Time to break free

Improving any aspect of your professional life can be just as much about confronting personal demons and looking inside yourself, as it can be about addressing issues over technique and honing specific management skills.

I discovered this when attending a personal coaching session with the former finance director of Yo! Sushi, who has left the world of accounting to ‘make a difference’.

The former FD deals in neurolinguistic programming, what he calls ‘the science for being successful’. It challenges people’s beliefs about themselves and the world around them, and as such can be used in a wide variety of areas.

Jeremy Lazarus took up life coaching professionally four years ago after a distinguished career in the finance sector. Following six years of working in the City, he joined Ernst & Young as a management consultant, qualifying as an FCCA-certified accountant in the process. After this, he moved to Unigate, first as treasury manager and later as group chief accountant.

‘I wasn’t really suited to the role,’ says Lazarus of his decision to move. ‘I didn’t have the accountancy experience and my strengths were not in the day-in day-out routine that the job entailed.’

The move to Yo! Sushi, although a ‘great experience’ for Lazarus, was also not quite right for him. ‘It didn’t fit my sense of personal value,’ he admits. ‘In the role of a senior finance person, I was asked to do things, nothing dodgy, that just didn’t feel right. I reached a point where I couldn’t lie to myself any longer.’

It was at this point that Lazarus decided to move into personal coaching, a subject he had been dabbling with for the previous few years, first as part of personal development weekends where members of the group essentially coached each other.

‘While I was at Yo! Sushi I bumped into one of the top life and business coaches around. I told her of my desire to be a coach and she asked me to coach her.’

Lazarus received top marks from the coach and handed in his resignation the next day.

He now deals in business areas such as conflict resolution, people management, leadership skills, career management, recruitment, sales and influencing skills, but the scale of his work also extends to personal areas such as phobias, stopping addictions, and helping people find the right partners.

However, as I found out, where you end up at the end of the session may be somewhere completely different to where you thought you would be at the start.

My session was aimed at improving presentation skills. It’s a common area that people in business have to address and often feel uncomfortable about. I also have to make a best man’s speech in the near future, so any help I could get there would be most welcome.

The first question that came my way was :’What do you want to get out of this session?’ and that set the tone for the rest of the hour. What I saw as an issue of apprehension about public speaking was not coming from that fear many of us get, of exposure and isolation, when asked to present to a large group of strangers. That was an issue, but the session also brought out more complex, yet simple reasons.

The role Lazarus plays in the sessions is both that of inquisitor and comforter. It is good cop, bad cop rolled into one package.

He will get to the core of the issue affecting performance on any topic through, at times, some tough and probing questioning. When you get down to the core issues, he will also challenge your perceptions, making you look at an issue in a different way, and see that maybe the problem isn’t as bad as you think.

The journey there isn’t always a comfortable one and may make you look at aspects of yourself that you would rather not, but it is also one that requires you to be open and honest at all times.

The coaching session is a two-way street and if you’re not honest with your answers you will not achieve your aims. Fortunately Lazarus has a handy ability to sniff out untruths, which helps speed the process along, but if you close yourself off there is little he can do.

‘I’m only interested in working with people if they want to get results,’ says Lazarus. ‘It’s rare but it has happened that I haven’t taken people on because I don’t think I can help them. This is usually because they don’t actually want to do anything about it themselves, but it could also be that what they want is just too unrealistic.’

As it turned out, my journey took me away from the area of business presentations and the more general area of work. Nevertheless the issue was the same as that surrounding public speaking – confidence.

I came through the session with a much brighter outlook, which in turn will provide me with the confidence to know I could make such presentations when required.

Lazarus points out that these personal sessions, rather than the more structured group work that he also undertakes, often follow this pattern and lead away from the starting point. However, as no two people are the same, no two sessions will be the same.

‘With someone else I could have started at the same point and ended up going down a completely different route,’ says Lazarus.

‘I want my clients to feel empowered and I do what I believe I need to do to get this. I can be incredibly supportive or I can be in your face. It all depends on how (the client) feels at the time and what is needed to move them along.’

And so with my new-found confidence, my best man’s speech should have everyone in stitches. Now I only have to work on my sense of humour!

  • Paul Grant is senior reporter at Accountancy Age.

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