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Extracts of a Life Coach: Can bosses ignore ‘portfolio personalities?’

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This week our fledgling life coach, Emma Ranson Bellamy looks at the dangers of ignoring employees’ portfolio personalities and ponders what the impact will be for organisations that intervene with coaching techniques to balance the books.


Coaching has a foot in many camps: business, counselling, training, dare I say it spirituality. It cannot be shoved into one particular box and brought out to solve one particular failing. It looks at the situation holistically. An individual in all their roles: the person at work, at home, the citizen, the human being.

With all this in mind I was quite disheartened recently when a friend explained her experience of coaching to me. She is a professional with a lot of responsibility and a personal life which mirrors that of celebrities in the red top press. She told me about yet another relationship that had gone to the wall and had almost interfered with a potentially stellar career. I asked her if she had discussed relationships with her coach.

She hadn’t and discarded the question: “They’re my business coach, we don’t talk about that sort of thing.” I had to remind her that a couple of her relationships had very nearly spilled over into her working life, even if it was only that a situation had come to the attention of a senior member of staff putting her in an awkward and vulnerable position.

Charles Handy, prolific author and HR thinker said in his speech at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s recent conference that individuals have portfolio personalities. Encouraging employers to embrace this he highlighted the risks of failing to do so including higher staff turnover and the associated recruitment costs.

People are complex. A fact that is prevalent in each part of our lives: as clients, customers, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, wives, husbands and friends. It stands to reason that people are also going to be complex in their working life. Take the said friend, a workaholic who adds value to her organisation. Divorced, attractive, talented, gorgeous, loaded, powerful and carefree – she doesn’t want any children. So is she a potential time bomb?

During a recent coaching session which I persuaded her into, I went through a values illicitation and yep there it was. Two of her core values in turmoil. Values are the pillars to one’s life, they are the core which everything else you do hangs from. As well as the other six which included a healthy smattering of truth, respect and love to name three she also had security and independence. Two core identities which are paramount to her being which are directly at loggerheads with each other.

Unless she confronts this issue it will return time and time again. Searching for a secure base where she feels safe, secure, loved, cherished and as soon as she finds it (this girl has a serious collection of diamond engagement rings) she flits and goes in search of her freedom. Leaving a trail of broken hearts and occasionally broken marriages.

Like it or not separating the working person from their relationship dilemmas is not always possible in the world of business. Marriages do break down, children are brought up by nannies, families turn into single parent units, secret relationships surface, a result I believe of people only ever having the energy to socialise with those people they work with. All this spills out into our work and adds to even more stress before the laptop has even been switched on.

There is no easy answer of course but I was discouraged that my friend did not feel comfortable enough using a coach to work through a problem which if left unchecked could have a drastic effect on her as well as many others. I wonder if it’s the coaches fault, did they fail to create a confidential environment where my friend felt comfortable enough to open up and air the problem? Was the coach restrained by a non-directive technique governed by the bill payers’ objectives? Or is it just that my friend is in denial that a problem exists?

What ever the answer, the issue of work/life balance is clearly a real one. To keep the best people, organisations need to facilitate a way to holistically care for their employees and create an environment which appreciates that. One has to help them understand themselves fully, in every role that they play, and facilitate a non judgmental environment for learning to occur.

So how do we help my friend? By a question. How can she find security in independence and how can she find independence in security. Just by standing still and realising that this has always been a problem for her, in her relationships with friends as well as lovers, family as well as employers, in her private and her professional life. As soon as she ‘gets comfortable’ she looks for more. More freedom, more promotion, more challenge.

She flirts just as much with new employers and head-hunters as she does with potential boyfriends. She now sees her issues in a holistic way and is working toward aligning her values and getting them to work together for her well being rather than against her which could potentially be her un-doing.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Should employers involve themselves in matters of this nature or turn a blind eye until situations become untenable? I suppose the coaching questions are what will happen if we do less and what will happen if we do more?

Emma can be contacted at [email protected]

Other articles in this series:


One Response

  1. It’s in the contract!!
    You make a very interesting point and it’s precisely why I became a Life Coach when I felt that Executive Coaching could not address all areas. Unfortunately, when you are a business or executive coach your contract tends to be with the company, not the person being coached. This contract sets out the areas to be covered by coaching and, in my experience, was always confined to work.
    Of course, people are complex and it is impossible to separate out the personal issues from the professional ones. Personal issues will always affect a person’s performance at work. A good coach will be able to identify these but there is simply no time to address them. You just have to put them one one side and focus on the work related areas that you can tackle within the contract.
    It can be frustrating for the coach, however, it does not mean that the executive coaching is not effective. There are lots of areas of work where performance can be improved through coaching. It would be impossible for a company to control its coaching costs if it allowed all non-work related areas to be included.
    It does seem, however, that life coaching is the natural career for you. Good luck with it!
    Linda Verby
    [email protected]
    http://www.succeedlifecoaching.co.uk

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