Advanced Practitioner Diploma / “I learnt to coach with love and compassion as well as intellect and skill”

11th September by Lee Robertson

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Priya Farish, Advanced Practitioner Diploma AoEC

Priya Farish comes from a background in senior HR and talent management positions with companies including Costa Coffee. Graduating from the AoEC’s Advanced Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching in 2019, she took the time to talk to us about her experience of coach training and how she is using coaching in her client work.

You have worked in senior HR and talent leadership and executive development roles for some big FMCG brands such as Costa Coffee and Whitbread and run your own coaching practice. You also host a podcast based around social change and coaching called ‘Questions Worth Asking’. What or who introduced you to coaching and led you to sign up for the AoEC’s Advanced Practitioner Diploma course?

When you work in HR and lead large teams, coaching is a big part of how you influence and get work done across a global matrix organisation so it’s always been a big part of how I work. I come from a background in Psychology, so I've always been interested in the dynamics between people and how we impact one another.

Alongside this, in a Brexit/Trump world I have seen how talking and really seeing one another can be a powerful force for personal and social change. That’s the very heart of our Podcast which is called ‘Questions Worth Asking’. We speak to experts and practitioners in human centred fields to explore the questions we can ask to unlock better conversations about the things that matter.

I wanted a course that would help me to both formalise my skills and also allow me to benchmark myself professionally. A few different colleagues recommended the AoEC’s Advanced Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching programme. I liked the mix of residential learning and focus on practice sessions in-between.

What did you find were the most beneficial learning experiences on the diploma?

I had the advantage of working with a really strong group for my peer practice sessions.  I wanted to work with people who had a very different coaching style to me so I could learn and extend my practice, this is a big tip I would pass on to anyone else starting the programme. 

None of us wanted a mediocre learning experience and so together we were able to take some big risks and allow ourselves to be really seen. We experimented, tried techniques outside of our normal range, gave each other deep and honest feedback and pushed each other to develop our models so they were as close to the core of our coaching selves as possible.

That process of experimenting and refining over and over (and over!) helped me to become very clear about who I am as a coach and what I have to offer my clients. It also made me equally clear and (even more importantly) comfortable about who I'm not. 

As a result of your experience what was the biggest shift you experienced?

If I look back, I can see that I came to the programme with my brain, I thought I was there to learn the process and technique of coaching. Instead I learnt who I was as a coach and how I can use that to be of the best possible service to my clients. 

I learnt to coach with love and compassion as well as intellect and skill. I know it sounds cliché but coaching really is a way of being rather than a way of doing.

What does your personal coaching model entail and how has this evolved since completing the diploma?

I believe the relationship between a coach and coachee is ultimately what influences the quality of the coaching impact, so I work hard on building the right connection. My coaching approach is heavily influenced by my work as an OD Consultant, so I tend to focus on supporting clients to understand the system and dynamics that are operating around them. 

Since completing the programme, a recurring theme in my practice has been about the tension between being what the client needs as opposed to what they may want when the two aren’t exactly aligned. I recently shared this with a client which sparked a deeply insightful conversation.

Who are you typically working with and what are some of the issues you coach people around?

I typically work with Individuals and teams who are experiencing a high degree of transition. This could be as a result of a major career change, significant life event, as part of an onboarding process to a senior leadership role or partnering a client through a redundancy. My background is talent and so I do a lot of career coaching and have my own methodology designed to help people take more control for navigating their careers long term.

What kind of impact is coaching having on those you are working with?

Typically, pre-covid, a good coaching experience would have been supporting a client to gain clarity, build energy, feel more powerful, achieve their goal or even just feel a deeper sense of awareness on an important issue.

In a Covid gripped world, all of these things remain true, but the backdrop has changed; there is a lot more uncertainty that we are all working with. A client closed a session recently by taking a deep breath and saying ‘I needed that, I just needed a moment for myself ‘. I think the increase in uncertainty is making coaching even more valuable as people search for space to make sense of this experience.

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

I’ve recently completed the design and delivery of an in-house programme with a global client, supporting leaders to have more impactful career conversations with their talent.  The company wanted to accelerate their talent strategy by empowering their employees to take a more active role in managing their own careers. The aim was to empower talent to work in partnership with leaders and the HR infrastructure rather than depending on them. 

Many of the pilot group have gone onto to be career mentors for others using some of the techniques they experienced working with me. To see delegates be inspired by their experience of being coached and go on to become coaches has been a real moment of deep pride. 

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

I have spent a large proportion of my career behind the scenes so to speak, HRDs are often the person behind the ‘throne’ as opposed to the person sitting on it. Also, as a brown woman there are many gender and cultural norms that influence my comfort with being ‘on stage’. So now that I run my own practice, I find being visible and allowing myself to be seen is a daily practice I have to work at. 

The most rewarding moment for me is when a client achieves something that they didn’t believe was possible. It’s often like they build a new view of themselves as a result, one where they feel more powerful to navigate their life. I love it when my clients feel a sense of power and energy. Being witness to clients in these moments is always a privilege and leaves me with a sense of awe and what is possible when we really stop and pay attention to one another.

In a world of social distance, paying real attention to one another feels more important than ever.

An enormous thank you to Priya for taking the time out to answer our questions and share her story of coach training with the AoEC.