Friday, October 05, 2007

Coaching Skills

Yesterday, I met with the professor who is to be my “coach” for the next 21 months.

He was actually the one I met at the MBA open house last November. That night, we had a great talk about going back to school and being older dads. (He was expecting his first child at the time.) I remember coming home that night and telling Larry ‘I found my grad school.’

This guy was the professor for the Organizational Behavior class as well. He is one of those speakers that is just mesmerizing. I love engaging people and tend to find myself drawn to them. When it was announced after our week long residency that we could pick a professor to read our 15-page reflection paper and serve as our ‘coach’, there was no choice for me. I knew I wanted this guy and even turned in my paper early to hopefully get him.

Yesterday we met. We chatted about kids and then moved onto the paper. This paper was a chance to examine the things in our lives that were holding us back from becoming leaders. It was a chance to talk about possible paths we might like to explore in our lives and how we’d get there. It was the quintessential ‘what do you want to do when you grow up’ paper.

“Well, I went through your paper and it didn’t really have a lot of direction going in it.”

That was his first sentence. My heart sank hard. I put a lot of effort into that paper. I’m using grad school as way to help me decided what to do next, especially in the area of staying in non-profit or crossing over into for-profit. I’ve set a lot of nonexistent barriers that have kept me from looking at the for-profit world and figured that by learning more ‘real-life business’ from classes and classmates, I’d decide if the move was right for me.

He pointed out that “your future ideas seem as directionless as your past has been. I mean, you have a degree that you didn’t do anything with, you spent some time working in logistics and now you are trying marketing. You really haven’t had much a of career path. This paper is supposed to be about your next step.”

He questioned why it was that I didn’t have more concrete activities in place to help me make decisions. I explained my uncertainty on what I might want to do in two years. “I’m not sure I want to take the perfect executive corporate job just as my son turns 7,” I said. The professor is an executive coach for the numerous executives in Asia and Europe. He told us how companies would spend $15K just to fly him business class to meet with them.

I said, “Well, I’m not as lucky to have had your life. You got to do all that and then you became a father. My life turned out differently and I have decisions to make. I’m just not sure and was hoping this would help.”

At this point I just wanted to leave, but he went on. “It reminds me of the Alice in Wonderland story. Alice asked directions from the Cheshire cat. When the cat asked where she was trying to go to, Alice replied that she wasn’t sure. The cat pointed out that it didn’t really matter which path she took.”

Who says motivation speakers only charge a few thousand dollars? I got this one for over $70K.

How dare he judge my life and how far I’ve come based off some 15-page paper. I’m proud of what my life is. I moved across the country without a job or any plans on how to succeed, but did. I’ve battled alcoholism and come out to everyone I knew. I may never be some international executive, but I didn’t ask to be either. I just wanted to better myself a little and keep learning.

I left dejected. Today, I stayed home to get myself caught up on statistics. The final is being handed out tomorrow and we’ll have about 10 days to finish. What a waste. I cannot get this crap. Every time I understand a concept, I can’t make the tools work to prove my answers are right. I’m frustrated and my body, especially my neck, hurts from the tension.

Today, I want to quit. I want to just scrap the $17K already invested into this colossal waste of time and walk away. Fuck stats, fuck him and fuck thinking I need this to make myself better.

Luckily, I have 10 more weeks prepaid to help make this decision. But I can tell you with a 95% confidence interval that I’m contemplating leaving.

And for the record, I can only say a 95% confidence interval. I can’t show you how to prove it.

(Thanks for listening.)



Blogger Papa Bradstein said...

You know how much it pains me to sound like the president, but stay the course. (Holy crap, it hurts like a paper cut on my lip while drinking lemonade!)

Seriously, this is one conversation with one guy on one day. It sounds like he's measuring your success against the same ruler he uses to measure his, which would be fine if you were him. But you're not. You have your own ruler, which it sounds like you're looking to redefine in this program. If he won't help you do that, tell him that he's not successful as your coach and ask the school for a new coach. Just because he jets around the world doesn't mean that he's the right coach for you, or that jetting around the world is right for you.

You have every right to be proud of your life, and this one person has no right to take that justifiable pride away from you. Remember, the best revenge is success. It sounds like it's time to start kicking some ass and taking some names and show this guy what you're all about.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Bacchus said...

I second what Papa Bradstein says. We have to gauge our success by our own goals. I'm a stay at home dad who's day consists of snacks, playing, naps, diapers and disney. I dare someone to say that I haven't made a success. I achieved something that people said was too difficult.

Set your goals and don't worry if they aren't the same goals as everyone else.

By the way. Stats = Yuck!

9:07 PM  
Blogger Rich | Championable said...

Hey, man.

Feel free to kick my ass for saying this, but "To thine own self be true." You know?

In other words, make whatever decision you think is best for you, but make it with enough dispassionate thought so you can sleep at night after the decision is made.

I'm sorry that the conversation was so difficult. But damn, dude, all because your foundation is different than his... that doesn't mean it's any less solid. Shit, what's a foundation made of, anyway? Family? Or speaking fees?

Go easy on yourself, brother.

9:22 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Oh, sweetie, I'm sorry. You're trying to figure out your next step - not starting this knowing what your next step is, which is what he wants from you so he can tell you how to get there. You not knowing precisely where you're going makes it harder for him, quite frankly. He can't suggest you do X&Y to get to Z, because you haven't chosen Z. That's not bad - that's life for some of us. Not him, so fine, whatever. I totally understand why you're dejected - those people get me down too. But he might turn out to be amazingly helpful. He just needs to help you in different ways.

10:44 PM  
Blogger Whit said...

This reminds me of the reason I left my masters program (one of the reasons). I don't give a shit about their life and how great they are. I was there to better myself.

You'll decide what's right for you and people that love you will support you no matter what, and things will work out. That's the way life goes.

1:16 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

This guy sounds like one of those people whose journey through life was smooth and effortless. Everything is an easy decision for them. Man, I hate those people. My life has never been like that. I agonize over everything. The bottom line is, however you choose your path, it's YOUR CHOICE and you will make of it what you will. Stay positive and make positive changes. Don't have any regrets about your MBA. I remember mine being really really tough and confusing the first semester, but I stuck it out to the end.

1:34 AM  
Blogger Lola and Ava said...

Stats, my dear, would be a class from hell for me, but then again, I took finance on a dare. I've had professors tell me that they aren't sure why I am in the class for a variety of reasons, but it always comes back to the same old answer: for me. Not for them, not for the kids, not for the degree . . . for me. Some people motivate others through a variety of means. This guy might be trying to get you to come at it from a different light. The first lesson plan that I ever turned in to a prof whom I worshipped got 15 out of 30 points (you don't need stats to know that it was an F). Devastated? Yup. Bone chilling? Yup. Last F? Yup. Don't give up just yet . . . you've still got those 10 weeks to work it all out. Hang in there or I'll send the girls to visit and you can teach them to drive.

6:14 PM  
Blogger Darren said...

You've gotten some good advice here so far. I'm sure you'll make the right decision for yourself. The important thing--as you already know--is to not make a rash decision.

I'll also repeat what others have said. This "coach" is one guy and his ways aren't right for everyone. Guys who give advice like his often (I won't say always) have made decisions in their lives that don't involve putting family first. But you will put your family first. That's much more important.

I had a couple professors in law school who told me I wasn't focused. I ended up saying "screw you" to them (figuratively of course) and "staying the course." I never became a high-powered attorney, but I did graduate with a few honors and got work. And even though I eventually left law, I got experience that I still use. Don't get me started on people complaining about having a "degree you don't do anything with."

I saw this quote somewhere this week: "Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want." You might decide to leave school, you might stay and become a for-profit corporate exec, you might stay in school and end up doing something you haven't even thought of yet. Whatever your decision, don't let this a-hole, or your response to his single opinion, make up your mind for you. You're a smart, talented guy--I'm sure you'll make the best decision and turn out better for it. Maybe the best thing to do is ask for a new coach before you decide to quit (if that's how you're leaning). A fresh opinion (maybe from a coach with some non-profit experience) might help you decide.

Sorry to leave such a long comment, but the way this guy talked to you just pissed me off.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

I'm taking a big risk leaving THIS as my first comment to you, and I'm hoping you don't block my username because of it, but here goes:

Have you considered that this asshole was put in your life at this moment for a reason? I've gotten a lot of heat for forwarding this idea to others, but I really believe that the things that happen to us, and the people who are in our lives, are there because we've DRAWN them there.

Richard Bach, one of my favorite writers, says that "there's no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek your problems because you need their gifts." It sounds to me like this guy has a gift for you.

There's a lesson in here somewhere for you - and it may not be a lesson that's very easy to incorporate, but it DOES seem to be one that you're ready for.

The fact that you're going to school to "better" yourself means that you're recognizing, at least on some level, that the patterns that have gotten you this far are now insufficient or are no longer serving you in satisfying ways. It may well be that this "coach" was just what you needed to really LOOK at what you're doing (and how you're doing it) and, maybe, he'll be enough for you to critically consider what's happening.

I want to echo what Rich said - you HAVE to be true to yourself or NOTHING you do will ever be satisfying. To that end, try (and I KNOW it's hard, but try) to look at what he told you from as emotionally neutral a place as you can manage. You may see that, though he didn't have to be so harsh about it, he may have had some good advice for you.



5:11 PM  
Blogger rennratt said...

I realize that I have no insight other than what you have shared, but...

...Please know that you are not alone in your 'lack of direction'.

I once asked my mother if she thought I was a failure.

She ran her hand through my hair, looked into my eyes, and simply asked "Are you happy?"

I told her yes.

She smiled, kissed my cheek, and whispered "Then you are not a failure".

Life takes us in directions that we never expected, and you may never know where you're going to end up.

But as long as you're happy, and your family is well loved, then you have success beyond measure.

Best of luck to you.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Kelly O said...

You can't see it, but I'm motivated to glare in your professor's general direction and shake my fist at him.

11:32 AM  
Blogger The Holmes said...

I've been reading your blog for a while and decided to go ahead and delurk. That guy had no right to pass any level of judgement on your life. We need more people in the business-world who take into account the needs of their families and incorporate that into their decisions, not more people who are driven only by money and ego. It sounds to me like you've accomplished a hell of a lot.

5:16 PM  
Blogger The Brian said...

It's one guy's opinion. Don't let that be your deciding factor.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous David said...

If you can get your MBA, cut a good figure in a suit, brown-nose the people above you and bullshit your way out of any corner while doing lots of overtime - you'll have a successful career. I wonder if your coach would have been more satisfied if you'd just given him what he wanted, even if it's not the best for you.

2:48 AM  
Blogger Another gay dad said...

Our oldest kids are going through the interview process. One to get into a grad program and the other for summer law internships. It seems that a "bad cop" interview is required to see if you are a quitter. Some interviewers and academics think it is a test to see how one responds under negative feedback.

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome to graduate school!

God I do NOT miss those days. I went to Cornell for a PhD and after a couple years worth of those kinds of interactions I packed it in.

6:32 PM  

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