This article is written from two perspectives: one is the experience of someone who is working with a coach (the client) and the other is the perspective of a coach.
The Client Perspective
A favorite quote of mine is from Warren Buffet: “The best investment you can make is in yourself”. As MSLs, we know the value of investing in ourselves and our careers. We invest our time in building a professional network carefully and intentionally. We join professional societies like the MSL Society to connect, to learn, and grow our profession. We dedicate time to identifying and working with mentors to learn best practices for success in the field and the industry. These three elements complement each other and set us on the path to achieving our goals. Adding to this synergism is coaching from a certified professional coach (CPC).
First, let’s distinguish the difference between a mentor and a coach. A mentor functions in an aspirational and advisory role and is an expert in the field who shares best practices. A mentee learns from the successes of the mentor by asking questions of the mentor. The focus of the relationship is the development of the mentee. The mentor-mentee relationship is long-term and fluid.
A coaching relationship differs from mentoring as it is focused on specific personal or professional goals. Coaching provides a space for self-reflection and evaluation and a coach guides the client to find the answers and determine what needs to be done to achieve a goal. A coach does not provide answers but asks questions to help clarify goals, create action plans, uncover obstacles and barriers, and increase self-awareness. The coach-client relationship is typically short-term or has a set time frame depending on goals established by the client.
I sought a professional coach when I realized that although I had a goal and a plan, I was not executing the plan; I was not moving forward. I was distracted and had fallen off my intended course by my inability (or unwillingness) to evaluate what was important to me and what would move me closer to my goal. I recall my coach telling me (and me being somewhat skeptical) that I had the answers, and she would help me realize and act on those answers. True to her word, she guided me to the answers and then she celebrated with me in my success as I reached the milestone markers towards my goal. In between our scheduled Zoom calls, she would text me as a reminder to stay focused on the actions I wanted to undertake to ensure I was making forward progress.
With the emphasis of coaching being on outcomes, I opted to work with a coach who was not from the pharmaceutical industry. The principles of success are similar across different industries. What was important to me was her leadership experience and success in her respective field before she became a CPC. Her coaching style and personality matched with what I wanted from a coach. I looked forward to our calls because I knew we would celebrate even the smallest steps forward and when I fell off course, she was there to guide me back on course without judgment.
The Coach Perspective
As a certified professional coach, it is an honor to be asked to serve as a trusted and strategic partner in a client’s journey to achieve their goals. What do you want? It is a key question I ask when first meeting with a client as my all-in focus is on the client and what the client wants to achieve.
A coach helps elicit goals, challenges, options, and action steps from each client based upon the understanding that they are their best expert. It should be noted that coaching is not mentoring, consulting, therapy, or training but a process of uncovering on a path to self-awareness and enhanced perspectives. Coaching is, according to the International Federation of Coaching, a thought-provoking and creative process to inspire clients to maximize their personal and professional potential. It often unlocks untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership.
I start a typical coaching session by asking if the client is in a quiet and safe place to have an open and direct conversation. Client safety is key to establishing trust in a coaching relationship. I ask what topic the client would like to discuss and what outcomes they want to achieve during their time with me. The session takes shape from that point with the client sharing information and me asking questions to further examine the topic with a goal of achieving the desired outcome of the session that was determined at the start of our talk. Many times, a client will create an action plan with defined action items or they may wish to create a list of matters that need attention, action, or simply need monitoring; or a client may wish to share reflections that were learned from previous sessions and discuss how the new awareness can remove or create a challenge. We discuss what is top of mind in the path to the client’s desired final outcomes.
In between sessions, I may provide accountability or encouragement if the client wants a nudge or boost of confidence. This is especially helpful if a client is facing a difficult situation and wants me to be there providing support. It is key to remember that coaching is all-in focus on the client and the client’s desired goals and outcomes.
I love working with coaching clients because they want to be successful. They are willing partners in their own success. It is a great day when I receive a text or phone call with the exclamation, ‘It worked! I have crushed that barrier to smithereens and did it!’.
Of course, they did it! They did have all the answers. I was just alongside the client helping to provide clarity, confidence, and accountability to reach that goal.
So dear reader, let me ask: what do YOU want?
Angela Valadez is Associate Director with the Ophthalmology Field Medical team with Regeneron.
She has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Kansas and a Master of Business Administration from Baker University. With a passion for using evidence-based medicine to guide treatment decisions, Angela has worked with physicians throughout her pharmaceutical career to manage patient care and impact health outcomes. She was named an MSL Rookie of the Year Finalist in 2020 and was named MSL of the Year for Alimera Sciences in 2021.
Colleen Zimmerman is widely known as a strategic yet fun collaborator with a transparent and authentic approach to work. She is the founding principal of Leaders in Development and a Senior Partner with the management consulting firm, Ideas for Action.
Colleen is a graduate of the University of Kansas and a Fellow of the Institute of Coaching, a Harvard Medical School Affiliate.