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Good coach will focus on personal, professional blind spots

By Paula Kulig, Contributor

Lawyers facing professional challenges can benefit from coaching, but unless they’re open to change, the process won’t yield dividends, Toronto lawyer and certified executive coach Michael Bury tells

“It takes a certain mindset to make coaching a successful experience with long-term results. Wanting to change and being open to change are two different things,” says Bury, principal of Blue Pond Coaching.

“You have to be able to see your current skills and abilities as qualities you can change and have a willingness to take a step back and assess. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Many professionals perceive themselves with fixed traits that have, in many cases, achieved a certain level of success for them.”

While not wanting to rock the boat is understandable, Bury says “pushing yourself to the next level requires you to leave your comfort zone. That’s where the coach becomes a valuable asset. A good one will often tell you things that you don’t want to hear.”

Some people who retain the services of a coach aren’t “coachable,” Bury notes, either because they want to be told that things are fine or they want to validate their view of why things aren’t working in their lives.

“The problem with this attitude is that many of us have professional or personal blind spots. These often hold us back when it comes to making positive changes. The coach’s job is to focus on these areas to show you how they are holding you back,” he says, noting that “negative self-talk” is a common example.

“We like to rationalize to ourselves why we can’t achieve our goals, but a coach will help you confront and overcome these problem areas. The bottom line is if you won’t listen, you won’t overcome these blind spots.”

Bury says that being coachable “means you’re open to regular and often blunt feedback, you’re able to receive constructive criticism without taking it personally and you’re willing to take a look at your own performance through a different set of eyes to improve it.”

Lawyers tend to seek out a coach when they feel they’re not making progress — “spinning on the hamster wheel” — or they’re at a breaking point, he says.

“It may be through their personal lives. They see friends advancing and, for some reason, they’re not," Bury says. "It may be from feedback in the workplace.

"Often it will be a case of a senior partner telling an associate, ‘I’ll be candid with you. You’re not meeting your billable hours, you’re not bringing in enough clients.’ It becomes a make-or-break point for the lawyer.”

But even though a lawyer may take the first step to seek one out, it doesn’t mean they’re ready for coaching, Bury says.

“They may just be so stuck that they’re not willing to make a change. A coach will do their best to break down the barriers a person has built up internally, but again, it requires an open mind and a willingness to do something differently.”

He attributes the highly competitive nature of the law — starting with law school — and the emphasis on billable hours to a reluctance to open up and seek change.

“Getting coached involves stepping back and looking at yourself closely and examining the things that aren’t working. People assume it doesn’t help you in a competitive environment, that showing weakness somehow won’t move you forward.”

But Bury says participating in a coaching program is actually a sign of strength, and the experience is well worth it for someone ready to change and progress.

“There’s a great amount of heavy lifting involved. It’s not just about showing up at the session and reflecting on what the coach says. It means you have to listen with the intent to learn rather than to show what you know, and that’s not easy,” he says.

“Whether it’s fear, lack of understanding or perfectionism — which is common with lawyers — there is something that often stops people from moving forward. It’s the coach’s job to help you move past this.”

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