The Value of Professional Coaching When Life (or Work) is Unfair

Job loss, when it’s understandable, can still be upsetting, scary, interminable and even mortifying. It can also mean loss of friends, invitations, and perks one enjoyed.  And for executives, it can mean loss of belonging and status for family members, too. For instance, one might lose a country club membership and overnight the whole family loses the friends, acquaintances and activities that peopled their days. 

 But when there is major unfairness it’s even more unbearable.

Luciano was general counsel of a major firm.  His firing was so capricious that the Wall Street Journal had a front page article about it.  When Luciano came to work with me, he had been out of work for 18 months.  He was bent over, dragged his feet, wore ragged clothes and was clearly very discouraged.  He had tried really hard to connect with his friends in the community, but getting hired wasn’t happening. At the level of society her worked (a close community that avoids taking sides in conflict) he couldn’t get hired.  Complicating this, he and his wife and children wanted to stay in Cleveland, so he couldn’t just up and leave and move to Rome.

The thing I noticed about Luciano besides how bedraggled he looked – old jeans, shaggy hair - was that he had a strong marriage and family relationships and friends.  Normally, as a transition goes on a long time, a person withdraws (and sometimes people withdraw from them). But this was not the case with Luciano. 

So on the first day, I asked him to go downtown and take a walk down East 9th Street and look at himself in the windows.  “This is how other people see you,” I said.   Then I asked him to come back the next day, wearing business attire. He came back and I sent him home again, asking him to come back on the third day with a haircut. When he came back, I asked him to come back again the next day with polished shoes. 

And that did it.  He remembered who he was. He walked upright, picked up his feet, started smiling again.  In less than two months, he had opened a new solo practice. His former employer became, and remains, his anchor client. He was hired by other clients, too, made more money and had way less stress.  Sometimes an experienced client, with an experienced coach just needs to find the key.

 

Terry, though, was a tougher assignment. He had been a very senior executive and director of a Fortune 200 company.  He and another very senior executive were fired by an irate CEO for showing that the CEO’s decision would cause serious injuries and maybe even deaths in their company’s manufacturing plants.  He was devastated.

Terry is a good man and he wanted to do the right thing and he believed his employer also wanted that since so many of the people he’d worked with throughout the years were also honorable people.  He did not want to sue for wrongful termination and waited for things to get right again at his life-long employer. As time wore on, he needed to get back to work and picked up a consulting gig in a different, but similar, industry.

Terry had also been out of work for 18 months when he came to me.  He looked at me with very sad eyes and said, “This is the absolute last time I’m telling this story.” He was completely drained.  As I heard what had happened, and asked him a few questions about his career trajectory, I heard unreality: He had no clue about the significance of his achievements. At each step he said he was lucky; the company had taken a risk with him.  Terry was not at all in touch with all his strengths, insights and contributions. I cleared my calendar.

We walked through every step in his career and at each juncture I made him remember his outstanding achievements, and what he had contributed to deserve the next promotion. We argued at each of those steps about how valuable his contribution was until he could see it.  It took three days.

He had a consulting project by this time and I pursued a strategy that would keep him upstanding as a witness in the other executive’s wrongful termination case. (Remember, he still wanted to return to his first employer.) I asked a lot of questions about proprietary information, strategy, competition, and how his work on the project was not negatively impacting his former employer. 

The work was just in time. The following week, he faced an excruciating discovery process. (There was meaningful money, and even more, reputation at stake.) At the end, his attorneys asked him who had prepared him!  Terry was regaining himself AND soon after landed a really good job as a director in a good company.

 

Shirley is a health services professional who was fired for something she hadn’t done.. She had been accused and fired on the spot with no investigation. Sitting with her, and hearing her long and wonderful career experience, it was hard to imagine she had committed the infraction.  She wanted nothing more to do with her former employer and was determined to move on, but this type of firing stops people from getting hired again in their field.  In interviews when asked why she left her last employer, she felt ashamed and tears would well up in her eyes.

We needed two things to help Shirley: corroboration that she did not do anything wrong, and a way to tell the story that jibed with her emotions so an interviewer would connect with her humanness and know at a gut level she was telling the truth. We came up with a list of people Shirley could contact and ask to be references. We had a plan for what and how to tell and ask them.  And we practiced telling the truth of the incident – her shock, dismay and resignation. She was prepared to say her references urged her to give their contact info to potential employers  because they knew the incident never happened. Just one week later, Shirley had an interview, followed the strategy beautifully, and got the job!

In these three examples, confidence and self-honesty were key.  These are hard to come by on one’s own, or even with friends, in these very tough situations. It takes an experienced coach to stand in conviction that this person is worthy of respect. 

 

There are some morals to these stories. First of all, don’t wait 18 months to get help! Second, your interests deserve respect. Find people who will respect them and you. And third, find a career counselor or coach who has experience with transition seekers like you. Have conversations with them until you find the one who will stand in conviction with you!  Never give up.  There is so much going on behind the scenes. Creative strategy can move mountains. You’ll see.

And pretty soon we’ll here you say, with relief, “I got the job!”