Practitioner Diploma / “Go into the coach training with an open mind”

19th June by Lee Robertson

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Vinna Tsang is a managing consultant for Korn Ferry’s Professional Search Team in North America. She has a combined total of 20 years’ work experience, of which over 10 years were spent in professional search with engagements spanning across Hong Kong, south-east Asia and the Middle East. Currently based in the Korn Ferry Vancouver office, she is also a certified executive coach. She very kindly agreed to talk about her experience of coach training with the AoEC.

You are currently employed as a managing consultant at Korn Ferry and are an Associate Certified Coach (ACC, ICF) with a background in executive recruitment and management. Who or what introduced you to coaching and led to you signing up for coach training with the AoEC?

Throughout my career, I’ve coached and been coached/trained in different regards, and I’ve always enjoyed the deep conversations that I’ve had with people from all walks of life. During Covid, I wanted to capitalise on the downtime by pursuing a professional qualification.

Executive coaching was my natural choice because it complements well with my search profession. As I was researching into the coaching institutes, I came across a senior executive who just completed AoEC’s Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching and she highly recommended the programme to me as it’s highly interactive and dynamic, hence I’ve signed up for the coach training with the AoEC.

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

Before taking the diploma, my understanding of coaching was to leverage on my personal experience/expertise to provide advice and guidance to an individual who has a specific need. However, during the first session of the programme, I was surprised to learn that coaching is not advisory nor consulting – it’s a “client-led” process where the coach could use special techniques to help the individual to be more aware of one’s state of mind/uncover one’s true feelings, etc. This really revoked my concept of coaching, and my curiosity and interest in what coaching is really about, further grew as I took on the course.

At first, I had a really challenging time to hold myself back from offering any advice to my coachees, as it was the nature of my job to do so in recruitment/search. I also had to be consciously aware of not steering the coaching conversation according to my desire, and to refrain from asking leading questions. After a few sessions, I witnessed the power of the client-led process through role-plays/observing other cohorts in action. I also found some of the creative techniques such as Chair Work and using metaphors to be quite powerful. To date, I’m still using these techniques in my coaching conversations.  

What is your top advice to others considering coach training?

My top advice would be to go into the coach training with an open mind and let go of any previous concept about coaching that you may have.

Can you tell us more about your personal coaching model?

During chemistry meetings, it’s paramount for me to understand the true needs of my clients and gain their trust as well as confidence in me. The gut feeling of whether the clients like my style or not (and vice versa) is also important. I would also fact-find about the client’s previous coaching experience and discuss what worked/not, share my background/credentials and coaching style, discuss the client’s expectation of me as a coach, and what outcome they would like to achieve at the end of the coaching period.

At the beginning of each coaching session, my clients can expect me to have a “pulse check” on their state of mind, any sharing towards what worked or not in the previous sessions, anything to be done differently, how much challenge can be accepted, reminder on our confidentiality agreement and timekeeping, as well as what outcome is to be achieved by the end of the session.

After reconfirming the objective, I would then go with the flow and spend the majority of the coaching session exploring the subject matter and apply any appropriate models/techniques as I see fit to help them. There will also be time for clients to reflect on their key takeaways as a finale. My aim is to help my clients to come up with new ways of thinking/improve on how things can be done differently/gain clarity. I would also request my clients to provide brief feedback at the end of each coaching session to review the outcomes achieved against the goals set.

You are working as a managing consultant at Korn Ferry and had previously founded the V Executive Search agency. Can you tell us more about how you are using your coaching skills in these roles?

Active listening and powerful questioning have become two important skills that I’ve learnt and applied to my search profession. It helps the executives to be more aware of their true needs and whether the opportunities on hand really fit their personal and career aspirations. I could wear a consulting or coaching hat depending on the scenario, which could deepen the relationship and trust with the individual as I have more to offer than just advisory/consulting.

What kind of clients/colleagues are you typically working with? 

My clients are normally mid to senior level executives who are keen to seek change/make a difference, motivated to learn and excel, highly aware of their strengths and admit their weaknesses, and genuinely open and honest.

Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a situation where your coaching skills made a tangible difference for the coachee and had an impact on you too?

I’ve coached an acquaintance from my previous work who was due for a promotion to be a department head, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready/”good enough” to be in the head role.

Our coaching sessions had been quite productive given this client was very clear in terms of what he would like to achieve for each session, and he was willing to face his inner fear and work on his self-discovered pitfalls. I adopted different techniques such as Chair Work and using objects to help him gain clarity in relation to where his position was. At the end of our three-month coaching period, he mentioned he understood himself more and he was confident to take up the department head role. I was very pleased to have gone through the coaching journey with him and made an impact on his development. This also boosted my confidence to be a credible executive coach. 

What do you find most rewarding about your working in a coaching capacity?

I find it most rewarding when I’m working in a coaching capacity to witness my clients becoming more self-aware of themselves and able to come up with their own resolutions after understanding their true feelings/needs.

A huge thanks to Vinna for sharing her experience of coach training with the AoEC.