Career Development is taking on a new dimension in the workplace and in the context of long-term professional growth through dedicated coaching programmes. This trend is emerging not just in the « Brussels bubble » – an insight captured in the recent 2023 ESAE-Mavence joint leadership study – but across competitive and fast-moving professional ecosystems internationally, including key advocacy hubs. Individuals and organisations alike increasingly invest in and seek support for such offerings, narrowing a traditional gap in who pursues coaching – and why.

Getting the most out of tailored coaching opportunities – and facilitating access to such programmes, either individually or with an employer’s support – requires a clear understanding of what these programmes entail. Clarifying the needs and expectations for the coaching programme as well as the role and responsibilities of both clients and the coaches themselves, are prerequisites to ensure that objectives and paths towards realising them are aligned, well-crafted and responsive to individual needs.

These programmes can be extremely useful building up soft skills – from assertiveness in giving feedback, to the ability to navigate complex internal structures – but can also be invaluable in avoiding burnouts. There is a growing realization that successful careers are rarely built without professional development, and even then not exclusively on technical knowledge or expertise. Even in spheres where soft skills are much more essential to long-term success, such as public affairs and government relations, there is greater appreciation for the fact that these skills can in fact be proactively developed, and are not simply ephemeral qualities one can improvise.

On a similar note, the contexts in which coaching can be a ready solution are expanding into new areas of organizational management: onboarding for new functions, leading and developing newly formed or existing teams, or as part of initiatives to realign operations and motivation with changing strategic objectives are all circumstances in which structured coaching can play an impactful role. Continued L&D was endorsed as a specific goal among senior leaders in particular, with 67.6% of association leaders highlighting a desire for tailored training programmes targeting core skills of communication, management, and leadership skills in the ESAE-Mavence study findings. Of those 2/3 a majority welcomed these training programmes as a structured part of their professional growth plans, but many expressed a willingness to seek such coaching programmes out even on their own time if not offered. Going one step further, a significant finding was that close to 25% of respondents highlighted they would be interested in receiving professional coaching support – regardless of whether they feel they could also benefit from skills-specific training or not.

There is room for growth and continued improvement across all levels and in diverse settings. In the end, however, what is most important is that the coach and the professional being coached work together to identify priorities, goals, and pathways to success, taking full advantage of the confidentiality of the working relationship. In such a setting, even navigating challenging interpersonal relationships, helping manage work-life balance, enshrining a positive feedback-culture, and facilitating communication are all achievable outputs.

This confidential coaching dynamic is one of the most important elements of a successful programme, and sets the tone for what both newcomers and those experienced with coaching can expect across the 5-10 sessions that typically constitute a tailored plan. These plans are the result of dialogue directly between the coach and the client, generally without the input or oversight of the sponsor of the programme be it the organisational leadership, managers, or HR representatives, which provides another unique value: while employees can bring goals into the conversation that reflect priorities and objectives from a specific role or organisational hierarchy, at the end of the day the most important factor is what organically emerges as a reflection of the employees own needs, and the evolution of the programme itself in conversation with the coach. While different frameworks do exist – for instance, employee-led engagement for personal development, or programmes sponsored by the employer, as part of a more wholistic benefits package and structured professional growth plan – the outcome should remain the same: a personalised, one-on-one approach that evolves over time and within the scope agreed between the coach and the individual.

For coaching to be right for you, Mavence lays out four key pillars that both sides need to bring to the table: trust, authenticity, will, and commitment. Trust is an essential starting point, and must be present throughout: trust in the coach, in the process, and the confidential nature of the relationship. Authenticity means coming as you are – with both the resources at your disposal, and the challenges that you face. Will represents the real, individual and personal intention and motivation to reflect, learn, and change. And finally, commitment: coaching is a dynamic process that takes place over several months, in which the individual is in the driver’s seat setting both objectives and direction. This brings with it not just opportunity, but responsibility – to attend sessions, to prepare for them appropriately, and to implement concrete actions towards agreed goals step-by-step and within the time frame set out in the coaching programme.

Personalised coaching for career and professional development is something that is suitable for all levels of professionals, from relatively junior positions all the way up to C-Suite leadership. This belies the truth that such coaching programmes are not inherently a means to address a shortcoming or compensate for a relatively weak skill in the larger professional toolbox: through challenge, guidance, reflection, and exercise, coaching can and often does target the upside – working to break out of plateaus and expand on strengths to facilitate leveraging them in new ways.