Meyler Campbell Graduation Address 2017

by Ruth Sack

I would like to extend my hearty congratulations to each and every one of you. CONGRATULATIONS. And what an exciting time for you as you come to the ‘End of the Beginning’ of your journey as a Coach. It is an absolute privilege to be standing in front of you when it feels that it was only very recently that I was sitting where you are today.

And before I say a few words to you I would like to ask you to acknowledge and honour your teachers, your practice clients, your family and your friends who I am sure have supported you and helped you reach this point. Graduating Class may I ask you to stand and show your appreciation to all who are here behind me and behind you, and to all those who are absent. Thank you.

I am going to share what I wish I had known when I was sitting where you are, things I wish I hadn’t said in a coaching session and finally things that I am now discovering which in reality have always been there.

The first thing that I wish I had known is that building a coaching business takes time. The more clarity you have about who you are as a Coach the more compelling your individual offer will be. Having had a long career in Financial Services on both sides of the pond, I instinctively knew that I needed to reset the clock and as a result, I chose not to work there for the first couple of years. I felt that I lacked credibility as a new coach working in the Financial Services sector, however, with 20 years of Financial Services experience I felt I had real credibility as a Business Coach working in many different contexts.

While you are building your business remember above all ‘to thine own self be true’. In the early days I would say yes to work because I needed it and because I thought that the job title of who I was working with reflected well on me. If you think that the person you have been asked to work with is a complete knob – don’t work with them. Put more politely – if you can’t hold them in unconditional positive regard it may be tough to change that view and chances are there won’t be a great outcome for either of you.

And for many of you who have held really senior positions you have been used to people responding quickly to your requests, your emails, your taste in tea or coffee or anything else. Forget it, that’s gone, it’s different now and for heaven’s sake don’t take it personally. They probably have things in their business which need their attention more than coaching – crazy – we all know that nothing needs their attention more than coaching!

Most of all – be yourself and be a clean version of yourself. This isn’t about language, it’s about walking into any coaching session free of your own baggage. I believe, there is only one way to clean up your act, and to remain clean – that is to have a supervisor. Knowing what I know now if I were a ‘Buyer of Coaching’ I would flatly refuse to engage a coach who wasn’t in supervision. We all carry conscious and unconscious biases. A supervisor will help you shine a light on those biases and help you grow, and reflect so that you too continue to become a better version of yourself both as a person and as a coach. You have all been supervised through the programme. Just because the programme is finished it shouldn’t mean that you being supervised has to be. Being in supervision is part of my lifelong journey as a Coach.

I said I was going to tell you about words I wish I hadn’t said in a coaching session – the incident was only humorous in retrospect, as was the salutary lesson I drew from it: I was coaching a senior executive in a major Japanese media company. I was focussed on the outcome, delighted to be working with someone who ‘ticked my job-title box’, only too happy to disregard any language difficulties thanks to the services of a very young interpreter who had been brought in to help because her mother happened to be Japanese. Now she had never worked – neither here nor in Japan – so lacked any real ‘business understanding’: nonetheless, she was doing a thorough job of simultaneous translation … all too thorough … judging by his startled reaction when I raised the worrying issue of ‘the elephant in the room’!! Once he had satisfied himself that our meeting was indeed pachyderm-free, I think he assumed that I’d been hallucinating; one way or another, his faith in me / the process was lost. That taught me to consider fully the context when preparing for a session, the need to be sensitive to other cultures, and not to assume that our concepts are universally understood.

And there will be things that you enjoy hearing, and some that you will wish you never had. Business coaching can as I am sure you have all found move from the real positive into personal and difficult areas. We hear stories of success, and the joy as a result and sometimes we hear how pain has been experienced, or loneliness. We as coaches create safe environments, actually they are ‘psychologically safe’ spaces where our clients are able talk without fear of being judged. Just remember however hard it may be to hear these things, it is a privilege that you are the person with whom they are being shared.

And finally and somewhat deliciously I come to the things that were always there which I am now discovering.

Have you noticed how often you read a newspaper article, watch a TV programme or have a conversation in which something chimes more loudly with you, and you aren’t quite sure why, and soon it becomes clear that it is information that you need to call on. Be grateful and recognise the connectedness which exists. In my time a coach I have become more conscious of this phenomenon that as yet I don’t have a name for, maybe neuroscience does or will.

Watching the BBC series on Japan recently I was struck by a word in a fantastic programme on Japanese architecture. The word is Ma. Ma is the concept is of the ‘space between’. What isn’t as well as what is. The literal translation is ‘space between’, it is not a finite gap, it is a flexible gap; it is the distance that exists between points in time as well as between objects. It is the silent pause between musical notes, it is the shadows between the light streaming through blinds, it is even the interactions between people.

It made me realise that when we listen really well there is a ‘Ma’ space between, however it is no space. It is the fertile void … as one of my Dear and Great teachers Nancy Kline would say it is where we hold the space for our clients to be able to think generatively and independently and where we as their Thinking Partner or Coach can have our breath taken away by the power of their independent thinking.

So go out into the world, be Brilliant Coaches, make a difference (which you will do even when you think you haven’t done much). Remember holding that space between you and your client is what you do and that every small change they make through their work with you has an impact for good.

Thank you and well done.