In the June 11, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader questions using a personal marketing plan and the power of an executive coach.
I hired an executive coach with whom I’ve spent many hours developing a personal “strategic marketing plan.” But I have failed to meet the deadlines for some of the objectives we came up with. So, I have cut off working with this coach. I am not so quick to blame the coach. It may be a matter of my own preparedness. I’ve learned a lot, but I wonder now if this personal strategic marketing plan has not taken over my daily calendar and my life. Have I made a misguided plan, or am I just not an adequate strategist? What is your view on coaches and this general approach to planning — written goal, objectives, strategies, tactics?
It can be useful to develop a detailed plan for yourself, and it is certainly a lot of work if you pursue it with care. I believe in careful thought, preparation and planning in life. But when I hear, well, marketing phrases like “personal strategic marketing plan,” I cringe.
Coaches & plans
There are good coaches out there who can help you, but when you hire any kind of coach — a career coach, a psychological therapist, or even an accountant (they’re all coaches of a sort) — you’re subjecting yourself to the coach’s philosophy. That means you must judge the fit. If your philosophies don’t mesh well, you could be headed for serious trouble.
However, you may also be falling for a marketing pitch yourself, and for a pricey bundle of hoopla that’s more fluff than substance. (There is an ugly under-belly to the coaching industry that you should be aware of: “Executive Career Management” scams.)
Assuming it stems from a legit coaching program, any detailed plan will nonetheless encounter obstacles, and some of them can be fatal. On the other hand, some important and satisfying milestones can be achieved along the way. But must a person achieve every milestone defined in a plan? Further, does failure to meet the plan’s deadlines suggest the person is doing something wrong?
Planning & living
This is where I part company with dogmatic coaches who impose rigorous planning and schedules on their clients. Life can turn into a series of bets on the plan. Rather than being instructive, the inevitable failures can be debilitating. Worse, as you note, this planning process can become a lifestyle in itself and distract you from real life. This can make your plan an albatross.
There is a line in a John Lennon song (though he may have borrowed it from cartoonist Allen Saunders): “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
I try to remind myself that at any moment, in any day, I may have to drop my plans, because something more compelling confronts me and I have to deal with it — like it or not.
I think planning is a good thing because, as you point out, you can learn a lot from the process. But planning is an idea. It’s not real life.
Coping vs. planning
In a short, potent book called Management of the Absurd, Richard Farson suggests that there is no such thing as planning — only coping. He says that coping is far more important a skill than planning. Why? Because the world keeps coming at us in unexpected ways. Planning implies controlling the world around us. Coping — to Farson and to me — implies changing ourselves to effectively meet the challenges of what the world throws at us.
The planner can be left destroyed by the unexpected. But the coper can ride any wave, to one extent or another, and survive or even flourish.
Plan as best you can, but be ready to cope with all the wonder, pain, disaster, and opportunity that life throws at you. That’s where life is — on the edge of change, in the way we deal with everything we encounter, and in the ways it changes us.
Kill the Buddha
Please don’t surmise that I believe coaching or getting coached is a bad thing. But you hired the coach, and only you can fire the coach. The coach might have been wonderful, and now it may be time to stop working together. It may be time for you to cope with your coach.
Remember what the guru told the pilgrim who was searching for the Buddha. The pilgrim wanted to know, “When I find the Buddha, what should I ask him?”
The guru replied, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”
Hmmm. The bookend to John Lennon’s quote may be the title of a (very good) Van Morrison album: No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Could it be that at the end of every path you choose, the best answers must come from within yourself? Should you kill the Buddha? Don’t ask me.
Have you used an executive or career coach? What was your experience? What advice would you give this reader — and others — about coaching services? Do you believe in planning, or in coping?