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Curious about coaching? Find out what to expect, how to prepare and how to make the most of it

This academic year I am looking forward to working with many new clients, most of whom are new to coaching. The questions I get asked most often by new clients or those considering giving coaching a go, are… ‘What is a coaching session like?’, ‘What should I expect from the first session?’, ‘How should I prepare?’ and also ‘How can I make the most of it?’.

In this post, I have brought together answers and examples to give you a sense of coaching with me, to explain what’s involved and what to expect. This way, you can hopefully find at least a starting point and we can discuss other questions you have when we meet.

When is coaching a good fit?

The question most of my new clients ask to begin with, is whether coaching is right for them. Most often, we discuss this in our initial conversation, which gives them a chance to meet me, discuss what brings them to coaching and what they are hoping to achieve as well as how I can help. Coaching can bring many benefits, and it’s a really powerful tool for self discovery, productivity, professional development and much more, but it isn’t the right fit for everyone or every situation.

Coaching might be a good fit if you are:

  • Looking for a safe or creative space to focus on an important decision or period of change;
  • Feeling stuck and struggle with productivity or specific tasks;
  • Ready to plan for the next stage in your career or further ahead to the next 5 years;
  • Looking for someone to think (or draw) with to find solutions to problems.

Coaching offers a range of tools, resources and strategies in a creative, safe space that is focused on your needs. With a background in art and design, I build creativity into all aspects of my coaching practice. We might use sketch notes, visual conversations and other creative approaches as part of coaching sessions, and to help tackle any problems you bring to the session.

What to expect

If you are new to coaching, you might well ask how coaching is different from mentoring, therapy or hiring a consultant. Coaching certainly has aspects in common with all three, but is also distinct from them as a professional practice. In contrast to mentoring, which usually includes passing on context-specific know-how or experience, I coach clients from a range of disciplines or backgrounds. For example, I might coach a mid-career science researcher who is stepping up into a senior role even though I don’t have a background in science.

Similarly, coaching has commonalities with therapy in that it entails you getting know yourself better and engage in reflection. However, distinct from therapy, coaching is usually focused on the present or future plans, instead of looking back to understand how, for instance, childhood experiences have shaped you.

Coaching, particularly for groups and teams, can also be similar to having an expert act as an external consultant, advising your team, and indeed this is something I also do. However, as a coach, I work with teams and organisations to help them find solutions and ways forward, rather than presenting solutions to my clients.

My coaching approach is specifically designed for professionals working in the third sector, education and learning technology, with a focus on leadership and career development, as well as managing change and creative problem solving. I offer support tailored to you, creating a flexible and memorable coaching engagement that enables you to develop into the kind of leader you want to be in your community, team, project or organisation.

How to prepare

Choose a quiet and private space for your coaching session, and make sure you are comfortable and able to focus on the conversation. I usually use Zoom to facilitate our online coaching sessions, and I also offer to meet in person for a coaching day.

During a typical coaching session, we will be setting an agenda together, defining what the session will focus on and session objectives. We will use powerful questions to reflect and explore the topic, and I might recommend specific activities and resources to help you work towards your aim such as planning tools, milestones maps and tools to help you identify your values. I’ll make sure we regularly check in on session objectives and ensure you leave each session ready to take next steps.

All 1-to-1 coaching packages include:

  • Exploratory 30 min conversation
  • Coaching plan
  • Six 1-hour coaching sessions (online)
  • Coaching resources

I regularly share coaching ideas on my blog and on the podcast, which include lots of practical examples and resources for you to try.

Walk with your coach

Sometimes a video call is not the best environment to get us thinking, so for established clients I offer coaching sessions whilst we walk. Usually, this would be coaching via a phone call, but if you are based locally, we could also meet in person. Walking coaching sessions are particularly suited to think together about difficult situations or to reflect on a particular problem or idea.

Why I love coaching

I had wonderful mentors and coaches on my journey to becoming a CEO and in the 11 years in an executive leadership role in the non-profit sector. Coaching helped me through difficult periods of transition and supported me in taking difficult decisions under pressure. My own experience has helped me appreciate just how powerful coaching can be and how valuable it is for developing all aspects of your professional practice and values as an emerging leader or an established one. 

What’s most rewarding for me about coaching is working with clients who are facing great challenges. I really enjoy working together to reflect, set new goals and find out what the next step might be. I am always curious to hear about where you want to go next and help you get there no matter whether that’s getting out of bed tomorrow morning or a new job.

One tool I have been trying out with clients is writing a personal mission or vision statement (in one sentence), which is harder than it sounds. I tried it out for myself, and it prompted interesting reflections for me. If you’d like to have a go yourself, start with your goal and values and try to express these in one sentence. Let me know how you get on 🙂

What qualifies me to be a coach?

I bring a lot of professional and leadership experience to coaching, and as a coach I adhere to the ethical and professional standards of the the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The ICF defines coaching as ‘partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership’. With close to 100 hours of ICF standard coaching experience and having completed all mandatory training I am in the process of becoming an ICF Associate Certified Coach.

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