Tag Archives: coaching

The boys in the (wo)men who run things

Recently, and for the first time in my life, I walked into a betting shop.

I wanted to find out if I could place a bet, and at what odds, that Brexit will not go through. It was, after all a plebiscite – a non-binding, advisory referendum. And who in their right mind would implement a decision as complex and significant as leaving the European Union on the basis of such a tiny majority of votes to leave, particularly when the overall statistics suggest a broadly three thirds split between “leave”, “remain” and “didn’t vote”?

It seems we are not in our right mind

So many things about Brexit highlight that we are not in our right minds that I need not mention them all.

Perhaps, even, any.

From the safe distance of the US, a friend wrote on Facebook. First, he responded to the result of the referendum, by saying:

To all my friends and colleagues in the UK and the EU: the “Brexit” vote is a huge deal! My heart goes out to you in the instability and change, regardless of which way you were voting.

Sending hugs and fierce love today.

Then, he responded to David Cameron’s post referendum speech by saying:

Can someone explain the intricacies of UK politics to me around a prime minister resigning? I can’t tell, from what I’ve been reading, whether David Cameron is resigning on principle, or if there is a process in the way the prime minister loses his position when something… changes…? <confused>

After I get an answer to this, I’ll ask about the rules of cricket.

Of course, from the safe distance of the UK, the possibility that Donald Trump might become President of the United States also seems pretty off the wall.

Even so, we might still have to live with it.

Wounded Leaders

Everything about Brexit pointed to one thing for me. It was time to read Nick Duffell’s book, Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion.

For over twenty years, Duffell has been exploring a topic that came to my attention only because of conversations with a friend: the impact on men and women in adulthood of attending boarding schools in childhood.

Duffell’s thesis is that sending children away to board exposes them to the traumatic experience of being separated from their parents before they are ready. Then, as if this were not enough, they have to make sense of their parents’ reasons for doing it, raising fears that they were sent away because their parents didn’t love them or that the fact that they are not enjoying boarding school means there is something wrong with them. Finally, the experience throws up the need to find ways to survive in their new context. They become bullies or buffoons, or possibly both. In Nick Duffell’s language, they become Boarding School Survivors.

Duffell’s thesis is vividly reflected in a documentary film, made in 1994, entitled The Making of Them, which is still available to view.

As his book outlines, the results of boarding in the adult lives of boarders are also plain to see in the behaviours of our political elite.

You are not alone

You could think that this posting is directed only at people who have been to boarding school, or to people who work with former boarders. It’s not.

Reading Duffell’s book, I found parallels in my own experience both as a child transitioning over time into adulthood and also as someone who works with men and women in leadership roles.

If you, for example, are sometimes triggered in the work place… if, at times, you respond at a speed that can only come from some kind of automatic pilot to the events you face at work… if you sometimes regret your reaction but don’t begin to know what to do differently or if you seek to justify your response by finding fault with the person or people you are dealing with… if there are things you desire as if your very life depends upon it… if you are riddled with self-doubt unless you achieve X or Y or Z… you are not alone.

It is common for children to experience things in childhood that are beyond their capacity to understand. It is equally common for children, in finding ways to cope with difficult experiences, to develop strategies that, whilst far from effective, nonetheless get carried into adulthood. These are strategies that protect us – or attempt to protect us – from the worst fears of our inner child.

At the same time, in our adult lives, our inner child remains stuck unless and until we are able to recognise our pain (the “wounds” implied in the title of Duffell’s book), to understand the source of our pain and to seek out and embody the learning we need to move forward.

When your inner child is running the show

Early in his book, Duffell reminds us of David Cameron’s now (in)famous remark to Angela Eagle in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions: “Calm down, dear”, which he analyses in some detail as an example of the kind of strategies boarders adopt. It’s the kind of strategy that works in the moment, at least to some degree.

At the same time, as you may know from your own experience, strategies that come from your inner child can only work to a limited degree and may even be harmful.

What are the consequences of these strategies, of which we may or may not be aware?

  • Often, they are accompanied by high emotions, particularly anxiety, on the part of the inner child. We may look as elegant as swans on the surface, but maintaining appearances takes untold energy and can lead, over time, to exhaustion, stress and more;
  • Formed in childhood based on the thinking of our immature child, the harm to ourselves is self-perpetuating, because the thinking that drives them is taken as true. You think you have to work ten times as hard as your colleagues to be accepted? You think you have to be top of the corporate class in order to be liked? You will strive, constantly, in line with your inner belief. Worse still, because you fear, at some level, that you are not, fundamentally, okay, it can be hard for you to receive feedback that brings your hidden belief into awareness, lest it be proof of the flaws you fear so deeply;
  • Paradoxically, the very strategy that you adopted as a child may prevent you, in adulthood, from achieving the needs it was designed to achieve. This can become more and more apparent as your career progresses… when, for example, the attention to detail that made you an asset early in your career becomes a failure to see the larger picture in your role as a leader;
  • There may be consequences for those you lead. These are likely to be designed into your strategy but also unconscious. If you strive for perfection, for example, in order to prove you’re okay, you may be highly intolerant of any mistakes, wherever they come from. As a consequence, you will come down hard on the mistakes of others and may even try to make others responsible for your own;

If you’ve read this far, you may already be aware of some hidden anxiety or behavioural pattern that is running the show. You may even be aware of the implications for you and for others in your career.

You don’t need to be alone with it.

It’s not just that you’re one of many people who have one or more stress responses which date back to your childhood experiences.


In addition, there are many ways – such as learning to pause before you act or learning to meditate – to begin the work of re-shaping your approach. In addition, professional support is available from highly skilled therapists, coaches and trainers. Far from being a sign that you’re flawed or failing in some way, the decision to seek professional support signals a step towards conscious self-awareness and making adult choices.

And Brexit?

Nick Duffell would, I think, propose that Brexit is the natural consequence of attempts to survive a boarding school education. In the prologue to Wounded Leaders, he writes presciently:

Having had to do without loving parents and being thrust into a false community – a single-sex institution with a narrow age-range – most ex boarders develop a very complex relationship with groups and communities, characterized by a mixture of suspicion and unfulfilled longing. Despite their intentions, those with an overriding thirst for power seem to end up suspicious of Continental values, backing self-reliance and prolonging a deep conservatism that keeps the old for the old’s sake and robs the country of the benefits of its natural dynamism. This, of course, affects the whole of society from top to bottom.

If Duffell is right, our decision, by a narrow majority of voters, to leave the European Union, is the result of unconscious survival strategies at the most senior levels of Britain’s political elite. In my view, it has also been met by similar survival responses across the electorate.

As for me, I did not get to place my bet.

I explained to the man who was serving me that I had not missed the result of the referendum (as he assumed) and talked about the process of invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. At the time, there were no odds on offer (and I missed the opportunity to place a bet on Theresa May.)

A fellow customer, standing next to me at the next counter, looked quizzically at me and told me that we’ve already left Europe.

Nothing I could say persuaded him that this was not, actually, true.

Coaching: the gift that keeps on giving

Recently, I was absolutely thrilled to discover that former coaching client, Carrie Bedingfield, has done a very successful talk which is available on TEDx.  Her subject?  How striving is costing us everything:  the profit paradox.

I thought of Carrie again recently.  I’ll come back to the “why”.  First though, I want to touch on something that coaches, and their clients, constantly grapple with:

Pondering what return you’ll get from your investment in coaching?

When you make an investment in coaching – time, money and more – you want to know that it will be worthwhile.  This is true whether you are seeking coaching for yourself or sponsoring coaching for someone in your team.

Will coaching help you with the immediate issues that have made you consider coaching as an option in the first place?  You want to know.

Will coaching lead to benefits in the long-term that make the investment worthwhile?  You want to know.

At the same time, coaching holds no guarantees.  There’s no guarantee that coaching will deliver the solutions you are hoping for.  There’s no guarantee that coaching will deliver any solutions.  Coaching, as an “act of faith” remains an expensive option.

What proof is there of the long-term benefits of coaching?

Coaches, too, grapple with this issue.

We look for studies which demonstrate the impact of coaching.  They’re out there but they’re not always easy to find and, quite quickly, they can look out of date.

Sometimes, I prefer to let clients speak about the results over time from their investment in coaching.  Carrie told me at the time what benefits she had from her investment in coaching with me.  In recent days, she’s been kind enough to add a few words about the long term impact of coaching.

This is what she had to say:

CarrieWhen I first started working with you, I was working flat out and trying to make myself available to everyone – clients, team members and others – all the time.  Paradoxically, the more I tried to make myself available to people, the more I was starting to resent people for stealing my time.  Also, I was riding the roller-coaster of other people’s emotions.  A client would be unhappy (or just express something in a way that brought us all down) and I would dive down.  A project would go well and the world was a sunny happy place.  I was feeling exhausted and I knew the approach I was taking wasn’t sustainable.

Like many people, I’m a bundle of sharp contrasts – they conflict all the time which causes wasted energy/effort or even pain.  With Dorothy, I learnt to unpick these. They all want something good for me.  If I can identify how each is trying to serve me, I can end the conflict.  Now I understand, for example, what dangers my desire to be available and my concern to protect my time are warning me against and how they’re trying to help me.  And I can set and communicate boundaries that don’t cause inconvenience for me or anyone else.

Another massive lesson for me was to take responsibility for myself only – one I share with other people all the time.  Clearly defining what I’m responsible for and what I’m not (you need to keep doing this ALL the time!) changes the energy completely and removes the emotional weight of running a service business.  Dorothy enabled me to disentangle myself from all of this and establish what I am responsible for which helps me focus effort on what I can actually change and lift the weight from my shoulders of other people’s responses which are their choice.

I didn’t think it was possible to learn something completely new or to massively grow in an area of little experience.  For me that was coaching and developing others.  I had limited beliefs about what others were capable of so I neither thought they could transform nor that I could help them do it.  I learnt by doing that actually, I could change/develop/grow/learn and that opened up a new world. All these people in my extended team could also develop amazing new talents and I could help them do it!  And that’s exactly what happened.

The work we did together had a massive impact on me at the time.  Learning to coach members of my team meant that they were able to fulfil their potential more fully and I could delegate to them.  My role changed quite quickly.  I went from being key to the provision of services to take on a leadership role and, quite quickly, to become CEO.  This opened up opportunities to do other things, such as lecturing for the University of Cambridge Judge Business School and founding 50th Generation, an incubator for meaningful, growing businesses.

It’s easy to say that, as a result of our work together (and other learning with other learning partners), I became a different person.  I think it’s more truthful, though, to say that our work together helped me to become a more effective, fun and joyful version of myself.

Carrie Bedingfield

Entrepreneur, business grower, investor, communications specialist, guest lecturer

Investing in your life and career

I thought of Carrie because I am currently putting together information about a coaching group I will be offering in the next few days for people who want to make their next career move – people who are seeking promotion within their current organisation or seeking to move from one organisation and another.  If you want to find out more, about this, click here.

Carrie’s experience demonstrates the kind of progress people make as a result of investing in their personal development.  Her testimonial exemplifies the kind of things people learn in coaching.  It also exemplifies the kind of results people can look forward to in the short-, medium- and long-term.

There’s a curious thing, too, about coaching.

Carrie’s testimonial is a reflection of just how extraordinary she is.

At the same time, in my experience, successful coaching demonstrates just how ordinary it is to be extraordinary.

Changing jobs? Finding your ideal job

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There’s been a bit of a theme recently amongst my coaching clients.  Come to that, there’s been a bit of a theme amongst friends, too.  People are on the move… looking for a new job.

A client has taken redundancy from his employer of some twenty years and is wondering whether to seek a similar job elsewhere and, if not, what else might beckon.

A young friend is looking for a job that matches her skills and preferences.  She’s not sure where it exists.  She’s not sure where to find it.

A friend is aware that he’s done what he came to do in his current role and wants to find his next challenge.  He can see it’s not easily available in his current organisation .

Are you looking for your next job – and struggling?

Maybe you love your current job but struggle with the quality of leadership from above.  You’d like it to change.  It’s not changing.  Slowly you’re realising that you need to put up and shut up – or pack your bags and move on.

Maybe you have done everything you came to do in your current job and can see that there isn’t an opportunity in your current organisation that matches your skills or leaves you with a glad heart and ready to go.

Maybe you feel a tension in your current role between those things that really excite you and those things that are most important to your boss.  You want to be doing work that fulfils you as well as doing a good job for your employer.

Maybe you’ve closed a door and want to open a new one.  You know you could find the same job again in another organisation.  You’re wondering if you can find something, at this stage in your life, that draws on more of who you are.

Before you start applying for jobs

Peter was disappointed at the poor response when he started to apply for jobs.  He had taken care to write a CV that he thought would appeal to potential employers.  It was clear he was a seasoned professional with a string of achievements scattered throughout his career.

Peter was also assiduous in looking for jobs, signing up to job boards, scanning papers, talking with recruitment agents in his field.  His search for his next job was starting to take so much of his time it felt like a second job.

He was getting some response and had been called to interviews.  However, despite his significant investment in applying for jobs and attending interviews, he wasn’t making the second cut.

What’s more, although he’d been to a number of interviews, he had yet to feel really excited about any of the jobs he’d applied for.

What was going wrong?  Peter was spending too much of his time trying to appeal to potential employers and not enough time thinking about what he needed in a job to make it something he could gladly sink his teeth into.

He needed to know more about his ideal job.  He needed to find out where his ideal job might exist.  Only then could he start to make his investment in applying for jobs really count.

First steps to finding the job that’s right for you

Working with clients at my coaching clinic in Harley Street, I have enjoyed helping people to identify next steps that are uniquely tailored to each person.  I thought I’d share some of them with you.  As you read, I invite you to ask yourself if any of these actions is right for you as a next step to finding the job that’s right for you:

Jaspar had a broad idea of the field he wanted to work in and also what he thought he could contribute in his chosen field. However, he didn’t know what organisations might offer the kind of job he wanted and his description of what he wanted was so vague that people were struggling to help him.  I invited him to write a single statement which crystallised – for himself and others – what he really wanted.  Initially, he asked friends for feedback about how clear his statement was.  Quite soon, he was able to use it to ask people where he might find the kind of job he most wanted.

Henry was quite clear about the kind of job she wanted and wanted to know if her CV was selling her as the right candidate for her ideal job.  I invited her to write a summary statement at the start of her CV that would make it clear to a potential employer what problems, in their organisation, she most wanted to solve.  Her revised CV started to attract more interest from headhunters and potential employers.  More than ever before, she found that she was finding her way to the right kind of conversations about opportunities which matched her ideal.

When Navim wanted to explore new directions I borrowed from a friend who had trodden the same uncertain path.  I asked Navim to write down all the the things that he most enjoyed doing – the things he would love to spend his time doing if only he could find a way to make them pay.  His list provided a basis for exploration into options that would give him financial ease and security whilst also gladdening his heart.

Coaching: when you need help to find your own way

By the time she reached her thirty-fifth birthday, Clare had established a strong reputation as a lawyer with a top flight London law firm.  Married to someone she had met via her firm, she had laid the foundations for her home life.  Her friends thought she had it all.
Soon after her birthday, two things happened that sent Clare into something of a spin.  She was asked by her firm to take on the management of a team of lawyers.  The request came to her just two days after she discovered she was pregnant for the first time.
Even without the pregnancy, the prospect of taking on a leadership role raised plenty of questions for Clare.  She was good at what she did and felt anxious about taking on a leadership role and about the possibility she might fail to deliver.  As she looked around her for role models, she realised she was struggling to find leadership role models she could relate to – over the years she and her friends had had bruising experiences in the hands of their managers and she didn’t want to follow these managers’ examples.  At the same time, she didn’t know what she might do differently and with what consequences for her career… she was not confident that her firm was ready for a different approach.
Then there was the pregnancy.  Clare knew she would be asked to decide about the job in a matter of days.  She was under no obligation to tell her firm that she was pregnant but feared some backlash if she took on the role and then revealed in a few weeks’ time that she was pregnant.  She faced personal questions, too – did she want to handle two challenging transitions simultaneously?  And if she said no to this leadership role, how long would she have to wait until the opportunity might come again?  She wondered whether she should discuss her situation with her firm and at the same time feared that she would be seen differently as a result of her changing situation.
Two common ways of handling dilemmas… and why they don’t work
 Clare talked with her husband and close friends about her situation.
As a colleague in the firm, her husband was also concerned about the firm’s reputation of handling everything by the book (they were lawyers, right?) and at the same time gently and subtly side-lining women mothers.  At the same time, he faced his own dilemma… he wanted to protect his own career and also to know that his child would receive the care he or she needed.  He was torn between meeting his own needs and giving advice that would support his wife.  This new situation threw up a new level of challenge in their relationship and communication.
Clare’s friends were passionately supportive of her.  One friend told her that she had every right to enjoy both a new role and motherhood and that, to guard against any possible discrimination, she should keep quiet about her pregnancy until the question of her potential new role was settled.  Another friend told her that times were changing and she should speak openly with her colleagues as a way of establishing a relationship of openness and trust.  Another friend told her that taking on her new role and becoming a mother was just too much.
Clare felt she had to choose between handling decisions all by herself or doing what other people told her but neither of these options was working for her.  Listening to friends she became increasingly confused and uncomfortable.  On her own, Clare found her thoughts going round and round in circles.  She couldn’t get her friends’ contradictory arguments out of her head and found it increasingly challenging to connect with her own deepest desires.
In thinking in this way, Clare was making a classic mistake:  used to giving advice in her role as a lawyer, she thought that seeking help means taking others’ advice.
Coaching:  a third way
One of my favourite books on leadership is Sir Clive Woodward’s Winning!  in which he tells how, as coach to the England rugby team, he led the team to victory in the 2003 World Cup.  As an example of what leadership involves, I find it full of useful information.  It’s striking for example, how Woodward knew that it would take total commitment to translate a vision of success into World Cup glory.  I was also struck by his attention to the tiniest of details, including commissioning the redesign of the team’s rugby shirts to make it harder for opposing teams to impede team members’ progress by grabbing their shirts.
Even if you are not a follower of sports, it’s possible that your concept of coaching reflects some knowledge of the sporting world.  Perhaps you think of the coach as the person who has all the answers, who barks out instructions and who provides the motivation, discipline and accountability for his or her players.
Outside the sporting world, coaching is seen differently.
At the time of writing, for example, the International Coach Federation (ICF) describes coaching in the following way:
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.  Coaches honour the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.
Coaching has the potential to help Clare and others like her precisely because it focuses on helping clients to discover what is most important to them and to find ways to move towards their desired outcomes.
How does coaching work?
Coaching can take any number of forms.  In my own business, for example, I offer face-to-face coaching in client’s organisations and at my Sunday coaching clinic in Harley Street.  I also coach clients by phone.  Most of my coaching is with individuals though some is with groups or teams.  (You can find out more about this by visiting my website).
With so much diversity, you may be wondering what these different kinds of coaching have in common.  Here are just a few things to look out for:
  • A coach works with clients based on a clear agreement:  even when an organisation sponsors coaching for an employee, for example, my client is the individual employee;
  • A coaching agreement identifies the client, focuses on their desired outcomes and on how coach and client will work together:  a key aspect of coaching is the focus on clients’ desired outcomes – helping the client to clarify his, her or their desired outcomes and agreeing how coach and client will work together to support the client in making progress;
  • The coach helps clients to find their own answers:  Coaching is about helping clients to generate new insights and self-awareness and this, in turn, opens up the possibility for the client to identify his or her strategies, solutions and next steps;
  • The coach helps to create a safe space in which to explore:  Whether the coach is working with an individual or a group, he or she plays a major role in creating a space within which clients feel safe and can, as a result, raise and explore issues, thoughts or feelings that might otherwise be overlooked;
  • The coach helps clients to be responsible and accountable for their own progress:  The coaching process is designed to help clients to focus on what they can take responsibility for and to follow through to make things happen.
Clients report a high level of satisfaction with coaching which helps them to develop the confidence and behavioural capability needed to achieve their goals.  This in turn has a significant impact on “hard” measures of work performance.  Latest research from the ICF suggests that 99% of clients report positively about their experience of coaching. 
And Clare…?
Like many clients, Clare’s experience of coaching was transformational.  Coaching helped her to identify and prioritise the key questions she was facing and then to work through them one by one.  On close inspection, what started out as an apparently simple question (“shall I accept this job?”) proved to be a series of questions which related to deeply-held values of which Clare had not been aware.  Her coach helped Clare to clarify her values and then to use them as the basis for addressing each question as it arose.
Clare was astounded by the results of her coaching.  Much clearer about what she wanted from her life as a whole, she was able to consider her job offer as one part of a larger whole and also to clarify the kind of relationship she wanted with her current and any future employer.  This gave her confidence to talk to her employer openly and without fear of the consequences – she knew that if she didn’t have her employer’s support, it would be time to think again about her forward career path.
Clare’s coach also helped her to get clear on her aspirations for her relationship with her husband and on the need to discuss with him the implications of becoming parents.  Her coach supported her as she thought about what she wanted to say to her husband and how she wanted to say it and this, in turn, led to a deepening in their relationship.
Coaching helped Clare to deal with the immediate issues she faced, yes.  Far more than this, it opened up new learning that Clare could apply in a wide range of new and as yet unforeseen situations.
You can find out more about coaching here on this blog or at the website of the International Coach Federation (ICF).  If you want to know about the services provided by me at Learning for Life (Consulting) click here or, if you’re ready to talk, please contact me.

Finding perspective and direction

photo from the album
The London Symphony Chorus in rehearsal

Over the years, many clients have come to me by referral.  Sometimes, they are referred by people who know me well.  Sometimes clients self-refer.  It is always a particular privilege when someone chooses to ask for help whom I know personally, including friends and family.

Recently, friends and family have been amongst those coming forward to support my new Sunday coaching clinic at 1, Harley Street.  One of them is my dear friend Clare Rowe.  Clare and I met through our membership of the London Symphony Chorus and she had this to say about the times we met in coaching partnership:

“I have made two professional visits only to Dorothy at a time in my life when looking deep into myself needed to be shared – to find perspective and direction –  they were life changing meetings. Dorothy’s gifts of empathy, intelligence and perception allow discovery of self within the context of being human, what more valuable kinship do we require as human beings on our journey together?”

I offer my special thanks to Clare for her willingness to share publicly what her experience of coaching meant to her.

Making life-altering decisions with ease and confidence

As the news spreads that I am now offering a Sunday coaching clinic in Harley Street, I have been touched by people’s willingness to offer help and support.  A number of people have written, unbidden, testimonials on my Facebook page.  Each one of them is dear to my heart, because I know how much difference it can make to work with someone in coaching partnership.

The testimonial below is is especially dear to me because it comes from friend and colleague Steve Mattus, who is a fellow student with Mark Silver at the Heart of Business.  (I could easily go into a rave about Mark Silver at this point… suffice it to say that good people succeed not only because they have products or services to offer which are of value but also because they find a way to reach those people for whom what they offer is really beneficial.  Mark Silver is someone I value highly in the help he provides to people like me as we seek to share our offering with the people we are best suited to help.)

Through my work with Mark, it’s also been a great pleasure to form a Mastermind Group (we have come to think of it as our Wisemind Group) with Steve Mattus, Marc Otto and Melanya Helene.  Our regular calls are a source of mutual inspiration, support and safety… a place where we can share our doubts and fears, our challenges and our woes, as well as a place where we can celebrate successes and plan for the future.  Steve was one of the first people to write on my Facebook page and has kindly given me permission to share his comments here, too:

Dorothy, I’m thrilled to see you stepping out, waving your flag and offering the gift of your craft to the public.  You have made a huge, positive impact on my life, in the midst of the most challenging of circumstances.

You’ve helped me get crystal clear regarding what’s really going on in my heart and mind so I could make life-altering decisions with ease and confidence.  You help me notice the subtleties in my experience, and teach me how to relate to them so I can resolve blocks and eliminate what’s keeping me stuck.  All the while, you’re helping me make sure I’m taking care of me, my heart and soul.  This allows me to show up in my life, work and with family with deep integrity and authenticity, making life flow with much greater ease.

Thank you for helping me release my struggle, and replace it with joy.

Steve Mattus
My thanks, to Steve, too, for sharing.

Focussing on what is essential

Sometimes, a question in coaching can hit the nail on the head

Over the years, working with men and women in leadership roles, I’ve often found that, beneath the surface agenda – whatever that might be – lie questions of personal and professional well-being.  The issue may not be, for example, how can you improve your performance in this job?  Instead, there may be a calling to another role which is being ignored and which, still, seeks to be acknowledged and explored.  Or perhaps, behind questions of professional excellence lie questions of personal happiness – of work/life balance, of priorities outside of work which are being ignored… you get the drift.

Sometimes, clients bring issues which are wholly practical, such as how to reflect their skills, experience and accomplishments in a CV in ways which make it more likely they will be invited to interview.  Often, even the most practical questions reveal broader and deeper questions which are waiting to be explored.  There is, after all, little benefit to be had in getting a first interview for a job to which you are wholly unsuited.  Equally, in the kind of challenging times we live in at the moment, clients risk grasping for the job they think they can easily attract at the expense of thinking through how best they contribute or what it is they really yearn to do.

The underlying question is this:  who am I?  The more we build a life which is rooted in the firm foundations of knowing who we are (and who we are becoming) the more we are able to build a life which is a gift to ourselves and to others.  This is a life in which we can feel comfortable and congruent, and which becomes the means by which we find meaning and make a difference in the world.

Last week, when I announced the beginning of a Sunday coaching clinic at the Lewis Clinic in Harley Street, it was these issues that I had in mind.  I am seeing the Lewis Clinic as a place where people can work with me who want to focus on questions of personal and professional well-being away from their place of work.  Some of them will be those I already work with – leaders who want to take the hard work out of achieving results.  Perhaps there will be others, too – people for whom questions of personal or professional well-being are uppermost.

In the few days since I first started to share news of the Sunday coaching clinic, I have been heartened by the response of a wide variety of people.  One of them is a dear friend who also commissioned a coaching session at a time when she was considering her forward path.  She responded immediately when I sent her my news – “compelled to reply” – and offered the following testimonial.  You’ll also find it on LinkedIn and on my Facebook page for the clinic:

“I met with Dorothy at a time when I was wondering about taking a sabbatical.  I was concerned that time out would ‘damage my career’.  After only one consultation, I had clarified my needs, and planned a course of action.  Six months on, I’ve not only had a wonderfully enriching sabbatical, but the type of work coming through is more fulfilling.  I can wholeheartedly recommend Dorothy for her compassion, insight and unparalleled skill in focusing on what is essential.”

Special Occupational Therapist, London

I want to finish by saying how grateful I am to those clients who share their feedback with me in private and, on occasions like this, with others who may also benefit from an investment in coaching.

Working with Dorothy – a collaborative partnership

Sometimes, though not always, the way a client sees you is so similar to the way you see yourself or to the person you aspire to be that, on reading it, you have a sense of “coming home” – of stepping just a little bit more fully into who you really are.  This was the sense I had on reading the testimonial below.

This testimonial comes from Dave Eccleston, who recently left his job as Head of Integrated Talent Management, Europe with Pitney Bowes to embark on a new chapter of self employment.  I particularly value it because Dave speaks from the perspective of commissioning client – the person who, within his business, was responsible for sourcing the support needed by his colleagues across the business.  I am grateful to Dave for his permission to share it here on my blog:

I first met Dorothy after a colleague recommended her as a potential executive coach for a senior leader.  I really appreciated the way she took time to explain her approach to coaching in the context of the opportunity being discussed.  Her style is friendly, engaging and warm coupled with an ability to ask searching questions to get to the heart of the situation to identify the value she can bring to a coaching assignment.  My experience of working with her has been that of a collaborative partnership.  Subsequently Dorothy coached a number of leaders at various levels within the organisation.

The feedback received from those she has coached consistently focused on the depth of the relationship forged with Dorothy, and on how hard she made them think about their situation and what they wanted for the future.  One senior leader commented that he had never in his career faced so many searching questions in such a short space of time which had been posed in such a friendly manner to clarify the need.

On a personal note, Dorothy has been very generous with her time in helping me think through a couple of career challenges.  For me, working with Dorothy is always stimulating and a pleasure.

I have no hesitation in recommending Dorothy as an executive coach. 

Dave Eccleston
Formerly Head of Integrated Talent Management, Europe
Pitney Bowes

When you need permission to see the wood from the trees

Every now and then I like to do something that coaches call ‘claiming a client’.  It’s a bit like asking someone you fancy to join you on a first date – letting someone know that you’d really like to work with them in coaching partnership.

In 2007 I reached out to an organisation whose service I have enjoyed for more years now than I care to remember:  Pret a Manger.  I wrote to the company’s co-founder, Julian Metcalfe, and told him how much I would like to contribute to the company’s success in my role as a coach.  As a result of reaching out I was asked to work with Glenn Edwards as part of his ongoing development.  Glenn has been Operations Director at Leon Restaurants for over 18 months now, though I first met him whilst he was still working at itsu – Pret a Manger’s sister company.  He had already had eight years with itsu when I met him and had built a strong relationship with Julian Metcalfe and with Clive Schlee, the company’s CEO.

Even so, when I started to talk with Glenn, I sensed that there was a risk for him of seeking to grow faster than was comfortable with itsu and I started to ask questions to find out what was going on.  As you can tell from Glenn’s later CV, he did indeed end up leaving itsu to join a growing brand which shares the Pret/itsu passion for good fresh food and for a level of service which, together, drew me to Pret a Manger in the first place.  (Recently, Pret’s new restaurant on New Oxford Street has become a regular haunt for members of the London Symphony Chorus before rehearsals.  You’ll often see me there on a Wednesday or Thursday evening at around 6pm).

The conversations I had with Glenn are an example of something coaches face on a regular basis – the possibility that the outcome a client and/or his or her sponsor most desires is not, ultimately, the right outcome for everyone concerned.  An individual may think his place is in such-and-such a role or with company X and still, when he looks more deeply, the role is only a partial fit to his or her most heartfelt needs.  The company concerned may want to retain a key member of the team and still – if only his or her manager will entertain the possibility – it may be that what’s right for my client is to move on.  This carries the risk for the coach of being seen as the agent of an unwelcome change.  It carries the risk for the coach that – by raising the question – he or she will be seen to be sure of the answer (which is always the client’s to determine).  Still, and even in the full awareness of these and other risks, it is the role of the coach to raise the questions that have not yet been countenanced, bringing them to consciousness for the client to consider.

Meeting with Glenn more than three years after we completed our coaching, I was curious to know how he looked back on our work together as well as how he was getting on in his new role.  He was kind enough to tell me and agreed to allow me to share his thoughts on LinkedIn as well as here on my blog.  He told me:

“When we finished our work together I honestly didn’t know how I’d benefitted from coaching.  A lot of things happened during and after coaching and yet I wasn’t making the link.  Later, I realised that the message from coaching was this:  it’s time to move on.

I realised I’d maximised my potential with itsu – coaching helped me to see it was time to move on.  I’d met the owners of Leon when they visited one of our restaurants so once I was ready to move it was the most natural thing in the world to make contact.  Working with itsu was formative for me – an important part of my career.  At the same time, I needed a new challenge and the opportunity to leverage my strengths to make a real difference to the business.  I’m glad to have found that with Leon.

Sometimes, people need the help from someone who’s one step removed from the situation.  You provided that through our coaching – and that’s why I’m happy to recommend you to others who need help to step back and see the wood from the trees”.

Glenn Edwards
Leon Restaurants

Reading Glenn’s testimonial I don’t want to take any more credit than is mine to take – at its best, coaching works because it helps the client to open up to truths that are already there if only the permission is there to see them.

(And yes, in case you’re wondering, I remain a fan of Pret a Manger, of itsu – and of Leon Restaurants, too).

Compassion: fuel for progress and accountability

It has long been my view that accountability – including accountability to ourselves – works best when it rests firmly on a compassionate foundation.  It’s all very well to harangue ourselves when we are not making the progress we crave or think we ought but somehow, the haranguing doesn’t make the progress any faster.  Indeed, it tends to depress our spirits and to make us more cautious about or resistant to taking our next steps.
Given this view, I am not the best coach for any client who wants to be “whipped into shape”.  When it comes to checking progress at the top of a coaching meeting I tend to prefer curiosity over any metaphorical flagellation.  If a client hasn’t taken the steps they thought they would (maybe if they still haven’t taken they steps they thought they would) I prefer to explore than to judge or condemn.  Often, the exploration brings new clarity or insights.  Perhaps a client needs help to overcome some inner resistance or to plug a gap in their skills or resources.  Perhaps s/he needs to check if a course of action really does hit the spot.
It’s always a matter of celebration for me when this philosophy is reflected in feedback from a coaching client, as it is below.  For why would we take the hard road when there is a more compassionate route which takes us more quickly to our destination?  And who wouldn’t want a client to achieve outstanding results within a framework of compassion?
This is what one client said about her experience of coaching:
I signed up for weekly telephone coaching with Dorothy following a recommendation from one of her clients who is also a friend of mine.  Initially I thought we’d work for three months or so but several times I extended the coaching and we ended up working for about eight months.
Dorothy facilitated the coaching each week, helping me to identify areas in which I most wanted help.  I thought coaching would be far more instructive than it was but it was me who came up with the answers and next steps.  I valued her empathy – she was extremely caring and supportive which, in hindsight, I needed more than a “crack of the whip”.  She was objective and constructive, and helped me to get clear on what I needed and to take steps forward.  I particularly valued the way she helped me to notice and congratulate myself on some of my achievements, which gave me added motivation and momentum.
As a result of our work together, I’m much clearer than I was about the kind of culture that I want to work in.  I decided to move from a contracting role to a senior corporate role where I’m now adding value and feeling good about myself.  I’ve also taken a look at the leadership qualities I want to exhibit and am taking steps to develop in key areas.
Celestine Hyde
Vice President
Investment Banking