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We caught up with AoEC Scotland alumnus Jimmy Paul and asked him about his time on the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching. Here he shares a candid insight into his journey from receiving coaching as part of completing the NHS Management Training Scheme, to now working as a consultant on the Permanence and Care Excellence (PACE) programme at CELCIS.
With an MA in Human Geography from Edinburgh University and as a graduate of the NHS Management Training Scheme (MTS), what introduced you to coaching and led to you signing up for the AoEC’s Practitioner Diploma course?
I had a fantastic experience of the NHS Management Training Scheme in Scotland. Part of the development package that you get is eight sessions with an executive coach, and receiving coaching really changed my life. I learned so much about myself, which in turn helped me to understand how I could be more compassionate and effective in work and in life. I discovered different ways to lead in often tricky and “wicked” situations, starting from a place of self-awareness.
My coach was Kay Young, who delivers the AoEC Practitioner Diploma - we had an excellent coaching relationship, and even though our coaching relationship has finished, we are still in touch. She knew that I was looking at my continued professional development and messaged me to let me know that the Diploma course was running in Scotland. I was keen to learn the coaching skills that had helped to transform my life and leadership so that I could support others by using those same skills. So, I sourced funding through the Life Changes Trust’s Aspirational Awards programme which allowed me to undertake the Diploma.
What were some of the positives and challenges you experienced while doing the diploma?
There were so many positives! Getting to connect with such a wonderful and diverse group of people was my main one. We became such a close-knit group, which really helps when you are learning new skills and then using those skills, whilst being observed. I still see many of these people today and hold the fondest of memories of our time together.
My reason for doing the Diploma was not to become a full-time executive coach, but to learn skills that would benefit me in all walks of life. Learning how coaching has overlaps with mentoring, counselling, training and managing was therefore really helpful. Also, learning to listen better, i.e. listening to understand and connect, rather than listening to reply, was a real positive.
The biggest challenge was how the Diploma challenged me to understand ‘who I am’, based on the belief that ‘who I am is how I coach’. Having space to make sense of who we are as people is not something that is encouraged enough in Western society, but we had ample opportunity to do this on the Diploma in a way that felt safe and healthy. As a result, the assessments were less academic, and more about your quality of reflection and learning – which I much prefer…my energy was spent building my coaching skills and model, rather than Harvard referencing the assessment!
What would be your top piece of advice for anyone thinking about doing a professional coach training programme?
My top piece of advice to anyone thinking about doing professional coaching training (and particularly the AoEC Diploma) is that you should do it because it will benefit you in all parts of your life. It will support you to enhance your coaching skills…that is a given. But it will also challenge you to understand yourself more deeply, to find new ways to connect with those around you, and to be able to support people to identify the solutions to the problems that they face. These skills have been essential in my coaching practice but have also been crucial in the various roles that I hold.
What does your coaching model look like and how has this evolved since completing the diploma?
A huge part of my coaching model is my focus on ‘self’ and making sure I am in the right state of mind before a coaching session. Being ‘present’ is so crucial, as I know how easy it is to get distracted if feeling particularly tired or if something is weighing heavily on my mind.
My preferred coaching model is GROW (which stands for Goal, Reality, Options, Will). I use it loosely, and any session will feel like a natural conversation to any coaching client, with these factors weaved in. It will feel totally led by the person I’m coaching.
My coaching model has indeed evolved since the Diploma as I have grown in my coaching practice. Conversations may previously have felt more structured, but now my focus is much more on the value of relationship-building. I am also better at being direct, which was one of my stretches whilst completing the AoEC Diploma.
What personal qualities and values do you bring to your coaching work?
I’m attentive and empathic. I value active listening. I can work alongside people to delve into the ‘deeper stuff’ that is going on for them, but also be respectful of the boundaries that people have when they would rather not do that. I try to create a space where the person being coached is leading any session or conversation so that they feel confident and relaxed. As someone who likes to plan, this can be difficult as it means ceding some power and being better at going with the flow! However, the coaching relationship is key, and the coachee leading their sessions is crucial to building a strong coaching relationship.
People say that I am a person with a calming presence, who they feel they can trust. They say that I am reflective and honest, and really act on feedback that they give me. They also say that I notice the things that they don’t often notice themselves – sometimes a choice of word, body language or tone of voice. This is often the key to a coachee deepening their understanding of themselves and their situation.
Tell us about your work at the Independent Care Review. How did you use coaching in your role and in the wider organisation?
I recently finished my role as a co-chair at the Independent Care Review, which is a root and branch review of the care system in Scotland. Here, I led a large, diverse and amazing group of people and we made conclusions on the ‘workforce’ – which really means the people who infants, children and young people will come across in Scotland when they become looked after by the state.
I used all of the coaching skills learned on the Diploma in this role. When there were tensions or areas of divergent thinking, I was sure to listen attentively and to ask open questions. When there were people in the room with specific knowledge or experience in a certain area, I asked thoughtful questions which helped to build the collective knowledge of the group; this allowed us to arrive at conclusions with a high level of buy in.
A key part of coaching is high quality challenge and support. I was sure to both challenge and support the workforce work group throughout the process - and this was particularly important in making sure that we were really aspirational in the conclusions that were built.
One of the other co-chairs on the Care Review, John Carnochan, often says ‘whatever the question, the answer is relationships’ and I agree. We valued the relationships across the workforce work group, and we made time to get to get to know each other in the early months. Later, when we came up against the really tricky issues, the foundation or trust and respect was the springboard which helped us to move forward where otherwise, these conversations will certainly have been less constructive.
Another way in which my coaching skills helped me in this role is my greater self-awareness. As someone who grew up in care myself, there were often discussions that felt particularly hard-hitting and difficult to hear, because it was close to home. Through the Diploma and in my coaching practice, I have become better able to understand what these triggers were and how best to work with them in order to serve the people I need to serve.
What are some of the issues you coach people around?
People often share worries about their meetings, presentations, or relationships with team members and managers. They might share specific things they’re finding difficult at work. I’ve also had some coaching sessions with two clients around what they will do in retirement. Usually, it is something where the coachee feels stuck, and they want some support to feel unstuck.
Sometimes people also want to explore how their experiences in their earlier lives shape how they feel and react to situations today, which related to what they find most challenging.
There’s a real range of things I coach people on, from performance-related to more existential. I’ll always be led by the coachee.
What kind of impact is coaching having on the individuals you are working with?
People have told me that they feel both challenged and supported in our sessions – and that this is more effective because of the strong coaching relationships that I try to build. They say that I act as a mirror which supports them to understand themselves better – this opens up new possibilities of dealing with those really tricky situations, or to better understand why they are feeling certain emotions.
In short, people have a greater curiosity to learn about themselves and feel that they can explore that in a very safe space. By building capability with coaching clients, they find new ways to deal with their challenges and to feel more comfortable with their approach.
What difference has becoming a coach had for you in your style of management?
Coaching has taught me the value of actively listening so that I am hearing to understand, rather than hearing to reply. This means that my relationships with colleagues are better, and we are quicker to get to the heart of work issues as a result. People would describe me as a quieter member of a group, but with contributions that are extremely meaningful.
I have worked with people with different skillsets across my whole career. I am now better at asking questions which help to build a collective understanding of the very specific knowledge of team members, which leads us to new ways of doing things. I also sit better with challenge, and see it as more of an opportunity to build relationships and to grow through different ideas (whereas before completing my coaching diploma, I may have been more likely to take challenge quite personally).
What has coaching taught you about yourself and other people?
Where to start! It’s taught me a lot about myself, largely because the AoEC encouraged me to understand myself more deeply, on the basis of ‘who you are is how you coach’. I know more about what energises me and what things can be triggers. I understand the importance of the preparation immediately before a meeting in making sure that I am in the right headspace. It has taught me what my principles and values are and how important it is to stand by these, especially at tough times.
I struggle to answer the question about what this taught me about other people as I wouldn’t want to generalise. It has taught me how curiosity is the key to really connecting with others and understanding them as individuals, though.
What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about your work as a coach?
As an empathic person, the most challenging thing is hearing things that can be difficult – whether it is a past trauma or a difficulty in life.
The most rewarding is when coachees find new ways of doing things, a greater comfort in their own skin and a greater happiness in life.
A huge thank you to Jimmy for taking the time out to share his inspirational life story.
Have a look at our website if you would like to know more about the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching.