Beverley, after more than 20 years’ experience working in international corporate communications in the ICT industry, a few years ago you made a big change in your career: you founded your own company and you became an executive coach and communication consultant.
Managing Partner at Robinson Henry
Global Executive Coach and Communications Consultant
How did this professional transformation process take place? What inspired you to make this change?
I thoroughly enjoyed my career in corporate communications and over the years I became known as someone who was interested in people and their development.
My career culminated in heading-up a global multicultural PR team and it was at this point that I realised that I was getting most of my energy and motivation from my team. There were some situations that helped me understand how my interest towards people was growing, for example I noticed that people were coming to me to ask me to be their mentor. Or I found myself working till late on my reports because I had spent the time in the day listening to people and offering support. And, while many of my leadership team colleagues were not enthusiastic when the appraisal time was due, on the contrary I liked to have these feedback sessions with people.
Supporting the development of others had become a true passion and feedback suggested that I had a natural talent for working in this area. In fact, my bosses wrote about my good interpersonal skills in my appraisals, highlighting that I was someone who was approachable and caring.
So, in a nutshell, I decided that I wanted to spend as much time as possible doing what I loved best – helping people to fulfill their potential.
And, as they say, the rest is history. It is now 7 years since I left the corporate world and set up RobinsonHenry.
Have you also gone for further education/training to develop this natural talent?
In order to develop my strengths I took an18 month training in global executive coaching and also studied to become a Master NLP practitioner. I gained extra skills in the ability of listening and questioning, I improved my capability for being present, developed more self-awareness and I acquired new tools and techniques to improve my communication skills.
I now work with clients in the corporate world and beyond, specialising in career coaching, personal communications coaching, in particular public speaking, and confidence building.
Along with, or previous to, your professional orientation move, what changed in “you” as a person, at an inner level? In your life vision and values?
I have been interested in self-development throughout my professional life and more often than not there would be a self-help book on my bedside table. Still, I did not anticipate how much this learning would accelerate once I began my training to be a coach.
I quickly understood that you have to “start at home’” if you want to become a good coach. Coaching is about so much more than methodologies and tools. On-going personal development really is the most important thing and this is now the core to my being.
At the heart of my change, has been developing the ability be truly present in the moment, to be more mindful and, in simple terms, to slow down!
This has led to listening with respect to others and letting go of the need to always be right.
I have also become more aware of my body and have started to pay attention to what my heart and gut tell me as well as my head!
Which lessons have you learned through, and thanks to, this transformation process?
When I reflect on my corporate days I realise what an asset my coaching skills would have been to me in developing my team and also when dealing with other stakeholder groups in my day-to-day work.
When I was approached by a team member of colleague with a problem, I would try to solve it myself without asking for their ideas on how they could go about fixing the problem. At the time I thought that being in a leadership role meant that I was supposed to have all the answers.
I also realise, that in my rush to find a solution I would not always listen attentively to what was being said or take sufficient time to consider my response.
In summary, a key learning for me has been to recognise the benefits of applying coaching skills in a business environment.
What advice would you have for women in management and leadership roles today?
Put simply – I would recommend acquiring some basic coaching skills to include in your toolkit!
Incorporating a coaching style is a powerful way to develop your team and ultimately to improve performance. The use of a coaching style has also been shown to have a positive impact on your company culture. This means that people feel more listened to, respected, empowered, valued, more confident and free to come up with new ideas. Moreover, it is important to learn how to coach oneself (and one’s team) and not become dependent on outside coaching.
I am not suggesting that all managers undertake a professional coach training programme, learning to ask a few good coaching questions and listening carefully to the responses, is enough to make a real difference.
The biggest challenge faced by most managers and leaders, is resisting the urge to want to tell someone how to solve their problem rather than asking questions to help the person find the answer for herself or himself.
What type of questions are good coaching questions?
Open questions – where a yes or no answer is not an option - what, how and who questions are best. They help you to understand the problem and explore options for a solution. For example: ‘How else could you do this?’ ‘What do you think are the reasons for this?’ ‘Who has the necessary know-how to fix the problem?’
And if you are stuck for a good question then one of the most powerful questions to ask is: “What would be the most useful question for me to ask you now?”
And if someone says that “I don’t know’” in response to a question then try this immediate reply: “If you did know the answer to the question what would it be?”
Coaching questions empower and develop people while at the same time building confidence. As a tip it is advisable to use “Why” questions sparingly as they can make people defensive. It is much better to ask what are the reasons behind something not happening rather than why didn't you do this?
All these examples need to be chosen according to the type of rapport between the coach and the coachee. Coaching is more an art than a science: tools & techniques need to be used with intuition, not only in a “left-brain” mode.
You mentioned that attentive listening is a key learning for you – what more could you say about that?
The most important aspect for me in becoming a more active listener was developing the ability to listen without thinking about what I was going to say next. It is just not possible to give someone your full attention if you are thinking about what you want to say next.
One of my clients, who works as a senior manager in a pharmaceutical company, recently told me that improving her listening skills was the single most important behavioural change she has ever made.
I would encourage everyone to stop and think about how attentive they are when listening to others.
Once you have acquired some basic coaching skills when would you use them?
It may be a surprise when I say that a coaching style is not restricted to sitting down in a room for a coaching session!
The skills may be used ‘in the moment’ in a wealth of different business situations. For example, with team members in performance review sessions where questions such as ‘What have been your successes since we last met?, What have you learned? And what are your biggest challenges in the coming months?’ are useful.
Or perhaps by the water cooler when someone is complaining that they are unable to finish a project on time. It could be as simple as asking ‘Who else could you involve?’
There is an opportunity to apply coaching skills in most meetings, ranging from requests for ‘5 minutes of your time’, team and customer meetings, through to a large annual leadership conference. Coaching questions are particularly helpful in opening up a discussion in a meeting and coming up with new ideas and approaches. For example: ‘What other options do we have?’ ‘How could we do things differently?’ or ‘How could we collaborate?’
So often large management meetings end up being a stream of presentations – how much better to break into groups led by someone with coaching skills to come up with some new ways of working?
Are there any exceptions, any times when a manager’s or leader’s coaching skills are not appropriate?
The most obvious is in a crisis situation, when there is not time to explore with others and a more directional approach is required.
There may also be occasions when you are not getting results and a person is stuck, or is not open to being coached by you. This is the time to bring in a professional coach. The professional coach will have more experience to draw on and, more tools and techniques at their disposal.
As we’ve already said developing coaching skills in management is not about being a professional coach. It is useful for everyone to be able to cook but everyone does not need to be a gourmet chef!
Any final thoughts?
Although we’ve talked mainly about using coaching skills in relation to colleagues, they are equally as valuable when dealing with customers, members, partners and other stakeholders. Understanding stakeholder needs is fundamental to any organisation and good coaching questions and attentive listening skills enhance your ability to do that.
As with all coaching it is important to capture the learning that is generated so that it can be invested in the business or organisation as it develops.
So how do you develop your coaching skills? As a starting point I suggest you ask yourself the following questions to monitor style or even better ask for feedback from colleagues.
Do you ask open or closed questions? How often do you use coaching questions to explore and discover options in solving problems? How well do you listen to others? How often are you distracted and thinking about the next thing you are going to say?
To develop your coaching skills I would recommend a professional training course led by experienced coaches. I would be delighted to assist you in finding the course most suited to your needs and I invite you to contact me for an exploratory conversation.
I hope my story has inspired you to focus on your coaching skills. The sooner you do so the sooner you will start to unleash the full potential of your colleagues and thereby your organisation.
Managing Partner at Robinson Henry
Before setting up RobinsonHenry, Beverley spent more than 20 years working as a senior manager for a leading player in the global ICT industry. She has broad international corporate communications experience across all constituencies, including media, investment analysts, government (local and national), opinion formers, customers, shareholders and employees.
In recent years, she has also developed a professional interest in leadership and executive development, and has complemented her communications skills with comprehensive training and experience in global executive coaching.
Beverley has worked extensively in the Asia Pacific region, the US and Europe and has an impressive track record in leading international teams. She has particular strengths in career coaching, global leadership development and cross-cultural coaching.
Her personal qualities include strong interpersonal skills, cross-cultural awareness and a commitment to mentoring and helping individuals at all stages of their careers.
Beverley is a qualified business coach and a member of the International Coach Federation. She is also a Master Practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP).
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