Two of the frequent aims of career coaching or counselling are to empower clients and to help them develop amibtious personal goals. Nothing could possibly be wrong with that, you might think.
However, according to studies performed by Mario Weick, from the University of Kent, and Ana Guinote, from University College London, people who experience feelings of power can seriously underestimate how long it will take to achieve their goals.
In the research, university students (the usual victims) were asked to estimate the time it would take to complete their next coursework assignment. Half of the students had been led to believe that their opinions were going to have a significant influence an insitution-wide policy decision, the other half were told that their opinions would have no effect on the final decision.
The students convinced of their power to change policy were more likely to give overly optimistic estimates of how soon they would complete their assigments. Even though they often completed some elements of their task more quickly than the non-powerful students, they still got it wrong overall.
The researchers tested to see whether the effect was down to the empowered students feeling more confident in their abilities or perhaps feeling happier or more optimistic generally, but these factors didn’t seem to correlate with the unrealistic estimates.
In one of the studies, though, they told half of the empowered students to think about how long previous assignments had taken before making their estimate. This act of drawing attention to the past had the effect of making their projections more realistic.
Ignoring important information
From the preceding results the authors concluded that the effect of empowerment was to focus the students’ attention too narrowly on the specific goal. This led them to neglect other factors that might help to make a better time estimate, such as:
- comparing this task with evidence from other experiences and similar tasks
- predicting potential problems and obstacles on the way to achieving the goal
- looking at the complexity of subcomponents of the task rather than viewing the task as one big but simple job
Goal setting and empowerment
Any good career coach should aim to empower their clients. However, if you are also helping them to formulate their career development goals, it could be important to also focus on the factors that will enable the clients to be more realistic in their estimates of the difficulty of achieving those goals. If our clients find that it’s harder than they thought to achieve their goals, they may lose hope and lose confidence.
- Have you seen this effect in clients?
- Do you spend enough time on making client action plans detailed and realistic?
- Do you think about how to empower your clients?
Related post: The benefits of pessimism