Are these the questions we’re all thinking but not asking?

How much ‘one-on-one’ time would you say you get to spend with the important people in your life? By that I mean completely focused, quality time with no distractions? I’m guessing when you look back at a typical week you’ll find the answer is ‘not much’. That’s one of the reasons I consider being a coach a privileged position. 

I get to spend that one-on-one, focused time with busy people, helping them to figure out what’s holding them back from reaching their potential and creating a plan to leverage their strengths, every day. It’s precious time and no two coaching sessions are ever the same because each person has a unique challenge, set of circumstances or mindset that’s frustrating them. 

That said, over the years I’ve noticed a few common themes which serve to remind me that, as humans, we have more in common than we have separating us. Perhaps it’s specific to people who have had that ‘aha’ moment, realising they need some objective help to get over their hurdles, or perhaps we’re all secretly mulling over these questions? 

1. Do I deserve success?

Workplaces can be set up in a way that feels competitive.  We enter the workforce, and it can feel like a race to the top or survival of the fittest. Our performance, and our behaviour, is continuously compared to our peers. We’re benchmarked, rated and ranked.  We’re separated into ‘High Potentials’ and... everyone else.  Little wonder the term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was coined.  From graduate to CEO, one of the greatest barriers to moving outside of our comfort zone is the fear that we are not capable of what we’re aiming to do. That we are a fraud and that, one day, we’re going to get found out.

Howard Schultz, the chair, president, and CEO of Starbucks was quoted as saying that both he and other CEOs he knows suffer from Imposter Syndrome: “Very few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”

Many CEOs, MDs echo this concern. It can be lonely at the top.  

2. Am I good enough?

When our confidence is low, or we are feeling too stretched or stuck, we can start to wonder whether our strengths, which got us ‘here’ are enough to get us ‘there’, where we want to go.  The world is changing fast, and we need to evolve our skills to keep up.

Linked to this is a feeling that we should be happier and more fulfilled than we might actually feel.  Fuelled by easy comparisons of our own lives to the ‘shiny’ lives of others on social media, we can start to wonder...  ‘Should I be happier? Should I have progressed further/faster?’

In a study of high performers in 45 organisations around the world it was clear that being identified as high potential did not guarantee you remaining a high potential – with anywhere from 5% to 20% dropping off their respective lists each year. We’ve all seen CEOs exited from high profile organisations having failed to live up to their hype (usually with, and thanks to, colourful media coverage).

Among the reasons for losing a spot on the high-potential list were:

  • making a poor transition into a new role

  • diminished performance two years in a row

  • behaviour that’s out of line with the company’s culture and values

  • a significant visible failure.

Whilst we all go to work wanting to do a great job, watching the rise and fall of others can diminish our self-belief and create fear. It can stop us stretching outside of our comfort zones. Taking risks.  How is that going to help us, or our organisation, innovate, improve and grow?  

3. Is there a limit to my potential – and have I already reached it?

One of the most damaging phrases I’ve heard regularly used in the workplace is the term ‘At Level’ to describe someone who has reached what their internal performance process has deemed their maximum level of potential in that role.  

Wow. How can anyone really decide that for us? Don’t we all know stories where people have turned their performance or lives around?  We all love the story of the underdog achieving because we can all relate to it. Because we inherently know what neuroscience is now proving – we are all capable.  The science is crystal clear, change really is always possible. When you can start believing that about yourself, and treating your life and job more like an experiment to constantly work on and improve, you start to remove what has been holding you back.

And one question I often ask...

Often, when we start a coaching program, my clients will tell me that they have been wanting to get a coach for years.  When I ask them what stopped them, they usually can’t put their finger on it.  

I get it. Coaching takes commitment. It takes hard work. A good coach will help you uncover your blind spots and what might be holding you back.  Its challenging, and sometimes confronting. But the payoff is huge – career and, often, life changing. That’s one of the other reasons I consider coaching a privilege – I get to see people change, improve, achieve and enjoy things they hadn’t previously thought possible.

Celeste Halliday