In conversation with Liz Hall, Coaching at Work

19th March by Lee Robertson

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In conversation with Liz Hall, Coaching at Work

We had the pleasure of speaking to Liz Hall, editor of industry bible Coaching at Work. Here she talks about all things coaching and much, much more.

You are a published author, award-winning journalist, leadership coach and mindfulness consultant and trainer. Having initially studied your BA Hons in Spanish and French at the University of Exeter, who or what introduced you to the wonderful world of coaching?

I came across coaching when I was invited to become the launch editor of Coaching at Work magazine in 2005.

I’d been working as a journalist since 1998, including for healthcare, HR, training and development, leadership and business publications, so had a track record in that sense. But I must confess when I was first approached by the then editor of People Management- Steve Crabb - I had no idea what coaching was outside of the sports arena! I was intrigued. Soon I had the fortune as editor to attend all the main coaching conferences and to interview many thought leaders, including Sir John Whitmore, the AoEC’s very own John Leary Joyce, Stephen Palmer, Erik de Haan, Peter Hawkins, David Megginson, David Clutterbuck and others.

They’ve all played a part in shaping not only how I coach, but in shaping who I now am as a human being. However, it was when I heard Nancy Kline of Time to Think speak at an early coaching conference that I became truly hooked. I was totally bowled over, and thought, my goodness, what a wonderful way to show up with fellow beings, listening so deeply and compassionately. I thought how amazing it would be to play a small part in helping others transform. So soon I found myself training to be a coach too.

I have just had the honour of interviewing Nancy for the next issue of Coaching at Work- what a delight to spend time with her.

What is your assessment of the key trends and challenges facing business leaders and organisations right now and what should they be doing to address them?

Of course, there is the mammoth challenge of the climate emergency, which is arguably responsible for the pandemic itself. Other challenges include declining trust in institutions and leaders. Meanwhile, the growth in the use of technology including new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence are bringing many opportunities, of course, but also many challenges - such as bombardment with data, manipulation via social media platforms and a rise in human disconnection as technology becomes a common substitute for direct contact, even pre-pandemic. There’s also widespread disruption of business models and the need for reskilling coupled with widespread redundancy as the impact of the pandemic comes home to roost combined with wider adoption of new tech as part of the Fourth Industrial revolution.

I believe the only way leaders, organisations, and humankind in general stand a real chance of addressing these challenges given their enormity and nature - unpredictable, ambiguous and complex - is to adopt different ways of working - more collaborative, more compassionate, more creative, more agile. It’s something I write about in my recent book, Coach Your Team (Penguin Business): we need new types of conversations, collective narratives and practices. We need to be more courageous, more authentic and compassionate with one another, more mindful, more able to sit with ambiguity, more prepared to collaborate.

I love the quote from evolutionary psychologist, Louis Cozolino, who says, “We’re not survival of the fittest, we’re survival of the nurtured.”  If leaders and organisations are to thrive, if we’re to survive as a species, it comes down to that: nurturing ourselves and one another, being respectful of Mother Earth. And as coaches and leaders, we’re first and foremost human beings, we’re not separate from the rest of nature, and neither are our organisations. Compassionate leadership is becoming more acceptable and more widely adopted as a concept and approach, and I think this will become more and more important.

How have you seen the need for coaching change as we have gone through the coronavirus pandemic?

As the mental ill-health pandemic continues to take its toll on so many, we’re seeing more and more people realise that they need support. And whilst for many, coaching is still not viewed as the right intervention when a client is struggling with mental health issues, for growing numbers, this is shifting or has shifted. My view is it is paramount for coaches to have a strong psychological underpinning, to recognise their own boundaries and know how to refer on if need be if they are going to go anywhere near mental health issues but I do think that if that’s the case, experienced coaches can indeed support clients in this important area.

I also think that as the Covid pandemic takes its toll in other ways, with more people losing their jobs, or losing touch with meaning and purpose in their roles, and fewer career opportunities, we’re seeing more clients want support around career transition and/or progression.

In addition, I think as we’ve all become more accustomed to coaching in a virtual space, this has opened up more opportunities not just for coaches themselves to deliver coaching without travelling, it’s also meant that clients can access coaching more easily, including from their own homes. I wonder if this will mean more demand for coaching.

At the AoEC we are often asked about whether the market is saturated with executive coaches – what is your take on this?

I think it depends very much which country you’re talking about. If we’re talking about the UK, for example, then yes, there are a lot of very skilled and experienced executive coaches out there, it’s a very mature market in terms of service providers and buyers too, who have become very discerning. That said, I see no slowing in terms of interest in coaching. More organisations are developing internal coach cohorts, but it’s very often supplemented by external coaching. And more people are valuing coaching and seeking it out themselves if their employer isn’t willing to pay for it. As coaching buyers become more discerning, there’s definitely more of a market for the sort of coaches who’ve been trained via providers such as the AoEC.

You launched Climate Coaching Action Day in 2020. Why do you feel coaches have a duty to be supporting this important movement?

I believe the climate emergency and related issues such as increasing numbers of refugees, growing food insecurity, wealth disparity, increased risk of pandemics such as the current one, is the biggest challenge of our times. We’re talking about the threat of the Sixth Mass Extinction, no less, and even if it doesn’t come to that, the suffering that will arise – and already is arising - from our collective wilful blindness is absolutely horrendous. I really don’t think any of us can turn a blind eye any longer.

That said, I think there are many ways to step forward and up, and it’s important not to judge one another.

Some coaches have a background as environmental or sustainability experts so paying attention to the issue of the climate emergency comes easily to them. When I spoke to a range of coaches about 18 months ago in the lead-up to launching Climate Coaching Action Day, I found that some felt unsure what they could do, or they felt overwhelmed, or they felt ill-or under-equipped, or they were worried about bringing something that is their agenda into the coaching with clients, they didn’t want to be pushy. As Climate Coaching Action Day is just one day, it’s a chance to just have a go at offering something, to put one’s toe in the water, and to try out what others are offering. We have as coaches so much expertise and wisdom, and when we share this, it’s amazing what emerges, and how ready we already are to engage.

I think it’s best for us to be invitational with clients, to bring in Mother Earth and future generations as two of multiple stakeholders as we adopt a systemic lens.

You created the FELT model which you use for self-coaching, one-to-one coaching conversations and team/group coaching. Can you describe what it entails and how it benefits coachees?

The FELT model is a framework which consists of Focus, Explore & Embrace, Let go, Let Be & Let in, and Transform. It encourages a mindful compassionate and embodied exploration of issues and emotions, and can help coaches access a different kind of knowledge and wisdom than they might otherwise.

You run the annual Mindfulness for Coaches workshop with the AoEC which introduces the participants to the FELT model and your Mindful Compassionate Coaching (MCC) approach. Why do you think Mindfulness techniques can be so effective?

I thoroughly enjoy delivering this workshop annually. I was heartened by the fact that it worked really well in a virtual space for the first time in 2020.

There are so many benefits from developing mindfulness, including greater emotional intelligence, creativity, and resilience. As a coach, it helps us be more present, more able to attune to our clients, and access more wisdom. Developing mindfulness helps us be much better coaches than we otherwise be.

As author of ‘Coach Your Team’ which you published in late 2019, how do you think team coaching will develop in the foreseeable future?

I think team coaching will continue to become more popular, coaches will increasingly bring a team coaching offer into their repertoire, and coaching sponsors will continue to become more discerning, just as we saw happen with one-to-one coaching.

The importance of cultivating psychological safety as a key enabler of high performance in teams will continue to get more attention. I think it will be increasingly important for team coaches to be clear about how best to foster this.

On Coaching through Covid (CtC), a pro-bono initiative I co-founded, offering free coaching to key workers, and endorsed by the AoEC, we’ve experienced and seen first-hand just how important this is. It helped us be super agile last March when time was of the essence so we could fulfil our purpose of supporting key workers as soon as possible.

A year on, we still see the importance of psychological safety in our team of volunteers. It means we can speak up freely, be more open to collective intelligence, engage in rapid prototyping- experimenting widely and learning from those experiments, be highly creative and innovative and responsive. In short, be a high-performing team. We’ve delivered more than 1,000 coaching sessions to more than 500 key workers in at least 69 trusts.

CtC was the first organisation in the UK to complete the Psychological Safety Index (PSI), a tool based on the work of Professor Amy C Edmondson of Harvard Business School and of the Fearless Organisation (title of her recent book). It’s a tool I’m now certified to work with. With a score of Cronbach's Alpha .82 and answers given on a 7 step Likert Scale, the PSI is statistically valid.

It shines a light on the current conditions in a team in terms of psychological safety, looking at four domains:

  • Open conversation
  • Risk & Failure
  • Inclusion & Diversity, and
  • Willingness to Help.

What can we expect to see from Coaching at Work this year?

We’ve been really pleased at Coaching at Work, as have many others, to be able to operate successfully in a virtual space. We migrated to digital-only before the pandemic as one way to reduce our carbon footprint, and we revamped our website.

We have more plans to update this further. And last year, along with so many others including the AoEC, we started delivering our popular masterclasses and annual conference online. It’s been wonderful to have such international gatherings, I think we have so much to learn from our peers in other countries. And of course, delivering events online means a reduced carbon footprint. So, for the foreseeable future we’ll continue to deliver events online.

Aside from offering high quality CPD in the form of the magazine and additional online content, and its events, Coaching at Work also seeks to be a provocateur, a catalyst for change, and a gatherer and broadcaster of diverse voices.

We’ve lined up a series of podcasts on diversity, for example, and are collaborating with one of our readers to offer a Zoom discussion in April on ‘White, Privileged and Fragile’ to support white coaches to do their own work around racism, rather than expect colleagues of colour to do so.

We’ll once again have the Coaching at Work Awards later in the year.

What would you like your professional legacy to be?

To have helped make the world a better place through my work, including having played a part in inspiring and supporting coaches, leaders and other fellow human beings to be more mindful and compassionate at work and elsewhere.

To have furthered the work on compassionate leadership, so this becomes the default leadership style and approach.

To have played a role in increasing diversity and inclusion in the coaching profession, and the reach of coaching… growing the number of- and opportunities for- coaches of colour, increasing access of people of colour to coaching, and coach training, and for coaching to have played a greater role in addressing systemic racism.

For Climate Coaching Action Day to become an annual global event in the calendar, supporting vast numbers of coaches and leaders to engage with the topic of the climate crisis, helping humankind turn things around.

Our deepest gratitude to Liz for taking time out to answer our questions.