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It takes work to become a great engineering leader. Coaching can help you get there.
Throughout my career in the tech industry, I’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing managers. I’ve often wondered about how they’ve remained so articulate and kept their cool during difficult situations or when working with challenging team members.
Since becoming a manager myself, I’ve been on a quest to learn how to become a better leader and build teams that thrive and make an impact in the organization. And I’ve discovered that a lot of people develop their leadership strengths through the act of coaching.
It’s hard to define the qualities of a good leader as they vary for everyone. In my mind, a good leader listens, is transparent, creates a culture of feedback, and sees themselves in a supportive role to enable team success.
Developing these qualities isn’t impossible but can be difficult when you’re managing a busy team. You need to find time and energy between the endless 1:1s, meetings, emails, strategy discussions… and the list goes on.
This is where coaching can help. Here I’m sharing a brief introduction to coaching, and sharing how three different types – career coaching, life coaching, and physical coaching – have allowed me to work towards my goals, find more energy, and become a better leader overall.
So, what is coaching?
Coaching is the act of training, supporting, or preparing others for a challenge or set of challenges. In our case, that challenge is discovering and honing the strengths that will help us become better leaders.
If you’re considering seeking out coaching, there are a few important things to be aware of:
- Coaching may make you uncomfortable as it will dig it into emotions you may be avoiding.
- A coach will not be sharing their own experiences. Their role is to listen and help identify your strengths.
- You’ll be asked to come up with goals and you’ll be constantly reminded of them (which is always a good thing!)
- Coaching may have to end abruptly if the coach or person being coached feels there’s no progress being made.
- Coachees should be prepared to take some time to do some homework. This can be in the form of reading or some take-home exercises.
- Coachees should seek out coaches who have worked with people in a similar position, for example in the same industry or with a similar level of experience. This can apply to any type of coach.
The three types of coaching
Now we’ve established what coaching is in its broadest sense, let’s dive into the three different types. My journey into coaching has been multifaceted and involves working with three different coaches:
1. Career coaching
A career coach works with you to set and build towards workplace goals. They make sure you don’t digress from what you are trying to achieve. Regular catch-ups and discussing where your career blockers are with someone who is actively listening can be extremely helpful.
I first met my career coach at an external leadership training course. I found we had a good rapport so I reached out and asked if they’d be willing to take me on for some one-to-one sessions. My training budget allowance covered the costs. To prepare for my sessions, I brought some feedback I’d received during performance reviews, as well as some personal career goals.
2. Life coaching
Similarly, a life coach helps you to understand and navigate challenges in your personal life. Around the same time I started seeing a career coach, I realized I was trying to juggle a lot of things in my life. I needed someone to help me understand what was causing the feeling of imbalance.
Having a life coach helped enormously. We started out by exploring my boundaries and how I react when they’re crossed. We also discussed where the stress to be perfect comes from in my work and life. In addition, we explored how my body responds during stressful, positive, or exciting situations.
Building this level of self-awareness hasn’t just improved my personal life, it has also made me a more effective leader. I am far more aware of my responses and reactions now, especially during difficult conversations and decisions. I’m able to move into a more mindful mindset where I’m not only aware of myself but also aware of the team I’m supporting and communicating with.
3. Personal training
Finally, a personal trainer helps you to make progress towards physical goals. When I started seeing a personal trainer a couple of years ago, my goal was simple: to build physical stamina that would directly impact my mental strength. This in turn would help me to manage stress during crunch times at work.
Physical training doesn’t have to account for changing your appearance. The biggest reward is the impact on the chemical makeup of your brain by releasing dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. Dopamine helps increase motivation. Serotonin helps produce a feeling of satisfaction and reward. Endorphins trigger feelings of happiness.
These three combined can help create a positive mindset. And when we feel positively about ourselves, we’re more able to feel and act positively towards those around us, including our team.
Bringing the three types of coaching together
You may be wondering who has time for all these types of coaching. But in fact, a combination of the three can help you to find more energy, stay on track, and make more progress towards your goals. If you’re leading a team, I recommend getting at least two out of three. Here are a couple of combinations that work well:
Personal trainer and career coach
Exercise along with career coaching can prove to be a great combination. The strain of our jobs often makes us feel emotionally overwhelmed. This can make career coaching difficult as we might lack the energy to do the necessary reading, exercises, and self-reflection between sessions.
Having a personal trainer to hold us accountable for physical exercise can really help. Physical exercise can help to overcome the emotional drain caused by work, which in turn means we can have a more positive career coaching experience.
Also, when we’re very busy with our jobs, we often forget about our nutrition. A personal trainer can help to keep us honest.
Life coach and career coach
You might not necessarily think of this combination but in my experience, it has been very powerful. Where a life coach can help you to discover things about yourself and your reactions to the world (including work), a career coach can help you to implement practical solutions that allow you to reach your workplace goals (i.e. be a better leader).
For example, my life coach and I discovered that when I sense a conversation about underperformance coming up, I get anxious. Armed with this information, I worked with my career coach towards my goal of better supporting my team. We developed a solution that involves preparing to have difficult conversations in a more comfortable, informal space than a meeting room, helping both myself and my team members.
Being self-aware is the first step to developing the useful tools we need to reach our career goals, from managing anxiety, stress, and overwork to influencing team morale.
Some final thoughts
Leading is not for everyone and it takes work to build resilience. Coaching is a great way to get there. It provides you with an external network to bounce ideas off and vent to during difficult times. Remember to chalk out focus time and stay committed to it. Be flexible about your goals; they should shift as you learn more about yourself as a leader. And remember that leadership is about continuous learning, so always strive to be humble.