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10 February 2020


Experiences & lessons

As an Executive Coach, I am often asked about by my background and values, and why I got into coaching in the first place. So, I thought it would be helpful to share some of my background in this blog, so you can get a better feel for who I am and how my life experiences influence my coaching practice today.

I was born in Hartlepool in the North East of England and, whilst having lived longer in London than I did in Hartlepool, I remain proud of my northern roots.

My values are closely aligned to my parents and include (amongst others) treating all people as you would wish to be treated yourself and a belief in equal opportunities for all. My father had a degree in Psychology and taught Business Management. He would often ask me, “How do you feel about this?” which I think, along with my work experiences, has helped build my belief that mental health is as important as physical health and that we should spend as much time as possible ensuring both good mental and physical health in life.

After studying genetics at university, I joined Unilever as a graduate trainee, working in a toiletries factory in Leeds. This was my first real encounter with people management and was a great experience that stood me in good stead for the management and leadership roles that I would take up later. 

I then moved into supply chain management and from there into supply chain consulting. However, I grew a little disheartened by consulting, which I felt was too focused on revenue generation, and started to explore the idea of work with a greater social conscience. 

My initial experience of trying to find work in the charity sector was quite tough, but a friend and mentor suggested I start volunteering to “earn my spurs” and I became a community school governor at a local primary school, as well as a trustee of a great health and well-being charity (Jubilee Hall Trust). This, coupled with voluntary work I undertook with Scope, got me my first charity sector job at the charity. In this role, I was able to run business planning, project and programme management initiatives and enjoy a position which felt as though it had an extra purpose.

This business planning and change management theme flowed into my more recent roles and to my last employed position as Deputy CEO at Addaction, a national charity that supports people to tackle addiction. 

Addaction is a great example of an organisation that helps people to take back control of their lives and there is a commonality with coaching here, in that the client/service user must want to change. If they don’t, then the coach/drug worker can only do so much, but once they do, the impact of the relationship can be fully felt.

Up until my time with Addaction, I thought about coaching but did not progress it as a career. To see the impact a drug worker can have in supporting people to turn their lives around helped me to recognise the power of trusted, non-judgemental human support in such situations so, on leaving Addaction, I decided to train as Executive Coach and have not looked back. 

As part of my training with the Academy of Executive Coaching, I had to explore who I am and how that influences my coaching (and how I can be successful with the key skills required in the role).

Executive coaching is fundamentally based on a trust relationship in which the client allows the coach to facilitate him or her in identifying and exploring agreed goals and challenging the client into thinking through how they are going to achieve such goals. It is a quite an unusual relationship in that the client will open up and share ideas, insights, feelings etc. with someone they may not have known before the coaching started, and yet what is being shared may well be very personal to the client.

For this to be achieved the coach has to be able to quickly build rapport and trust with the client and then encourage the client through the application of strong listening and questioning skills.

Many of the skills and abilities I brought with me when I started my coach training came directly from my work experience. This is because my roles have often focused on establishing business planning capabilities, as well as project and change management approaches. These methodologies typically start from establishing where you are now, where you want to get to and then developing a route to get there (as well as tracking delivery against this journey). 

I think there are parallels to coaching individuals here, in that establishing what someone wants to achieve and what that looks like, where they are starting from and how they are going to get there is an individual version of the organisational challenge.

To my mind, all of this has come together in shaping me as someone who is people focussed and who cares about other people’s health and well-being. The coaching role is one in which you give an individual your undivided attention and focus on whatever is important to them, helping them to shape their thoughts and actions around meeting their objectives.

I hope the above gives some insight into who am I and what influences how I coach.

If you have any questions about what you have read, just let me know and I will be more than happy to answer any queries you may have.

David Alcock

From the author:

As coaching is not an advice-giving service, these blogs are not written with the intention of proposing solutions to common leadership challenges. Instead, they are thought pieces with the aim of prompting the reader to think more deeply about the topic and reflect on whether it warrants further exploration, with or without a coach.

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