How do you make the transition from BBC reporter to a coach? The answer is ‘slowly’. Back in 2007 I had two jobs and was working part time as both a coach and a radio reporter. It had been like this for 3 years. Having two careers felt like being stretched in two directions; the choice had to be made between journalism and coaching as I couldn’t commit to both. It felt as though I had my feet in two different boats that were drifting apart. It was decision time.
That was when I leapt into the coaching boat and waved goodbye to my life as a reporter.
Early days as a coach
In the early days my enthusiasm for coaching was both intense and naive. When the Head of CID at the Police asked me to coach his leadership team, I jumped at the chance. The CID team consisted of men, who were trained to be suspicious of anything pink and fluffy. At the time coaching was a new concept – they initially regarded it with folded arms and raised eyebrows – these were people who weren’t easily impressed. Luckily, after experiencing it first-hand they began to love it. On this occasion my passion for coaching paid off. Buoyed up with success I thought coaching was a panacea for just about everything.
Hard lessons learned
Experience soon showed that not everyone was receptive to coaching. I remember a dreadful day when I was asked to deliver some training for a group around motivation and to follow it up with coaching. At this point I felt that coaching could work with everyone – failure just didn’t seem an option – how naive I was.
As the participants filed into the training room it soon became obvious that they didn’t want to be there. The material that I thought would last a full day disappeared in 2 hours – they just weren’t interested. I have no recollection what we spent the rest of the day doing, it’s a blur – it became the longest day of my life.
The follow-up coaching fizzled and died. The managers had selected these people for the course because they ‘needed’ to buck up. Low morale and office politics was bubbling beneath the surface and coaching had been brought in as a last ditch effort. With hindsight I realise it was destined to fail.
It’s interesting how some of the worst experiences deliver the best learning. Never again would I deliver training unless I knew participants wanted to be there. Never again would I attempt to coach someone who didn’t want it.
As the years progressed my niche developed into leadership coaching. I seemed to be drawn to working with leaders. I was coaching senior police officers, head teachers and leaders in private organisations.
Time and time again leaders would report concerns around similar areas. The old chestnuts of work-life balance, delegation, time management and communication emerged. I soon realised that although the job titles might differ the issues were similar.
Leadership Coaching and Education
It was whilst working with a group of Head teachers that I was first asked to work with some year 10 students. Would students respond well to ‘leadership coaching? It was another steep learning curve. Whilst on the one hand they responded brilliantly to one on one focussed conversations, the non-directive coaching model wasn’t working so well. They were so used to being told what to do at school and they spent a lot of the time waiting for me to give them the answer.
It quickly dawned on me that my skills would be better placed supporting school staff in coaching skills. These people were the experts with students and I realised if they adopted a coaching style they could use it throughout the day and not just in snatches during a coaching conversation.
This is when smart* coaching was born. Teaming up with Kelly Newland, a learning mentor for students, we devised a coaching model specifically for education. We drew in elements of mentoring and called the approach, “Structured Mentoring and Aspiration Raising Through Coaching” (smart*). Our underlying belief is that when students are truly listened to then they will start to take responsibility for their actions. We now teach teachers, TA’s and leadership teams in this model. Check out www.smartcoachingfor schools.com for more information.