Navigating a successful career isn’t easy, especially when you’re doing it alone. That’s why one of the most helpful resources for any professional is someone who is willing to help, guide and coach.
The term coaching may not be what comes to mind when you think of a career in government, but as Kelly Yager, Management Analyst at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, points out, having coaches at every level of your career is an asset. A coach helps people realize what’s holding them back from reaching their goals, Yager noted.
Coaching is different from mentoring. Yager explained that while mentoring focuses on giving helpful advice, • coaching is more action-focused. “A mentor is telling and a coach is asking,” she said. For example, coaching questions may focus on why you feel you don’t have a good relationship with your boss, rather than telling you how to respond to your boss.
Yager offered these helpful tips for reaping the benefits of coaching at your agency.
Streamline your goals. To start a coaching program at your agency, it’s important to align program goals with your organization’s values. Stronger teams, better communication skills agencywide and a more self- confident staff are all products of coaching that can benefit your agency.
Get trained. It’s important to take the program seriously. Train members of your staff to be certified coaches, as Yager was trained. OPM offers training programs to become a certified career coach. The goal is to train and certify coaches across government, so they can provide coaching to federal employees.
Process strengths and weaknesses. Whether you’re a coach or a recipient of coaching, recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses is key to implementing a strong program. Yager even suggests participants fill out a short questionnaire with top developmental goals and recognized strengths and weaknesses that they want to address and work on throughout the coaching program.
Be flexible. Flexibility is key in a coaching relationship. As a coach, you never know what your client may need help with. On the other hand, as a client, the advice your coach gives you might be out of your comfort zone. “You don’t know what the client is going to bring up in each session,” Yager said. “So you just have to be ready to be flexible and follow their lead.”
Keep things on the down-low. Confidentiality is another critical aspect of coaching. As a coach, your clients are trusting you to not only help them with their problems, but also to keep their business private. Trust and respect have to be earned, and if a coach can’t keep a client’s information confidential, that won’t happen.
Engage in active listening. It can be easy for coaches to insert their own opinions into their clients’ problems. Asking questions and truly engaging in the conversation, however, is what the client needs, and what the coach is there for.
Keep it positive. Coaching has had a bad connotation in the past. An employee who isn’t performing well may be forced to go into coaching, for example, as a punishment. This isn’t productive. Instead, Yager suggested that employees view coaching as a positive perk and something they want to voluntarily participate in.