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John Lockett has worked at board level across several industries including retail and finance. Completing the AoEC’s fifth Advanced Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching, John now predominantly works with leaders as they transition to new levels within their organisations.
You have worked at board level in a wide range of industries including financial services and food retail and in leadership development and assessment, board evaluation and career transition. What or who introduced you to coaching and led you to sign up for the AoEC’s Advanced Practitioner Diploma course?
I had moved from a corporate role to become a coach in a small leadership development business – as coaching had become the core of my future professional career; it seemed to be a good idea to get much better at it! I looked at a number of options and decided that the Advanced Practitioner Diploma was the one that would give me a better degree of stretch and more diverse experience than the others on the market. I was very impressed with a taster session run by the AoEC which helped give me a sense of how the programme would run.
What did you find were the most beneficial learning experiences on the diploma?
First, that there is more than one way to become an effective coach – once you have learned some of the core skills, there is no one single template to follow. I enjoyed the open style of the programme and that it wasn’t too prescriptive about technique and approach whilst enabling me to identify and minimise some of the bad habits I had developed over the years before the programme.
Second, I learned that the coach’s preferred methodology is a less important element of a successful outcome than building a strong relationship between the coach and the client. I enjoyed dipping into different approaches but appreciated that the core of the programme was clear contracting, empathetic enquiry and being led by the coaching client.
Third, I learned that I had to step away from ‘giving advice’ – my corporate experience was helpful in understanding the client’s context but could be dangerous when it led me to think I knew how to ‘solve’ the client’s problems. The programme helped me to recognise how to differentiate coaching from mentoring.
I had always read widely on business and leadership and came to realise through feedback on the course that I had previously spent time, sub-consciously, listening to the coaching client in order to find the right framework or theory to fit their context and then presenting it to them in what I thought was an Aha moment. I realised during the programme that this was a barrier to building a deeper understanding of the client, their context and their issues because once I had found what I thought was a solution, I stopped exploring.
What would be your top piece of advice for anyone thinking about doing professional coach training?
Definitely, just do the course. Growing as a coach is a life-long development process – the course is an important springboard but just the beginning of the journey and not the destination but for me it was a great accelerant for my personal and professional development.
What personal qualities and values do you bring to your executive coaching work?
I think that I bring a safe space for calm reflection coupled with curiosity about the client and their context. During my time at Korn Ferry, I combined coaching with a role in assessment – this helped me give my coaching clients quite objective feedback and the capacity to explore what good looks like in their context but I think my coaching training has helped me know when to turn off my assessment ‘head’ and be more open to the client in the moment.
Moving from a corporate role to a consulting/coaching role meant that I needed to suspend those judgements which I had been expected to make as a senior HR professional.
What does your personal coaching model entail and how has this evolved since completing the diploma?
The advantage of working in a large talent business such as Korn Ferry meant that I was exposed to some great coaches and a wide range of approaches. My model probably now consists of three areas to explore – the client’s individual profile and how their traits and drivers impact their behaviour at work both positively and negatively; their context and how they adapt their style to new challenges; and their purpose and how it manifests both in work and in their life outside work.
Exploring these then leads to working with a broad agenda of issues – my preference is that the headline elements of this agenda are shared with the organisational sponsor but that the details of each coaching discussion remain confidential.
You established your own business at the start of 2020. How are you using executive coaching in your role and who are you typically working with?
Much of my work is executive coaching and often working with people as they transition to new levels in their organisation. I find myself working with people either at C-suite or at the stage before moving to the top roles. I most enjoy working with people in transition – exploring what the next level means in terms of changing behaviours and new perspectives about leadership.
What are some of the issues and opportunities you coach people around?
Although each coaching assignment has a different label – managing transitions, readiness for succession, executive onboarding - I find myself mostly working with people in building their capability to operate in a more complex and ambiguous setting – developing greater intellectual agility, increasing the capacity to learn new ways of working, building resilience under pressure and enabling increased insight about their own and other’s behaviour.
Have you seen the need for coaching change in any way as we have gone through the coronavirus pandemic?
Changes which have been emerging and evolving during the last few years are now accelerating rapidly, transforming the way people work. Leaders need help in adjusting to this new environment, their organisations increasingly look to them to provide clear direction in the middle of a rapidly changing world.
We are currently at the crisis management stage of Covid but the next stage in the transition will be the massive disruptions which are starting to going through whole industry sectors – such as travel, hospitality and retail – putting a great deal of pressure on leaders to find the way through a period of uncertainty which may not be resolved for many years – if at all. The leaders who thrive in this new world will need agility, resilience and courage and effective coaches will be needed to help them navigate a workplace where there are fewer easy answers and far more complex dilemmas.
What kind of impact is coaching having on those you are working with?
I hope it brings a greater clarity about themselves, their purpose and how to operate in this more ambiguous world. I try to help leaders appreciate that they will never get everything right all the time but that shouldn’t stop them trying new things, learning from tough challenges and finding time to reflect on how they do things as well as the business results.
Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that had an impact on you?
I had a highly talented client who was promoted to a very senior role but initially found it hard to adapt his ways of working to the new role – he had moved from leading a small professional team to a large division. He was initially overwhelmed by the new role but instead of struggling on, he took a sabbatical of a couple of months with the agreement of his CEO to recalibrate and reset. He came back with his energy and confidence restored and did a great job in the new higher role. I had a lot of respect for his courage and it gave me a lesson in how to handle a tough transition and the importance of pausing to reflect and take stock rather than struggling on.
Many of my coaching clients operate at a level that I could not have aspired to in my corporate life. I have learned so much from so many of my clients – most of them have been highly successful early in their career and some are able to appreciate that to be successful at the next level requires different skills and a new mindset. Some sadly don’t appreciate this and keep using skills that enabled success years ago but don’t work any longer in a different context. I learn so much from observing clients who have been able to adapt to new settings with changed perspectives and skills.
What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about your work as an executive coach?
I had to learn to get out of my own way as a coach – allowing the process to emerge rather than trying to be directive and rush the client into unnecessary interventions. I now find it very rewarding when I see my clients do the same thing and get out of their own way and think more strategically about how to develop and enact their purpose in a new and more challenging environment.
Our sincerest thanks to John for sharing his personal experience of coach training with the AoEC.
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