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With a background in human resources, Alex Ong is head of organisational and staff development at Middlesex University. Completing his coach training with the AoEC during 2021, Alex shares a candid insight into his experience of participating on the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching and how he is integrating coaching skills into his development role.
You have worked in various people management and organisational development roles with the Crown Prosecution Service, Natural History Museum and Middlesex University. Who or what introduced you to coaching and led to you signing up for coach training with the AoEC?
I first came across coaching in my role at the Natural History Museum. We were trying to develop a coaching culture and wanted to train managers and key staff in coaching skills. Coaching became integrated into leadership development and our talent management programmes. I completed an in-house coaching programme and supported delegates on these programmes.
At Middlesex we are also trying to develop a coaching culture and I knew that I wanted to develop my coaching skills further. Some of our faculty are experienced coaches and I spoke to a colleague in the Business School who suggested the AoEC. I really wanted a practice-based programme and the Practitioner Diploma fitted the bill.
What were some of the positives and challenges you experienced while doing the diploma?
I really enjoyed doing the diploma and working with the other delegates on the course and practicing what we had learnt. Seeing the way other people applied what they had learnt with their own style was inspirational.
There was so much to take in and I was particularly taken with co-active approaches and Gestalt. I also thought that doing the programme virtually would be a challenge, but it didn’t seem to detract from my experience. We did four half days in each module which meant we weren’t stuck at a screen for extended periods which helped.
Because there was a lot to take in, it was a challenge to try and apply it in the practice sessions and with practice clients without falling back on tried and tested methods. I had to make a conscious effort to try out and use some of the new techniques or listen at different levels and it was worth the effort.
What is your top advice to others considering coach training?
To borrow from a sports brand, “just do it”. It is a privilege to coach clients and support people by giving them the space and time to think and enable them to see things from a different place.
Allowing people that space is the most powerful tool a coach has and should trust themselves.
Looking back at doing your diploma, what has been its lasting impact on you as a person and you as a people development professional?
I think exploring the questions “who am I?” and “how do I coach?” were really fundamental to creating a foundation for my coaching and my approach to supporting others in their development. The course gave me an opportunity to explore those questions and delve deeply into understanding my own values and what value I can bring.
As an OD professional I work a lot with self-as-instrument and the coaching programme really opened up that as a tool for my practice helping me to not only observe and listen at deeper levels, but to also notice my own reactions, sensations and feelings and bring those into the conversation. It has had the impact of broadening the conversation and helps to explore unexpected and unnoticed areas.
Can you tell us more about your personal coaching model and how this has evolved since doing the diploma?
I tried to keep my model simple, and my emerging model is called PAD and has three parts: Principles, Approach and Development.
The Principles are the aspects of coaching that are important for me to help create the right space for my clients:
- in service of the client,
- always be contracting,
- be aware of self and the client in the moment,
- provide a safe space to explore,
- support the client to see a different perspective,
- challenge where necessary.
The Approach I think will always evolve as I evolve as a coach and is currently about creating a safe space for clients using co-active, Gestalt and thinking environment approaches along with employing creative tools and techniques and self-as-instrument. It’s the methods I use to approach a coaching conversation.
The Development piece is a recognition that I will always be learning and will need to practice, reflect and evolve, adding new tools, models and techniques to enhance my coaching practice.
How are you using your coaching skills in your current role of head of organisational and staff development at Middlesex University?
Coaching has become very important at Middlesex University and is part of our ongoing strategy. We’re trying to create a coaching culture to support collaborative working and creativity. I am working on the development of a Coaching Academy and helping our academic staff in supporting our staff on the new coaching apprenticeship.
In addition, I am helping to integrate coaching skills and practices into our leadership and management development programmes, as well as working with internal coaching clients.
What are some of the issues and opportunities you coach around?
I tend to work with clients on work-based issues around confidence, leadership and career development.
How are you measuring the effectiveness of the coaching within your organisation?
We have not been very effective in the past, but we are planning to look at including questions in our staff survey about coaching and leadership.
Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that has had an impact on you?
I think that providing challenge can be one of the most difficult things to do as a coach. I sometimes challenge using silence or questions and have found it satisfying when the client has responded positively to it and achieves a different level of clarity.
How have you seen the need for coaching change as we have gone through the coronavirus pandemic?
With people working at home more and feeling a bit more isolated the need for conversation and reflection has increased. I think that coaching has become more accessible for people since some has moved online. I was sceptical about virtual coaching, but I think it can be just as powerful a process as in person.
I am also in touch with other coaches and know that some have embraced the outdoors and walk while they talk with the outside providing a different stimulus to the conversations.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a coach?
For me, it’s seeing clients have that lightbulb moment or moment of clarity where they have a new understanding or know what they are going to do next with determination. I don’t think you can beat that feeling as a coach!
A massive thank you to Alex for sharing his insight into participating on the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching.
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