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Leadership Profile – Clarity, Choice and Control

Interview with Laura Rigney. Director of School Services at Teacher Horizons


Leadership coaching is not new, very much the staple diet for executives in the commercial sectors for many years. Increasingly, in the education sector, coaching forms a significant source of support for leaders in schools or those that work with them, adding to the armoury of tools they employ as they navigate the challenges of the leadership role.

As those in leadership increasingly have access to professionally trained and highly skilled leadership coaching (such as that provided by 4CS Coaching) we profile one leader’s journey into coaching.

Coaching – some initial impressions

Laura Rigney is a trained teacher, and currently supports schools seeking quality candidates in their recruitment work as Director of School Services for Teacher Horizons. When transitioning into a senior leadership role within the organisation Laura decided to investigate professional coaching as a potential source of support. She recalls

My initial thought was that coaching was not going to be something that was going to be helpful for me in any way. But when I started to understand that the program is very structured and personalized, I realized that it was going to be very valuable to me. My coach helped me to devise a program that also assisted me with my day to day job as well as life in general. So in that way, if you are open to sharing what you need from your program, your coach can tailor it to whatever is going to suit you best.

The Catalyst

There are many reasons why a leader might ‘take on a coach’. The unique partnership that exists between coach and coachee is in many ways ‘bespoke’ and specific to that partnership.

Whilst there are many reasons that those in senior leadership do engage in a coaching partnership, there can be ‘common’ reasons that include:

  • The opportunity to engage in objective, non-judgemental and probing dialogue

  • Being able to ‘off load’ – venting and ‘letting go of’ the stresses and strains of leadership in a ‘safe’ space and confidential setting

  • The prospect of being able to explore dilemmas (personal and professional), unpacking the complexities that sit around these and deepening one’s understanding of these as well as broadening one’s perspective (eg issues such as work-life balance, personal wellbeing, stress management, professional relationships etc)

  • The chance to develop clarity of direction and purpose

Whatever the catalysts are for engaging in a coaching program, it’s clear that this is a partnership, focused on co-constructed objectives and addressing the needs of the coachee.

Laura, having completed a 12-week program with 4Cs Coaching reflects what led her to coaching and she recalls:

Because I have just recently taken on a leadership role at Teacher Horizons as Director of School Services I was feeling a little out of my comfort zone, I had not had a leadership position since having children and being out of the classroom, so I felt that I especially wanted to seek out Andrew due to his background in school leadership. I thought he could be a huge asset to me, whilst trying to develop into my role, both personally and professionally.

In September 2020, I felt the impact of COVID, being locked down, not being able to see family and working from home since February 2020. I have three young children at home, so I felt that everything was getting too much. I really wasn't in a very good position to try and maintain a sustainable work life balance, as well as giving my family and children the time that they needed. So I just felt like it got to the point where I needed to take action to protect my own physical and mental health. I've always been a high achiever and I felt that I wasn’t really achieving anything positive in my life. All the different circles were overlapping, but there was a lot of chaos in there, so I was feeling lost.

Being Intentional and setting goals

Coaching is not a ‘nice chat’. It is intentional and focused, structured to give you greater insight and clarity, it opens up new and enabling perspectives, and is structured yet flexible in design – it is meant to move you forward. Whilst a number of development priorities emerged for Laura, she recalls her primary goal, which led to her engagement in coaching:

My number one goal is really just to try and maintain a sensible work life balance because my work involves flexible hours. I've been so grateful to have such a wonderful job at such a time in my life. However, the danger is if you recognise that you are a hyper achiever, always wanting to be really thorough in your work, like me, then it's very hard to switch off.. Eventually I just found the boundaries becoming very blurred between work and home.

Before COVID, it was always something I could just about manage, but I would always assume I was doing okay. But then it became clear to me that it wasn't really okay. Spending so much time at home and not having any set work hours was becoming a problem. I needed to take action.

I thought coaching was just going to be more of a chat with somebody who would be a listening ear; someone there to guide you on to the right path. I didn't realize there was actually a lot of science behind it. People are all quite similar. We’re all faced with challenges at different stages of our lives, so it's actually a process that anyone can find beneficial, even if you don't think it's for you.

Hesitancy is normal

Coaching is not for everyone. Not everyone can be coached. And you need to be ready to be coached and open to the process. There can be a degree of hesitancy, and some can be uncomfortable about the prospect.

One of the challenges for some is what differentiates coaching from say, mentoring or counselling. The nature of coaching is that it is forward looking, it is all about possibilities in helping you to discover your own answers, and unlocking your creative thinking.

The success of coaching often is attributed to the nature of the process – dedicated time and space, focused on you to articulate, process and structure your thinking

Before a coaching program moves forward you would usually engage in a ‘chemistry call’. This will give you some insight into what coaching actually is like. It’s also a perfect opportunity to see if you and the coach click. If you do, then you’ll start the coaching program by completing a Discovery Pack. This is a deep dive into what makes you tick, what is important to you, and what objectives you might want to set yourself as part of the coaching program. Critically, this also allows you to co-construct with the coach an agreed way of working that will support you throughout.

Laura shares some perspective about these quite normal early-stage questions:

Firstly, you need to complete a discovery pack for your coach so that they can get to know more about you. What makes you tick and what motivates you. So this was the first insight I got about some of the bigger questions that we'd be covering in the program. The idea that I might not know some of the answers was quite intimidating to me. But it also made me realise that I don't ever question myself on issues like ‘What are my values?’ What do I want to achieve in the next few years?’ When you're in the hamster wheel of life, you don’t have time to think about these questions. The coaching enables you to dedicate time to complete the pack, so you start to consider how amazing it would be to have the questions answered within 6 months. That was quite motivating.

And of the coaching process

I think, definitely take the first step and give it a go, especially if you're feeling at that point in your life where you need to have some guidance from a mentor. And it's very hard to be looking intrinsically at yourself and figuring out what might need to change when you're busy. And everyone's busy these days, of course, running around with work and home and external pressures. But when somebody outside is listening to the way you're interacting, it's very insightful. So I would say that definitely take a risk and give it a go. And when Andrew first told me in our meeting, that I would feel differently at this time in six months, I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I wish. That seems impossible to me’. But you have to really be open minded and trust the process.

Growing Pains

Coaching is very much a personal journey of exploration and gained insight. Counter-intuitive though it may be, many that have experienced coaching will tell you of the occasional discomfort (emotional or cognitive dissonance) that they’ve experienced through some coaching sessions. The coachee, of course, determines the focus of the conversation and it is them that decides if or when to explore topics that may be uncomfortable to unpack, not the coach. Laura reflects on how, despite the discomfort at times, the challenging conversations that have come through coaching sessions have often led to the biggest gains, and tangible actions that have moved her forward

It does feel challenging at times. It will evoke new emotions, but that's part of the process about realizing who you are and what you're about. In that way, it’s very insightful.

You can definitely feel out of your comfort zone as you have to lay bare your thoughts and feelings. But it's something that's necessary so that you think deeply and honestly about , who you are, and what challenges you're facing.

High impact approaches

Each coaching partnership is unique - highly personalised and designed around the coachee’s needs. There are numerous tools at the professional coach’s disposal to support the process. Laura reflects on those that were ‘high impact’ for her

Powerful questions - I think Andrew offers a very safe space which is completely free of judgment. The way he asks questions…. makes you really delve down into certain issues that you just might have treated at surface level, but really, they go deeper into the issue that you might be facing and help you to think about clear ways forward, whereas you might not have considered these paths.

Limiting beliefs - I really enjoyed and took a lot from learning about the saboteurs - the limiting personas that might be holding you back from achieving your potential. It's just about recognizing and understanding them, then moving forward to see how they can sometimes be an asset if managed correctly.

It's a very powerful technique that allows insight to remove some of the barriers preventing positive action, and thinking about a slightly more appropriate response that's going to be more in line with my values and what might be more comfortable for me in the long run.

Values compass - I really enjoyed the work we did on values. It’s not an area I'd ever considered before but it was so useful being able to think about core ideas and thoughts that are important to me, in my wider life and my family. If you haven't got a clear sense of your values, then you're going to be taking decisions and doing things on a daily basis that are not in line with what you feel at your core. So that's going to conflict with your personal objectives

Overall Outcomes

I think I have definitely grown in confidence. Andrew can attest to the fact that at the beginning, I felt I had imposter syndrome, which is quite a common recognized syndrome. I didn't know if I was worthy of my new leadership position and I didn't know if I was able to do it as effectively as I would have wanted to. I had confidence issues around the workplace, and also on a personal level as I was not feeling that I was achieving in all areas of my life. Now, I feel that I am in a more happy place enabling me to move forward. I am more able to step up into my new role and feel that I'm adding value to the company. I’m enjoying my work more because I have a much better work life balance.

Some conclusions

In the busy and often relentless world that is leadership there are often few opportunities to step back from the melee and reflect intentionally on how you are being and what you are doing as a leader. Coaching affords those in leadership this opportunity.

If, like Laura, you recognise there are some areas of your life (whether personal or professional) you’d like to develop a greater sense of clarity, choice and control in, then maybe coaching is worth a try.

Really - what have you got to lose?

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