A portion of my coaching practice focuses on individuals who engage me to assist them in taking the next step in their career. Sometimes they want to change industries or change positions. Sometimes they are looking for a job and want some help with interview practice or resume review. And sometimes they’re stymied, ready for the next big promotion and not sure why they haven’t received it.

I recently had a call with a man who was ready for the next big jump in his career but senior management didn’t agree. What was going on? He was currently a sales executive in a Fortune 500 company with a 10+ year sterling track record. In his early 40’s, he had been with his current company about 4 years and was chomping at the bit for the next big title and the concomitant jump in salary. He believed he had earned it. His girlfriend had pushed him to call me when that promotion didn’t come.

It took eight tries for us to finally schedule our call. I’m used to that; I work with busy, driven people. He said he’d call me, also common because a potential client would want to find a private place for this kind of conversation. Our call started on time and the salesman started telling me about his accomplishments. He wanted help in repositioning those accomplishments so that he would be promoted.

I asked him why he thought management had not promoted him? He had no idea. I asked him what his weaknesses were? He had no weaknesses. I asked him about his performance reviews. The performance reviews were written by managers who were jealous of him. I was beginning to get the picture.

I took an entirely different tack: “Tell me about the people who were most helpful to you early in your career. How did they shape the way you approach your work?” He didn’t understand the question. I tried again. “Tell me about your current team. How do you work together? What works? What doesn’t?”

This question he understood. He felt very frustrated working in teams. He felt that he could really only depend on himself. His sales numbers proved how good he was. He knew he could teach the rest of the team some things but they didn’t really appreciate him and it angered him (angered was not the word he used) that the entire team benefited from his hard work and he got nothing from them.

I changed the conversation and asked him what was important in his life and his voice changed and softened. He started telling me about his divorce, his children and how a promotion would mean so much because of them. His ex-wife had custody and he didn’t see them as much as he wanted but he wanted them to be proud of him. He started to describe them. “But let’s get back to what you can do for me,” he said gruffly.

We started talking about managing one’s image and I truly believe that a starting point in this sort of coaching is to really examine how a client is seen by colleagues and management even if that client says the image is false or distorted. As we were discussing this point, another voice chimed in! This man had called me on a conference line at work and it was time for a conference call!

He hung up abruptly and never called me again.

I thought about him for a long time. I empathized with his managers and his teammates because I bet he was an incredible pain in the butt to call a colleague. I thought about what it might have been like to coach him. I am sure it would have been frustrating and thankless work and he would have resisted, complained and quit after a very short time. But I am sorry that I didn’t get the chance to try, because, for a brief moment, I felt the fear that was blinding him. It is so very hard to look at ourselves but it is the necessary starting point.

“Why do you notice the small piece of dust that is in your brother’s eye, but you don’t see the big piece of wood that is in your own eye? You say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take that little piece of dust out of your eye.’ Why do you say this? You can’t see that big piece of wood in your own eye! You are a hypocrite. First, take the piece of wood out of your own eye. Then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your brother’s eye.”
— Luke 6:41-42

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Curtis Strauss says:

    My dear friend, you write well! Thank you for the reminder that self-awareness (a true understanding and acceptance of it) is a basic building block to a healthy and happy life. Conversely, the rejection of that knowledge or as you note being ‘blind’ keeps one a prisoner in their own anger and disbelief. Misery or happiness, it really is a choice we can make and I am curious why so often we humans choose misery?

    Colin Powell once said “Great leaders are almost always great simplifi-ers.” Thank you for bringing simplicity to the other side of a complex subject!

    Lead on and keep writing…..I am following.


  • Elizabeth Novak says:

    I enjoyed reading this one. It is difficult to see our own flaws that hold us back, but if we can, we will move forward. Thanks for well written inspiration.