Practitioner Diploma / That was my A-HA moment – “this is what I want to do with the rest of my life”

18th June by Lee Robertson

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That was my A-HA moment – “this is what I want to do with the re

A former entrepreneur and business leader, and now executive coach, Julian Saipe’s work encompasses leadership coaching and executive education, with the aim of bringing new consciousness to human performance. From starting life as an opera singer to launching a highly acclaimed food and event management brand, Julian shares his personal journey and experience of the AoEC’s Practitioner Diploma in Executive Coaching.

You have had a really diverse, creative and rich career starting your life as an opera singer before going on to found and run Zafferano Catering. Who or what introduced you to coaching and led to you signing up for coach training with the AoEC?

In 2018 Zafferano, the catering and events company that I founded in 2003, was acquired by a large hospitality group. This was the culmination of 15 years of dedication to building a profitable business operation, a collaborative and sustainable people culture, great brand value in a competitive market, and strong succession management. Having been so one-track minded for many years, when I completed on the deal that allowed me to hang up my business boots, I felt a bit lost.

For a while I traded on the narrative that made me successful in business. “I did this for me, I can do this for you” - this took the form of speaker opportunities, consulting, and business mentoring. I even thought about setting up a new business with an entrepreneur who approached me after a talk I gave.

However, as time passed, I realised that sharing my story on the stage and as a business advisor was not going to fundamentally change how people performed and showed-up. I reflected …  all my life I had been interested in who we are, how we do what we do well, and why we do what we do not so well. Over many years I had also been involved in ongoing personal development work; psychotherapy, mindfulness practise, and body work.

When one of my mentors explained to me the difference between mentoring and coaching, I became curious and sought recommendations for coaching training programmes.

I attended an AoEC Open Day which included the opportunity to sit in the coach’s chair - to be present, to listen and to ask questions, to embody empathy and curiosity. That was my A-HA moment – “this is what I want to do with the rest of my life”.

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

The many positives included: meeting and working with a great cohort, many of whom have become friends and colleagues; the excellent facilitation and guidance of the AoEC faculty; the emphasis on self-reflection and self-management – “how can I be present for another person but not stand in my own way?” This included letting go of the egoic business mindset that I had learned over many years, and to be curious about another way of being and the possibility that brings.

I consumed (voraciously) the reading list. The reflective writing was also a beneficial exercise as it allowed me to consolidate my ideas and feelings into a coaching methodology.

The whole experience was challenging in a positive way – the biggest challenge was learning to let go of ‘me’, and still believe that I could be effective and make a difference.

What would be your top piece of advice for anyone thinking about working towards becoming a professional coach?

I enjoy sharing my learnings with other would-be practitioners. Here are a few things I would advise;

Be open to learning who you are. Turn off all the industry noise about the coaching profession and sing your (coaching) purpose loud and clear. Be a coach for everyone i.e. be present, be aware, be curious in all your relationships.  Co-create; work with other practitioners with whom your own message resonates e.g. I have a podcast series ‘Behind The Screen’ which I host with executive coach Joella Bruckshaw (also AoEC alumni).

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

The Practitioner Diploma was the gateway that gave me permission to be me. To let go of a professional identity “opera-singer”, “entrepreneur”, “executive coach” and to use the gift of the coaching space to bring presence of mind and being, and to allow others to do the same.

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

Being a coach is an emergent process and so my approach is always growing.

In my Diploma presentation I talked about ‘resonance and resistance’ in my coaching model. Knowing when we are expressing ourselves authentically and the ripple effect this has, but also being mindful of the stuff that stands in the way of our potential and flow. To this end I use a range of techniques to help coachees find their voice - role play and chair-work; mindfulness; sensing what is happening in the moment as a gateway to knowing oneself. I also enjoy a more solutions focussed approach and using ‘scaling’ to create a safe journey that helps coachees on their step-by-step journey to success.

You established your own practice JAA World in November 2018, can you tell us about the type of clients you are working with?

JAA World is an acronym for Julian Alexander & Associates. My coaching work divides itself into three,

  1. Training – leadership development and practising coaching as a leadership style. I have created programmes for senior managers in large organisations, most significantly in Canada where I work with executive coach Mimi Moore (former director general in the Government of Canada.  Here we bring together senior managers in the public service with business leaders and entrepreneurs from all over the word.
  2. Teaching – I am Adjunct Professor on the Masters in IE Business School Madrid where I created a module called ‘Developing New Consciousness in the Workplace” – this is about our greatest potential ‘awareness’, and how this can manifest itself at work. My students are generally HR and talent development specialists who are looking for a new way to lead their organisations.
  3.  Coaching – I have a private practice of 1-2-1 coachees, entrepreneurs, CEOs, business leaders who are looking for a better way to lead themselves and their people, and to feel fulfilled.

What are some of the issues and opportunities you coach clients around and what kind of impact is the coaching having?

My coaching practice encompasses a broad range of themes and topics including:

  • Empowering the management/executive team
  • Imposter syndrome
  • Performance anxiety
  • Being embodied
  • Being a top performer without the tyranny of it!
  • Exit and retirement
  • Interpersonal conflict and conflict in general – I am UK Ambassador for a co-existence and shared society project in Israel, so I am always challenging two conflicted parties to co-create a new paradigm.

Our essential self (an open free, space that is full of love at its source) does not have any problems or challenges. It is the conditioned mind that sabotages our best possibility and fulfilment. Creating a coaching space where people can feel free to be themselves without judgment, and are guided to express themselves as their true nature, can make a fundamental difference to people’s lives.

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

I coached the general counsel of a bank about his exit and retirement after a successful career. He passed away (far too young) soon after our last session and never realised the possibility that life held for him after his working life had finished. There is a lesson in there for us all.

How have you seen the need for coaching change as we have gone through the coronavirus pandemic?

I began the full thrust of my coaching career during the pandemic. Current coaching requirements are not specific to the pandemic, but Covid has certainly challenged us in areas of self-leadership and responsibility, resilience, and wellbeing. Also, there is an ever-growing disillusion with the corporate and business models that do not work anymore. Here the call for reinvention, and our opportunity to write a new playbook for our systems in the future is part of the daily conversation.

You are also on the Forbes Coaches Council. Can you tell us a little bit more about how that happened and how it has enriched your business through the connections you are making?

I love writing - the Forbes Council is primarily an opportunity to write for Forbes Magazine. I publish a monthly article on leadership, executive coaching and personal development theory and practise. Through the Forbes Council I have also met and worked with other coaches internationally.

What is your assessment of the key trends and challenges facing business leaders and organisations right now and what should they be doing to address them?

The key trends and challenges I am aware of are:

The excesses of the free-market and hyper-competition have created fracture and misery in many organisations. We have lost sight of our higher purpose as human beings.

Top-down leadership does not work as well as generating bottom-up dynamism.

There is a societal disconnect between identity and self which needs to be restored. We are not what we DO. We ARE.

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

It is rewarding for any coach and coachee when the coaching experience feels like an awakening. Part of this experience is embracing the essence of who we are, feeling our sense of unlimited possibility, and enjoying the riches of consciousness.  

Our deepest thanks to Julian for sharing his personal experience of coach training at the AoEC.