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Forty Years of Parachutes

September 20, 2011

At 84, you might think that Richard Bolles was ready to slow down. But the author of the seminal career coaching guide, “What Color is Your Parachute,” says that after 40 years of updating his work he has no intention of stopping.

Speaking at a recent meeting of the East Bay Coaches Chapter, Bolles left no doubt he has plenty of new ideas and that his books are still relevant as United States suffers through the worst recession in 60 years.

In an hour-long presentation that ranged from the humble beginnings of his book and career, to comments on modern politics he offered lessons on attitude, re-framing and relevance. Proving that he deserves the honor of the nation’s career coach.

He urged members to understand their own needs and experiences as a way to empathize with their clients. “What else do we live for? he asked, “than to use our experiences to help others?”

He suggested that coaches need to point out to their clients, depressed about lengthening unemployment, that despite the monthly numbers, there are still 6 million people who change jobs every month. “It’s all about attitude,” he told the group. Pointing out that if you think you won’t get the job you probably won’t. “Your job is to help your client be one of those 6 million.”

“Looking for a new job is now a survival skill, and we have to look at it that way,” he says. “just like food, clothing, or shelter.”

He says that while times have changed the basic dichotomy of how people look for jobs and how employers look for employees has stayed the same. “Employers just want to avoid mistakes, but potential employees still think that sending out millions of resumes will get them noticed. It won’t.”

Bolles has updated his “Parachute” books every year, except 1975, since it was first published in 1970. He includes a coaches appendix in the back but insists that, “people need to keep up. they have to have read my current edition, if they want to be included.”

Bolles, who lives in Danville, California, also had some pointed words for politicians, who he sees as short sighted as they cut back on the support system that US job seekers need, but more importantly he bemoans the lack of empathy he sees in Washington.

“I can’t believe that politicians and their supporters are cheering at the thought of people without health care, or the number of executions in a state.” he notes. Bolles says he has voted for both democrats and republicans, but adds, “this GOP is not mine, their only goal is to make sure Obama is a one-term President, so they can get his job.”

Bolles has been proclaimed “America’s Top Career Expert” and his books have been called among the most important of the last 80 years. But he says he plans to continue writing, holding workshops, and lecturing. “I’ll be updating my books,” he says “until I’m forced to say goodbye to my lovely wife.”

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Finding a New Job-the Easy Way

September 19, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:42 am

I met a woman over the weekend who is starting a new job. In today’s economy that’s probably enough news for a feature story.

Since I’ve done my share of career counseling, I thought I would just chat with her for a few minutes and get some hard evidence that the suggestions I give people, really work.

I asked what skills she had that were transferable. Both of the jobs involve working with the public, but in much different ways. In her old job she was the office manager in a cemetery. In the new job she would be a public safety dispatcher. Other than dealing with people under stress I couldn’t find much in common.

Well, I suggested, maybe your networking paid off and you knew someone at the new company. “No,” she said, “I just saw the job advertised and applied. It was much closer to my home.”

Well, you must have certainly analyzed the job market and picked a field with opportunity. “No,” she reported, “I just wanted to do something different.” The fact that her new job is in the public sector, and was actually hiring, was a shock to both of us.

I continued to pepper her with questions about interview techniques, networking and the color of her parachute – all the sorts of questions I was sure would lead to some insight on how she used some valuable tidbit that would prove my techniques work.

Nice try Mr. Professional – this woman did  it her way and it worked. She saw the job in the help wanted section, thought it would be interesting, applied, interviewed and was hired. Call the President, his new jobs bill is working!!

She was as amazed as me. She was just the right person, at the right time and she got the job. I guess that’s all you really need. Congratulations.

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Coaching on TV

August 22, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Health,observations — Tags: , — admin @ 8:17 pm

USA network’s ‘Necessary Roughness’ a new TV show about a psychologist who treats athletes has a new story line featuring a personal coach.

The plot would take too long to explain but what I found most interesting was the characterization of the coach. So far it’s decidedly negative. Of course, by the end of the next few episodes that could change, but for now fans of the show probably won’t be calling to hire a personal coach.

There are probably other shows with a more positive spin on my profession but I guess I’ll have to do a search to find them.

You could argue that any publicity is good publicity, but I’m not sure that’s much of a consolation in this case. Stay tuned.

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Public Speaking 101

August 3, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Journalism,observations — Tags: , , — admin @ 11:24 am

I recently attended a professional meeting to hear an expert on a topic I find interesting.

The actual topic is irrelevant, as is the speaker’s name.

When I arrived the registration table there were a number of brochures from the speaker, none of which seemed to focus on the advertised topic. I mentioned this to another attendee and she agreed, noting she was a bit surprised, but thought maybe the marketing materials were intended for a wider audience.

Fair point, I thought, since it was s pretty small group and she probably wouldn’t have created something just for this event.

I happened to meet the speaker before the event started and mentioned my concern and she explained what she had been told to address, which was, again, different from the original advertised topic.

When the lecture started she apparently switched gears again, asking the audience, what they wanted to hear. A noble idea, but what followed was a rambling, disjointed series of answers to audience questions. Some authoritative and others, she admitted, were not her area of expertise.

I’m not sure how the evening evolved into it’s final form, but I felt was a waste of two hours of my time. Maybe it was my fault, for expecting too much, but maybe, she should have just lectured on a topic that matched her expertise.

That’s all I really expected and would be a minimal goal for any presentation. My advice, next time you are asked to speak, just talk about what you know, in an entertaining and engaging style, and don’t worry about the preconceptions of the audience.

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“Just Stop It,” Rarely Works

May 30, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 11:39 am

Recently Harvard Business Review (subscription required)  had an article by a former CEO  explaining that he used to be a micro-manager.

He’s retired now, but the executive said that he didn’t realize what he was doing until one of his senior employees  told  him to “back off,” because he was “driving them all crazy.” Of course the CEO did and the the company has gone on to reach great heights. Everyone lived happily ever after.

While the whole premise of a CEO pointing out his or her own failures (in the magazine’s Failure Chronicles section) is a bit self serving, I have to admit I find it a bit disconnected from reality. The point was brought home recently when a new client of mine, called to ask for some career help.

We talked about why she might be leaving her current job, and she made the same point. ‘My boss is driving me crazy, with her micro-managing,” she said. My client has been with the company for almost 10 years and her boss has been there even longer, so she’s no rookie, and she admits her boss has always had the same problem.

She’s a senior manager and told me she’s tried to confront her boss, but that her boss  just did not see the issue the same way. As an example she told me that  in 2010 they had decided to update their logo, and marketing materials. The project was supposed to be completed by January 1 of 2011, but as of mid-May they are still awaiting decisions on a host of minor issues that the CEO insists on making.

It would be fine, except the CEO travels extensively and will not let anyone make decisions in her absence.

My client says she has tried to talk to the CEO about micro-managing but the boss just sees it as her job and refuses to acknowledge that anyone else could make the decisions.

In my experience, this is closer to reality. CEO’s, particularly those who have come up through the company ranks, have a tough time letting go of decision-making, especially in areas where they feel comfortable. They may take on new responsibilities but they have a tough time letting subordinates make decisions.

There are other factors leading my client to look for a new opportunity, but micro-managing executives are an all  too common problem in most companies  – and a simple “stop it, you’re driving us crazy,” very rarely works.

It’s like psychotherapy the “stop it” approach may not be the best technique. If you don’t believe me, watch this.

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“Feel the Fear” – Dated but Worth a Read

May 19, 2011

Filed under: Book Review,Coaching,Management — Tags: , , — admin @ 8:00 am

I saw Susan Jeffers “Feel the Fear… and Do It Anyway,” mentioned on a coaching forum and thought that it might be useful for me and my clients.

After all, the book has been around since 1987 and  launched Ms Jeffers into a leading role in the self help field. Whether or not she’s the ‘Queen of self-help” as her book jacket proclaims is probably up for debate, but she was certainly  a leading voice.

Her book is well written, easy to understand and filled with examples to help explain her theories. From that standpoint I wholeheartedly recommend it. From a coaching standpoint I think it has a great many ideas that can be applied to clients who may be stuck or afraid to take action.

This is particularly true of the first nine chapters where she presents the nuts and bolts of her approach with techniques and exercises designed to get people moving… in any direction… but at least off square one. Her concepts on reframing situations, decision making and dealing with issues holistically were pretty new in 1987.

I guess that’s where some of my reservation sneak in. As I read, I couldn’t help but think that somehow it all seemed a bit dated. I was reading the 20th anniversary edition, published in 2007, but it didn’t appear that many examples or theories had been updated. Not that people and their roadblocks change that much, but it could just have used some examples from something I could identify with more easily.

After all, in 1987 no-one knew what ‘www’ stood for, and Steve Jobs was running NEXT Computer, probably thinking, “I wonder how I could be more Important.”

Maybe it’s just living in the Bay Area, but I think the world has changed significantly since 1987.

Ms Jeffers’ last two chapters venture more into the spiritual realm, starting with love and trust and moving on to the ‘inner void.’ Worthwhile areas to explore but definitely a bit of a departure from the first chapters. Looking over some of the titles on her web page, it’s clear that she has gone on to expand many of the chapters to individual books.

But, “Feel the Fear…And do It Anyway,” is a great introduction and has lots of suggestions for dealing with clients who can’t seem to find the motivation to get started and I would recommend it.

Now, I just have to figure out why I wasn’t more motivated when I finished reading.

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Credibility and Coaching

May 11, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:29 am

A former client called recently to tell me she had a new job.

After the usual “congratulations-and-good-luck” chat she admitted that she was a bit nervous about her new post. She’s working for a very large corporation, supervising 50 employees, spread across several offices in various parts of the state.

What makes her most nervous is that it’s in a new field and the panel that interviewed her made it clear they need a ‘change agent.’  She has supervisory experience and has worked for large corporations but she was worried that her lack of expertise would lead to mistakes.

I encouraged her, explaining that if the hiring board thought she could do the job, she shouldn’t worry and pointed out that she may not have expertise in the field where the main business makes its money, but she did have plenty of experience in  marketing, which is what she will be doing.

I then offered to act as her coach again to which she replied, “They already assigned me one, I haven’t met her yet, but I know she’s best friends with my boss.”

I was encouraged that they were astute enough to have coaches on staff, but I wonder how unbiased the coach might be if she’s that close to the boss. Who knows when something, told in confidence, might slip.

I’m willing to assume that the coach is professional and can separate personal from coaching relationships, but it seems to me that she already has a a credibility issue with my friend and no matter how hard she works there will always be some doubt about who’s best interests the coach considers paramount.

It was clear from our short chat that my friend had the same reaction but it left me wondering how committed to coaching the company really was.

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A Coach for Your Boss

April 27, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 12:47 pm

A friend of mine recently asked me if I would coach his boss saying, “He really needs help, because he’s making everyone miserable.”

Of course, my  initial reaction was positive but I decided to ask a few questions first. Since I usually encounter a boss getting a coach for an employee  – the situation was bound to be awkward.

For example, does your boss want a coach? Does he know he’s making his employees miserable? Is ‘everyone’ really everyone, or just you? Maybe there’s a method to his madness.

My friend admitted he didn’t know the answers to all my questions, but he was adamant that his coworker needed help. I should note that the man in question is  his boss in title, but really a co-manager on pretty much equal footing at the company.

According to my friend he doesn’t see the problems he’s creating, and worse, sees coaching as an admission the he’s doing something wrong and needs to be fixed.

Fortunately my friend has a bit more enlightened view of my profession – if he didn’t I guess we wouldn’t be having the discussion.

I suggested several ways (some slightly tongue in cheek) we might be able to make it easier for his co-worker to see the light.

o   I could visit the company and give a management presentation for the whole staff, or just to managers since the company is relatively small.

o   I could just give him a brochure, to drop surreptitiously on his co-worker’s desk.

o   I could sign on as my friend’s coach in the hope that his fellow-employee would at least ask “who’s the new guy?”

o   He could approach their board of directors with a coaching proposal for all their managers – starting at the top.

o   He could just ask his co-worker if he would talk to me about what coaching was help him get through his misconceptions.

I don’t know what my friend will decide but my hope is that he will let me just talk to his co-worker about coaching and let him decide for himself. It’s almost impossible to be an effective coach if your client is not committed to the process, since you have to get past that fact that he was pushed into coaching before you can address any management issues.



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Negotiating an Ending

April 18, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations — Tags: , , — admin @ 5:23 pm

Recently a new client posed a different kind of employment question. She’s a hi-tech executive working for a small private company where she is a partner – since she put up some original capital.

After 8 years, she would like to move on and has already been approached by a larger public company. We’re working on what she would like for pay and benefits, but to my surprise, she hadn’t given much thought to her exit strategy.

“My boss knows I’m unhappy, but he doesn’t care,” she says, “That’s why I want to leave.” I asked if she had tried to negotiate her departure, just like she was trying to work out a deal at the new company.

He response was a short, “Why bother,” adding that it would involve options, her original investment and a host of other issues she didn’t want to deal with. “I just want to see the look on his face when I walk in and quit,” she said.

I guess she didn’t really expect me to react, since she had asked me to help with her new job, not the old one. But I was slightly incredulous.

Why wouldn’t a negotiated settlement, with possible severance and recovery of some portion of her original investment be enough incentive to at least approach her current boss.

Her major worry was that she would be fired on the spot, a scenario that, after some evaluation, she concluded was not very likely.

She was so frustrated with her job that she was blinded to what she was leaving ‘on the table’ just for the short-term satisfaction of telling her boss off.

I pointed out that since she was just in her 30’s, leaving with at least a ‘non-negative’ settlement and her reputation intact was probably even more important than the financial aspects. I guess I got her attention and she has agreed to at least think about approaching her boss.

She’s fortunate in that she already has a new offer and not everyone can walk into their boss and demand a severance package, but it’s worth noting that how you leave a job can be just as important as how you start.

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JaMarcus Russell’s Coach

April 15, 2011

Filed under: Coaching,Management,observations,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 7:08 am

I read with some interest this week that personal coach John Lucas has quit as an advisor to former NFL quarterback Jamarcus Russell.

JaMarcus Russell

What interested me was not the actual facts of the situation but more the online reaction. For you non-sports fans, I would point out that Mr. Russell was talented college football player drafted to the NFL and signed to a $40 million contract by the Oakland Raiders. After four unsuccessful seasons, where he was accused of being out of shape, unprepared and a poor leader, he was released and has not played since.

John Lucas is a former NBA player, and drug addict who has turned his life around and now, as a personal coach,  helps young athletes get their careers back on track. Lucas had been working with Russell in Texas.

Apparently, Lucas ‘fired’ Russell this week and has told the young man to leave Texas where Lucas is based.

Of the 60 or so comments I read, many focused on the sad state of Russell’s career, but more than a few reacted to the coaching relationship. Things such as, “If he needed a personal coach, he must have been in bad shape,” or ” Only losers would need a coach.”

I can’t vouch for Mr. Lucas’s  skill, although he has a pretty good track record, but it was a bit dismaying to hear that view of coaching. Does the general public feel that only people in tough situations need help or that coaches are a last-ditch method to get things turned around?

Personal coaches can help anyone with decision making – even coaches need a coach. The list of ways that a personal coach can help a client is endless.

Usually my reaction to situations like this is simply “any publicity is good publicity,” but it would seem that the coaching profession needs a little PR help.

Most of my clients don’t feel they are losers, but that’s not a particularly good sample, since they obviously are already using a coach. But maybe one of the large international coaching organizations needs to do some research to find out what people think about the profession.

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