As an executive coach and career coach, Jennifer Zach of Cedar Rapids guides her clients to rise above the things that may be holding them back in their lives.
She believes that a lack of confidence is a common element that holds people back, no matter where they are in their career. The antidote she prescribes is taking and recognizing courageous action.
Often, she said, her clients already are doing small, courageous acts but simply don’t recognize them as such. Zach helps her clients recognize what they’re already doing right.
“That’s where the confidence builds,” she said. “And eventually it changes their belief system. And when that happens, they show up differently. They have that executive presence, that confidence that they’re carrying with them because they’ve learned to see themselves differently.”
Courageous action has been a theme throughout Zach’s life and career. She grew up on a farm in Fayette County, outside of Arlington in northeast Iowa.
“You can’t be risk averse on the farm,” she said.
After graduating from Starmont High School, Zach attended Kirkwood Community College. Her first job was an entry-level administrative position, assisting a facilities manager who was overseeing the installation of a new phone system.
“I knew nothing about telecommunications or phone systems. It was scary,” Zach said. “But what I did is I got my hands on it right away. I followed the technicians around and asked them a lot of questions. They were very gracious and helped me.”
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Her willingness to learn ultimately led her down a different career path. After learning about the hardware behind phone systems, Zach eventually became a telecommunications analyst for phone centers. In that role, she programmed the system call flow, analyzed data and helped leaders understand the data in order to make decisions.
“Data is very interesting. It was a career that I loved,” Zach said.
A magazine article about career coaching inspired her to explore a new career path.
“When I read (the article), I recognized myself in what they were describing for coaches, the skills that coaches bring to the table,” she said. “It was almost a calling to go down that path.”
Zach studied career coaching at Coach U and worked as an executive coach while still working as a telecommunications analyst. Eleven years ago, she decided coaching and personal development was what she wanted to do, and she moved into that role full time.
Clients seek Zach’s coaching to prepare for the next level in their jobs or even determine the next stop in their career path. Zach acts as a sounding board, an accountability partner, a resource to help her clients think outside of the box, and an active listener.
“What I’m really doing is helping people arrive at their own answers,” Zach said. “I love saying the answers are behind the questions that we ask. So a large part of my job is listening, but it’s also asking powerful questions that help people find those answers that are already within them.”
Seeing that growth, she said, is “the most beautiful thing to watch. It makes my heart sing.”
As she helps clients better themselves and advance in their careers, Zach also works to improve workplaces in general.
“My vision really is for our workplaces to be kinder, more compassionate places where people can do their best work,” Zach said.
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“One of the problems I see in our work culture is fear, which does not bring out the best in others,” she said. “We have a lot of hurting people. And when someone is hurting, they hurt other people.
“An important part of my work is teaching people to be more self-compassionate. When they are more compassionate with themselves, they can be more compassionate with others. You have to lead yourself first.”
Zach works with organizations to help them create healthier worksite cultures.
“When a leader becomes more self-aware, they have that much more to give,” she said. “They can then create the atmosphere, the environments that are going to be conducive to people being able to do their best work. A lot of that is creating a psychologically safe environment.”
Whether she’s working with a leader of an organization or an individual at any level in their career, Zach addresses courage and fear.
“Fear is really what stops us from taking those courageous steps, but it also gives us a reason to take those steps. The worst thing we can do is fight the fear. Because what we fight only grows stronger.”
Zach said she encourages people to find acceptance and be compassionate with oneself.
“We may perceive leaders to not be afraid. Everyone has fear, everyone,” Zach said, adding that the critical element is to go ahead and take that next step, despite the fear.
“People often tell me that I’m creative, I make them think, and that I’m always putting myself out there,” she said. “I do believe in putting myself out there.”
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