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How Coaching Can Prevent a Resignation

Steinbeis consultant advises managers on career progression

Does having a personal coach actually make a difference? This is the kind of skepticism Birgit Nüchter often faces as director of the Stuttgart-based Steinbeis Consulting Center for Leadership Competence. There are extremely few scientifically sound studies that confirm the actual benefits of her work. According to the Marburg Coaching Study conducted in 2013, the German market for personal coaches currently consists of 8,000 individuals. And these days there seem to be coaches for everything, from money coaches to wellness coaches, partnership coaches, public speaking coaches, not forgetting a variety of things like Shamanic coaches and other colorful characters. It’s hardly surprising coaches have become “part of the furniture” in the HR repertoire of many German companies and a growing number of small and medium-sized companies now also include coaching in their HR plans. This is where business coaching comes in, which in itself is already multifaceted. And this is where the services offered by the Steinbeis Consulting Center also come into play.

Detlef K. is 49 and has been a level-one manager at his company for over 10 years. He gets positive feedback, he was recently promoted, which came with a financial reward, he gets on well with his bosses and his colleagues, and he’s in a job which he does well and enjoys. Looking around, not just at the place where he works but also at his friends, he has noticed that his co-workers and buddies have changed jobs or are actively seeking a new position. As a result, Detlef often wonders if he shouldn’t look for a new job, too. If he doesn’t do something soon, he might be too old to switch jobs later and he wouldn’t stand much of a chance anymore in the employment market. Maybe he could earn a bit more if he went somewhere else, although overall he’s actually quite happy with his current salary. Maybe he should dip his toes in the water and see if he’d do well at another company? In any case, he’s noticed with the people he works with at the moment that everything has become a bit of a routine. He’s managing his project all right, they work well as a team; if something does go wrong, they get it sorted. But Detlef doesn’t want to keep working like this until retirement – it’s just too long, life is too precious. And where’s the challenge? But before he goes off and does something silly, Detlef decides to talk to a business coach, somebody who was recommended to him.

His first coaching session with Birgit Nüchter took place at the Steinbeis Consulting Center for Leadership Competence. The first step was a stocktaking exercise to identify his motivations for making a change. As the case in hand involves vague feelings (boredom, a yearning for a challenge, comparisons with colleagues), Birgit Nüchter decided to use a coaching technique that involves images to connect with the parts of Detlef’s mind that do not operate on a rational level. The method also makes it possible to stimulate older parts of the brain that can access feelings more directly, quickly, and reliably than logic going through lists of pros and cons.

Detlef pulled out three pictures: one for his situation in the past, one for the present, and one for the future. On each picture he highlighted aspects that worked for him. As Birgit Nüchter observed, it was important how he perceived the picture he chose for the future, saying things like “I can shape things, try out new things” and for the present he would say “something is growing and flourishing, but I’m not driven.” Based on these insights, her coaching experience allowed her to pose systemic questions which encouraged Detlef to think about the reasons why he could not translate growing and flourishing in his present role into shaping and trying things out. Quite spontaneously, he came up with some ideas that were not only realistic, but could also be translated immediately into action. When Detlef went back through a couple of situations in the past, he realized that he always felt most in his element when there was a sense of adventure in his life.

The result: Detlef went away from the coaching session with the Steinbeis expert with a to-do list containing actions he could start right away:

  • Go for a walk in the mountains all by himself
  • Talk with his boss about an internal move and draft a long-term plan
  • Ask to join a task force which was only formed recently and was looking for members
  • Keep his eyes and ears open for situations offering more adventure and if applicable, “go for it”
  • And last but not least, there was a major insight: “I’ve got a wonderful life, a great job, a fantastic family – I want to enjoy it more consciously.”

After a single coaching session, Birgit Nüchter managed to resolve latent dissatisfaction and averted the potential resignation of an effective and respected manager. Weeks later, the picture Detlef chose during the coaching session to represent the future is still firmly in his mind. Whenever he feels things are in a rut again, he takes a look at it. This is no scientific study, but it does demonstrate how a conversation with a neutral coaching expert, using appropriate coaching techniques, can make a major difference.


Birgit Nüchter
Steinbeis Consulting Center Leadership competence (Stuttgart)