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Sian Ferguson has a rich background of working as a people professional with organisations including Nationwide and the SHL Group. Having graduated from both the Practitioner Diploma and Advanced Diploma in Executive Coaching, we asked her about her experience of undertaking professional coach training with the AoEC and how she is using coaching in the workplace.
You have a long track record of working for brands including Nationwide, Capita and the BBC with positions in recruitment, talent management and leadership and executive development. How were you introduced to coaching and what led you to sign up for the AoEC’s Advanced Practitioner Diploma course?
For me, this was the continuation of a journey, having graduated from the Practitioner Diploma the year before. But my path, if you like had been two-fold. Personally, I’d reached a point in life when I’d started to make sense of my “patterns” and that whilst some were helpful, some certainly weren’t! I’d particularly noticed this at work and felt that from a development perspective, I was ready to commit to the personal learning that I believed would be a fundamental part of coach training. I also believed that this would provide a source for my next career “reinvention”! From a professional perspective, it was clear that whilst coaching was a key organisational intervention, taking a more holistic and integrated approach would be both commercially more viable and optimise the value of coaching, so I’d spent some time thinking about a more integrated model for Nationwide, developing an internal coaching faculty approach which assured coach qualification and supervision, which was to sit alongside any external coaching provision.
What did you find were the most beneficial learning experiences on the diploma?
Undoubtedly, the immersive nature of the programme, the AoEC team creates with us a space which is uniquely “safe”, challenging and joyous in equal measure and one which we, as participants I think eagerly returned to as the modules progressed! The rules of engagement, if you like, were as nowhere else in life and I’d encourage anyone to participate fully and feel the immense value that comes from learning with others. The relationships which form are truly magical, I remember coming away from the programme and thinking, Wow! how amazing it is to have a group of people to whom you can turn for the rest of your days!
When things work well, you often don’t reflect on the value of the overall structure and architecture of the programme, it’s about trusting AoEC and the process that’s been developed as learning and growth build over time. I now know as a coach of course that trusting the process is a key point!
Finally, the content is critical, this programme blends both depth and breadth of psychology, theory and practice so whatever your way in, (mine as chartered psychologist) you can find your most natural starting point, I think. This is part of the beauty of the programme, we all enter from differing places, come together in a fabulous learning environment then go out having found who each of us is as a professionally qualified coach.
What would be your top piece of advice for anyone thinking about doing professional coach training?
I think, be open-minded, trusting and commit to the journey! You may not know for sure that this is the programme or path for you, but something will have brought you here! And that will mean something. This is an investment in you, embrace that and know you’re worth it!
Secondly, this provides both personal development and professional qualification, so will enrich you in whatever you pursue, if that’s as a professional coach then you know that the standard of learning excellence will have prepared you well. Getting there, however can be challenging at times, whether that be from understanding the content, braving the practice or simply making the time to fit it into life. Don’t be alone, draw on the amazing support of the AoEC team and colleagues and these difficult moments will pass!
What personal qualities and values do you bring to your coaching work?
I describe myself as professional musician, turned psychologist, life-long meditator and newly emerging yogi! I think this brings a blend of science and art to my approach, grounded in professional standards. I have a natural curiosity and really enjoy joining people on part of their journeys, adding a little structure and enabling them to move on differently.
What does your personal coaching model entail and how has this evolved since completing the diploma?
This has been particularly fascinating for me, in that I’ve seen the evolution of my model through the Practitioner and Advanced programmes. In principle, I believe that learning is to be human, the coaching relationship is key and that creating dialogue is the way to enable us to adapt to the circumstances and environments we find ourselves in. Whilst the foundations of my model have remained the real shift for me has been from being “outside” the relationship, focused on facilitating the client’s work to stepping “inside” the space, to “be” with the client as we explore together.
You have been working as head of UK and I pre-sales at the SHL Group since January. How are you using coaching in your role and who are you working with within the organisation?
It’s been a fascinating start in an organisation, not least the last few months! Whilst I paused formal coaching assignments for a while I’ve continued to “be” a coach! Coaching really becomes both an applied skill and simply who you are. And whilst I’ve now recommenced coaching both internally and with some of our client organisations, the principles of practice I find, never leave me. Whether supporting individuals, teams or organisations it’s enormously helpful to think about raising awareness of any issue, helping others make sense of that, exploring options and empowering others to make decisions and act.
What are some of the issues you coaching people around?
Whilst our present context has exposed in a very raw and visceral way some of the challenges we face, I feel they were always present. What comes to mind? Letting go of aspects of ourselves which have served us well in one aspect but less so now, expertise for example so that we embrace a more fluid and unknown path. We’ve had our sense-making a little shaken, I certainly think there’s a more conscious need to open minds and hold multiple perspectives, to be comfortable with possibility and not absolute. And finally, the relational aspects, with ourselves and others, shifting and multiple identities; we’ll constantly be striving to sustain ourselves and others as we go forwards. These are such hugely valuable and necessary territories for coaches and clients to work together on as we reshape the systems in which we reside.
Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that had an impact on you?
Interestingly, I recall an example from the Advanced programme, I’d had little exposure to a somatic style of coaching and really tuning into our physical quotient if you like! I was exploring how deeply rooted to some of my earliest experiences I was, the ways in which they were beneficial and what that could mean for me now. The accompanying feelings, the paralysis of being “rooted to the spot” yet feeling a strong physical desire to move was incredible and you can tell it’s stayed with me! It was a very quick way, via a physical door into a very emotional issue. The impact of this is that I became more aware of the value of neuroscience and as a coach, I can more holistically blend our minds, body and emotions.
How are you measuring the effectiveness of your coaching work?
One of the key texts for me on the programme was Mary Beth O’Neill’s Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart, bringing both structure and creativity to coaching, and whilst we may naturally favour one, both are important. She outlines some very useful ways to think about demonstrating the contribution coaching may bring to a client’s overall transformation. Being clear as you set off is important, establishing clarity around what the client really wants to achieve, what this means for how the client’s relationships play out and how team interactions can enable progress. Alongside this overarching approach, it’s important of course to pay attention to both mine and the client’s feedback, reactions and learning in each session. This is a very rich source of data.
What difference has becoming a coach had for you in your style of managing others?
This may be a natural stance, but coach training has emphasised questioning, listening and pausing, before supporting others to reach “their” way forward. I think this typifies my style.
What has coaching taught you about yourself and other people?
There’s a rich mix of simplicity and complexity at play! On the one hand, as at birth we’re all vulnerable humans, primed with some early personality characteristics, layer on cultural clothing and life’s experiences and a colourful tapestry emerges. Integrating these aspects has helped me understand the fullness of who I am and it’s the lens I look through to fully see others.
What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about your work as a coach?
To just “be”; be there, be fully present, be enough, just “be. It’s the answer to both!
A huge thanks to Sian for sharing her personal journey of coach training with the AoEC.
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