Practitioner Diploma / “Probably the best investment I’ve made in my career”

18th January by Lee Robertson

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“Probably the best investment I’ve made in my career”

Hailing from a background in executive support and marketing, Edinburgh-based Lisa Paris completed the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching with AoEC Scotland in 2020. Establishing her own practice, Campfire Coaching in October 2019, she now works as a full-time executive coach and business mentor. Here she gives us a very candid insight into her coach training during the coronavirus lockdown and a flavour of her work as a professional coach.

You have a really diverse career working in marketing, communications and strategy for brands such as AT&T, Dun & Bradstreet and Wolters Kluwer. Who or what introduced you to coaching and led to you signing up for coach training with AoEC Scotland?

I’ve spent the majority of my career working with senior leaders and leadership teams in all corners of the world, building strong, virtual and global executive teams. Success in this executive support function has always meant supporting others to unlock their potential – this is the key to sustainable and infectious change. My purpose was to support leaders to be at their best, so they can inspire others and meet demanding performance targets.

Along the way, I’ve been fortunate to experience many emotionally intelligent, coaching-led leaders and business cultures with a genuine interest in employee engagement and empowerment – and this approach resonated strongly with me. Both inside and outside of work, I often found myself providing coaching and mentoring – and received feedback that the space I held for these conversations was highly valued and impactful.

I knew this was something I wanted to do vocationally, and had a strong desire to make coaching available to anyone who needs to access it – not just senior or experienced executives. At the same time, I felt the responsibility to ensure I was delivering professional services, that created a safe and ethical space to work in, and a strong framework underpinning the process.

I came across the Open Day with AOEC Scotland while doing my research and quickly signed on for first the Coaching Skills Certificate and then the Practitioner Diploma.

You started your training with the Coaching Skills Certificate before going on to do the Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching – what were some of the positives and challenges you experienced while doing each programme?

My most vivid memory from the Coaching Skills programme was a beautiful change in pace. Our tutor, Kay, consciously helped us slow down, breathe and get ready to listen more mindfully and actively. We were all used to moving fast, working to packed agendas, and dashing from one thing to the next, and so it took a bit of effort to embrace the slowing down. But in doing so the experience was very rich, quickly creating an environment of trust and vulnerability and allowing real work to be done as we practiced our coaching skills on one another. It was inspiring how much we learned in just two days.

It was a similar experience with the Practitioner Diploma. I was struck by how quickly we all bonded as a cohort – so willing to share and learn together. And how supportive and flexible everyone was when we had to move from in person learning after Module one, over to online learning due to the Covid-19 restrictions. Our tutors made the whole experience seamless and I never felt like I was missing out on any richness that might have come from face-to-face learning. What I deeply appreciated about the programme was how experiential it was. There was a great blend of theory, demonstration, practice and reflection that helped me embed the skills I was learning, and discover more about who I am as a coach.

These programmes are probably the best investment I’ve made in my career. I found the process so energising and I was surprised about how much I learned about myself: how I learn, how I coach, how I can help others unlock their potential. The diploma course also exposed me to a wide variety of coaching thought leaders and coaching frameworks that helped me clarify my own model.

What would be your top piece of advice for anyone thinking about doing a professional coach training programme?

Find a programme that provides a high level of experiential learning and be prepared to do the same kind of inner work you would do with your coachees to get the most out of the learning opportunities.

What personal qualities and values do you bring to your coaching work?

My interest and energy as a coach is about being a thinking partner to help bring about success, balance and growth, both professionally and personally. I help coachees act with intention and purpose, to create a life and career that they love.

I’m calm, with a positive outlook and a nurturing spirit that helps create a safe space for reflection and creating awareness. But I’m not afraid to have courageous conversations that challenge coachees to go deeper in their work and create forward movement towards their goals.

I’m passionate about learning and development, and everyday wellness, and I bring mindfulness practices into my coaching space to help coachees create sustainable high-performance levels.

I’m also committed to making coaching more accessible and inclusive – and for every coaching session I deliver to executives and within organisations, I donate the same coaching time and expertise to young people, developing professionals and jobseekers.

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

My coaching model is grounded in positive psychology and appreciative enquiry, most often using the Solutions-Focus/OSKAR model. I help coachees identify and play to their strengths so they can increase their impact. I believe change happens in small steps and I focus on helping coachees look for small ‘do-it-now’ actions that will deliver some quick wins to boost confidence and create a path for longer term success.

I’ve used a solutions-focused approach for some time now – and I find it has a light structure for outcome-focused work that blends very naturally with my personal style which is pragmatic, forward-looking, and plays to strengths.

The model starts with the end in mind (Future Perfect) which I find so helpful in anchoring the coachees on what they want to achieve. It then identifies what is working already (Counters) and where they feel they are on a Scale today vs where they want to be. As we move together through a session, we spend time acknowledging and celebrating successful experiences and resourceful qualities of the coachee (Platform) which helps build self-belief and pinpoints strengths.

During our work together, the language is focused on “solutions talk” - what’s wanted; what’s already in place; what might be next – which maintains momentum. Using all this as a base, the coachee decides the next small steps (Actions) that will move them towards their goal. Across the coaching engagement, in subsequent sessions, we review what is better, the progress that has been made, and bring the cycle back to the start, to consider what we might next explore together (Review).

You set up your own practice Campfire Coaching in October 2019, can you tell us about your experience of setting up your own business and the type of clients you are working with?

Establishing a private practice during a global pandemic has certainly been an interesting experience! My goal in establishing Campfire Coaching was to create a portfolio career for myself that blends executive and leadership coaching with social enterprise initiatives.

Over the past year I’ve worked with a variety of organisations to provide coaching and mentoring services, partnering with charity CEOs through an organisation called Pilotlight, working with LinkedIn on career transition support and coaching private clients. I’ve also become a Board Trustee for Articulate, an arts charity for care experienced young people in Scotland, and joined MCR Pathways to mentor young people in the senior phase of high school.

As we start 2021 I’ve also joined the coaching community of Know You More, a social enterprise whose values are closely aligned with mine, delivering a blend of corporate and gifted coaching to support the development of the future workforce.

It can be quite daunting to go it alone, but there is a lot of support, advice and resource out there – and I’ve found the Scottish coaching community to be really welcoming.

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

Typically I work with coachees on leadership development and career transition. Often the people I work with are at an inflexion point and need support to think through how they develop further within their current organisation, or make the next move in their career journey. To do so we usually spend time getting clear on values, strengths and aspirations so the coachees has clarity around what they stand for and how they operate, so that they can then build a strategy to flourish. Beyond this work, it’s about accountability – what does success look like, who can help and support, how will we celebrate the achievements?

Have you seen the need for coaching change in any way as we have gone through the coronavirus pandemic?

The Covid-19 pandemic has opened up many practice opportunities with more coachees open to online coaching, allowing me to work with contracts across Scotland, England and Ireland with ease and speed. And the desire for coaching has never been higher.

It seems to be a perfect storm really. Organisations were already understanding that workplace coaching is vital to business success, particularly as organisational hierarchy becomes flatter and the emphasis grows on learning, innovation and agility. With the onset of the pandemic, organisations had to quickly adapt and support their employees through perhaps the most dramatic workplace transformation in a generation. The focus has never been higher on employee wellbeing and accessing coaching capabilities to better support team members as they work remotely. In fact, coaching is now seen as a go-to method of supporting our people in challenging times.

There has been a steep uptick in demand for coaching that supports a more mindful and emotionally intelligent way of leading, as well as for the self-care that’s necessary for leaders navigating this unfamiliar and relentless terrain. Taking time to pause and reflect is fundamental if leaders are to have the energy necessary to lead others through a time of disruption and change. Coaching provides a critical space for reflection, which can lead to greater self-awareness, clarity on how we should move forward and where to start.

And I’ve seen the same in my private coaching. Individuals are taking the opportunity of the pandemic to re-evaluate their purpose and ambitions, and redesign their career journey.

What kind of impact is coaching having for those you are working with?

Coachees really value the space and time to think. I often hear them tell me they never slow down, and that they thought setting aside time just for them was a bit self-indulgent. And it reminds me of how I felt at the start of the Coaching Skills programme. The slowing, the reflection, the silence – it can feel uncomfortable at first. We’re so used to moving at speed, trying (and failing) to multi-task, that coming to the present moment and taking time for self-reflection can feel a bit alien. But unanimously coachees find this process life-changing. They experience the value of investing in the inner work – the capabilities they unearth that they carry forward into all areas of their life.

In practical terms, it’s such a privilege to see coachees achieve the promotion they were seeking, the new job, the clarity of purpose – but it’s equally energising to experience the change in how they show up in the world, and their outlook on life. All of my coachees are more empowered by their investment in coaching, and feel more in control of their emotions and their path forward.

One coachee summed up our coaching experience together as giving “a much better understanding of how I can manage myself, helping me to be more balanced and fulfilled now and into the future. I feel far wiser, grounded, and happier because of my coaching sessions.”

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

I’m often struck by the simplicity and power of a well-timed coaching intervention, and it’s not always during a formal session.

Recently I was in a meeting where an executive was giving a very harried account of progress against a strategic plan. She was clearly very stressed about the disproportionate amount of work and effort she was putting in, and the lack of support from her team. Instead of moving to problem-solving mode as we so often do in meetings, I took a moment to ask her gently, “How does this make you feel?”.

It was the nudge she needed to shift her perspective from the near-term demands of her to-do list to look more systemically at the behaviours and culture contributing to the situation, and her relationship to it.

Bringing in a pause and time for some self-reflection changed the whole tone of the meeting and helped identify a way forward to address the team’s purpose and operating processes, rather than just firefight the issue at hand. It also helped the executive feel more heard and supported and released a bit of a pressure valve which had been affecting her performance.

The effect was quite visceral – a silence, an exhale, a release of tension from her body. And after the period of reflection there was a calm energy and a renewed focus.

What has coaching taught you about yourself and other people?

That people already have all the tools they need to figure out their purpose, path and where to start. And that an expert thinking partner can help them tap into their creative mind to do this effectively.

And I love the phrase from Co-Active Coaching that ‘people are naturally creative, resourceful and whole’. It’s a beautiful, empowered perspective that creates the basis for healthy inner work, co-created by a thinking partnership of coach and coachee. As a reformed ‘rescuer’ I hold this phrase as a reminder that as coach I am responsible for the thinking space, while the coachee is responsible for the work.

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

Being trusted as a coach is such a privilege, and the reward comes not just from the tangible outcomes of goals being met, but from the endurance of the effects of the coaching experience.

Helping coachees think for themselves is so empowering. Seeing them rearrange what they already know, and then using this knowledge to find and achieve their purpose in life is incredibly fulfilling to me.

Our deepest heartfelt thanks to Lisa for sharing her inspiring story of coach training with us.