Research Paper By Jeanne A. Heinzer
(Career and Executive Coaching, SWITZERLAND)
In uncertain economic times, it is easy to be overwhelmed by constant change and increasing complexity. Being in control of one’s life is more critical than ever, especially for international managers who are expected to be highly flexible and permanently mobile. How can this dilemma be reconciled? To put it in Peter Drucker’s words:
The best way to predict the future is to create it.
In the past, life for expatriates seemed straightforward:
There was no question whether to accept an assignment or not. At the same time, the assignee had a guarantee that his company would keep him, promote him, look after him and reward him generously.
Things are different today:
Scientists and futurists speak of “hyper complexity” – a state of increasing unpredictability (Urry, 2006). It seems that the only constant nowadays is change. International assignments are part of this new mobility. Moving abroad is not the automatic career booster and does not guarantee a “lifetime position” in a company. More short-term and non-traditional types of assignments, less developmental moves, sudden corporate restructurings and a strong focus on cost considerations add to the complexity of today’s expatriate environment (Brookfield Global Relocation trends 2011).
The Case for Expat Vision Coaching
It is time for expatriates to wake up and realize that companies are unable to meet all their expectations. Marital problems, work-life balance, financial stability or cultural adjustment struggles can’t be delegated – expatriates themselves have to manage them.
For the global employee of the future being in control is more critical than ever. To take full control of their life, expatriates should apply a skill they know – a structured business approach.
Expatriates are generally working in high level positions and are used to set ‘smart goals’ and plan thoroughly, define clear milestones and monitor the implementation of a project. However, in their private life many of them find their lives overwhelming. Expat vision coaching can be the link to allow an expatriate to regain control over his or her life.
Step 1: Acknowledgment of Status Quo
All too often expatriates get stuck in a vicious cycle of overwhelm, helplessness, disempowering beliefs, feeling disconnected and ultimately getting stuck. In challenging transitions, these sentiments of feeling out of control are normal and are enhanced by what is called culture shock.
The term ‘culture shock’ was coined by the anthropologist Oberg (1960) who explained the symptoms and process of adapting to a foreign culture. According to Oberg the experience of a new culture is seen as an unpleasant surprise or shock – a shock that happens when expectations are not in line with reality. Change and uncertainty can be unsettling and disempowering beliefs of not having a choice drive people into victim mode. Before changes can occur through coaching, it is important that clients understand the physiological and psychological impact of international transition and the dynamics that often come with it.
At this stage, a coach will support the client to acknowledge his feelings. The client may have an unconscious assumption that an international lifestyle is demanding and that there is no time left to live life. Based on this belief the client may feel like a survivor using his last ressources to get through the day.
This is the time to look at negative self beliefs and identify how they make the client feel stuck. They can be replaced by new empowering beliefs which will shape the client’s life from now on. The coachee will experience a new awareness. The new beliefs will enable him to leave the victim mode to create a life that is in line with who he is.
Some of the questions that can be asked are:
- How satisfied is the client in his current life?
- Where in his life does the client experience stress and overwhelm?
- How does that make the client feel?
- How does the client contribute to his feelings?
- Where is the client in a victim mode?
A valuable exercise to find out how a client is doing is the ‘Wheel of Life’. It touches on all important life areas such as career, health, family and friends, relationship to one’s partner etc.
Figure 1 The Wheel of Life adapted from Whitworth, 2007