After nearly two decades of coaching, MD of Ascentia and AoEC Alumni Sandra Henson recently gained her ICF MCC accreditation. Neil Atkinson, AoEC Director of Team Coaching, recently caught up with her about how she’s grown her successful business and what she’s learned along the way...
Congratulations – I heard you’ve recently gained your ICF Master Certified Coach (MCC) accreditation.
Thank-you… I’ve been coaching for 17 years and a number of things came together: firstly, one of my leading clients wanted their coaching quorum to have PCC or equivalent level, plus I had some wonderful feedback and insights from colleagues about what was needed. I have to say I’m also fortunate to work with some large clients and very accomplished coaches. So, it felt like the right thing to do.
I was conscious my practice might not entirely fit the ICF competencies, so I chose my coach-mentor very carefully and working with her was one of the highlights of the accreditation process. She really brought the competencies related to presence and connection to life for me and helped me identify where this was already a feature of my practice.
What is it about presence and connection that are important in your coaching?
For me, they’re about the way a coach shows up - when who they are is less important than the space they create. It’s about being in the moment, being willing to not know, being led by the client and noticing subtleties in energy, language and movement, and bringing that into the coaching. A bit of magic happens – some very deep and authentic conversations, when ego is suspended. It enables change to happen more profoundly than if you’re working at a purely cognitive basis. You know it’s happening when you lose a sense of time and a notion of ‘performance’.
How long have these ideas been part of your coaching model?
The people I work with are really bright capable individuals and their challenges are frequently less to do with skills and competencies, yet more about how they are seeing and relating to the world. So, these ideas have been with me right from the start and part of my journey as a coach has been about deepening my ability to be there as one human being, with another, stepping out of the ‘doing’ and into the ‘being’.
There’s definitely much more interest, awareness and knowledge about team coaching out there now. Many clients are moving away from one-off interventions such as team workshops and focusing instead on true team development. And there’s more awareness in general about the importance of teams. It depends partly on how experienced an organisation is with coaching in its different formats. Team coaching used to be about 10% of my business, since the Systemic Team Coaching Diploma that’s risen to about 40% and is likely to increase.
You run a very successful coaching business – does it give you the nourishment you need?
Undeniably. It’s such a privilege to work in this space: people share quite profound information about themselves. They want to make a difference. They’re willing to experiment and be vulnerable. It’s a real delight. I get very stimulated by the challenges and the partnerships we create.
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself when you were starting out?
The first thing that springs to mind is to really work those contacts, I didn’t pay enough attention to my existing network. It would have also helped to have more confidence – I’m not an unconfident person, so this reflects that stage of my development – but it would have been better to stand up and have my voice heard more, to share the thinking more.
It’s also important to follow your interests and use that to create something distinctive in your practice. I’m really interested in adult development – the stages of children’s development are well-recognised, and there’s a growing body of knowledge about the different stages adults go through. Adults develop throughout life, with each stage being distinctive and having different capacities; and I’m fascinated about how you integrate that into coaching, bringing an awareness not just about what you’re thinking, yet about how you’re thinking.
What has your coaching practice – and your clients – taught you personally?
Coaching has taught me masses of things and I continue to grow with each and every assignment. The resourcefulness of clients and diversity of thinking is amazing. I experience how powerful it is to step out of your comfort zone and how important it is to follow what you’re really passionate about.
I worked with a client who recently lost a colleague in tragic circumstances and I found myself reflecting on the importance of not waiting for things to happen. Seize the opportunity now, take a few more risks – you’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t shoot, so just start. It feels risky to say these words and the loss affects me profoundly, yet there is an energy there to make it count and mean something.
Our thanks to Sandra Henson.