Translating “Intellectual Capital” into “Career Capital”–What a Coach Can Do for You

27 Jul 2015

By: Janet Bickel

“We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn.”—Mary Catherine Bateson

“Success comes to people who know themselves, learn how to manage and develop themselves, and know how and when to change the work they do.”–Peter Drucker

The careers of all physicians represent an enormous personal (and often public) investment. Yet many find themselves ill-equipped to navigate the complex systems characteristic of medicine today and are thus unable to fully capitalize on this investment in terms of job satisfaction or achieving their potential as leaders.

Translating “intellectual capital” into “career capital” requires many skills not touched upon during medical school or post-graduate training. Taking effective responsibility for your own career now includes multiple systems and communications skills—that is team-building, bridging numerous kinds of differences, addressing conflicts with sensitivity as they arise, hiring and delegating, negotiating, financial management, and handling chronic tensions between personal needs and organizational realities.

Because surgeons work under such demanding conditions and time pressures, many do not develop these skills on the job. Moreover as they take on more responsibilities, some trusted tendencies (e.g. self-reliance, hard-driving perfectionism) can become impediments in such key areas as collaborating, delegating, and team-building.

Mentors often provide critical career guidance but may be unavailable when most needed or may themselves be ineffective in key areas or may, like your boss, have a stake in you selecting a particular course of action.

Enhancing current and future performance

For these reasons, hiring a coach can be a wise investment. A staple of leadership development in the corporate world, coaching has been shown to increase the capabilities of motivated professionals particularly in accomplishing objectives, managing conflicting demands and improving collaborations.

The professional coaching relationship is a confidential alliance tailored to the client’s needs and goals. Outsourced suppliers of candor and individualized attention, a coach encourages insights into blindspots and defense mechanisms; such supportive feedback spurs personal and professional growth. The coaching partnership creates a framework for incubating growth in the capacity for objectivity and mental complexity. Coaches usually assist their clients in seeking and incorporating feedback on interpersonal and communication skills in order to close the gap between their excellent intentions and the actual impact they’re having. Coaching can also focus on exploring alternative career options, navigating a transition, maximizing success in a new role, building a high functioning team, and adding power to communications. This relationship creates a safe exploratory, energy-producing space such that you see your motivations and assumptions with greater clarity and extract more meaningful lessons from your experiences.

Coaching generally occurs through a combination of face-to-face and telephone meetings. The nature of the coaching goals and the client’s progress determine the frequency of coaching sessions, and the duration of the coaching relationship. Coaches generally stay available to their clients by email or telephone between scheduled meetings.

Deciding whether to invest

Common “tipping points” for seeking a coach include acquiring major new responsibilities, deciding to pursue a leadership position, or hitting an organizational or interpersonal “wall.”

To identify possible coaches, you might obtain recommendations from colleagues or a Human Resources Office or Faculty Affairs Dean who may have lists of vetted local and non-local coaches.  You may prefer to work with a local coach to facilitate face-to-face sessions, or you may be comfortable connecting primarily via phone or Skype. A web search may uncover a coach who is a good fit but vetting can be difficult and time-consuming. Indicators of a coach that is a good fit include: 1) understanding the client’s field and environment with some grasp of their day-to-day challenges; 2) meeting the client “where she is” in terms of personality and needs; and 3) maintaining strict confidentiality regarding the relationship.

Deciding whether to invest in coaching needs to be weighed against other demands on your time and resources. If you’re on overload and don’t see how you can set aside time for the work, then perhaps this is not the time (even though a coach can help you get your schedule under control). With regard to affordability, check to see if you have access to a professional development account that can pay for coaching. Or if you’ve recently acquired new responsibilities (especially if no new resources have come along with the work), you may be able to persuade your boss that your department should cover the cost of your developing the required new skills. Each coach charges and handles payment differently, so this is important to discuss up front. When interviewing possible coaches, feel free to raise any question you have related to how they work; there are no dumb questions here!

In Conclusion

The speed and complexities of change and competition mean both more opportunities to grow and more ways for careers to derail. To fully develop your potential and capitalize on your substantial investment in your education, you owe it to yourself to consider what supports would serve you.  As in athletics, professionals with superior competencies and dedication are more likely to work with a coach than amateurs—that is, it’s more a signal of ability than disability.

photojanetJanet is a nationally recognized expert in faculty, career and leadership development with 40 years of experience in academic medicine and science. During the 25 years prior to creating her own business, Janet held positions of increasing national leadership at the Association of American Medical Colleges, including Associate Vice President for Medical School Affairs. She established an Office of Women in Medicine of national repute, including leadership development programs that have stimulated the careers of thousands of women physicians and scientists. She also led AAMC’s first programs in faculty affairs and in student professionalism. Janet continues to publish broadly, with over 60 peer-reviewed articles and two books.

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