Career Coaching: A Reality Check

By Pepper de Callier

Full disclosure notice: I’m a fan of coaching and I have been since I was a youngster growing up in the farmland of the central United States when I first heard the unmistakable voice of a man who was later described as the most broadcast man on the planet, Earl Nightingale. He was on something like 500 radio stations with his program Our Changing World. Earl was a human potentialist—he believed we all had something special to contribute and he dedicated his life to helping people find their own special talents and to motivating them to use those talents. Thirty years later, as a magazine publisher, I met Earl when we were doing an article on him. We became friends and I had the extreme good fortune of getting to spend time with him over lunches, dinners, and tea. Knowing him changed my life in some ways and helped me better understand myself and what was important to me. He was a great coach just by his example.

Over the years I have been very fortunate to have known some wonderful mentors and people with whom I could discuss, debate, learn from and gain insights into many of life’s questions as well as how I was being perceived by others. These people helped me formulate, refine and understand my values and goals in life and business, and, more importantly, they gently pushed me to act on them. In addition, they were never afraid to look straight at me and say, “Pepper, you’re dead wrong on this one.” They were all very different people, but the one thing they all had in common was that I truly respected who they were as human beings, how they conducted themselves and how they thought. I was drawn to them—I wanted to emulate certain aspects of their behavior and approach to life and business.

All of which brings me to the key question I would ask those of you who are considering engaging a coach: How well do you know this person and how they think? Were you referred to them by someone you know and respect who has used their services and can give you some insights? Have you read something they’ve written?

I’m not talking about the firm they work for or the coaching method in which they’ve been trained, which may indeed be impressive. I’m talking about how well you know how they think and what their personal experience and values are. What probing questions have you asked this person? When you engage a coach you are placing one of the single most valuable assets you will ever manage into the hands of someone else with the hopes that they will increase its value. You owe it to yourself to know who that person is. What have been the high and low points in their careers? How did they handle them and what did they learn from them? What is it about their life experience that applies to your needs? This helps you establish a three-dimensional view of the person and how they respond to life’s lessons. Look, we all have plateaus, hills, and valleys throughout our careers and lives. This is normal. It’s what we do with those experiences that become the true predictors of our future. Failure, for example, in many cases is the sine qua non of success, but only if its lessons are learned and applied. Conversely, success has been the ruin of many careers when it is not understood, respected and, even distrusted at times.

Now, let’s look at the other side of the coaching process: you.

I have been a coach and mentor to a number of people over the past thirty years and I can tell you this: being coached is not a spectator event. Before engaging a coach ask yourself a few questions: Are you willing to be completely open and honest with someone about who you are and what you want to accomplish in life? Are you willing to examine your deficits and leave your ego at the door when discussing an objective view of you through the eyes of others? Are you committed to trying new behaviors when appropriate? Will you dedicate the time to read, reflect on, and question this experience called coaching? I would equate the commitment to being coached to that of learning a new language or learning to play an instrument. You wouldn’t expect to get the most out of these two experiences without considerable effort and that’s just the way you should view your involvement in coaching. Are you ready for that?

If you’re ready to make that commitment and conduct the due diligence required in selecting the right coach for you, get ready for a life-changing experience that you will benefit from for years to come.

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

*These are reprints from Pepper de Callier‘s newspaper column in Hospodarske noviny.
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