Practitioner Diploma / “It has made me a more thoughtful questioner”

17th December by Lee Robertson

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Helen Tuddenham is an accredited executive coach and L&D consultant with a 25-year career in professional services. Working predominantly with leaders in law, accounting, and professional services, Helen did her coach training with the AoEC in 2019 before setting up her own successful practice in 2020. Here, she gives us her perspective of the AoEC’s Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching.

You come from an impressive background with a 25-year career in professional services at PwC. Who or what introduced you to coaching and led to you signing up for coach training with the AoEC?

I had coaching at PwC at a time in my career which I found helpful. I also spent some time working in the same team as our internal coaches so was familiar with what coaching is. The last couple of years I was there, I had some informal responsibility for developing young managers, and part of that was working with those going for senior manager promotion and coaching them to get through the process. I did that without any training, and I enjoyed it. It wasn’t pure coaching – more mentoring with coaching elements!

In 2019, I had a mini career break, and one of the things I thought I would like to do was coach training. I knew I would be paying for it myself because the view was probably to leave PwC at some point. I wanted something that wasn’t the kind of Ashridge £10,000 level of coach training, but neither was something that was online for £500, and here is your certificate.

I did lots of research, and what appealed to me about the AoEC was that it was very much grounded in business, and a couple of people I knew from PwC had done that training. When I got into it more, I liked that it was in-person and that the AoEC didn’t teach any one particular coaching methodology. You could come up with your own way of coaching based on your personality and the kind of coaching you would be doing.

What were some of the positives and challenges you experienced while doing the diploma?

The positives included lots of practice and that it featured different coaching models. It was also a good-sized group of about 18-20 people, which meant it was big enough to have lots of people to practice with and different personality types, but it wasn’t so big that you didn’t get time for everyone to ask questions. The faculty also had different styles from one another. One was more direct, which isn’t my natural style, so it was good to see how coaching could be done differently. The work between the sessions also added to the experience with a chance to do more practice.

What is your top advice to others considering coach training?

With coach training at the AoEC, what surprised me was how much you would be going into yourself.  The very first thing we did was go around the room and answer the question, ‘Who am I?’. If you are not used to having a lot of personal development or self-reflection, that could be quite a shock, though it was all done well and was very safe. I actually really enjoyed the introspective parts and having to write an essay on Who am I?, but I would say to be prepared for it and embrace it because it is really valuable.

Another thing is to make sure you are putting the time in. Also, know that it is a safe space, so as well as practising coaching, people will be practising on you, so be as open and as vulnerable as you would be in a real-life coaching situation you are paying for.

Looking back at doing your diploma, what has been its lasting impact on you as a person and you as a coach?

As a person, it has made me stop and think more, particularly about the questions I ask, why I am asking them, and their benefits. It has made me a more thoughtful questioner. It has also made me a better listener.

As a coach, because I started my coaching business after doing the course, it is the validation of everything I do. Knowing the different tools and techniques available to me and having had the chance to practice those a lot, has given me confidence. It also means that I am not wedded to any particular methodology. I can choose to specialise in a specific area, but I don’t feel limited to who I can help because the coaching is versatile.

The training has also given me an excellent framework to see how things I have done since fit together. For example, I am now doing some NLP training, and in everything I do, I think, how does this fit with what I already know? The aspects around the coaching approach, such as the contracting and finishing, have been beneficial. Looking after yourself as a coach and the ethics side have been essential; without that, I would not have been able to service my clients properly.

I also do leadership development, and the training has helped facilitate training sessions to get more of the answers out of the participants rather than me telling them, especially in debriefing after exercises.

Can you tell us more about your personal coaching model and how this has evolved since doing the diploma?

When I started, the thing I hung onto a lot as a new coach was the GROW model. I had come across it before at work, and it made logical sense to me. I am quite a structured person, and I found it helpful. It worked well for a while, and then I got to the point where I focused too much on the model rather than trusting the process. So, now I try not to pre-empt what will happen too much in a session.

GROW does give you a solid start, though, because of the contracting and goal setting. It also helps me to have a definite ending by leaving time to finish properly so the client knows what they are taking away if there are any actions, and what they are learning about themselves. Being a bit looser, knowing that you have a specific coaching objective and are checking in with that objective, means you can trust the process and your intuition for asking the right questions in between. So, the structure is still there in the background, but it is not as important anymore.

The Practitioner Diploma is triple-accredited with the Association for Coaching, EMCC and ICF. How important has accreditation with one of the industry’s professional bodies been to you personally?

It has been a requirement for at least one corporate client and an organisation with whom I am an associate who works with big corporate clients. When I set out, I wanted to get the accreditation to get more opportunities, but when I was undertaking the mentor coaching for the accreditation (which was not part of the Practitioner course at the time), I found it so useful in just becoming a better coach. I would say to people, even if you don’t want to be accredited, it is valuable and worth doing the mentor coaching just because you get so much better at coaching!

You now work as an executive coach and set up your own practice in 2020; can you tell us about the type of clients you are working with?

My background is as an accountant, so most of my clients are lawyers, accountants and from the professional services. Most of them are at a relatively senior level. 

What are some of the issues and opportunities you coach people around?

A lot of what I am doing is helping them to untangle the complexities of leadership and what that means for them. Some want to get promoted, so that might be to partner if they are in practice. Other people I work with might have just been promoted, so they might be new partners and want to ensure they are hitting the ground running. I think that there is a recognition that once you get to that level, it seems like you have reached the top, but in reality, there is a whole other dynamic to get used to of being a member of a senior leadership team.

At the heart of why most people come to me is confidence, which can mean different things to different people. It might be around influencing others, leading a team, or being more visible and making sure people know your career ambitions. I also work with people who are thinking about changing their careers.

How are you measuring the effectiveness of your coaching?

My clients fill in a form at the beginning asking about their objectives. When they finish, another questionnaire asks how much they feel they have met their objectives. A lot of it is subjective, but one of the things I talk to clients about around their coaching objectives is the question “How will you know when you have got there?“.

If they don’t immediately come to an answer, I will try to encourage them a bit more broadly to think about what their line managers, peers or team members will be saying - that external feedback. I also always ask them if there was anything that they didn’t expect to get out of the coaching, but they did. Typically, it’s around self-awareness and understanding bits of themselves that they didn’t before.

Whilst respecting confidentiality, can you tell us about a coaching situation that has had an impact on you?

I had a client in a senior role who had very high energy levels and talked a lot in metaphors. They had come to coaching because they did not get on with their boss. The coaching concerned how to have a more productive and positive relationship with this line manager.

The feedback from them was that it had transformed the relationship. What had helped was that they had made a real commitment to their coaching goals, and they worked hard to listen to this other person – “putting on their listening ears”. They also reframed why their line manager may respond differently than they would – they both had very different personalities.

What do you find most rewarding about your work as a coach?

It is seeing people change their mindset to some extent. So, going from a place of ‘I can’t do this, this is too hard’ to ‘yes, I have got the skills and tools to be able to do this’. Seeing people push themselves a bit and doing something with the coaching. Sometimes, it can be small things; other times, it can be huge things like deciding to go for a promotion. I also like coaching older people who feel that they don’t have to sit where they are and wait for retirement. They find nothing to stop them from going for a promotion, doing something different, or pushing themselves outside of their comfort zone at whatever age they are.

Our sincerest thanks to Helen sharing her personal journey of coach training with the AoEC.