The Essential Inner Skills Needed to Grow Your Career

By Michael Melcher
Partner, Next Step Partners

Pam McLean, clinical psychologist, master coach, coach supervisor and preeminent authority on the coaching, recently joined NSP Partner Michael Melcher on his Career Stewardship podcast

If you really want to grow in your career, it’s going to take more than buying a book of tips from an airport bookstore. You need to examine your inner landscape, ask yourself what needs to change, and anticipate what’s going to be hard about that change.

A preeminent authority on coaching, transformation learning, and transition and change in the adult journey, Pamela McLean, Ph.D. has been at the forefront of the field of adult development and the emerging field of coaching for the past 30 years. She is the co-founder and CEO of the Hudson Institute, and author of Self as Coach, Self as Leader as well as The Handbook of Coaching.

In Episode 19 of my Career Stewardship podcast, Pam talks about the “Self as Coach” model she developed and how the most important tool we have for leadership development is our own self. 

Why Leaders Need to Cultivate Internal Skills

Many leaders have gotten where they are by being really good at doing “the thing”. They have a particular type of expertise or technical skill or know-how that is rewarded. Then they get to a position where they have to manage or lead other people. And, let’s be honest, where do you learn how to do that?

Pam says, “When most people get promoted, what becomes glaringly clear that they need to develop internal skills … We are compromised in how we lead and show up with others unless we cultivate our ability to make meaning and relate to others. ”

We talk about how you need strong self-insight and self-knowledge to improve the following key elements of leadership:

  • How you show up with you team
  • How you communicate
  • How you ask for and provide feedback

The Two Big Career Development Questions to Ask Yourself

When thinking about growing in your career, the first big question is, “What shift could I make that would make a compelling difference?” And to get to that answer, Pam recommends starting here:

  • Where’s a place where things aren’t going quite right for you right now?    
  • If it were going as you’d like it, what would it look like? What would you look like?

Once you have an idea of the change you’d like to make, you need to address an even more important question:  “What will be hard about making this change?” No book will help you answer that. You have to look inside.

There can be valid reasons why we are stuck.  Pam says, “Old behavior is really rooted in good intentions.” Something that used to work for us may no longer be working – the world changes and we change.  It’s important to understand your underlying assumptions and motivations if you want to change a behavior.  

For example, if you are someone who tends to micromanage, is it because you want to make a difference? Is it because you believe you need to be “doing” to add value? If so, what might be hard about delegating is the fear that you won’t be needed or important. Understanding this helps us to shift gears and see other ways of thinking about and doing things.

Pam McLean’s career advice for leaders 

Over the course of our 25-minute conversation, Pam and I talk about:

  • Self-reflection: why it becomes more important as you advance in your career
  • Unlearning: how to change habitual responses
  • Developing a balcony view: what it is and why it’s essential for leaders
  • Self-coaching: what it means and how to do it
  • Accountability partners: practical support for making change stick

About the Career Stewardship with Michael Melcher podcast

This ongoing podcast from career expert, Michael Melcher, will help you figure out what to do about your career during lockdown and beyond. Each episode offers best practices, stories from the field, and bite-sized tips to help build your career success in both the short and long term.

As one of the partners at Next Step Partners, Michael is a seasoned expert on developing leaders and helping senior professionals make career transitions. A former lawyer, foreign service officer and startup CEO, he has navigated several career transitions himself.

Subscribe to Career Stewardship with Michael Melcher on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcast or your favorite platform. You can find additional resources on the show website:

About Pam McLean

Pamela McLean, PhD, is the CEO and Co-Founder of The Hudson Institute of Coaching, widely known as one of the leading coach training programs in the US. McLean brings more than three decades of experience as a clinical psychologist, master coach, coach supervisor and leader in the field of coaching. 

McLean authored The Completely Revised Handbook of Coaching (2012) which examines key coaching theories, evidenced-based research and methodologies and explores the use of self as the most important instrument we have in our work as coaches. 

Her book, Self as Coach, Self as Leaders, takes a close look at meta-skills required in developmental coaching allowing a coach to focus on deeper, lasting changes for the client. McLean has also authored a popular book, LifeForward: Charting the Journey Ahead, on transition and change in our adult lives. 

Pam has served on Harvard’s JFK Women’s Leadership Board, the faculty of Saybrook University in San Francisco, California, the Editorial Board of IJCO and LikeMinded in San Francisco.





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