I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch, but I was wondering if I might be able to ask for some advice? I’m thinking of gaining a coaching qualification and given your experience, I would be grateful for any thoughts/ideas you might have whenever you have a spare moment.”
My eyes scanned through the remainder of the message that echoed similar requests to many others I’ve received over the last few years. I’m always keen to support anyone who’s interested in developing their coaching skills as I’ve been particularly fortunate to have been helped by so many generous coaches (too many to be named individually!); who’ve been willing to share their knowledge, time and advice so I’m always keen to payback and pay forward.
I’ve identified eight key questions that crop up again and again, so I thought it would be helpful to consolidate my thoughts and ideas to share within my wider network through a series of blog posts over the next few weeks.
#Q1 What’s your personal coaching journey?
Once upon a time, there was a British Army Officer who decided to part company with the Royal Logistic Corps after nine years. It’d been an unpredictable roller coaster ride of adventures; working in a variety of challenging environments from the icy expanses of the Arctic tundra to the hot and sandy deserts of Central Asia. During this time the entire concept of “coaching” was utterly beyond my comprehension with preconceived ideas around someone “being broken”, or “needing fixing”. In all honesty, my fiercely independent and resolute determination, would have ignited the following response to the mere suggestion of coaching:
“But there’s nothing wrong with me, I don’t need any help”
If I’d had a crystal ball in April 2009 and been able to catch a fleeting glimpse of myself nine years later in 2018; after working with several coaches, studying various coaching models, logging hundreds of hours coaching clients and establishing my own coaching business; I literally won’t have recognised myself. It would be two strangers meeting each other for the first time, and regarding each other with perplexed curiosity. I wish I could admit, especially as a coach, that everything was painstakingly planned with definitive one, five and ten-year business goals. However, it’s been more of a gradual exploration and development of myself, as I’ve gradually transitioned from operating within the military institution to building a portfolio based performance coaching career than complements my elite ultra-running career.
Casting my mind back to my last role within the British Army, as the Training Manager for the Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme, I supported students at Newcastle and Northumbria University who’d been selected for future careers within the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Civil Service. The remit involved the design, delivery and evaluation of a four-year leadership programme to develop soft skills and prepare the students for future officer training. Unbeknownst at the time, coaching formed a solid bedrock to my role as I focussed on listening, questioning and goal-setting.
Hindsight is a powerful tool to reflect back across your life and scrutinise major decision points. I find it’s possible to trace a golden thread that weaves through my past and joins seemingly unconnected dots towards the coaching profession. At school, I struggled to envision my future career path; I was the anomaly compared to numerous doctors, lawyers and vets at my private girls’ school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The British Army offered the chance to travel, work with people and the diverse scope of the Royal Logistic Corps left my options open to choose between transport, communications, food services, training and a raft of other fields. Time and time again, it was working with people that motivated me; how could I support their aspirations, development and futures. Everything falls into place now; though at the time I couldn’t see it.
Fast forward a couple of years once I’d parted company with the green machine, had a belated gap year packed full of adventures (cycling over one thousand kilometres down New Zealand and leading expeditions in Kenya, Morocco and southeast Asia), and secured my first post-Army “proper” job as Team Leader on a joint public-private leadership initiative in Abu Dhabi. It was here that I literally stumbled into NLP. Even after I’d managed to decode the acronym (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), it still appeared an utterly alien foreign language with a potentially darker and manipulative side. However, with an open mind I attended the practitioner course to develop my knowledge and the experience provided a welcome distraction from the stifling summer temperatures.
Once I’d metaphorically dipped my toe into the water, my thirst for learning and self-discovery unfolded. Course after course ensued as I quickly morphed into a learning junkie. NLP Practitioner, Time Line Therapy, NLP Coaching and NLP Master Practitioner, shortly followed by Basic Coaching Skills and eDISC behaviour-based psychometric profile tool. Then Advanced Professional Coaching Skills accredited though the International Coach Federation, a Post Graduate Certificate in Applied Coaching from the University of Derby and the iWAM motivators-based psychometric profile tool. A move to Australia resulted in me reading for a Masters in Teaching followed by mBraining coach training and Analytic-Network coach training.... It’s an extensive list and I’ll dig further into coaching qualifications in a later post as it’s a complex and an often expensive beast to navigate.
Every coaching course has added to my coaching knowledge, skillset and experience; initially to support myself and now my clients (though it’s debatable whether so many courses are really necessary!). A distinct memory from one of my earlier coach training courses in Dubai, delivered by the incredibly patient Julia Papworth, a coach trainer from The Performance Solution, always brings a wry smile.
The course was highly experiential with a substantial amount of peer to peer coaching conversations and I suspect my partner was sorely tested. I’m highly internally referenced and mentally process information incredibly quickly; often bypassing, omitting or deleting details to move back to the bigger picture. Consequently, during every peer session, my partner would pose a coaching question, my inner voice would answer it at length, debate different ideas and wait expectedly for the next question. It took immense courage to physically verbalise and externalise my thoughts. After reflecting on this protective mechanism, I discovered it linked to former judgement;
“I’m not good enough”
It’s been a huge stepping stone and transformational shift to let go of this belief and release myself from being trapped inside.
My transition to become a fully-fledged coach (largely from a mental perspective!) played out over several years, from employing my new-found coaching skills within my full-time leadership role and gaining experience working with a few private clients, then stepping into a part-time position to balance further study and on-boarding additional clients, then sliding into more project-based roles before finally taking the plunge to establish my performance coaching business: Reach for More. Living through these changes meant each shift was almost unperceivable to myself. It took a few years to fully own the statement with confidence;
“I am a coach”
Looking back to the Advanced Professional Coaching course, there was a particular creative activity where the task was to design a mask, where one half represents you and the other you as a coach. Beyond the glitter, paint, feathers and other colourful craft materials, a deeper message revealed individual perceptions constructed around self. The exercise exposed a distinct division between these two entities; where to “be” a coach involved a considerable amount of concentration and energy. It felt like I was pretending to be a coach, conscious how to think and act in the right manner: a classic case of imposter syndrome. Gradually I’ve evolved to simply be a coach, it’s an integral part of me and if I had to redesign the me/coach mask both sides would now be identical.
Now looking ahead, I’m excited to take a step into the coach supervision space having been accepted onto Oxford Brookes’ Coach Supervision Course that starts in January 2018. After my initial quest for coach qualification after qualification, I believe I’ve sufficiently consolidated my coaching experience working with a variety of clients to head back into the learning space. I feel the knowledge and skills I’ll gain from this course will pull everything together from a strategic perspective, deepen my skillset and enable me to support other coaches develop as practitioners. I’ll be sharing my learning and experiences over the duration of the course later this month.
Thanks for taking an interest and reading through my journey into the coaching world; I’d be interested to hear your personal coaching story. If you know anyone who’s interested in discovering more about coaching; either to support their current role, or move into the coaching profession longer term I’d be grateful if you would share this post.
Photo 1: Ice breaking drills training with the British Marines on the Arctic Warfare course in Norway, 2002.
Photo 2: 600 Support Squadron, 6 Supply Regiment in Camp Fox, Kuwait before moving into Iraq, 2003. If you look really closely I'm sat on the left hand vehicle.
Photo 3: Welcome break for spot of wine tasting in Marlborough whilst cycling self-supported from Auckland to Greymouth, New Zealand, 2009.