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What I Learned from My Coaching Practice!

Author : Dilip Saraf

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I have been a career and life coach for nearly 17 years now and during this time I have coached nearly 6,500 clients one-on-one. These clients range in ages from 16 years to 74 and in their station from just entering college, all the way up to CEOs. My client pool is global and I work with clients in some 23 countries. The professions they represent range from those in sales & marketing to engineering to show business. So, what have I learned from my coaching experience working with these clients? Here is my assessment of that learning:

  1. Dealing with Unconscious Incompetence: Most prospects that come to me suffer from this malady; they do not know what they do now know. In the early sessions (mostly the first one) my job is to move them from this state to Conscious Incompetence. This scares them into quickly grasping what they had overlooked all these years managing their career. In some cases (<20%) this is not easy. Clients hold on too tight to their beliefs, clinging on to their status quo and existing mindsets. They fight change because they do not let go and are not able to see how things would be different if they trust that the proposed change will make things easier for them as they go through this coaching process. For these clients their Aha! moment takes time to reach. Some never cross that threshold and revert back to their routines. How do I know this? Some of them call me again after five or more years asking to meet with me, yet again, promising me that this time around things would be different for them.
  2. Change is a Process: Some clients expect change to take place as they complete the first session (which typically lasts about two hours, after they submit their Intake Questionnaire). My metaphor for this is the dressing room at a department or clothing store. Here, people bring new clothes, try them on, and walk away with a new look. Some believe that career coaching is similar. They think that my office is a dressing room, and they can walk away after that session with a new them.

    In one such case a client came without any idea of what she wanted to do next after being away from a job for 3-4 years. The Client Intake Questionnaire she completed left no doubt that the first session would be an exploration of avenues for her to pursue and I made that quire clear as we set up our first session. In that session, as we were discussing the prospects of what would be the best next move for her, based on her previous successes, she rejected all those suggestions and was disappointed that at the end of that session I was not able to give her a market-ready rsum.

    Those, on the other hand, who are able to see the changes they need to make in their thinking, attitudes, and behaviors and are able work with me on a roadmap, often succeed beyond their own expectations.

  3. Buying motivation with money: After the first session I show clients how they can buy a block of time for my services so that it shows commitment on their part and shows that they are motivated to use those services to make the change they desire. I suggest starting with a smaller package to see how things will work for them and then deciding on larger packages to suit their ongoing needs. Some clients get so anxious that they buy large packages outright, pay the money up-front and then lose interest as they realize all the hard work that they have to do to make the change to achieve their goals.

    Of course, during the first session I go through the details of all the work that they must do at each step as they navigate through this process, but once again, their unconscious incompetence gets the best of them. This is not much different from the gym memberships people buy in January each year with the misguided belief that buying long-term membership will force them to a regime. They feel that by purchasing a big block of my time will also force them to get on with the program. This does not always work for everyone. It is best to pace how you want to engage after you see the results of your efforts using the coaching approach. Not everyone succeeds in achieving their goals, but the change they undergo is lifelong.

  4. Running away from problems: A large fraction of my clients come to me with some work-related problem that they are struggling with. Although a few also come to me to improve their careers, leadership skills, and other attributes to better themselves, my own assessment is that this ratio is about 4:1. This means that for each group of four new clients who comes to me for coaching in need of dealing with some work-related problem there is one (the fifth one) who comes to just understand what is available for them to improve their overall effectiveness. Almost each one of those four starts typically with the premise that leaving their problem(s) behind and giving themselves a fresh start in a new job would be their best course of action. They are surprised when I advise them with my reasons for their dealing with the problem head-on, learning from it, and then deciding if they still would like to make the change they initially wanted.

    The reason I suggest this approach is because, in most cases, this was not their first encounter with such a problem. Once they admit of their previous such encounterswith differing degrees of intensitythey realize that they will have to deal with yet another such episode in their future roles. Accepting their responsibility to deal with such problems helps them realize that unless they develop their skills to overcome such problems in the future they would be simply running away from their obligation to be true to themselves and to their own growth. No matter how insurmountable they felt that their problem initially was conquering it gave them the confidence they needed to deal with any suchor otherproblem they may face in their career. Deciding to then make a change to another job was often their choice after that.

  5. Standing up for yourself: This is one of the most common needs clients have. Many struggle with how to deal with an unreasonableor even dysfunctionalboss. Some have trouble dealing with duplicitous colleagues, many struggle with refuting their unfair Annual Performance Review (APR), and almost all struggle with unfair, even arbitrary, salary increases. Each one of these challenges needs to be addressed head-on and dealing with each requires specific strategies, knowing how to marshal the right arguments with the right language, and knowing how to get what you want, while giving the other party some benefit from getting what you got. All of this requires building new skills, which are learned through understanding the basic psychology of conflict and equipping yourself with the tools that provide you the wherewithal for you to win your argument.

The five items Ive listed above are just a few that stand out from among many valuable lessons Ive had through my coaching sessions and they serve well for the purposes of this blog. But, more importantly, there is a pervasive misapprehension about career and life coaching in that many assume that by signing-up for coaching sessions will provide them the guarantee of overcoming whatever it is that ails them, allowing them to walk away with a salve worthy of the money they spent on it. But, once they realize that they need to own their problem, find the best workable solution teaming with and trusting their coach, and then doing the heavy lifting themselves they feel much more empowered to go after their dream and free themselves of the shackles that bind them to their limiting existence. Through this process who they become is a reward worth the effort for any coach!

Good luck!

About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.



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