s wealth of technological aids.
3) Leadership – Encouraging teamwork, accepting responsibility, being scrupulous in keeping one’s word, a willingness to take risks – these are just some of the essential qualities of a leader. Role-playing real world situations that my clients encounter definitely helps build the confidence to lead.
4) Creative – This may be the hardest of the skill areas to enhance, but strides can certainly be made by encouraging the cultivation of relaxation, a positive attitude, and discipline.
5) Clarity of Communication – The key to this skill is twofold: first, adequate preparation (forethought); second, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.
But isn’t it true that making strides in these areas requires quite a bit of time, and therefore a big investment in coaching? Yes, time is most certainly required, but to judge whether an investment is worthwhile requires examining the return on the investment. Depending on one’s financial circumstances, a one, two, five or ten thousand dollar investment may sound steep, but if it helps you land a $250,000 job two weeks sooner you will have justified a $10,000 investment. If you can hold on to a $100,000 a year job for just a few extra weeks the $5,000 will be paid back. If it allows you to get a $10,000 raise, a $2000 investment will be paid back in only a few months. And the value of enhancing the quality of, or even saving, a relationship? Quite possibly incalculable. I urge you to be proactive – don’t wait until serious trouble raises its head to begin enhancing your skills.
* There are a multitude of skills, ranging from computer programming to business writing to public speaking that can certainly help advance one’s career, but in this post I have focused on the ones that are most broadly applicable.