Coaching to Help a Client Create a New Identity
The way a person perceives himself is described as his identity. Your personal perception of identity answers the question “Who are you?” When clients are asked ‘Who are you?’ they reveal all the information a coach needs in order to do effective coaching.
Identity challenges frequently emerge during times of transition and crisis; for example, when a company rebrands or changes direction, or when a great manager is made a director. The company and individuals involved undergo a change in identity.
How they perceive themselves and the old answers to the question ‘Who are you?’ no longer seem valid. In these situations, the individual’s identity has shifted from one he is familiar and comfortable with to a new role. During such transitions, people often feel out of their comfort zones or seem lost. Performance tends to suffer as people struggle to reorient to the new roles they are playing with their old identities.
If the purpose of coaching is to help clients move from a current present state to a desired state, then the great coach should always be looking for ways to make the journey from present to desired as smooth and easy as possible. Working with identity contributes to transforming individuals and making such transitions easy and sometimes effortless.
Yet the importance and value of supporting transitions of identity is rarely considered by business. It’s often taken for granted that people can and will adjust given time, but this isn’t always the case. How often do businesses take someone who flourishes in one role, promote them and then see them struggle and strive?
An extreme identity transition demonstrates this phenomena. Answer this question: Are you male or female? This should be an easy question to answer. It doesn’t require a lot of working out; you have a gender identity that defines who you are, how you think and how you behave. Imagine that you had to transition to the opposite gender.
How easy or difficult would that be? Most people would struggle to suddenly shift their gender identity; it is tied up with their experiences, their beliefs and their values. As a coach, regard any change in identity as requiring the same degree of perceptual shift as changing gender and you will understand the importance of coaching clients with any transition.
You start by
Making your clients aware of the importance of identity. Use the gender example.
Highlighting the value of coaching someone over time to help with the transition. Such changes often take time.
Emphasizing that when people shift identity, it’s a paradigm change for the individual (and organisation); once changed, it’s very difficult for someone to switch back. The new roles will feel natural and easy.
Coaching with changing identities can be said to be ‘the difference which makes the difference’. It can be challenging work but will give the biggest breakthroughs.