A Coaching Power Tool Created by Marika Gillis
(Executive Coach, BELGIUM)
It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration. Those emotions are poison to any living goal.
The best way to succeed is to have a specific Intent, a clear Vision, a plan of Action, and the ability to maintain Clarity. Those are the Four Pillars of Success. It never fails! Steve Maraboli
Henri has been working in the fashion industry for a long time. He works for a high-end luxury fashion brand and is supervising a team that is responsible for setting up new stores in different cities and handling the training of the new staff in these stores. It is a job with peaks of activity where stress builds up when the opening of the store is coming nearer. The buzz that goes with that is thrilling for him.
Henri is well paid and appreciated by his boss and team. And yet, he feels something is missing. He feels not complete. He feels that this is not what he wants to do for the rest of his life. He feels the content of his job is repetitive and misses the link with the creativity in the fashion industry.
Henri decides to take an evening course that will allow him to delve into the marketing side of a business. He feels that with these skills, he may have the chance to change direction, be more creative and have more insight in how to promote the new stores and how to leverage the brand in a competitive environment…Marketing involves being closer to the product and the brand, something he feels is missing in his current job.
He obtains his degree and when he finds out there is no need for a marketing position in his company in the near future, he starts looking for marketing jobs elsewhere and lands a job as marketing manager in another fashion company.
2 years later, Henri feels drained of energy, he is not on the top of his game, he feels something is missing and is not satisfied in his job at all. His job feels the same as before, repetitive and not exciting. He is not passionate and thrilled about it. He drags himself to work every morning. His boss is not particularly pleased with the quality of his work. Henri is stressed and feels very disillusioned. Having put in a tremendous amount of energy and time in order to obtain his marketing degree and not getting what he dreamed of. He is very confused and unhappy. He keeps asking himself “What went wrong? What am I missing?” He does not see clearly and doesn’t know what he loves to do. He cannot put his finger on what it is that will make him love his job. He is stuck, in a rut. Confused because he believes he did everything he needed to do to be happy at his job, he is reluctant to move ahead and do something about his situation.
What is uncertainty? What is clarity?
The above case study demonstrates the meaning of being in uncertainty.
We all have hit that point where we can’t figure out exactly what we really want to do with our lives. It can happen when you are 18, when you freshly graduate from college, when you are moving overseas, when you have been in the same job for a while, when you have just overcome health issues, when you started your own business, changed jobs, when children leave for college…
Being unclear and struggling means we do not understand a certain situation, we have feelings of uncertainty, we feel we do not know, we do not know. We have a hard time understanding ourselves. We are confused about our life. We can’t decide what to do next. We don’t even know what we need to fix. This in turn can lead to feelings of doubt because we punish ourselves for not knowing.
To have clarity is to have power. With clarity, we can narrow our choices down very easily with all of its pros and cons. However, there are those who lack clarity. Uncertainty causes doubt, indecisiveness and feeling stuck. However, as humans, we need this shock or period of discomfort to evaluate our options. This period of discomfort is the first step towards clarity and is absolutely necessary. All great things in life come just after overcoming obstacles and challenges.
Not all lack of clarity needs to be severe as losing a job or being undecided on choosing a new career path. It comes in all levels. However, all lack of clarity comes from one of these traits:
- Too many options and/or choices.
- Not enough knowledge.
- Other people’s opinions.
- Lack of goals and a vision.
- Not knowing why you want it so bad.
Common questions that arise when you face uncertainty are:
- “What am I supposed to do?”
- “What job will I like?”
- “How will I support myself?”
- “What will people think?”
- “Where do I want to go?”
- “What career path will be best for me?”
- “What is the next step in my life?”
- “How will I know what I really want in life?”
- “What is my purpose and what will give meaning to my life?”
- “What direction should I take next?”
- “What if I make the wrong decision?”
- “How can I make my current role more interesting?”
- “What are my priorities and what is REALLY important to me?”
Being in this situation feels like driving all alone through heavy fog in an area you do not know. You do not see the road ahead of you. You do not see the front of your car clearly, let alone others cars. You hold so firmly onto your steering wheel that your knuckles turn white. Your heart beats fast and you sweat profusely. You sit cramped in your seat and lean forward. You drive very slowly not knowing if you are still on the road. You are afraid you may drive off a cliff or get stuck in a pothole. You are unable to see the people by the road that can help you find the way.
You have a hard time making the right decision.
Driving in clear weather feels so much better. You see the road ahead of you. You can drive faster towards your destination. You feel relaxed and are not gripping your steering wheel. When you see a pothole, you can counter it by swerving around it. When you run out of gasoline, you see the gas station and can refill your car. You are not afraid and feel confident.
You can make the right turn by asking for directions to people by the road.
And when you arrive at a beautiful spot with a wonderful view, you can stop and take in the view for a moment.
There are many ways to gain clarity.
Most people believe it is up to others to give them clarity. They wait and assume the others know what they want and deserve. The following is important for the coach to know when clients are asking for help in getting out of obscurity.
The clients need to assume 100% responsibility for their own level of clarity.
Many people assume that clarity is something that will arrive in good time if they simply wait patiently. We compare ourselves with others and want the same degree of clarity. Clarity is seen as something that is bestowed from the outside. Time will tell what life has in store for you, is another belief. We think that the universe or the world at large has the power to grant us clarity or that it’s an accident in some way. Some people get lucky, others don’t – is a stance many of us have.
These attitudes are pointless and self-defeating. Clarity isn’t something that arrives from outside of you. Clarity isn’t a matter of luck either. Clarity is what you create for yourself. Clarity is a decision. Clarity is inside out!
Whatever degree of clarity you’re experiencing right now is what you’ve decided to create. Not deciding still counts as a decision. In that case it’s the decision to stay unclear. When you commit yourself to one specific direction, clarity is the natural result.
It is entirely possible that you may not be very good at creating clarity yet. You may in fact be very good at creating confusion, obscurity and uncertainty for yourself. That is for now, but take it as a given that you’re the one who is creating your current level of clarity. No one else is doing it to you.
Furthermore, realize and accept that if your current degree of clarity is to improve, then you must actively make some changes. Endlessly pondering why you don’t have clarity will only bring confusion, so that’s a bad habit you best drop immediately.
If you want more clarity, then it’s time to treat clarity as a serious undertaking that is entirely owned by you. It’s not going to happen unless you make it happen.
Self-knowledge: Find out what matters to you and find out who you truly are
We do not spend a lot of time reflecting on ourselves. The outer world is in constant dialogue with us: You have to take the kids to school, the have to earn that degree, you have to listen, you have to earn a lot of money, you have to do to the gym, you have to go to work…Seldom do we take the time to reflect on what it is that drives our actions. The cause of uncertainty is to be found within us. When we are doing things that are not aligned with our values, strengths, skills and interests, we cannot achieve success.
A coach can ask powerful questions to shine a light on these matters or you can take assessments. Assessments are not meant to put you in such and such a box, they can be a good starting point to start seeing who you are if the questions are too hard for you to answer. They can be a confirmation of who you are.
What type of person are you (MBTI assessment, learning method, resilience level, optimism level…)
Explore, shadow, investigate
Being curious is a good trait to have when you don’t know. As a child, when we wanted to find out about something, we would venture out, open boxes, cupboards, …it was natural for us to take the lead and not wait for someone to give us clarity.
Sometimes it’s tough to set a clear goal because you don’t know what you’re getting into. In that case you can explore in order to gain clarity about the goal you have made for you.
Doing what you’re already doing won’t give you more clarity. Thinking about what to do next and writing down some goals can certainly help, but that isn’t always enough. Sometimes you have to get moving first before clarity can be achieved. You’ll enjoy more clarity when you’re in motion than when you’re standing still. A pilot has better visibility from the air than from the ground.
When you’re stuck in a state of ambivalence, do whatever it takes to break the impasse. Follow someone on a job you are interested in. Take a course in the field you feel passionate about. Interview someone who is doing what you may want to do. Ask for insights, culprits, highs and lows of the job.
Commit to tiny/small actions. Talk to others about your impasse – use your network to get as much information as you can.
Find out everything about your choices. As you learn the pros and cons, make an effort to research it. The internet is vast and boundless almost like the universe. We have more information than ever before. Find support groups, forums, live seminars and meet with people face-to-face.
Harvest and apply the clarity lessons from your past
Notice that your level of clarity isn’t the same at all times. At some points in your life, you’ve been very clear. At other times you’ve been extremely uncertain. Take a moment to review those times when you’ve been clear versus unclear. See if you can identify some of the causal factors on both sides.
Notice which factors lead to reduced clarity, and do less of them. Also notice which factors lead to increased clarity, and do more of them. This sounds childishly simple, and it is, but chances are that you aren’t applying this idea as well as you could. Humor me, and give it a try. You’ll be amazed as the a-ha moments that can be gotten from a quick review of your past patterns of clarity vs. fuzziness.
For example, do you feel clearer and more certain after taking the time to write down your goals? Do you feel fuzzier after having a conversation with someone who’s always nagging you to change in ways you disagree with? If so, then do the former more often, and do the latter less often.
Clear goal & Action Plan
Make an action plan with 1 clear bold goal as vision ahead and with your values as compass to stay on the right path. Making an action plan puts your mind at ease and creates clarity for the road ahead.
Without a goal, the wind will carry you in any direction it wants to. If you don’t have an action plan, someone else will eventually have one for you and it will most likely not be one aligned with who you are, creating uncertainty.
Practice mindfulness when you lose focus
Do not beat yourself up because you do not see clear. Uncertainty is part of life. What happened in the past and will happen in the future is not what counts. By focusing on the present and letting go of frustrations caused by not knowing, you learn to be gentle with yourself. Mindfulness is great to de-clutter your mind and stop your inner critic.
As coaches, we know that clarity nurtures motivation and commitment. The client gains traction and is on the way to creating a structure which will support him into taking action. Sometimes, action can come first, and clarity follows. It is not a linear process where one has to follow definite steps.
The coach is the catalyst who can co-create clarity with the client and helps set a clear path for the future.
1. Coaching questions to gain clarity
- What specifically do you mean by…?
- You may not know right now, but if you did know, what would it be?
- How might a friend of yours handle this situation, knowing who you are?
- What are you passionate about?
- What are you doing when you are forgetting about the time and are engrossed in what you are doing?
- What do you love about your current role?
- What gives you energy in your current role?
- What drains you of energy in your current role?
- What do you hate about this current role?
- What are you NOT doing that you would love to do?
2. Other techniques
Summarizing is an important part of coaching and is used for many reasons. One of the reasons is bringing clarity. By reviewing and rephrasing the information, the client has the chance to correct or add new information to the key issue. Creating new insights and breaking thinking patterns.
To illustrate gaining clarity, we continue with Henri’s story. A friend advises Henri to get in touch with a coach. Henri has been struggling too long on his own and is relieved to be able to talk to someone whom he can trust and who will shine a light on his situation. He is desperate to find an answer.
By asking questions about what he is passionate about, Henri finds out he loves the fashion industry and the marketing side of it. The intrinsic reason behind this passion is that the fashion industry is so creative. This is what attracted him to the industry.
And creativity was not what he was able to use to the fullest. He realized that sitting at his desk and overseeing the opening of stores and logistics that go with that was not enough. Marketing, he believed, would make him get closer to the product and make his creative juices flow. But in his second job, he spent even more time in the office. He realized he wanted to be closer to the action.
He loved the stores for other reasons. Each new season he would love window-shopping to see what the competition did in terms of showing their brands. He would take photographs of the beautiful displays. For him it was like enjoying pieces of art in a museum. He would spend hours arranging his photos according to color schemes, themes…
After brainstorming what he could do with this passion – he came to the conclusion that he actually would like to shadow the team in charge of the window displays. His current company allowed him to do this for a while.
After a few weeks of being able to experience this line of work, he was thrilled! He could use all of his skills, his strengths and his interests! Having had the experience of looking after setting up stores and having a marketing background helped him being confident in this role.
He made a plan to shift his position. For the company it was a win-win. They needed a creative passionate and well organized person. They knew Henri had what it takes.
Now, 1 year later, Henri is supervising a team and enjoys getting ready for new ideas in the window displays for his company. He feels energized, loves the thrill and the buzz that goes with a timely set-up and feels committed and confident in what he is doing.
Henri has moved of back and forth in the spectrum of uncertainty vs. clarity.
He knew something was missing in his first job. He was partially in the dark when it came to choosing the next step. He knew creativity and getting out of an office environment was the answer. He was clear then. Marketing would be the answer.
Making assumptions about what it would be like was proven to be far from the reality. He did not know how to find what he loved.
He was fearful of making another misstep. What if he changed jobs and it would be the same all over again? He believed that everything he had done was wrong. By taking time to look at his actions, he realized, he was clear at moments and was on the right track. He only took some side roads leading to a dead end.
Talking to friends and realizing he needed support and someone to shine a light on his situation was a decision he made. This decision in itself was clarity.
He realized an underlying belief of his was blurring his sight. He was convinced that with skills such as business management and marketing, he was special enough for the company to give him the job he wanted. He was good at what he did. The company had the responsibility in return to be good in giving what he deserved. Especially in his second job, there was a strain between him and his superior. He felt his superior was responsible for making sure Henri’s job was interesting. Henri never talked about this to his boss. How would the superior know what Henri defined as interesting? Or even know Henri was not pleased with the content of his job. Communication issues were coming to the surface as well. After clarifying his goal of getting involved in the creative design of window displays, Henri worked on getting this message across to his boss. His boss was pleased to see Henri could channel his skills into another division where people with Henri’s skills were very much needed. Creative people were easy to find. People with a business and marketing background and with a creative mind were white raven. He could bring added value to the content of the job!
For Henri, finding clarity was one of the steps to change. The whole coaching process was a learning process. The most valuable lesson he learned is that he knows how to tackle boredom or uncertainty in his job. By having self-knowledge, investigating and trying out, by taking small steps, by following his strengths, using this experience for the future and taking full responsibility for his own path.
A win-win situation! Henri can take it from here.