How do I even explore the question what next?

“I’m at a stage in my career when I ask myself what do I want to do next and how do I even explore this question?”

James Hailsham, Senior Civil Servant

For more than 5 years, James’ development had been limited and the workplace very busy. A discussion at work suggested that he would get more out of executive coaching than a more formal course to acquire the skills he felt he was lacking.

James began the process of consideration, what were his options? He felt uncomfortable talking to a fellow civil servant and began to consider a coach.

‘I felt I needed someone who could reframe the train of negative thoughts and the critical inner voice that was always running and affecting my confidence and performance.’

James was at a particular point in his career when the question arose what to do next, and how to even approach that question after so many years of experience. ‘There’s only so much looking at job vacancies I could do, and I always struggled to express my skills as transferable. People saw me as a niche specialist and I couldn’t get beyond that.’

James chose to work with Caroline for 8 to 9 hours, across 8 months. They looked at a number of inputs to shed light on his working styles and preferences, his strengths and downsides and especially how others saw him.

‘Caroline has a marvellous way of responding…it’s a little unnerving; she doesn’t blink, but reflects back to you what you actually said, not the content, more what’s behind it.’

James began to understand how he came across to others and had to take a step back, focus not just on the content of what he said, but how he came across in saying it.

He’d recently contacted a senior colleague about an area of work he was interested in and drafted an email to put forward his interest. Caroline gave James some feedback on his email approach. He was coming across as very polite, but energy and enthusiasm were missing. Together, they worked on how best to inject a sense of James’ purpose and energy, his keenness to engage and how much he wanted a chance to work in this area.

‘I would pause and reflect on how I was saying it. I explored some of the paths I thought I could go down but Caroline always encouraged me to reflect on what it was I actually wanted and meant. She challenged me, not aggressively but always reframing something and reflecting back to me what she heard.’

James realised that he needed to translate his skills into something people actually wanted. With Caroline’s help, he looked at his options and realised what he needed was to get on the front foot, pro-actively get in touch to seek opportunities rather than passively looking online. James began to do research about what the opportunities were and what they were not.

‘It took me away from my preferences. It’s disconcerting being with someone who reflects back to you what they see and hear, albeit with best my interests at heart. I felt a bit exposed and vulnerable.’

James began to learn that his communication style needed to flex, and instead of reaching for his default responses, he needed to do the opposite. Slowly, James began to gain confidence from knowing he had options, new choices and different ways to respond to opportunities. He became less passive and more active, and even his line manager and peers began to notice his new style and more confident contributions.

‘I wouldn’t have had that impact if I hadn’t been going through that process with Caroline. ‘

James admits he hasn’t slayed all those demons of negativity and their impact on his confidence but they are firmly back in their box.

‘I am still authentically me,’ says James, ‘but I’m more aware of when being authentically James is a good thing and when to become a sort of inauthentic James.’