5 minute read


Unpacking baggage is removing hurdles for clients


By Dr Keri Ohlrich

May I Check Your Bag?

You might be asking, what is this unpacking baggage, I am not traveling! Let’s have a real discussion about baggage. Yep, we all have it. We have good and bad ways of managing ourselves. We have our natural programming that guides us throughout our day. Most of the time, we are not even aware of the “why” of what we are doing. Over time, our bags can get heavier and large enough that we may not be able to see over them. It weighs us down and does not allow us to move freely and effortlessly.

Unbeknownst to ourselves, we can give our baggage to others to carry and weigh them down as well, especially when we are leaders of a team.

Our goal is not to get rid of all of our baggage, well, maybe the ones that no longer serve us. We need to live with our baggage and not be controlled by it. We need to be able to use our bags to help us travel to new places, learn about others and ourselves. We need to be able to unpack our bags and know what is in them. And, this is where we can help our

clients. We are their valet who works with them to unpack their bags, see what they contain and help them to understand what works for them and what needs to be put in storage!

This idea of uncovering (or unpacking) the baggage is a Grand Final moment. The a-ha moment of clients understanding themselves and examining the baggage they carry around. By understanding this baggage, we, as coaches, can remove those bags or hurdles that are impeding them from achieving their full potential.

Is That A Carry-On, Backpack, or Trunk?

What types of baggage do people need to unpack?

• A client who realizes that her sense of urgency to get everything done right away is incredibly high. She puts intense pressure on herself and others because of this. She gets frustrated by others not responding as quickly as she does. By uncovering her strong bias for and motivation to “check the box”, she is now able to be kinder to herself, her team and peers.

• A client who is highly accommodating in life and work, so much so that he is stressed out, falling behind in work, and leading an unhealthy lifestyle. What baggage did he carry? Saying “Yes” to everything and everyone, except for himself. Together, we unpacked the need to please and how that does not serve him, his health and others.

Let Me Help You With Your Bags

As coaches, it is not easy to help clients unpack their baggage, as it does take an emotional toll on us. We cannot help others if we haven’t unpacked our own bags. We need to model that behavior and explain the “why” behind our motivations, our traits, our modus operandi. If we are not ready to unpack our baggage and own what is inside, then we won’t be able to help our clients. Below are other lessons learned on how I have helped clients unpack:

• Employing 360 interviews to help the client uncover their baggage. These interviews are phone calls or in-person discussions with the client’s manager, direct reports and peers. It is not a written survey. You want to hear the tone of the respondent and ask deeper questions than what a paper survey allows.

• Providing a psychometric assessment that gives direct, clear, and understandable feedback that allows the client to understand their baggage. My favorite is the Caliper which provides insights into traits (e.g., aggressive, resiliency, empathy, abstract reasoning) in a percentile format. The client

understands that if they are in the 99th aggressive percentile, then they are more aggressive (motivated to argue/debate a point) than just about everyone in the room.

• As a coach, learn as much as you can on human development and psychology. Knowing these disciplines helps you understand a client’s baggage and how difficult it is or can be to release it.

• Remind clients that many times baggage has helped them in the past but it might not be helping them move to the next level.

• Accept that this is hard work for many clients and for coaches! It sometimes might be easier to talk about other business items rather than the baggage. Both coaches and clients might want to avoid these discussions at times. Not every session has to be about unpacking the baggage, some days it might be great to talk about a different topic. However, it cannot be a consistent pattern to avoid unpacking!

• It is necessary as a coach, to have a flexible process to meet people where they are at and what they need, instead

of insisting on rigid adherence to a process. That process may serve you as the coach, but not the client. And, unpacking baggage is messy and convoluted, there is rarely a linear path from identification to management.

The Grand Final

Overall, unpacking baggage is truly getting to the foundation and root cause of individual behavior and motivations. Coaches can help clients with this difficult work by collecting data from others and from conducting psychometric assessments. It is necessary to have frank, direct and potentially uncomfortable discussions with the client in order to guide them to a break-through. Helping a client dig deep and uncover baggage is a Grand Final for a coach as well as a Grand Final for a client. Your client is now able to reflect on their actions and understand what motivates, what triggers, what inspires and what irritates. They are in control of the baggage and that, in turn, can lead to more joy and fulfilment from working relationships, and dare I say personal ones as well!

Dr. Keri Ohlrich, CEO of Abbracci Group, is an outcomefocused senior executive with over 20 years of success in the HR. Her broad areas of expertise include strategic planning, employee relations, talent management, culture change, conflict management, performance management, organizational development, workshop facilitation, and employee engagement and development. Throughout her career, Keri has held leadership positions at a variety of organizations ranging from start-up to Fortune 500 companies. Shas created and implemented HR processes, redesigned the talent function for an organization serving 25,000 global employees, led change management for a new business strategy, and overhauled the Human Resources department.

Keri obtained her PhD in Human Development and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University and co-authored, The Way of The HR Warrior.

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