“Never think you’ve got it all figured out. The moment you stop being open to feedback or being committed to your own growth and development is the moment you’ll get tripped up. Trust me, I learned this one the hard way,” executive coach Karen Wright says. Karen’s willingness to be refreshingly open and honest is only one of the reasons top executives come to her for career coaching. She has written books on the topic and runs her own successful coaching business and website. Karen spoke to us recently about achieving next-level readiness and other essential aspects of leadership.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey to where you currently are professionally as an executive coach?
I had a successful career in corporate marketing, until I got transferred to a different country without clarity about career path or success criteria. After trying to make it work, I ended that career and found myself back home with a blank space where my career used to be. At the same time, several articles on this new profession called “coaching” showed up from several different sources. I leaped and have never looked back. It was quickly evident that I had a natural aptitude for the work, but thankfully I was also well-equipped with the skills to run and market a business. It’s been 20 years and wonderful every day.
Do you have a personal mission statement or perhaps a favorite quote that expresses what you believe about what it takes to be successful?
I like to think of my own work as helping more people be more happy at work. Sometimes I talk about it in terms of helping create “better bosses.” As for what it takes to be successful – always be learning, and never think for one second that you’re “done.”
Do you think anyone has the potential to be a leader?
Yes, I think anyone CAN lead, at least to some degree on some level, and I think we are all leading every day if you consider our actions sending messages to those around us. When it comes to more formal leadership, I don’t think every one is comfortable in that role so even if the potential is there the desire might not be. And truly great leadership is fueled partly by desire.
How do you identify potential leaders?
I think great leaders have little ego and great confidence. A real leader, in my view, has the interests and goals of the organization (whatever it might be, large or small) uppermost in their mind, and they trust that their own success will follow (because their own success IS important, make no mistake. They just know that it cannot be at the expense of or without the success of the enterprise or team). The great leaders I’ve known are focused on what’s important, take care of themselves so they can bring the necessary energy to whatever they’re up to, understand that they are being watched as examples, and are constantly learning and striving to be better.
Can you tell us a bit about how you help people find the courage to achieve their goals?
I don’t know that I help people “find” courage. I like to think that I help people uncover what’s already within. And in order to achieve a goal, there has to be a willingness to focus, to eliminate other options, to remove distractions, so oftentimes I’m the one who challenges someone’s assertion that their goal is important. I like to say that you CAN have it all, just not all at once. So that’s probably where the courage comes in – the commitment to focus and withstand criticism or distractions or “easy” decisions.
How do people achieve next-level readiness to move up in their careers or toward other life goals?
First they have to know what constitutes “readiness” in their organization or situation. If the rules are being made by others, you have to understand those rules and be willing to play by them. Generally, you’re ready for a bigger challenge if you’re comfortable where you are. Taking on more – whether it be scope, scale, complexity, risk, responsibility – all requires some kind of stretch beyond where you are, which by definition is uncomfortable. But being comfortable isn’t the whole story – for someone ready for a new challenge, comfort is not good because it equals complacency, which is NOT consistent with achieving something new or significant.
What’s the most essential step one can take towards being a success?
Getting crystal clear about what constitutes success FOR YOU. We each have our own measures, our own value systems, our own desires. Real success is very personally defined.
What are some of the ways that you think goals should be set?
Whatever way gives you the best chance of achieving them! I’m personally a big fan of Charles Duhigg’s work on habit formation, because new habits are the foundation of goals.
Do you think positive thinking is an essential part of achieving one’s goals?
Absolutely – but not in and of itself. And not naive, empty positivity. I prefer to think of the difference between an optimist and a pessimist, as defined in positive psychology – the optimist knows that no matter what the adversity or obstacle, they have the strength, knowledge and resourcefulness to handle it. So it’s THAT confidence, that determination that I think is at the foundation of goal achievement.