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Which Hat Does Your Helper Wear?


While we have played the role of supervisor, counselor, mentor, consultant, and coach in various stages of our lives in various capacities, we hope that the story of this fictitious character Lisa below will help you to better understand what kind of role you would need help from in your life, as well as the role you might want us to play when you contact us.


Lisa is a CFO in a mid-sized company. She had always been an overachiever whose career had shot straight to the top of the corporate ladder through her talent and sheer hard work. She had returned to her job after the birth of her first child and has found herself having to deal with various people in her life from whom she would need help to navigate this turbulent and confusing time. She wrestles with feelings of guilt from leaving her child behind with caregivers instead of staying home to be with him herself. Meanwhile, opportunities for job advancement arise at work, while in her current role, she needs to seek outside help to expand her company’s capacity. As a first time mother, she struggles to find the balance between career, home life, and her need to set realistic goals for self-growth in other areas of her life. In Lisa’s life, we can see the difference between the different kinds of “help” that she receives from the various people in her life, as well as the impact they leave on her present and future.


Her supervisor is very supportive of her maxing out on her maternity leave to be at home with her baby as much as possible. However, he could only hold the position open for her for so long before the demands of work required that she returned to work. His relationship with her is clearly defined. She works for him, and he holds her accountable on results and outcomes that she is responsible for in her position at work. Their relationship is formal and based upon a higher to lower position of authority. While he is a really caring boss, and often uses coaching skills with Lisa as he supervises her, it is clear that their relationship is based on her results and goals at work.


As Lisa continues to struggle with feelings of guilt leaving her baby at home to be cared for by a nanny, while at the same time feeling that she is not able to give her work her 100%, she sought the help of a paid counselor to deal with these nagging feelings that just won’t go away. Her counselor used great listening skills and open questions to draw out the source of these feelings rooted in the past. Lisa’s overachieving ways hid deep insecurities that grew out of her being the second child in a family of three siblings where her big brother was the family hero while her baby sister got all the attention for being cute as a child and later on as a rebellious teenager. She earned the praise and attention of her parents through her achievements, and felt guilty when she was not making her parents proud because they were so troubled over her sister. Lisa’s counselor was able to help her understand the root of these feelings from her family of origin and her past history so that she can learn to care for herself and attend to her own needs in the present.


Part of Lisa’s self-care plan is to seek advice from her mentor, who also dealt with similar struggles when she first returned from maternity leave. Linda shared wisdom from her personal experience, tips on being wholly present at home and at work, and living with “good enough” rather than aiming for perfection. She recommended her some good books to read, both for personal growth as well as for career planning. She encouraged Lisa to slow down her pace of corporate ladder climbing so that she can live life at a more sustainable pace and make space for her family.


At work, Lisa’s company was going through rapid expansion. In order to deal with all the additional staff that she needed to hire for her department, she hired a consultant to come in to help her with strategic planning, so that they can add staff in a way to maximize effectiveness and not burn her out in the process. The money that her department saved in preventing waste, in retention of workers, and in organizational effectiveness more than paid for the high fees that the consultant charged for her services.


Finally, Lisa hired a life coach to help her map out a roadmap for developing her career while taking into account her need to balance career growth with her marriage and family life. The coach worked with Lisa to draw out her motivations and ideas to make her own decisions. He used dialog skills to help her make new discoveries and gain perspective new insights on her life. Most importantly, he helped her to create an actionable plan that will move her towards her goal of increasing her job scope. Lisa’s coach used powerful questions to help her discover some limiting beliefs that were preventing her from moving forward with her goals.

While Lisa has the help of her supervisor, mentor, counselor, consultant, and coach, their roles all differ even though each was important to her overall success. While all used coaching skills, the nature of Lisa’s relationship to each made the focus and outcome of her conversations with each person different.


While both counselors and coaches will use many of the same dialogue techniques, coaching begins in the present and is future oriented while counseling is focused helping Lisa to heal from the past. Coaching assumes that clients are basically psychologically and emotionally healthy and want to move ahead while counselors look to help clients get “unstuck” from a past wound so that they can move forward with the future.

Consultants are specialists who are paid for solutions. Companies have a problem and hire a consultant to come in to diagnose the problem, then propose a solution. Many times, the consultant is also responsible for implementing the solution. Coaches also focus on solutions, but draw solutions out from the client. Coaches support the client in creating a plan of action and implementing it. Ultimately, clients gain long-term problem-solving capacity.


In the relationship to the supervisor, it is the goals of the organization that are at issue within the context of a reporting relationship. A coach primarily seeks to help the client reach his/her goals, while simultaneously growing the client’s capacity.

As you read Lisa’s story, do you see what kind of help you might need?




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