Fraser is the chief executive of a national educational charity. His organisation is not big enough for him to have a deputy, but the Board was concerned about the levels of stress and decision-making that go with the job of chief executive. So they sponsored coaching sessions for him. Fraser found that one of the most valuable outcomes of his sessions with Hilary came entirely from left field.
‘The support that I thought I needed wasn’t actually the support I needed. What came out of the coaching hadn’t been on my agenda at that stage. Hilary and I had a discussion about values – about what I actually thought and felt, about the values the organisation professed to hold, and the values which were revealed in what actually went on, day to day. In talking about these issues, I realised that I wasn’t sure that the professed values were reflected in the organisation’s day-to-day business. So I went back to the workplace; we arranged a workshop on values; took the findings to the Board; and indeed have just repeated this exercise. Basically, it has been about re-aligning the objectives of the organisation with its values. A really useful, helpful exercise. And, in retrospect, it was one of these things that has to be pushed through. Just sitting and waiting for it to happen by osmosis would never have worked. It was the coaching that pushed me into it.’
George, a senior executive in the health service, describes in the following terms the impact of a coaching relationship that supported him through significant professional challenges and a number of work and personal transitions.
‘The first outcome for me was increased self-confidence. Hilary is very good on this front. She boosts confidence while challenging at the same time. She helps you see the positive in what you’re doing.
The second outcome lay in the way she helped to contextualise things for me. This ability had a lot to do with her professional history – in health, business and local government. When I was getting cross at the system, it was useful to have someone who could make sense of some of the madness, someone who had shared some of your experiences.
The third outcome was that she got me to focus on relationships – both internal and external. She legitimised the sense that being a good leader is all to do with how you work with your team.’
Hilary draws constantly on her rigorous training as coach, mentor and facilitator. But she refuses to get caught up in the word games that can accompany the staking of professional territory. She crystallises in the following way what is involved in working closely with individuals.
‘People have such different views on what is coaching, what is mentoring. For me, both have the same mindset: being client-led, enabling the other person to get where they need to go. With coaching, you understand the process through which people learn. With mentoring, you bring with you experiences you’ve lived through that are relevant to the mentee’s experiences. Mind you, I take my experience into my coaching too – can’t help it! Personally, when being coached, I liked to feel there was someone alongside me who had some lived experience of what I was going through. My sense is that people appreciate that I am holding the space in terms of experience as well as understanding. I’m a fellow-journey-er with people, and a co-creator.’
The people with whom Hilary works do indeed seem to appreciate this approach.
Surprise features large in clients’ accounts of working with Hilary. They knew that their coaching sessions would give them a safe space in which to work through thoughts, feelings and dilemmas. But the energy that comes from changes in perception and understanding was a revelation to them.
One senior doctor commented:
‘What surprised me was that I thought I’d analysed and thought through the whole situation. I didn’t realise what a difference taking on new models of thinking, new perspectives, would make.’
Another described being jolted into a new self-awareness:
‘What she did for me was get me away from the task and the thing that you’re doing in the moment. One of her great tenets is, “Notice what you notice”. As a result, I started thinking about what I enjoyed in my job and what I didn’t. I found this really, really helpful.’