In this blog, Richard McGonigle an in-house lawyer with over 20 years of experience, talks about his experience of executive coaching, the profound impact it had on his career and why he feels that all lawyers should experience coaching.
Coaching for Lawyers
Before I experienced coaching, I have to be honest and say that I thought that coaching was just for people who were struggling, that to have coaching demonstrated that you had weaknesses. I didn’t think that sounded like me, so I didn’t really understand how coaching could be of any benefit.
Then someone reminded me that coaching as a concept is not about weakness – it is about improving one’s performance. The very best sports people and business leaders have coaches by their side, as part of their team, continuously finessing themselves and looking deep inside to understand their motivations and drivers. And yes, also their weak spots. But this is OK. Having now been coached I realise what a misconception I was labouring under and I am incredibly grateful that my viewpoint was changed. Coaching helped me enormously both professionally and personally.
As I spoke about in my previous blog, my first major professional development undertaking since I qualified as a solicitor was the yearlong leadership development programme that I completed when I was around 10 PQE. This programme tapped into my natural curiosity, expanded my world view and began the transition within me from subject matter expert lawyer to a more rounded business person. It also sparked an interest in understanding myself more deeply and what motivates and drives me. Over time and through discussions with others my mindset around coaching changed and rather than seeing it as something for people with problems or challenges to overcome I came to see that it was something that could support me to perform at a higher level. In the same way it applies to those business leaders and sports people at the very top of their games, the same holds true for us all, whatever life or career stage we are at; that to continually grow and develop we need to challenge ourselves and our thinking, and for me, coaching supported me to do this.
To get the most from coaching you do need to be prepared for a high level of introspection and open yourself up to being very truthful about what you want and need from your life, both professionally and personally. The key thing to understand about coaching is that your coach isn’t going to give you the answers. The power of coaching comes from the questions your coach will ask you, you just need to be open and honest with yourself and your coach. If you can do that then coaching can be truly transformative.
Your choice of coach is also incredibly important. If you are going to be having these kinds of discussions it is so important that you have a good level of rapport. Most coaches will offer a chemistry session before you start working together so that you can ensure it’s a good fit for you. I was lucky in that my coach was someone I had met during the leadership development programme a few years earlier so the chemistry and rapport was already established.
The coaching process helped me to really open my eyes to who I am and what is important to me. It helped me to better understand my personal style and preferences. It shone a light on my “vulnerabilities”, deeply established personal qualities that are probably hard wired from childhood and other significant life experiences. The kind of things that inform how you naturally respond or react in certain situations. It enabled me to define my values and as a direct consequence of all this, it helped me to understand the type of work environment and culture that I need to help me thrive. Coaching gave me the ability to identify what motivates and drives me in the roles that I do.
As a result of the coaching, my career has pivoted and since that point I have been working in roles that fit well with the strengths that I identified through the process and allow me to do what I really love whilst also giving me the work life balance that I identified as being very important to me.
Another thing that changed for me is my assertiveness. That came from having a greater understanding of myself and others. It has set me on a path of being more inquisitive of myself and those around me and that applies equally to my professional and personal life. I’m still learning a lot about myself. I’m much more willing and able to explore and make sense of stuff rather than just thinking I’m right all the time!
Coaching helped me fundamentally in my work and personal life – it gave me an exponential growth in awareness of self and others – and it enabled me to move from seeing myself as Richard the Lawyer to being Richard the Business Person (who happens to have a legal background).