A few years ago I had a coaching session with a senior leader based in South America. He was attending a very technical, skills-based training in Europe, and part of that program involved leadership coaching. He was a fit guy, trim and healthy looking.
The focus of our discussion was on his next career step – moving from a local to global position. He was being encouraged by his organization to ‘go for it’, but it was up to him to make it happen. He’d known for quite a while what he needed to do to prepare: network more abroad, work on his English and get better versed on global strategy. The problem was, he just never got around to doing these things.
During the break he shared a beautiful photo of himself and his baby son on the beach. Honestly, I didn’t even recognize him. In the picture he had a "pot belly" – he must have been 10 kilograms heavier. He explained that the birth of his son had changed his life – giving him the motivation to live by new rules, exercising and eating quite differently. “I feel a deep responsibility for my child. I don’t want to let him down by dying early.” So, a significant change in his life offered a new challenge, which led to him taking significant action.
I noted this and we returned to the topic of how he could prepare himself for a global position, but I could see that he was lackluster. I was hearing “I’ve got to…” and “I need to…” instead of “I’m going to…” and “I will…”. I started doubting whether he would take action at all. I brought this wording to his attention, and shared my doubt. He confessed that I had a point.
Then a lightbulb went on in my mind, so I naively asked: “What would happen if you first get yourself the global role (which was definitely possible), and then start taking action to prepare yourself?” And then I said: “That heavier guy in the photo – he is the guy who just got the global position! And he doesn’t want to let the company down by failing.”
This resonated with him! Full of enthusiasm, he decided to give the photo a prominent position in his workplace, to remind him of what has helped him to move forward over and over again: (1) Get the challenge, and then (2) Live up to it!
You might find it strange to hear a coach encourage a coachee to “get the job first, do the homework second”. I admit that the notion seems counter-intuitive to me, yet my client needed a sense of urgency - a significant event - to get him going. In fact, he is in good and enduring company. The proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” (author unknown) can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. We coaches need to help our coachees find what works for them, as unconventional as that solution might be.