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Great leaders - are they born or coached?

How can coaching help us become improved leaders? As part of our International Women’s Day podcast mini-series, we invited Rachel Gilmore, an executive coach of 13 years to share how she supports industry leaders in their quest to become better communicators and leaders. We also delved into the topics of creating an authentic voice in the workplace and proactive ways to cope with the dreaded Imposter Syndrome!

Rachel’s clients include the National History Museum and the Editor in Chief of Elle Magazine. Here at Bright, Rachel is helping us develop our leadership capability and to create a feedback culture that is impactful and useful and helps us focus on continuous development rather than a tick box performance appraisal system.

 

Something you focus on in your coaching for organisations is creating a healthy team culture. How can a company ensure they take the right steps towards cultivating this?

I love working with companies on culture, it's my kind of thing. I really enjoy and specialise in working with and enabling creative tech cultures. Where I always tend to start, which might feel a bit counterintuitive, is at the individual level. What I'll often do is come into an organisation and speak to people to see what’s going on and what's working well, what's not and what they'd like to be different. 

Rachel Gilmore coaching 

Rachel on a coaching call with Anne-Marie Curtis, Editor of the new sustainable glossy Calendar (and Ex Editor of ELLE Magazine)

I then bring that pool of people together and start encouraging a new, more effective communication style. I'm trying to get people to really listen to each other and ask non-leading or ‘clean questions’, which is a technique that uses the other person's words so as not to be leading or judgmental. These questions really help create curiosity and once you become curious that's when we start to learn and relate to each other. We see each other as human beings which increases our understanding of one another, then we start to teach people how to notice when they are in a positive or negative mental state for work. Are they coming from their neocortex (their learning brain) and if they're not, how to get into it - because that's where we problem-solve and collaborate. 

We’re passionate about ensuring our team feel connected and empowered, especially now we are working remotely for the foreseeable. However, it’s not always an easy task and we’ve found it takes quite a bit of creative thinking to adapt and inspire. Can you recommend any tips or share any examples of other companies you feel do this really well?

I think again, it's about starting at that individual level and asking people, how do they feel connected? How do they feel empowered? I’ve been thinking about a recent example of a client I was working with where the CEO had picked up the phone to one of the more junior members of the team to get a heads up and find out how a task was going. He thought that was really nice and personable of him to be picking up the phone and having a chat. That approach would have worked for me because I'm an extrovert, but I know that this junior team member is an introvert. So that sent her into a spin being called up by the CEO and being put on the spot. When I talked to her she explained that actually all she needed was a text five or ten minutes ahead to just say, ‘Hey, can you do a call in 10 minutes about X?’. This would have given her enough time to settle herself, mentally prepare, and then be ready and be focused. We're all different and we all need slightly different communication style. 

An organisation needs to provide as many different kinds of formats and forums for communication as they can. What's important is they're really clear about each different type of communication forum or format, what the purpose of each is and whether people are invited to attend or whether it's compulsory. The sort of things that probably should be happening on a daily basis includes a ‘good morning kickoff’ and ‘close of the day goodbye’. These touchpoints are really important, particularly if anybody is working from home without a family around them or perhaps they have traditionally have used work for socialising and that's really important for them. Then you need a mix of communication during the day such as a coffee break or perhaps spontaneously inviting someone for a cup of tea - just giving people opportunities to check in during the day where they might need to speak to somebody informally.

Weekly catch-ups need to get a bit more formal. So weekly, you should be having a one to one with your line manager and having a team meeting. And those team meetings are to come together to collectively problem-solve and be creative. Then there probably should be some kind of social or drinks that is optional for people to come along to if they fancy it. 

Some companies that I've worked with, that I've been impressed by, have introduced a leadership forum. This can take different formats, some have a  book group where they read a book and all come together to discuss, or it's facilitated like an action learning set up, where they share the challenges they're facing and coach one another around their challenges. 

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Rachel with a coaching client

There's one other thing that companies are being really savvy and doing, which is creating forums that are about work or professional topics, but not about a certain task and project. I’m running a series of sessions for a client currently called ‘meaningful connections’. These have stemmed from people telling me that what they're really missing is ‘bumping’ into someone - the watercooler moment, interacting with people who might not be in their team but who they might just say hi to in a corridor.

The sessions are for people to come together around work-related themes that are universal and apply to everyone. We might run a session on imposter syndrome, setting boundaries as a working parent or how to create healthy work habits. Anybody in the organisation can come along to one of these sessions and they are designed so that people work in pairs and trios frequently. So they're getting these interactions with people, little intimate moments where they can just talk to colleagues about what's going on for them. They have been really popular events - even when some people are expressing Zoom fatigue they are still showing up to these sessions because they say they feel really different and meaningful.

An important part of being confident in our ability seems to be creating an authentic voice within the workplace - do you have any advice for this?

To me, authenticity is when what we say comes from the head, heart and gut. When we are confident in what we are saying, we believe in it and ourselves and what we are striving to achieve. It needs to resonate on all those levels for it to be an authentic voice. You can't fake an authentic voice or act it so you have to really believe in your value. I work with clients to help them to remember and explore where they've come from; to define and value their unique set of experiences and to know that their voice can really add value in their workplace. 

We know that with diversity of thinking, we become more creative which leads to better decision making on behalf of the customer or client, the community that you're serving. It's really about helping the person to value and understand themselves and what they're saying and the place that they hold in a new organisation. There's a really nice exercise that people can do at home - sit down one evening and give yourself a time limit, maybe 10 minutes, get your journal and write a series of sentences starting with ‘I am remarkable because...’. 

It feels a bit weird at first. But if you keep writing and keep doing it you'll start to remember all the things that you've overcome and achieved. And that makes it a really empowering exercise that reminds you of your value. This reminds me to mention the Spring Forward Festival coming up in March. It celebrates digital women online and they are running a free #IAMREMARKABLE event on the 11th of March. I’m also going be running two events as part of the festival, it would be great if people wanted to join us!

Spring Forward Women Tech festival Brighton 2021

A topic that has come up a few times in our last few podcasts is how women can have their voice ‘heard’ in a male-dominated workplace or boardroom. If one of your clients had this as a concern, what would you advise they do?

It’s a similar response to my advice before, starting with considering the culture of the company (and boardroom) and whether you feel valued for who you are as well as what you can do. One good way of doing this before you start a new role is to ask your ‘soon-to-be peers’ what their ‘why’ is? Why do they do what they do? If they come up with something similar to yours then you have something you can align over. This is a good sign that you will feel fulfilled and be able to be active in this team because others are trying to do the same or similar. And it helps build trust.

I also work with clients and help them to remember themselves at their best. We find out all the things that enabled them to perform at their peak; the environment, the people, the setting, the work. We create a set of ‘success measures’ for them to be fulfilled and satisfied at work. Then we use that criteria to assess the boardroom and it’s current and potential capability to deliver on those success measures. If they can’t get what they need from the boardroom can they get it elsewhere? Ultimately it becomes critical that they do get those things in order to feel fulfilled. It might mean that this boardroom or environment is just going to be too hard or too draining to work in. It’s a difficult call to walk away from an opportunity but sometimes it’s not worth the personal sacrifice. 

There are many reasons a person might consider coaching, one of which is Imposter Syndrome. Could you explain a bit about this and how you would work with a client to tackle the effects?

Imposter Syndrome is an internal response. It is when you experience a dip in confidence or you worry that you are not as good as you should be and you are going to get found out as not being competent. Firstly, I would find out what triggers this feeling. Is it a particular person, place or situation? Then we’d discuss what happens physically. Do they get clammy hands, voices in their head, nervousness in the chest? And we find out where that has come from. We learn to identify the early signals that a ‘bout’ or a ‘wave’ of imposter syndrome might be coming.

Then we would develop techniques to counteract or head off those negative thoughts and feelings. It’s different for everyone, clients might develop a mantra or a mindset routine or learn how to physically shake it out of their system before it takes over. 

If any of our listeners are interested in finding out more about your style of coaching, what’s the best way to get in touch?

People can check out my website and drop me an email if you’re interested in coaching. I’m currently conducting some research in Leadership to inform a new business that I am setting up with three colleagues called, WeaReClean or WERC. If there are any leaders out there who would like to participate in a 30 min reflective, mini-coaching session about their challenges and what they would like to be different, please do get in touch via the website or LinkedIn. It will help us inform our company brand and develop products and sessions that people really need, as well as contributing to a report which is a snapshot of what is happening at the moment for leaders. We will be making recommendations and suggesting interventions that leaders can put in place to ensure that they and their organisation is at it’s best!

We like to say a BIG thank you to Rachel for taking the time to share her knowledge and expertise about how to become stronger and more conscientious leaders. 

Our podcasts are recorded and produced by Let's Talk Video Production.

Emma Pryke
Written by Emma Pryke

With a love for words and a head for marketing, Emma works with the team at Bright to create content that is *gasp* not just about Digital Asset Management! You’ll hear her voice on the Big Bright Podcast and she’s always keen to speak to our clients to get the scoop on what's going on in their world.