An Inside Look at Career Coaching

Keith Lawrence Miller '14TC
February 14, 2019

Columbia Career Coach Keith Lawrence Miller '14TC shares why he's passionate about his job as a career coach, and why it's worth it for alumni to work with one. 

Coaching is a combination of art and science, focused on crafting the human experience regarding internal and external forces. Like the iceberg, our awareness is only surface deep, with the majority of variables existing beneath our level of consciousness. The coach-client collaboration enables a client to understand their abilities, limitations, strengths, and weaknesses with greater insight, but the function of the coach and associated coaching acumen play a large role in the outcome of the engagement.

There are levels to this game and not all coaches or coaching styles are created equal. The International Coach Federation (ICF) acknowledges three levels of competency starting with a beginner coach (ACC), a professional coach (PCC), and a master coach (MCC). The differences between ACC and MCC are significant and there are tried and true techniques that facilitate the separation from good to great.

During a conversation, how many of us listen while thinking of what to say next? This is a common, automatic human process that interferes with completely hearing what the other person is actually trying to communicate. Ninety percent of communication is non-verbal, and words or phrases have deeper meanings, which are usually missed or misunderstood due to lack of active listening skills. A credentialed professional coach receives extensive training on active listening and an understanding of these common communication functions, which enables clients to break through layers, thus gaining a deeper understanding of the situation or self.

As a coach, building rapport, while withholding judgment within the coaching engagement, enables clients to achieve sustainable change. Deep, active listening creates trust and commitment, which is the essence of masterful coaching. Strategically utilizing core coaching techniques, such as active listening, allows clients to explore hidden aspects unavailable to the consciousness. Serving as an objective observer allows the coach to actively identify patterns and operate transparently, which enables clients to take risks in a safe space to navigate personal growth. Another masterful coaching strategy for enabling clients to achieve success is to lose "the attachment" involved in solving the client’s problem. Based on client expectations or the coach’s need to be useful, there will be an affinity toward fixing the problem for the client, but allowing the conversation to evolve enables new client-led perspectives to appear which end up identifying additional issues and solving more problems than originally intended.

Another facet of masterful coaching includes utilizing presuppositions to trigger thinking which embed perspectives into the collective consciousness, thus generating provocative thinking and approaches. Coaching is, in essence, the process of triggering new thinking, and presuppositions facilitate forward movement within the conversation. Ultimately, coaching is accessed to generate a shift in perspective and to materialize change within a situation, and this function of transformational coaching stems from applying foundational principles, trusting the process, and acknowledging the client’s intelligence and ability to create solutions. Beliefs are powerful and can create the client's reality. Achieving a new perspective and removing limiting beliefs or behaviors allows for deeper insights, which drive transformational change. Assumptions are the cornerstones of strongly held beliefs, which can be manipulated so thinking becomes hijacked by strategic messaging. The coach/client relationship is a journey through these beliefs, and reprogramming is required to overcome problems that continue to occur based on repeating behaviors. Continuously applying the same solution to the same problem and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity.

Miller is a Board-Certified Coach (BCC), ICF Credentialed Certified Career Coach (PCC), and Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) with subject matter expertise in executive career coaching, business and leadership coaching, and resume and LinkedIn optimization. He holds a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Organizational Psychology and an Advanced Certificate in Collective Intelligences from Teachers College. He served as a Columbia University Senator (2011-2013). Connect with Miller and other members of the Columbia Career Coaches Network.