“A transformative experience”

13th December by Lee Robertson

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Caroline Beeston is a senior assessment/development consultant and accredited executive coach with a 20-year track record of helping companies solve people performance challenges and realise business benefits through impactful talent solutions. Completing both the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching and the Advanced Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching, Caroline gives her perspective of coach training with the AoEC.

You started working life in HR at EC Harris then RBS before transitioning to a consulting career at SHL. Over twenty years on you now run your own business in Leadership Development and Executive Coaching. How did you get introduced to coaching and what led to you signing up for coach training with the AoEC?

I’d spent eight years building a niche in leadership assessment with global clients at SHL when I got interested in becoming a coach. My passion was growing for the area of wellbeing, and I was finding myself drawn to client projects that involved me helping individuals with personal development and behavioural change. I was already aware that coaching is a powerful intervention for change having experienced 1:1 career coaching before joining SHL. I remember being surprised and inspired by the techniques my coach used and how it shed light for me on some behavioural patterns and limiting beliefs.

Then in 2015 a proposal I’d created for SHL to build a leadership coaching solution for clients got approved and I took accountability to head this up. As part of this role, I needed to build my knowledge of best practice leader coaching solutions and I was also a coach in the pool. This was an exciting period in my career, and I completed the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching in 2015. Five years on I’d been coaching various leaders at organisations in different industries and felt a need to deepen my skillset. This led to me completing the Advanced Practitioner Diploma in 2020.

What were some of the positives and challenges you experienced while doing the Advanced Practitioner diploma?

There were many positives and one that stands out still is the incredible learning environment our AoEC facilitators created at the three-day offsites. Several people on my cohort, myself included, found the course to be a transformative experience and for me that wouldn’t have occurred had I not made myself vulnerable during all the coaching and supervision sessions. This experience taught me the necessity of psychological safety when coaching people.

The learning environment was also down to the positive and hugely supportive people on my cohort. We got a lot of opportunity to bond, over laughter and tears, and I’ve gained an international network of coaches and friends from it.

The supervision went beyond my expectations. I learned first-hand what psychological phenomena like transference feels like and how to recognise it. It was just a psychoanalytic term to me before this.

I also enjoyed deepening my knowledge of psychological theories and expanding my toolkit of coaching techniques, especially the more creative ones.

The biggest challenge for me was the time and energy it took me getting my coaching model and its academic foundations to a point I was happy it genuinely reflected me and my natural coaching style. The model was created from many sources that built over the year-long course and it took me many iterations to finalise.

There was also the practical challenge of managing my time and energy with a heavy course workload, numerous pro-bono coaching clients and an already busy work/life.

What is your advice to others who are deciding which course and coach training provider to go with?

Firstly, know that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the vast choice of providers and courses on the market. As far as you can (and one I learned in hindsight) think beyond the short-term gains of the course to your longer-term coaching requirements e.g., Who is, or will your typical coaching client be? Where will they be located – UK, international, or global? Answers to these questions may help determine which provider and accreditation body you have in mind.  

To find a good match it’s also worth considering how you like to learn. I chose the AoEC as they are heavy on experiential learning, and I wanted as much practice and feedback as I could get. Some other providers I researched seemed more focussed on the academic side of coaching which wasn’t for me.

Speaking to alumni for their experiences is also helpful as is attending the free taster sessions that many providers lay on for their regular courses. This is a great way to meet the course facilitators and get a feel for their style.

Looking back at doing your Advanced Practitioner Diploma, what has been its lasting impact on you as a person and you as a coach?

Overall, it was the catalyst for finally making my decision to leave employment and start freelancing. I’d been pondering this transition for quite a while but it’s a big and scary step. I have the supportive environment and the coaching I had during practice sessions to thank for this. I set my business up four months after the course ended and it’s been an interesting journey so far, I haven’t looked back.

Another impact is I listen more to people and in a different way. I’m also more aware of my habits and triggers, which helps in my relationships.

The impact on my coaching overall is I’m much more confident. I’ve the sense now that I can handle whatever topic comes up in a session and put this down to my having a deeper understanding of my boundaries and full trust in the power of an emergent process.

Can you tell us more about your personal coaching model?

Sure – at the outset my client and I contract for coaching goals that relate to broader business objectives and strategic priorities. Typically, we have three goals to achieve in six sessions over eight months and there is a review session to consolidate learning at the end. Sometimes a sponsor is involved, and these sessions are run tripartite.

In coaching sessions, I work beside my client using an emergent process where we explore topics and see what comes up. I believe in the power of working with the present moment and not forcing change. This means my style is intuitive and mainly influenced by present-centred awareness, Insight Principles, Gestalt, and the paradox of change.

Along side this, I sometimes draw on my expertise in best practice leadership models, leader skillsets and tools and tips for developing them. I’m also qualified in various psychometrics and build relevant ones into a coaching package if it adds value for my client.

How this has it evolved since doing the Practitioner and Advanced Practitioner diplomas?

The process hasn’t changed but my coaching model has matured in that it’s more anchored in psychology and I embody the model more now when I coach.

Also, I found a way on the Advanced Diploma to build in principles that resonate with me from yoga. I was able to explore how I could do this in a tutor session on the course and it shows up in my model through present-centred awareness and breathwork I do with clients to help them ground at the start of sessions.

You established your own practice in June 2020; can you tell us about the type of clients you are working with?

My typical clients are male and female leaders within organisations who want help being more effective with their leadership style to achieve their work goals. Transition of some kind usually prompts the need. For example, a leader has been promoted into a broader, more complex role or just taken on a new challenge. My client base isn’t limited by geography, industry, or demographic - I’ve worked with a diverse client base for a long time, and I thrive off variety and working with different cultures.

What are some of the issues, opportunities or needs you coach clients around and what kind of impact is the coaching having?

Their issues, opportunities and needs are always driven and resolved or realised by shifts in mindset, behaviour, and habits. An example is a leader under intense pressure who has reverted to micro-managing and is wanting to shift their style to a more empowering one. Another example is a leader struggling with an overwhelming workload and wanting a safe space to decide how best to prioritise and delegate, so that they can focus on the more strategic tasks.

These are a few examples, but the issues are broad ranging. The impact on my clients is raised self-awareness which enables them to make conscious change and deliver the results they want. Because of their broad sphere of influence, you’d also hope and expect to see some positive knock-on effects on the morale and performance of teams they lead.

Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that has had an impact on you?

Many have an impact but one that stands out is the first time I used a creative technique using props (my pot of buttons!) in a coaching session and seeing its value in helping clients gain a fresh perspective to an issue.

This leader’s main coaching goal was to turn around the blame culture within the teams he had inherited through M&A. At one session the topic he brought up was really baffling him and I seized the opportunity to get creative given that thinking himself out of the problem wasn’t working.

Seeing theory behind the technique work in practice with the ‘aha’ moment my client experienced was exhilarating for us both. The problem was deep rooted in values and my client fed back to me later that he felt and acted differently with his direct reports since that coaching session.

What is your assessment of the key trends and challenges facing business leaders and organisations right now?

A big challenge is staff engagement and retention in the aftermath of COVID. Finding ways of working that keeps employees happy without compromising business performance is complex. There is a sense that ‘hybrid working’ practice is here to stay but it is too early to tell.

Companies are also needing to find solutions to tackle emotive topics like mental wellbeing, climate change and D&I that have been given a platform during the pandemic.

COP26 recently took place and companies, such as an oil company I’m currently working with, are needing to respond to climate change to keep in business.

Digitalisation continues to be a strategic priority for nearly all the organisations I work with; how can they keep finding innovate ways with technology to serve customers before their competitors do?

And in general, more unpredictability, uncertainty and change bought about by the pandemic and Brexit is having an impact and making it harder for business leaders to plan longer-term.

What do you find most rewarding about your work as a coach?

It has a clear meaning and purpose. I feel alive and at my best when I’m coaching and enjoy the deep connection with clients during sessions. Helping people create positive change makes me feel like I’ve made a difference.

I love working with people and each new client presents a new challenge for me. The learning I get about being human never ends and it’s never predictable!

Our sincerest thanks to Caroline for sharing her personal experiences of coach training.