I recently met with Futureheads Recruitment and they asked if they could interview me about my story as a coach. So I said yes.
They asked some interesting questions that led me to respond with some topics that are close to my heart.
What’s the story of your career so far?
After I left art school, I spent quite a few years doing a variety of admin/support roles working in creative environments (interior design, architecture, publishing, print & digital design). In my nature I’m someone who always found pleasure from helping people, so supporting people at work came very naturally to me.
Through doing this type of role, I eventually gravitated towards becoming a digital project manager. I loved working with teams of people, helping them to do their best work.
But I found that doing this role started taking its toll on me.
This was mainly because the way I was expected to manage projects (in a Waterfall environment) felt at odds with my innate need to collaborate and support people. Instead, I was often expected to be responsible for the output of other people, but also that the people doing the work usually had very little input into what they were working on until it was handed over to them. So we would find ourselves running out of time and budget and pushing ourselves to the limit to get a project out of the door. I found it stressful and exhausting.
I'm sure this sounds familiar to a lot of people?
I decided something had to change and at that point I came across an advert for a project manager at ustwo. Although at that point I didn't really want to work in project management any more, I really loved the company culture and also that they used Agile principles to manage projects. This really resonated with me, as it was all much more people focussed.
So although I didn't have exactly the right experience, I applied anyway, and my personality and enthusiasm obviously shone through and I got an interview. When I met my future boss I was able to demonstrate my belief in how I wanted to work with people and I got the job!
This was a major turning point for me as I started my transition into the world of Agile team coaching. Suddenly I was being told that I didn't have to (in fact that I shouldn't) work in the way I had been before. That my team members would take accountability for their own work. That I would be working with that team from the start of a project and we would collaborate and decide together what work needed to be done based on what we learned along the way.
This was amazing! There was another way of doing things and it felt so much better.
I have to say though that it wasn’t always easy to undo my previous ways of working. Undoing years of habit, assumptions, beliefs, accountability doesn’t happen overnight. I had lots of resistance to change EVEN THOUGH I knew it was to do something far better. But I had amazing coaching, mentoring and training to help me along the way.
I found my passion for coaching people and teams. So after many years and with a huge amount of support, I left ustwo to set up my own coaching business. I now work coaching individuals and also supporting, consulting with and delivering workshops for teams and businesses, with my ultimate goal of helping everyone to be their best self and to do their best work.
What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?
Don’t believe everyone else is more confident and capable than you are. Just because they might seem that way, they probably feel exactly the same as you underneath.
You will come across people who tell you that you don’t have the right experience or that you shouldn’t do something, but if you really believe and instinctively know you can, then just do it.
Also, ask for help. Don’t expect that people will know when you need it. People like to help as it gives them an endorphin rush, so don’t deprive them of that.
What do you love most about what you do?
Seeing people and teams do things that they never thought they could.
Seeing teams coming together and learning about and from each other, learning how to really collaborate and show empathy for each other.
I also love encouraging people to have fun. If you can enjoy what you do you are going to be so much more engaged in doing it!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
We are often told that would should be “strong” and behave “professionally” - the subtext of this is that we shouldn’t show any emotion at work.
But vulnerability and emotions aren’t a weakness.
What happens when we show our emotions is that we create opportunities to find deeper common connections. As soon as we find that type of connection, over and above just what are core skills or job titles are, there is a much higher chance that any person or team will start to flourish and do amazing work.
What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?
I don’t know specifically about challenges in the industry. Who can actually tell you what’s going to happen in the future?
Looking into the future can be very scary though, particularly when faced with uncertainty - whether that’s financial, the impact of Brexit or just not knowing how you need to behave when challenging things arise.
The problem with fear is that it initiates our “fight or flight” instinct which shuts down our capacity for creative and rational thought, empathy and adaptability as we look for the quickest, safest and easiest way out.
So in this state we tend to look at the very short term and to put a quick fix sticking plaster over problems, rather than creatively looking at the root cause of the challenge and coming up with a long term fix and adapting along the way.
So we need people to admit that they don’t know all of the answers and to create space for empathy, resilience and creative problem solving. We need leaders who role model this.