The Serendipity of Career Paths, or How I Became a Coach

As a coach, I’m used to asking most of the questions, at least when I’m working with my clients.  But I also end up having lots of mini-interviews, usually referred to as “good fit conversations,” in which I’m the one being asked the questions.

Since this is my first blog—which I’m writing to coincide with the launch of my new website—I thought I’d take the opportunity to answer some of the questions I’m asked most frequently when talking with prospective clients.

Question: How did you get into coaching?

Answer: Like many executives coaches who’ve been in this field for a long time, I had never even heard of executive coaching when I first entered the job market.  Throughout college and grad school, my goal was to become a college professor.  Immediately after earning my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the University of Connecticut, I moved to sunny St. Petersburg, Florida, where I had been offered a tenure-track position in the Psychology department at Eckerd College.  I’d attended a small, liberal arts college myself, and was happy to land a job at a school with small class sizes and close student-professor relationships.  What I did not love, I soon discovered, was grading students’ work.  I felt that the students’ focus on grades—understandable though it was—was not always aligned with my focus on their learning.  Nonetheless, I kept at it and enjoyed the teaching itself as well as the research I was doing.

A few years into my teaching role, however, I had the opportunity to get involved—on a part-time basis—in the College’s Leadership Development Institute (LDI), a Network Associate of the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL® ), by serving as a “feedback coach” to the corporate managers who attended LDI’s programs.  Feedback sessions in LDI’s programs involved the review and analysis of various self-report and 360-degree assessments, and individual, face-to-face debriefs with the clients.  At first I felt a little out of my element; how was I supposed to know, for example, how an electrical engineer newly promoted to a management position could be most effective?  All the phrases these leaders were throwing around–influencing skills, optimizing efficiencies, matrixed organizations–were completely new to me. I was buying books like “The Vest-Pocket MBA” and “The Oxford Dictionary of Business and Management” and hoping I no one would reveal me as the imposter I felt myself to be.

Still, I was immediately captivated and energized by the work.  After teaching the same psychology classes to 18-21 year old’s for five years, I was being given access to experienced, talented leaders from all over the globe, leaders who worked in different industries and functional areas and had diverse and fascinating personal and career histories, and I was getting paid to ask them questions!  The deep satisfaction that came with that process—with helping already-successful professionals reach their most cherished goals while at the same time learning and growing myself—fueled a professional epiphany.  Coaching and training leaders was what I wanted to do.  So in 1999, when LDI gave me the opportunity to start an executive coaching line of business, I quit my tenure-track teaching job and made the leap.  I have been grateful for that opportunity ever since. I believe that if I had taken a teaching job at any college other than Eckerd, I’d be a professor to this day.  And because I would not have loved it like I love coaching, I’m sure I wouldn’t be doing a very good job. Because I know what it is to be truly professionally fulfilled, I’m truly passionate about helping my clients achieve that level of fulfillment for themselves.

Well, it appears that I had “space” in this first blog to answer only one question!  In my next blog, I’ll share my thoughts on another question often posed to me by prospective clients: “What kind of coach are you?” If anyone has read this far and has additional questions you’d like me to answer, please let me know.  And thanks so much for taking the time to read my first blog!