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Suzanne Pullen came to coaching from a background in senior leadership and people management positions. Graduating from the AoEC’s Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching in 2017, she went on to start her own coaching practice The Inner Potential in the same year and works as an executive coach, consultant and mentor.
You have worked in a number of senior positions such as MD of Survey Solutions and within IT and HR roles at Amadeus Services and British Airways. What introduced you to coaching and led to you signing up for the Practitioner Diploma course?
My interest in coaching began while at BA, when I read a book about coaching and then used some principles of coaching within my people management roles. I was curious to learn more and went along to a weekend free course held in central London. As I was planning to leave BA, I toyed with the idea of setting up a coaching business then – but I didn’t feel ready to do that and moved into an HR role instead.
Fast forward about 20 years: I’d been MD of Survey Solutions for seven years, felt ready for change and discovered Simon Sinek’s work (book: ‘Find Your Why’). Realising that my ‘Why’ is ‘making a difference to individuals’ personal growth and development’ wasn’t a big surprise to me as developing people and teams had been a consistent thread in my career, but it led me to think deeply about what I wanted from my life. Coaching turned out to be one of those things, so I took action and booked myself on the AoEC’s Coaching Skills Certificate course. The course developed my love of coaching and cemented it as part of my future. I attended the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching later that year as a natural progression, to strengthen and deepen my skills, knowledge and practical experience.
What were some of the positives and challenges you experienced while doing the diploma?
The Practitioner Diploma course was really a voyage of discovery about coaching and about myself. I like structure, so I appreciated the way the course was organised by ‘beginnings, middles and ends’ and taking practice clients through coaching programmes at the same pace as the course certainly magnified my learning. I enjoyed the practical elements of different skills and techniques, the demonstrations, and the triads for coach/coachee/observer.
Best of all were the supportive relationships I developed with the amazing course delegates – these became close quite quickly, in part because we were learning more about ourselves together – plus, during coaching practise we were bringing topics that were so important to us. I learned a huge deal about myself and how I operate during the course.
What would be your top piece of advice for anyone thinking about doing a professional coach training programme?
I’d say to be prepared to learn as much about yourself as you learn about coaching! Also, for someone wanting to work as an external coach to people working in business, I would recommend choosing a course that helps you learn about managing the relationship with the client organisation as well as with the coachee. This has been of great practical use to me – however I know not all training programmes include it.
What personal qualities and values do you bring to your coaching work?
Clients tell me my coaching is characterised by clarity, focus, calm, support, space, perspective and warmth, and that I’m quick to understand the context in which they are operating. My own core personal values are trust, integrity, reliability, achievement and making a difference to others and these form the basis of the way I work in my business and with my clients.
Can you tell us more about your unique coaching model – Explore, Discover, Achieve - and how has this evolved since completing the diploma?
The way I talk about my model has changed since the diploma, but the concepts behind it are exactly the same and that’s because my model is very much rooted in who I am, what I bring to coaching, my values and how I work with my client.
‘Explore’ – after contracting and identifying working goals, we find out what’s going on for the coachee, understand mindset, dig down to determine the behaviours that are in the driving seat and aim to get true clarity.
‘Discover’ - is about the insights that are revealed for the coachee through our thinking partnership and come about as a result of the trust and rapport that’s been built, the space I offer, the questions I use.
‘Achieve’ relates to the flow of insights and learning into actions, which I support the coachee to define, shape and complete, helping the coachee to achieve their goals and change or move forward in a different way from before.
You set up your own practice Inner Potential in 2017, can you tell us about your experience of setting up your own business and the type of clients you are working with?
Yes absolutely – that was where the hard work started and I had a whole lot more to learn. The mechanics of how to set up a limited company, get accounting and office systems in place and ensure I had the right equipment and software were relatively straightforward.
Figuring out what support I need around me, how I market the business, developing my style of coaching and getting very specific about who I love to coach (my niche) have taken much longer. Every day’s a school day!
My clients tend to come to me by referral. All of them business owners or senior professionals who want to change something important in their working life e.g. senior managers, CEOs, architects, project managers, human resources, managers. I’ve worked with clients in a range of industries, including market research, architecture, healthcare, technology, charity, professional services and financial services.
What are some of the issues you coach people around?
Lots of different issues come up but raising awareness is a part of all of them. Common themes tend to be aspects of leadership, people management, resolving difficult work relationships, self-confidence and mindset, managing change, recognising strengths and development areas and changing career.
Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that had an impact on you?
My coaching sessions often impact me when I realise the amazing resourcefulness we have as human beings and the progress people can make when the conditions are right for them.
Perhaps one example that particularly struck me was helping a senior manager identify his strengths. When I introduced a set of picture cards to the process this really inspired him - his thinking took off and he made major discoveries both about his strengths and his future career strategy. The impact of this thinking was that it led to him taking a decision about his next career step.
What has coaching taught you about yourself and other people?
The models and approaches learned during the Practitioner Diploma programme and in CPD since then have been used for my self-development as well as drawing from them when working with my clients.
I’ve learned how much people’s early experiences impact them later in life and just how important individuals’ values, needs and mindset are to their working life. Even though I’m working with people in business, the entirety of their lives are part of the coaching process and it’s also been fascinating to understand the relationship between the emotions, logic and the physical body and how much those channels can tell us.
I have a better understanding now of the impact my presence in coaching can have on clients, how important my wide experience is in building rapport with senior leaders - and how rarely business professionals have the chance to be listened to in a deep way.
What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about your work as a coach?
Most rewarding have been my clients’ ‘lightbulb moments’, when they become aware of something for the first time and go on to make a change as a result of it, perhaps it even changes their life. My most challenging task and possibly still work in progress has been identifying a niche for my coaching - when I’m truly happy coaching any professional in business!
Our sincerest thanks to Suzanne for sharing her story of coach training with us.
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