What I’ve learned from being a business coach

Amanda Bradley of GSK tells Matt Packer what she has gleaned from broadening her career into the world of business coaching

In the time since GSK’s Amanda Bradley was featured in the profile of the December 2016/January 2017 issue of The Treasurer, her involvement with business coaching – already well under way by then – has significantly deepened.

As the profile explained, Bradley had steadily broadened out from the pharma giant’s treasury function to take on a series of roles concerned with exploring not just the business processes at the heart of the organisation, but the internal processes of its leaders, too.

Following several months as a key member of GSK’s Future Strategy Group, Bradley became head of transformation for audit & assurance, then built a portfolio of work streams in the coaching field that are still ongoing.

In addition to her work on GSK’s business-wide Job Plus coaching programme, Bradley coaches on the Accelerated Difference scheme to help women secure senior roles, and for ViiV Healthcare’s partnership with the Terrence Higgins Trust to support individuals returning to work following HIV diagnoses.

Now some way further into the Transactional Analysis (TA) MSc that she had begun around the time of our profile, Bradley is an embedded coach with GSK’s Global Ethics and Compliance Team, and has taken the bold step of launching her own coaching practice. As if that weren’t enough, she also works as a counsellor for a mental health charity every Friday.

With coaching now far more intrinsic to Bradley’s professional activities, The Treasurer caught up with her so she could tell us, in her own words, what she has learned from this increasingly fertile part of her life…

Harnessing emotions

When I was on the Future Strategy Group, I realised that, in Myers-Briggs terms, I was an F-type personality. That means I’m a Feeler, rather than a Thinker. And I realised that my purpose was to engage with my emotional intelligence, and encourage and support other people to do the same thing.

That’s where coaching comes in: understanding the context of why people are reacting the way they’re reacting. What is it inside them that’s being triggered? What’s resonating for them?

Through effective coaching, people are able to use the answers to those questions as a resource of information, rather than completely stopping themselves from feeling. It’s at that point that we realise our brains have a lot more capacity than we thought they did!

For example, a professional may want to know why they’re feeling unsettled by the way someone is presenting at meetings. Coaching can break that thought process down into the following stages:

  • Hang on a minute, I’m feeling angry – what you’re saying is making me feel defensive, because now I’m worried that something really bad is going to happen to me.
  • Is that something a real risk?
  • Based upon the available information – no, it isn’t, but what you’re saying makes me realise this is the issue.
  • OK – so why don’t I just raise that, instead of sitting here feeling really cross with you?

That helps you move towards better conversations, discussions and decisions.

Coaching allows us to access that painful part of a conversation by creating a safe space in which to explore it. It opens up a natural pause in an individual’s thoughts, because they’re purposefully sitting down with a coach to work out what’s going on.

The next time that person starts to encounter their unsettled sensation, there may be a different thought process they can go through to disrupt their way of reacting. That allows them to get to the underlying concern and raise it in – ironically – a less emotional way.

By paying attention to our emotions, we can harness them and unveil the thinking behind them. As such, we can present them back to the organisation as thoughts. The organisation will be able to see what you’re thinking, rather than what you’re feeling.

Boosting trust

In coaching, you’re not telling anybody what to do. It’s all questions. If you’ve had a good coach for a while, that coach becomes part of the positive voice inside your head, imparting morale. So when the coachee comes up against a difficult point, they can think, What would my coach say to me about this? OK, well I can ask myself these questions…

It’s empowering. It’s not like mentoring, in which you’re often being instructed, or management, in which – certainly in less forward-thinking environments – you’re being commanded. At GSK, we encourage a coaching-leadership style, which encourages people to think for themselves.

On the courses I teach, managers quite often say, “I haven’t got time to touch base with my staff.” And then you ask them, “Have you got time for people to come back and ask you the same thing, wrapped up in different situations, over and over again?”

They may reply: “That’s my job.” At which point, you can suggest: “How about if your job was to help your team work out how to carry out this task, and then leave them to get on with it, and be there to help them if they’ve got more questions about how to do it?”

Ultimately, by asking people a question, they can discover that they already know the answer – which increases accountability. It also increases trust, because both parties leave feeling better about themselves, rather than one feeling like the child and the other the grown-up.

From a business perspective, you’re building a far more sustainable team model.

Coaching aims to nurture a change of mindset, from ‘performance via doing’ to ‘performance via delivering through other people’. While that’s a positive aim, it’s also difficult to execute because of how organisations typically recognise work.

You tend to pick up a lot of fear from people in the vein of, “Well, if I’m not actually doing anything, no one’s going to recognise what I’m bringing to the table – how am I going to get my pat on the head?”

But in fact, when we look at more senior roles, doing is actually supporting. So those leaders should be able to say, “I’ve done a good job if my team’s done a good job.” If you’re coaching and developing people, they will do a really good job.

Support for growth

Looking beneath the surface at what’s driving our people really helps us to harness them in a fuller way, and to nurture the bits around the edges that, in old leadership speak, would have been seen as ‘weaknesses’, but are actually like tuning keys on an instrument.

It’s important to bear in mind that, because feedback and having someone that you can unpack things with are such gifts, great leaders and great people seek out coaching. While some may feel that it comes with a stigma, that notion will dissipate with familiarity. At GSK, there’s no stigma at all.

If you can frame your intention as, “I’m a forward-thinking individual who wants to grow more, and have support in that endeavour,” then your level of engagement with the journey will be truly exciting.

You will see a huge difference between someone like that and an individual whose coaching has been mandated by a boss, because those types of clients just don’t want to be there. But if you can take the opportunity to engage with the process, then there’s no limit to what you can learn about yourself.

As a result of my own journey, I’m now a much more resilient person. Attending to how I feel has ensured that my feelings don’t turn around and bite me as much as they used to. So my life is calmer, and there’s more space for great thought.

Key lessons

  1. Coaching enables professionals to harness their emotions and use them as data to create insight.
  2. It also enables them to build much more sustainable team models.
  3. Coaching is not about telling people what to do, but about asking questions.
  4. By encouraging workers to ask questions of themselves, coaches can help them boost their accountability – thereby improving trust within teams.
  5. We all need space, and we all need time to reflect.
  6. If you can understand what’s inside your personality, you can understand what risks you are likely to present within the workplace.
  7. Great leaders and personnel proactively seek out coaching.

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