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Sam Heighway has enjoyed a 25+ year career in HR, people and change management, leadership development and coaching in the public and private sectors. Now running her own practice Be Business Fit, Sam gave us her view of the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching programme and shares an insight into her work as a coach.
Your professional background has been in HR. Who or what introduced you to coaching? What led to you signing up for coach training with the AoEC?
I was introduced to coaching quite some time ago when we were doing some leadership training internally at work and so it was then that I started to learn some of the basic skills of coaching and, crucially, the difference between mentoring and coaching!
I was also fortunate enough to have a coach myself after I had been promoted to a director level position, which I found invaluable and gave me the thinking space I needed to really help me to develop and grow into the role. I also found it incredibly supportive when my role became challenging, knowing that I had someone that I could speak to and consider how to approach problems that I hadn’t been presented with before.
What led to you signing up for coach training with the AoEC?
I was going to be made redundant from Vale at the end of 2018 and so from September was considering carefully what to do next. It was following a coaching session I had at the time, that I decided to go self-employed and become a qualified coach. I wanted to be qualified with a credible organisation, that provided me with the stretch and challenge of a thorough course so that I knew when I qualified, I’d had to work hard for it.
I’d heard of some other courses that last just a couple of days but knew that wasn’t really for me. The Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching offered by the AoEC was also a great mix of in-person, practical training as well as some online video reflection sessions and background reading, culminating in a final practical assessment and written assignment. It wasn’t easy, but having the combination of all those factors, made it the right choice for me.
What were some of the positives and challenges you experienced while doing the diploma?
There were many! Certainly meeting new people from different backgrounds that all had the same curiosity and desire to learn about how to coach was a huge positive, as was the amount of practice and observation opportunities that we had on the course - as a practical learner this was great for me. But also, recognising that there is no right way or best model of coaching - it is up to us to develop the model that works.
In terms of challenges, it’s important that you make time for background reading, reflection, practice clients and preparation which I found at times hard, as there was a lot going on for me at the time. I also found that it was important to “decompress” afterwards; some of the sessions were particularly challenging and at times emotional, so it was important to take that time to reflect. Although reflection wasn’t something that came naturally to me, the course really helped me and to great benefit too.
What is your top advice to others considering coach training?
To really think about how you would like to use your coaching training and what you would like to achieve as a result of it. This will help you to make sure that a) you select the right course for you and b) help you to think about how you will put it into practice for the longer term.
You may want to develop your own skills as a leader where you work, use coaching skills more widely within your business, or become self-employed and provide coaching completely independently. But whatever you decide to do, it’s an experience that won’t leave you and a skill that you are likely to want to continue to practice and see the benefit of.
Looking back at doing your diploma, what has been its impact on you as a person and you as a coach?
I am much more aware of my own values now and what is important to me. I have realised that my values drive the way that I coach, that I have a strong belief that it’s within everyone to change the way that they behave and that they have the answers within them to make that happen. As a coach, I just help them to unlock what those answers may be.
Can you tell us more about your personal coaching model and how this has evolved since doing the diploma?
The way that we behave drives how successful we are, our teams are and the businesses we work for are and so bringing values into coaching and how my clients want to operate, change and behave is important.
I have always loved the principals of co-active and solution focused coaching and it is those models that really drive the way that I coach the most.
You established your own business, Be Business Fit in May 2020; can you tell us about the type of clients you are working with?
I decided to become a qualified team coach during lockdown and so now am able to apply the principals of executive coaching with teams, which is amazing to see in practice. I have been lucky enough to work with clients within financial services, education, charity, defence, manufacturing and housing sectors.
What are some of the issues and opportunities you coach clients around?
It can be wide and varied! A lot of the time it is around building confidence, whether that is to speak up in front of boardroom of people, do a big presentation or dealing with team dynamics post-Covid. But other topics cover things like building relationships, making decisions and, I think fundamentally, giving people that confidential space to offload and talk about what is at the front of their mind. So often, people are not able to do that, for fear of consequence, being judged or being seen as incompetent. Coaching helps to deal with all those things, which is what is so wonderful about it.
How are you measuring the effectiveness of your coaching engagements?
In a couple of ways. I keep a learning log and have done ever since I qualified, where I reflect on the coaching that I have given, what went well and what I could have done differently. I also use the sessions themselves to check in and make sure that the coaching is progressing as the client would wish, have review meetings set up with the sponsor involved, so that progress can also be discussed, and I have coaching supervision with another coach, so that I have someone that can challenge me about how I am coaching and what I can do to improve.
Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that has had an impact on you?
All the sessions that I have, have an impact on me in some shape or form. Very often, when I meet with my client, the first 10-15 minutes or so, can feel quite frantic as they are offloading and talking a lot, but by the end of the session they are much calmer, more measured and have clarity of thought. Knowing that I have played my part in helping them to get to that place of clarity and what they are going to do next, is incredibly rewarding.
You use your love of exercise to remain mindful and to look after yourself as a coach. Can you tell us more about this and how you came to compete at a national level as a powerlifter?
I have enjoyed exercising for many years and when my children were young, always used to run, mainly because it was the easiest thing to do before everyone woke up in the morning and the chaos of the day began! It has always given me a clear mind where I have been able to focus just on the exercise and left me feeling ready for the day.
I took up powerlifting about five years ago, initially to build strength to help my running but then it turned into something a bit more serious when I started to compete with British Powerlifting. I find that my training time is when I think of little else and if I have had a particularly challenging day, it helps me to reset and recharge.
I have a powerlifting coach who provides me with a great balance of being supportive but challenge at the same time, pushing me for greater performance, much like I coach my own clients. As a result of her support and challenge, this year I qualified to compete at the British Masters and came third in my category.
What do you find most rewarding about your work as a coach?
It has to be seeing my clients at the end of a session feeling lighter and calmer with a clear sense of focus and clarity and then hearing about their successes at the next time we meet.
Our immense thanks to Sam for sharing her experience of coach training with the AoEC.
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