My True Niche: Helping Helpers
by Shaun Kieran

Prevailing wisdom says that coaches are supposed to be generalists, but paradoxically, they’re also strongly advised to have a “niche” – preferably more than one, if possible. As many who know me will attest, I’m a generalist for sure, and the human condition is my subject. Despite it being an age of market segmentation, I’m pretty stubborn about wanting to know many things, and letting my curiosity take me wherever it goes. So I don’t outright deny the need to declare a niche so much as want to resist being limited somehow, or pigeonholed by a label. I do know my skills and values developed in settings where you don’t get to “cherry pick” – psychiatric hospitals, community mental health agencies, large, diverse workplaces – where you take on the problems of whomever walks through the door.

So, my Employee Assistance experience provides my most obvious niche - the workplace and the world of managers, owners, directors, and supervisors. I’ve written a piece specifically about that. As I said, I resist labels, but certainly some of what I do is properly called “executive coaching.” My particular preference is to work with frontline, hands-on supervisors, if only because it’s such an under-served group, and sometimes I call it “workplace coaching.” Good people are getting eaten alive out there – both supervisors and employees – as the workplace becomes a frontline legal and cultural battleground saturated with anger, conflict, and psychodrama.

But I now realize my actual, truest niche is broader, slightly more elusive, and might be awkwardly stated as “people who have other people counting on them while also hoping to move forward in their own lives.” This group includes teachers and school administrators, independent professionals, mentors, social service providers, coaches, parents, siblings, extended family members, nursing supervisors, case managers, trainers, caseworkers, as well as others not specified who are, or aspire to be “helpers.” I’ve also had lawyers, doctors, and academics ask me to help them, especially if their duties include training, orienting, mentoring, or supervising. The unifying theme is that they have people looking to them for support and guidance, and to model adult responsibility and reliability. When it goes well, it’s great. For some though, it can become a guilty burden and an energy drain, no longer fulfilling, validating, or energizing.

I’ve worked with so many people in some version of that situation. Ironically, those folks don’t need a ton of time to get back on track, since the qualities that they like in themselves are precisely the ones that respond so well to coaching. The world needs these people, which is why helping “helpers” is especially gratifying, and I’m honored anytime I get an opportunity to be useful to them.

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