Coaching Case Study By Elsa Lim
(Career Coach, SINGAPORE)
I coached Martha, my friend who’s in her late 40s. Martha has been struggling to cope with a series of family and career disasters as well as financial losses throughout 2017.
Martha previously worked as a senior consultant in an international wealth management firm, specializing in the highly niche area of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and charitable giving. Her role was to spearhead CSR and charity projects with her firm’s high net worth clients, partners and stakeholders around the globe. She loved her job because it allowed her to educate and persuade corporations to take their roles as good corporate citizens seriously.
However, Martha resigned after 4 years with the company because she felt that she was not remunerated fairly at her level. She took a senior management role in another company which offered her higher pay. A few months into her new job, Martha realised that she had made a mistake. The culture of the new company was a wrong fit, and there was a great deal of office politics. Martha also had to deal with her immediate boss who saw her as a threat and took every opportunity to undermine her. The environment became so toxic that she and her boss were eventually made to resign.
She was then hired as an external consultant by another wealth management firm who had ambitious plans to expand their CSR outreach. However, this company fell into serious financial problems and stopped paying their employees and suppliers – including Martha. She lost a substantial sum of money,equivalent to 6 months’ income. To make matters worse, Martha’s parents have financial problems of their own and are leaning on her heavily, despite her loss of income.
Martha was understandably at a very low point when she agreed to be my test client. When I asked her what she wanted me to help her with, the first thing she said was that she wanted to “take better care of myself” as she felt that her problems were out of control. She desperately wanted to find a way out of the following issues:
- Strained relationship with parentswho expected her to support them
- Lack of emergency savings, leading her to live on borrowed money
- Loss of income as a result of trusting an unscrupulous client, even though her instincts told her something was wrong.
- Low confidence finding a job that pays at least $180,000 per annum
At our first coaching session, Martha poured out all her burdens while I listened without any interruption. Through active listening, I established trust and made her feel comfortable about sharing some of her most pressing concerns. Her problems – career, parents and finances – were all equally competing for her attention and putting her into a tailspin, affecting her mood and confidence.
Powerful Questioning and Wheel of Life
I drew Martha’s concerns (Family, Money, Work )on the Wheel of Life and asked her to assess where she is now and where she would like to be on a scale between 0 to 10. She scored her current situation as 5 for Work, 2 for Family and 0 for Money. The Wheel of Life provided a visual map for us to start our coaching discussion on the following:
Under “Family,” Martha said that her parent’s financial problems would be lightened when the sale of their property in Malaysia is concluded in a few months’ time. She intends to put her parents on a strict budget, but at the same time, she is not very hopeful that they would follow her advice.
Under the ‘money’ segment of the Wheel, Martha realised that there was not much she could do about recovering her money from her unscrupulous client, except seek legal advice. When I asked her what this situation has taught her, Martha reflected on the warning signs that she chose to ignore. She realised that she had been too trusting and too dazzled by the outward appearance of success that her client had projected.
Under ‘Work’ Martha said that a 10 for her was to secure a position that pays $180K a year. She also realised that her current situation does not allow her to be choosy and she is prepared to accept a position that pays slightly less.
During our 2 coaching sessions, the subject that came up most was Martha’s tensed and strained relationship with her parents. This has caused her a lot of stress and sleepless nights.
Using visualization, I asked Martha to imagine her job search and problematic parents as two competing race horses competing for her head space. I then asked her to name the winning horse – is it the horse that represents her parents or the horse that represents her job search? Which horse does she have better control over?
I used this metaphor to guide Martha into realizing that her ruminations and worries about her parents are threatening to “outrun” and overwhelm her priority to find a job. I also wanted to guide her into thinking and reflecting on what’s most important to her.
Martha responded positively to my metaphor about her 2 “race horses” by saying that a new job would be the answer to all her problems. She made a commitment to re-double her efforts at networking with her wide circle of contacts. She also recalled some successful job search tactics which she had used in the past. We briefly discussed what she could do to make a lasting impression at her upcoming job interview in a few days’ time. We will follow-up with a discussion of how her job interview went at our next coaching session.
I realised that I have to work harder to stay in step with my client, even though at times I was tempted to push her for solutions and answers. Although it was very obvious to me personally that Martha needs to address her job search as her first order of priority, I felt that I needed to give her space to vent her anxieties about her other problems as well.