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Caroline Bottrell is an organisational development professional with extensive experience in helping strategic leaders and operational managers get the best from their people, in order to meet business goals. Previously working as head of organisational development for B&CE and Brighton & Hove City Council, Caroline now runs her own practice. Here she discusses her coach training experience on the AoEC’s Advanced Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching.
You originally worked in L&D roles then moved into senior organisational development positions with Brighton & Hove City Council and B&CE before establishing your own consultancy. Who or what introduced you to coaching and led to you signing up for coach training with the AoEC?
It was a natural progression from organisational development. I was already coaching in-house and had facilitated entry level coaching programmes for managers. When I took voluntary redundancy in the autumn 2019, to set up my own business, I became an associate organisational development (OD) consultant for several consultancies. A few asked if I had a coaching accreditation. I hadn’t. I felt it’d be useful to obtain and attend a programme to help deepen my skills.
I chose the AoEC because it was recommended to me by a trusted OD network I’m part of, the NTL alumni group. Quite a few OD practitioners are also coaches, so I asked for recommendations of quality coaching programme providers and the AoEC was mentioned by several people.
What were some of the positives and challenges you experienced while doing the Advanced Practitioner diploma?
A key positive for me was that there were plenty of opportunities to practice. Faculty observed our coaching on the modules and in-between programme dates we were encouraged to self-organise group practice sessions. This was great because I was building coaching experience with different people and practicing in a trusted environment where we gave and obtained valuable feedback.
The other positive takeaway was being encouraged to shape my own coaching model. This was one of the most significant elements of the programme because my model helps to explain how I coach and why I coach the way I do. What will you get if you pick me as a coach? What’s my approach? The process required me to identify my values, beliefs and principles which had been informed by my upbringing and life experiences. These personal reflections about why I show up as I do helped to inform my model. This feels better than using a model from a book, like GROW. These sorts of models are ok but they’re not unique to you.
And finally, the people that I met became a new coaching related network for me. I’m still in contact with people from the programme even though it ended in 2021. I’m in a coaching supervision group with four of them, we meet quarterly and a few of us have connected over client work because we know and trust each other’s coaching styles.
The biggest challenge of the programme for me was the academic essay. I prefer to learn through doing and reflecting, I’m a pragmatist. The essay required research and a critical review of coaching scholarship and theory that supported or didn’t support my coaching model. The advantage to this, despite me struggling with this part, is that I have an underlying rigour to my model, which I could explain if anyone asked.
What is your advice to others considering coach training?
Consider how you like to learn and what you need, then find a programme that provides it. For me, I wanted a balance of opportunities to coach, skills input and the ability to achieve accreditation.
I’d also suggest trying to match your capabilities with the right level of programme for you. I wanted to be stretched by the content and to learn with people that had similar amounts of experience and skills to me.
And finally, consider how much you want to invest. I self-funded so had to be cautious about money but also knew a credible programme would come with a price tag. I didn’t want to waste my money. I didn’t have the full fees at the start of the diploma but trusted that the universe would provide and AoEC provided an instalment payment plan.
Looking back at doing your training with the Advanced Practitioner diploma, what has been the lasting impact on you as a person and you as a coach?
The diploma experience shone a light on more than just my coaching skills, it reminded me of what I knew about myself and encouraged me to deepen my self-awareness. I used this awareness to help create my coaching model. This parallel learning process: coaching skills and deepening self-awareness was transformational and enabled me to create a truly authentic coaching model. Now, when I go into coaching assignments, I’m more able to show-up with a greater sense of self.
Can you tell us more about your personal coaching model and how this has evolved since doing the Advanced Practitioner diploma?
My current model has three connecting strands.
The first, is that I have a belief in humankind and human potential, based on Carl Roger’s thinking. I believe people do the best they can in any moment with the resources they have available to them. I look to partner with my clients to enable them to be a better version of themselves, whatever that means for them and to become more resourceful. Like McGregor’s Theory Y, I hold the belief that we reap what we sow, belief and trust in someone’s potential breeds belief and trust that potential can be reached.
The second strand relates to my interest in the ‘interconnectedness’ of things. Most people have a sense of the various systems they are part of, a team, an organisation, a family etc. Each is a group of relationships. My emphasis is on helping the client see a clearer picture of those systems and relationships, through seeing the connections, patterns and power dynamics.
I also view the client as an interconnected individual system and use a somatic approach when appropriate. I encourage clients to utilise the data and wisdom from their cognitive, emotional and somatic intelligence, their head, heart, and gut connection. I view our minds and bodies as one interconnected system and people can achieve amazing things when their mind and body are in harmony, in flow.
The last part of my model is about the importance I place on the relationship between myself and a client. I attempt to position myself as a secure base, someone the coachee can trust, to encourage a safe place for them to be honest, share any vulnerabilities and to learn. I believe the quality of the relationship supports the unlocking of a person’s potential to improve both performance and wellbeing.
I have ACC accreditation with the ICF and am just about to apply for PCC level, but to be honest, the learning on the programme has been more important to me than the accreditation, although that can more easily open the door for work and clients as coaching commissioners see accreditation as a mark of professional credibility.
You established your own practice OAK Organisational and Leadership Development in 2019; can you tell us about the type of clients you are working with?
My work is split between organisational development practice and leadership coaching.
My clients are typically senior leaders within organisations. They tend to have departmental responsibility or are responsible for a portfolio where they need to lead, influence and collaborate across an organisation or beyond with external stakeholders. I’ve worked in a variety of different sectors, retail, aviation, finance, professional services, local government and charities.
What are some of the issues you coach people around and how are you measuring the effectiveness of the coaching?
Mainly the challenges of being a leader in a fast-paced world. From leading change, to finding their place at the table and speaking with confidence and gravitas, to communicating with others, having ‘difficult conversations’ and influencing upwards or across a network. The speed of change in work right now means I’m seeing a greater demand on the coaching session being provider of ‘time out’, time out to think, to breath and to find ground with a trusted coach.
I work with the client to measure the effectiveness of the coaching through tripartite meetings at the beginning and the end of a coaching assignment.
The purpose of the first tripartite is to get the voice of the sponsor heard so they can express what they want to see that’ll demonstrate a return on expectation from the coaching. What do they expect to be different? What does success look like? This may include objective or subjective measures such as feedback from others, a feeling or a sense of difference.
During the coaching I’ll support the coachee to collect their own data to evidence any changes. This data can be used to inform any sponsor check-ins.
The final tripartite meeting is the place where the original objectives set by the sponsor are reviewed.
Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that had an impact on you?
I remember one experience where somebody asked me what their homework was between our sessions. I wondered what I’d done that meant they’d put me in the role of teacher and them pupil. On reflection, this was not the right question. It was not about what I’d done or not done. It was a reminder that when I’m working with people with no or little experience of coaching to allow time for this way of working and coach/client roles and responsibilities to be understood and to settle.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a coach?
I enjoy the relationships and creating a space and a place for people to bring their dilemmas and challenges and have time to sit back, consider, breathe and work them through. It’s rewarding to witness that with a little support, people can often find their own answers and to be part of a process that encourages others to experiment, learn and grow.
Our deepest gratitude to Caroline for sharing her personal journey and experience of coach training at the AoEC.
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