Five Tips for Coaching Your Way to Success

Vol. 17 No. 3

By

Dr. Artika R. Tyner is a law professor and the director of diversity at the University of St. Thomas School of Law as well as a leadership development consultant in Minneapolis, MN.

Law firms and corporate organizations are using coaching to aid young lawyers in developing key skills in case management, client services, and leadership. Career coaching provides a firm foundation for aiding the young lawyer in flourishing as a newly minted professional; it is a goal-oriented process focusing on developing an action plan for achieving individual professional goals. It follows the Socratic adage of “knowing thyself”: The coach guides you through a process of self-reflection by asking exploratory and reflective questions about your personal goals and values.

Here are a few tips for practicing this process of self-reflection and incorporating career coaching practices into your professional development plan.

Identify Your Goals

The process of engaging in self-reflection and building self-awareness begins with identifying your goals. Take a moment, pause, and reflect upon the question: Where do you see yourself in five, ten, or twenty years? Pause again and envision yourself in that role. Are you wearing a black robe and sitting behind a bench? Are you directing your organization? As you begin to explore these questions, you can see your future career goals more clearly. This exercise will inform your career vision and redefine your purpose. Once you have possible career aspirations in sight, start to ponder how you will reach these goals. Think about the technical skills that you need to develop and identify possible role models and mentors. Brainstorm ways to reach your desired goals. Start developing an action plan for reaching your goals and set benchmarks to monitor your progress. If you need additional guidance, your own personal board of directors can provide some help.

Establish Your Personal Board of Directors

Analogous to a formal business entity, your professional development plan should include guidance from key advisors. In place of assembling an actual board, think of people that you admire and create an imaginary board of directors for the purpose of oversight, accountability, and guidance during your career journey. It will aid you in monitoring the progress of your personal and professional development. These board members can be your mentors, historical figures, leaders in your field, or role models in the legal community. When you consider your next career steps, you can engage in a reflective exercise with this “mythical” board of directors. Share your aspirations and goals with the board. What would their advice be? What can you learn from their career paths? These inquiries will aid you in looking at your career moves from diverse perspectives and multiple vantage points. Your board will be with you every step on the way to guide your career success by providing the support and encouragement that you need. Even though the board is with you all the time, you should schedule time to think about how the board would advise you. Ask and seek their guidance early, and you will obtain pearls of wisdom.

Gather Feedback

Your annual review is one form of assessment that can provide you with insights about your overall performance. However, assessments administered by coaches can add a new dimension to evaluating your performance by providing valuable feedback from your boss and coworkers and in-depth personal evaluations. These assessments can evaluate your soft skills (how well do you communicate with your clients and colleagues?), monitor your performance progress (how are you progressing toward your career goals?), and identify your key strengths (what are your gifts and talents?). These tools may include: 360 degree assessment (provides holistic exploration of your effectiveness in a work setting), emotional intelligence tests (measures your emotional understanding), and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests (identifies your personality type). Each assessment will serve as a learning and development tool. For example, your 360 degree assessment will provide key insights on how you can improve your interpersonal skills as you work with your colleagues and interact with your clients. Your Myers-Briggs assessment will aid you in understanding your work style and help you develop ways to work with others who may have different behavioral styles. You can use your assessment results to become more aware of your strengths and weaknesses.

Discovering Your Strengths

A common pitfall for young lawyers is to focus only on improving their weaknesses. However, honing one’s strengths can yield the greatest benefit and aid in developing one’s professional competencies. Spend some quiet time reflecting on your strengths. What tasks do you perform well? What are your natural gift and talents? What energizes you? The “strengths finder” assessment tool can aid you in identifying your strengths. You can also ask others (family members, friends, colleagues) to help you identify your strengths. After you identify your strengths, begin to create an action plan for maximizing them in your work. Use your strength at creating strategies to complete a multitude of tasks in an efficient manner or cultivate your strength of digesting new information by exploring new case theories and trial techniques.

These are the beginning steps of jumpstarting your career. Your next step is to enlist a partner in achieving your professional goals. A career coach can serve as a valuable guide on your vocational journey.

Selecting a Coach

The process of selecting your coach should be tailored to meet your individual goals and build a partnership that will aid in meeting these goals. Leadership coach and consultant Alanna Moravetz offers key questions to ask when seeking a match for your coach, such as: Has he or she coached young attorneys before? What process did the coach use? Was this coach successful? How did this coach measure the outcomes? Moravetz suggests interviewing 3–5 potential coaches and trusting your intuition in making your final selection.

Remember, coaching is an investment of time. You will need to set aside the time for engaging in your coaching experience. However, for each moment invested, you will reap a harvest manifested through your continued career success.

Conclusion

Career coaching is a process of discovery. You can discover your full potential as a young lawyer and discover the infinite career possibilities that lie ahead of you. Galileo said, You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him discover it within himself. By applying principles of coaching and enlisting a career coach as a partner in your professional development, you will discover the next steps for ensuring your career success.

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