When I took on the role of Managing Director of Apple in Australia, our human resources director suggested that a coach would be valuable.
ike many women, I was hesitant to take on a coach as I held the view that a coach was only necessary in tough times.
However, having interviewed three different coaches, I selected one that I felt could provide the challenging questions that would help me thrive in my role. From the earliest days as Managing Director, I found that our coaching meetings, held roughly every second month, provided me with a safe space to look at the business and my role as a leader in an environment that encouraged reflection and the development of insights. It is easy to be so involved working with the leadership team, communicating with those in the Asia Pacific region and the global head office, that you lose track of time and don’t reflect on the key needs of the business.
Over the years, the coaching continued to provide me with ‘space’ in my busy life, and I looked forward to that special time of opening my mind to new ideas, new directions and allowing the challenges to be seen from different angles. There was plenty of time to discuss employee and strategy issues, and my trusted coach provided the positive environment to question and bring out ideas. Maintaining confidentiality is vital in any successful coaching relationship and helps to build and grow trust. Without this, the relationship with my coach would not have reached its full potential.
Maintaining confidentiality is vital in any successful coaching relationship and helps to build and grow trust.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my career and life were turned upside down. I was able to use my coaching sessions to reflect on the challenges I was facing and to explore alternate ways of ensuring that Apple continued to thrive in Australia. At the end of my treatment, I faced a career crossroads. Once again, I found great value in my coach who allowed me to explore the options that I wanted for the future in a safe and supported environment. In the end I decided to step down from the Managing Director role to ensure I supported myself to rebuild my health.
After 15 years, I know I made the right decision. It was one of the most difficult choices I have ever made, but discussions with my coach ensured that this was the right path. From 2002, when I founded Xplore for Success, I have thrived as an entrepreneur; coaching, mentoring and supporting women (and men) to build the life they want to live and to achieve their own personal goals. I know that the team of Associates at Xplore change lives every day and over 11,000 people have benefitted from our programs.
Stepping down from Apple allowed me to develop a vibrant company, and support a range of charities, including Dress for Success and Good Return. Almost every day, I receive notes from others who I have coached personally or through Xplore. I now have time for my grandchildren and time for myself. I have a fortunate life and I know that my original coach helped me find this path.
When we started Xplore, we worked on Group Coaching or mentoring. My goal was to share my knowledge about surviving in the corporate world with women in similar situations. We initially created 6 workshop sessions to help women achieve their career aspirations. We started working primarily with women, but have now extended the program to include men, although in numbers it is still 80:20 in favour of the women.
In the female only sessions, we have a lot more conversations about the imposter syndrome and why they are unwilling to put their hands up for new and challenging roles. Imposter syndrome refers to high-achieving individuals who are unable to accept their accomplishments, and therefore have a consistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. When the session is mixed, then we see the genders gaining more insight from the different perspectives.
In the male only sessions, it is clear that many men don’t want to be limited in their career choice – a new generational trend. These men tend to be younger and don’t want to commit 24/7 to their role but rather have more desire to balance their time between their career and their family life.
I often hesitate when asked if I am a coach, as some people define business coaching solely based on asking questions. I think that offering the wisdom of experience can benefit when framed in the right way. Through Xplore, I have been privileged to be part of many coaching journeys, helping others achieve their personal and career goals, which I hope by sharing, will give you a greater understanding of the value of coaching.
At one business, I was asked by the CEO to work with a female senior manager who he had in mind to take over the business on his retirement. The input was that, although this manager was doing a great job with their area of the business, the leadership team were not convinced that the manager was on top of the financial business issues. This would be a major stumbling block in being supported by other senior leaders to gain the CEO position.
The manager was very keen to take on the CEO position and therefore was open to exploring why others believed her business acumen was missing. She wanted to know how she could build the confidence of the leadership team and change their perception of her. She realised that she would not be offered the position unless she addressed this perceived shortfall in her skill set.
Although she understood the financials of the business, she had a hesitation about financial language and therefore deferred any conversations in this area either to the financial controller or a financial member of her team. This nourished the perception that she would be unable to handle the financial duties of the CEO position across the executive team. Together we explored why she had lack of confidence in this area, where she obviously had the understanding, and how she could build her respect in this area.
Although it was not a natural strength, she worked with those around her to ensure her reports were concise and focused on the key areas that could so readily impact the bottom line. Within six months she had built a strong rapport with the other senior leaders. She focused on building those skills to hone in on the important components of the finance reports and ensured she was succinct in her messages around her business acumen. And yes, she got the promotion!
Good followership but lacked leadership.
Another coaching story centres on a woman who was promoted to become a national leader. She was told she had good followership but lacked leadership. The promotion title and remuneration due the national leadership position were held back although she was given the responsibility. I have seen this before, often with women, where the responsibility is given but the title and remuneration are held back. I have never heard of a man being asked to take a promotion on this basis.
As we ‘unpacked’ the background, it became obvious that she needed to spend more effort keeping her manager on track with each step of the project so that he was aware of the progress and confident of her team’s abilities. When her objectives for the year were agreed, she would work with her team in identifying the goal posts, agree on the responsibilities and ensure the team delivered. Her results were on time and on target.
However, we identified that her biggest issue was that her leader, who was based overseas, was not aware of the progress on her objectives and was missing the steps of her plan and interactions. With a little work, providing a monthly report and a monthly telecom, his confidence in her approach and successes was lifted. He was part of the picture and well informed.
Within 6 months, the title and remuneration were corrected and in a little over a year she received an important global award. Every organisation needs effective communication and not effectively communicating up to all levels leaves that leader uninformed. A key point for many women to understand is that communicating up to all levels is critical to ensure leaders are abreast of their successes and made aware of the challenges.
When a coach is in tune with an individual, their strengths and their goals, they can develop a relationship to build further success. The fact that this relationship is outside the workplace, allows the coach to explore options and issues in a non-risk environment with the client. While the data shows that the corporate gender divide is moving, it is moving far too slowly and we will need keep working in this area for many years to come to bring inclusion into our workplaces.
Powerful Stories, Tips and Amazing Insight
Ready, Set, Go! Everything you need to know to start coaching from the legends in the field. As well as the Business and Life coaches, our launch edition features David Parkin (AFL), Lisa Alexander (Netball Australia), Adam Commens (Hockey Australia), Simon Cusack (Swimming Australia), Sean Douglas (FFA) and many more!