Midlife career coach needs to be an unbiased, challenging supporter

By mid-life we are far from blank pages and mid life career change is not just about deciding to do something different or to become something or someone new – it’s about the person becoming more of themselves in their work, becoming more of themselves in their life. They are, in essence, ‘discovering – journeying to become more of me’.

Coaching is walking along side for part of the journey

The coaching is in service of this ‘dis-covering’ and the unique value of the coach relationship is as a companion who is an ‘unbiased, challenging supporter’.

During the journey, clients may have other ‘companions’ such as partners, friends, or colleagues but they are not considered to be unbiased for a whole variety of reasons. The client seems to be the prime navigator and ‘holds the compass’ – they are the ones journeying, are present for the whole journey and ultimately make the choices. The coach has a key role in assisting the navigation – prompting further discovery in appropriate ways and ensuring major aspects of the journeying process are not missed.

“It was about having someone who would approach it professionally, that I could trust, and know that it was my decision as opposed to being influenced by somebody else”

It’s probably the only space where they give themselves permission to speak freely because their partners would probably have a fit as there might be a lot of money coming in – big holidays, big houses, big cars

This positions the coach in a non-expert capacity- walking alongside the clients – which also has it’s challenges.

For many coaches, working with clients who are wanting to make a change is inspirational and interesting both personally and professionally. This interest may challenge the ‘unbiased’ aspect with a potential risk of encouraging or advocating reinvention unconsciously.

Additionally, holding a ‘challenging supporter’ position when coaching may itself be tricky. In his work, de Haan described a playing field of coaching approaches along two continua producing four quadrants (de Haan, 2008): 

  • suggesting —- exploring
  • confronting —- supporting 

My research showed that coaches need to be able to occupy or move between both ends of de Haan’s confronting —- supporting continua. Yates does argue that career coaches can occupy all four quadrants and suggests that whilst “coaching practitioners would tend to resist the suggesting/confronting quadrants”, challenging can be an important part of career coaching if done, for example, from a position of unconditional positive regard (Yates, 2014 p1). 

Overall, I believe coaching is well suited to working with people at mid-life – as clients are the experts in their own lives and with the right support and challenge are very resourceful. In my research clients had found outplacement support or career guidance too narrow for career reinvention – getting more value from a coach who was more developmental, able to take a whole life approach and non-directive.


de Haan, E. (2008) Relational Coaching: Journeys Towards Mastering One-to-One learning. Chichester: Wiley. 

Yates, J. (2014) The Career Coaching Handbook. Abingdon: Routledge.

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