A Day In The Life Of An Executive Coach – Women In Leadership, The Guardian website

Tell us a little bit about what you do and what a typical day looks like.

I work with both organisations and individuals, so my days can vary greatly. I might go into a company and work with an executive for a couple of hours, helping them work through particular challenges. I might coach private clients face to face via Skype.

I also go into organisations and teach their leaders how to bring coaching into their leadership style. Research shows that either a coaching or a visionary style of leadership are the most effective over the longer term. I help leaders put together both styles and this in turn enables them to help their staff take responsibility and move forward in their roles.

A coaching style of leadership isn’t the only style, but for staff engagement and motivation it’s one of the most effective.

Co-active coaching, the style I use, really focuses on growing the human being. One of its foundation beliefs is that people are naturally creative, resourceful and whole. We’re not trying to change people – my job is helping them become aware of their strengths and the mindsets that sabotage them. We focus on the whole person rather than compartmentalising people into “this is you at work, this is you at home” etc.

How did you get into executive coaching?

My background was in PR but it became more and more high tech, and I’m really not high tech. I felt like a square peg in a round hole.

The thing I liked most about PR was helping people prepare for press interviews. I found it really interesting that I’d be working with very senior men, who knew what they wanted to say but didn’t have the confidence to get the message across. I really enjoyed helping them manage that.

To begin with I trained to be a counsellor and then I had a co-active coaching session with someone. I came out of it feeling so positive and so much clearer about everything. It was just two hours but it was a transformation for me.

Following that, I did the CTI training and it felt like I was back on my natural path.

What expectations did you have of the job before you started and how do these differ from the day to day?

I thought I’d love it because it felt so right, and I thought that I would get to make a really positive difference in people’s lives. I thought I’d have the freedom and flexibility to work anywhere in the world and I do have all those things.

What I hadn’t really considered was that I would be running a business. I’d tell anyone considering becoming a coach to make sure they understand that they’ll need to develop both coaching and business skills – you can’t just be good at one.

There’s also the adjustment to letting go of the monthly salary – that’s a big adjustment. But because I have so much flexibility I can do lots of things I hadn’t thought of. Last year some colleagues and I went to India with a children’s charity and did pro bono work. We trained teachers and social workers in coaching skills so they could use them with the children and ran workshops for over 500 young people, including a group of prisoners, helping them understand how their minds work and the behaviours that help and hinder them. It was an amazing experience. In my old life, I’d have had to get approval from my company, book holiday etc. Now I can make the decision that I want to do it and just go for it.

What advice would you give someone thinking of becoming a coach?

My best advice would be to do professional training and get certified. Previously you might not have needed it but now any organisation that employs a coach wants them to be certified.

I would also say take it a step at a time. I know more and more people who are integrating coaching skills into their current role. That’s a great way to do it, you get to coach but within the safety of an organisation.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Trust yourself and don’t feel you have to do things the conventional way. When I was growing up I had no idea what I wanted to be or do with my life, and I felt quite stupid for not knowing. Now, looking back, I realise I’m doing a job that didn’t really exist when I first started working – that’s going to be the case for more and more of us.

The world changes and new things appear all the time; you don’t have to go down the traditional route and follow convention if it doesn’t suit you.

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