Cheryl*—a high-flying professional whose career had given her senior roles in major financial organizations and the opportunity to work across the globe—sat in front of me sobbing. The person I met bore no relation to the story of her CV: someone with focus, determination, an ability to deliver on whatever task they were given, and a love of challenge.
The story she told, between tears, was of having taken on a major project that was seen as business critical. She had given it her all and was proud that she was ahead of schedule. So, she was blindsided when she was called into her boss’s office and told that a charge of bullying had been made. Rather than face the internal inquiry that was being set up, she directed her shock, and then anger, into negotiating a strong financial severance package. Nine months later she had not been able to apply for any job, as she saw herself as damaged goods. She had been unable to reach out to former colleagues because she was convinced the whole of her sector knew she had failed. She had shown resilience in building a career that involved taking on the difficult and delivering, but now the resilience needed to pick up the phone to a head hunter, or to go to a networking event, had abandoned her.
Resilience interventions often focus on the preventative power, stopping pressure from becoming stress, and on resourcing individuals to stay standing. When resilience leaves us, the story we hold about ourselves is revealed as fragile. It was the experience of working with clients like Cheryl, and realizing that my skills were insufficient to deal with their needs, that drove me to first investigate and then become fascinated by this amazing capacity we call resilience.
Resilience has attracted researchers for over 50 years. Studies of children in war zones, children facing multiple social disadvantages, and adults facing life-limiting illness have informed much of what we have come to understand about resilience, but I saw little about how resilience impacts successful individuals in corporate careers. What do we know about leaders who find their resilience stretched, and what do coaches need to know in order to work with them effectively?
My interest led me to doctoral research on understanding the regaining of resilience within a coaching relationship. In investigating resilience, I have come to understand what shapes the resilience each of us carries as we deal with the demands of our lives. I have also come to recognize that every one of us moves along a continuum between being resilient and non-resilient on a daily basis. Most of the time, we rebalance when we receive a knock. We have enough capacity to put things in perspective, find another solution and move on. But, sometimes we don’t. Then, as coaches, we need to be able to help our clients understand what is particular about this event and what aspect of their sense of identity has been impacted as well as support their growth as a result of disruption.
In being able to make sense of what had happened, Cheryl was able to move forward. It was through working with her on the narrative she had created and understanding the meaning she took from that narrative, that she was able to deal with the reality of her situation. It was through being able to say the thoughts that had paralyzed her from action, that she was able to start challenging her own narrative, to own her own part in that story, and to create a new narrative that enabled her to step back into the world. In parallel, I also learned the particular role that a coach has in supporting the creation of a new narrative.
*Name was changed
– – – – – –
Join Carole at ICF Converge 2017, where she will be presenting the session “Resilience Coaching: Rebuilding Resilience When It’s a Crash, Not a Wobble” on Friday, August 25. In this session, she will be looking at why narrative is so valuable as a means of helping clients let go of the emotional charge of events that have destabilized them. You’ll have the opportunity to explore using narrative in your work, and Carole will share the ending of Cheryl’s story.
ICF Converge 2017: The Intersection of Coaching & Potential is ICF’s first global event since 2012. It is taking place August 24-26, 2017 in Washington, D.C., USA at the Washington Marriot Wardman Park.
Connect with the conversation on Facebook and with the event hashtag #ICFConverge.
Dr. Carole Pemberton has spent her entire working life supporting individuals to have careers that work for them extrinsically and intrinsically. Her career has encompassed working in both the public and private sectors, management consultancy, research and for the last 20 years her own coaching practice. She has authored books on career, management and coaching topics. Her most recent book Resilience Coaching was nominated as the EMCC coaching book of the year. The output of my work on resilience can be seen in Resilience: A Practical Guide for Coaches (McGraw Hill/OU). She holds a Visiting Professorship at the University of Ulster Business School. Her interest in resilience grew out of her experience of working with talented individuals who found themselves at a loss when the resilience they had grown to expect deserted them. This interest informed her doctoral work on resilience coaching. Her clients include leaders facing physical tests of their resilience in war zones as well as senior leaders dealing with the demands of VUCA.
The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.
ICF is the largest worldwide resource for professional coaches, and the source for those who are seeking a coach. Formed in 1995, today ICF is the leading global organization, with over 20,000 members, dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high professional standards, providing independent certification, and building a network of credentialed coaches.
Visit our website.