Holding a safe space


What does ‘holding a safe space’ mean? I was asked this question by someone new to coaching.

It is the space that we hold for our coachees which enables them to feel safe to open up, to be vulnerable and be their authentic selves. A space where feelings, emotions and thoughts can expressed without the fear of  being judged.

Some ways in which a coach can help to facilitate this safe space is by:

  •  being fully present
  •  being non judgemental
  • putting aside our egos and need to control what is in the space
  • listening deeply with an open heart and compassion
  • providing space and silence for thinking and reflection
  • offering unconditional support and allowing experiences, emotions, feelings to surface

Holding the space takes time to develop and master. Coming into a coaching session with a clean clear uncluttered head takes practice. Some ways which works for me, include:

  • Practicing mindful breathing before a session. I often invite the coachee to do this with me if they seem stressed or flustered
  • Short meditation for 3-5 minutes: I make use of apps such as Stop, Breathe Think; Headspace; Insight timer
  • Go for a short walk preferably outside
  •  Write down what’s going on in my head and consciously closing my ‘Notebook of thoughts’
  •  Use the above for journaling
  • Allow others to hold the space for me – for self care and well being

What would you add and how do you declutter the mind before a #coaching session?

Image via Pixabay

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Experience alone will only get you so far

‘What can you do?’ asked Mr Smith (not his real name!) in a somewhat riled manner. His dull blue eyes stared across the table. I was in the early days of my consulting practice and at a business networking meeting explaining what I do, how I work, add value, outcomes…

‘ I’ve been running my business for 14 years’, he interrupted, ‘you can’t tell me anything I don’t already know ‘, he continued.


It didn’t matter what I said. Mr Smith wasn’t listening. I never worked with Mr Smith who was doing the same thing for 14 years.

Experience is a great thing. Doing the same thing in a world that is constantly changing isn’t.

Unless you adapt and move with the times, you’ll get left behind.

Mr Smith did.

7 months later he was no longer in business.

Learning through experience is probably one of the most common ways of learning. Through doing, we gain understanding and develop new skills.

Can you remember doing something new for the first time? You may gathered information, chatted with others on what they did and how, before diving in.

You probably didn’t get succeed first time. Or second. Or third…

You probably learnt through trial and error – by finding out what worked and what didn’t

You probably got frustrated and chastised yourself but the little glimmers of success spurred  you on.

When we are learning through doing, we are constantly trying to make sense of how our actions are impacting on what is happening, evaluating, testing out, building knowledge, trialling until we get it right/ get results. It is a process of Inquiry and discovery.

Curiosity plays a important role in Inquiry. Can you remember being curious as a child. Always asking questions? Wanting to know more?

As a child I was fascinated by Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers (and Dog) series. Did you read them? The children were always finding out things to solve crimes in the village of Peterswood.

When children enter school, inquiry and discovery is often pushed aside to learn what is set in the curriculum and to pass exams.

The journey through life is full of Inquiry – if we choose to approach it this way.

You walk down the street and something makes you look up. You see a statue that you have not noticed before. What is it, why is it there, what does it represent …?

You are curious. You Goggle it, you take a picture and talk about it with your friends, family, colleagues, on Twitter. …you are finding out, doing research,  constructing your own knowledge and understanding… you are sense making

Your connections, communities, family, friends add their own perspectives – together you are engaging in social learning, sharing and building a community of knowledge…wow, isn’t learning fabulous.

You are scrolling down your Twitter/LinkedIn feed and something catches your interest. You pause, you click on the link, you watched a video – you get a new take on something old, your perspective has changed. Next time you do that something, you might just do it differently. You have put learning into action.

Inquiry is a much required necessity if you are to stay abreast of the changes that are happening- for example in the use of technology which is changing the way we work, learn, shop, travel, bank…

Learning through experience is highly personalised – you get there doing it your own individual way.

You could continue doing it your way for years to come – doing the same thing day in day out. Would you become an expert?

In the 1990s Ericsson et al proposed that expert performance comes not from innate talent but from deliberate practice over a minimum of 10 years. This is what separates the novice from the expert.

A concept that Malcolm Gladwell took further in his book, Outliers, purporting that attaining a 10,000 hours of practice results in becoming an expert .

Macnamara et al (2014) in their meta analysis concluded that whilst the amount of deliberate practice is an important predictor of individual differences in performance, analyses revealed that the strength of the relationship between deliberate practice and performance varied by domain. In terms of percentage of variance in performance explained, the effect of deliberate practice was strong for games (26%), music (21%), sports (18%), and much weaker for education (4%) and professions (< 1% and not statistically significant). Deliberate practice seems less well defined in the latter 2 domains.

Experience on its own is not enough. It will not lead to mastery.

Experience together with:

  • Continued inquiry and learning
  • Reflection
  • Feedback loop

Makes a greater difference and will get you there quicker and enable you to be more effective in a rapidly changing world.

How do you maintain your curiosity? How are you engaging in Inquiry? Perhaps you are an expert – what makes you one? Love to hear your views

Image via the Enid Blyton Society

Read the rest of the #AtoZofLearning series:

Action Learning – what it is, benefits, how it works

Blogs and Blogging – why read, where to find them, how to start blogging

Coaching – why use, how to find the right coach for you, questions to ask your coach and yourself

9 reasons to engage in group discussions and 10 ways to generate good ones

I’m an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance, drive results and achieve career success. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, designing learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please follow, like, comment, share and connect with me @verawoodhead

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9 reasons to engage in group discussions and 10 ways to generate good ones

When asked to form discussion groups in a workshop, on a training day or at an event ….do you do so grudgingly or with an energy and enthusiasm?

Discussions come in many guises and can be:

  • Informal or formal
  • Structured or unstructured
  • Open to those with an interest e.g Twitter chats #ldinsights on a Fri morn
  • Closed to invited members e.g LinkedIn group
  • Held face to face
  • Held synchronously through virtual mediums such as Google Hangout, Skype, Zoom RealtimeBoard,  AWWapp
  • Held asynchronously which gives flexibility and control, time to think and reflect before responding

Effective discussions are an excellent way of learning. Here are my top 9 reasons why discussions can help you to learn:

9 reasons to engage in group discussions

  1. At the table, a group of people will each have their own lens of how they see the world, beliefs, preconceptions and assumptions. This provides rich fodder to gain multiple perspectives, broaden understanding and increase  our emotional awareness  as we try to understand those who may have different worldviews
  2. Knowledge skills, experience are pooled together to develop a richer and deeper collective understanding of the topic / issue
  3. The above leads to the co creation of knowledge and collaborative learning
  4. You can use the ideas / knowledge of others to improve your own thinking, build on prior knowledge and experiences and develop new ideas/ perspectives
  5. It improves your skills in engaging in discourse – listening, communicating ideas, taking turns, respecting other people’s opinions, hold each other to account
  6. You develop a shared understanding and identity with group members
  7. It helps you to develop your voice and perspectives in relation to your peers / group members
  8. You are able to solve complex problems more easily than you would on your own
  9. It fosters curiosity and builds wisdom – the more you engage in discussions with different people from different backgrounds, cultures, places, viewpoints…your depth and breadth of understanding and worldview widens. In a personal capacity this has led to greater tolerance, emotional resilience and humanness

I believe that good discussions are a result of effective preparation and excellent facilitation where meticulous attention is paid to process, content, inter and intrapersonal dynamics, energy, flow and by a facilitator who is able to engender trust, is flexible with the ability to challenge yet be supportive and has a toolkit of styles, approaches and techniques to help participants engage in meaningful interactions through critical inquiry, debate and reflection.

Good discussions require participants to engage, contribute and work together. A facilitator needs to manage not only the process but also the dynamics of the group.

 10 ways to generate good discussions

  1. Be prepared (what are the learning outcomes, how will you manage the time, what preparation dos participants need, what questions will stimulate thinking and inquiry…)
  2. Consider the space (room layout, light, seating, breaks ….if virtual may need to recap / explain tools to ensure members can  use)
  3. Create a sense of community and foster a safe space where each person can be heard, has a voice , can express their ideas and feelings and can speak openly and honestly  without ridicule or fear
  4. Begin the above by cultivating connections right at the beginning. How much time you allocate to this will depend on how long group members will be interacting and working with each other. So whilst a 10-15 minute activity may be applicable for a group that will be working together once for a short time, more time will be required if this extends to days, weeks, months…Utilise activities such as human bingo, storytelling circles, appreciative inquiry interviews to get people connected
  5. Establish how the group would like to work and get them to generate their own ground rules e.g. on respect, confidentiality etc…this encourages ownership and accountability
  6. Model good discussion techniques. For example, building on another individual’s contribution (as Mike stated…); follow up questions that deepen the discussion (how would you respond to Adrian’s comments?)
  7. Monitor and manage group processes, keeping track of how group members are participating (who has spoken, who hasn’t, whose points haven’t been heard…) and manage group dynamics and personalities appropriately
  8. Consider splitting the group to examine a variety of viewpoints, to give people a chance to talk more easily, to help quiet and shy participants put their points forward, for example, use :

Circle stories: Start with an individual reflection which is shared with another person. Pairs join with pairs and share in a quartet. A quartet  join with another quartet and so on….

World café

  • Break the large group into groups of 4-5 people in a group
  • Provide each group with a table covered with paper that they can write, doodle, draw on
  • Allocate each group a different coloured pen
  • Provide topic, issue or question to discuss (use the same question for each table or pose different questions)
  • Give 15-20 minutes to discuss
  • Group elects a ‘table host’ who remains at the table whilst the rest of the group (travellers) goes  to the next table taking their coloured pen with them
  • Table host welcomes them and gives a brief overview of the discussion that has taken place. The travellers add their ideas, comments, suggestions
  • Continue until all the groups have had an input into each others’ issue/ topic
  • Bring together for feedback, sharing of discoveries and insights, identifying any emerging patterns and harnessing collective knowledge

9. Use your facilitation skills to judge when to intervene, to encourage participants to respond directly to each other, allow time for pauses, silence, reflection; keep the discussion flowing, manage energy levels , summarise, wrap up, draw together outcomes, next steps, actions..etc

10. Help participants to reflect on the process and learning by getting them to:

– summarise the discussion to pull together interpretations, reactions, ideas, collective knowledge

– reflect on  ‘what role did I play in the discussion?’, ‘How did I contribute?’, ‘What would I do differently next time?’

– articulate the conditions facilitated or hindered the learning process

– think about, ‘did I suspend my beliefs, opinions, perspectives to consider alternatives and how have they changed?’

Most of us engage in some form of discussion everyday.  Approach each one with a curious mind, empathetic listening,  a non judgemental attitude and an openness to learn.

What are you tops tips for facilitating discussions?

What has your greatest learning been from participating in discussions?  

Read the rest of the #AtoZofLearning series:

Action Learning – what it is, benefits, how it works

Blogs and Blogging – why read, where to find them, how to start blogging

Coaching – why use, how to find the right coach for you, questions to ask your coach and yourself

I’m an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance, drive results and achieve career success. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, designing learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please follow, like, comment, share and connect with me @verawoodhead



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C is for Coaching

Coaching is a highly personalised way of learning as it focuses on your specific individual needs and context.

Working one to one with a coach in a confidential and non judgemental space, it harnesses your own resources, skills and creativity to help you create new ways of thinking, doing and feeling to move you forward.

Coaching often takes place over a period of time through a series of conversations during which the coach provides support, challenge and feedback to help you move forward and give time for new learning to be embedded and behaviour changes to be sustained.

Why is coaching good for learning? It:

  •  Is tailored to your individual needs
  •  Is an efficient use of your time
  • Puts you at the centre –  it is your agenda and you drive the process
  •  Focuses your attention and engages you
  •  Fosters accountability and ownership as you are more likely to carry through actions if you have generating the ideas, options and solutions yourself
  •  Grows your confidence and self belief that you have got there by yourself, using your own resources

Where can I find a coach?

The ICF 2016 Global Coaching Study estimates that there are 53,300 professional coach practitioners worldwide.

Whether you are looking to develop your skills, enhance your knowledge or performance, change career, get a promotion, find a job….you will be able to find a coach who can support you.

Internal or External?

An increasing number of organisations are offering coaching to their employees. In my last role as an internal coach at PwC, all grades of staff were able to access coaching confidentially.

The 6th Ridler Report (May 2106) found that 39% of coaching hours were through 1:1 internal coaching and 42% 1:1 external with arise in both expected over the next 2 years.

If you cannot access coaching internally, there are many credible external coaches. Find them through Google searches, recommendations, coaching bodies websites and coaches own websites.

Once you have a found a few potential coaches, find out how credible they are through their websites, LinkedIn profiles, blogs, social media…. ask others / your networks about them

Some essential questions to ask your potential coach

  • What is your depth and breadth of experience of coaching and how much of this is in the areas that I need support in?
  • What type of clients have you coached and at what level?
  • Describe how you have worked with others to get results or achieve outcomes?
  • What approaches and models do you use?  A good coach will have a flexible approach and be able to draw upon different  models, tools and techniques to fit your individual needs and  context
  • What coach specific qualifications do you have and are you a member of / have accreditation with a coaching body ( ICF, EMCC, APECS, AoC..)
  • What informs your practice?  e..g career background, life experiences, education, professional development…
  • How often do you engage in supervision?
  • How is coaching delivered – face to face, telephone, virtually e.g Skype/ video and how much does it cost

Once you have found a couple of coaches, test them out   

Most coaches offer an initial  free no obligation conversation to check that there is ‘fit’. Gauge your chemistry – does the coach’s style, approach, perspectives… fit with yours? Do you get a sense that you can trust them, open up and share your vulnerabilities with them? Coaching is very much a partnership based on trust, respect and transparency and it is important that you feel that you can connect and engage with them at a very human level

Before you embark on coaching, make sure that it is the right approach for you. Some questions to ask yourself. Am I:      

  • Aware of the need to develop, learn, grow
  • Open to feedback
  • Willing to become self aware
  • Prepared to step out of my comfort one
  • Able to be intentional within and outside of the sessions
  • Willing to be open, honest, vulnerable
  • Open to new perspectives
  • Willing to try new ways of thinking, doing and feeling
  • Motivated and committed to stay with new behaviours

Would love you to share your experiences on:

  1. What you learnt through the coaching process
  2. How you found and selected your coach

Read the rest of the #AtoZofLearning series:

A is for Action Learning

B is for Blogs and Blogging 

I’m an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance, drive results and achieve career success. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, designing learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please follow, like, comment, share and connect with me @verawoodhead

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B is for Blogs Blogging

Whatever your interest and passions are, you are likely to find a blog on the topic. Since the early 2000s, there has been an exponential rise of blogs which are now well established within the online space.

Why read?

Blogs from respected authors, industry experts, people are passionate about their field can:

  • Provide insights and perspectives
  • Keep you up to date with trends
  • Stimulate your thinking
  • Help you learn from their experiences and expertise
  • Help you connect with people who share the same interests

Where to find them?

There are lots of places where you can find content (Linkedin, Huffington Post, Forbes, Google) and tools and platforms you can use to find and curate content. I am no expert in this field and am sharing some of the ones (they are pretty basic) that I use:

  • Manually by doing a search (then creating a list of your favourites which you can then later subscribe to)
  • When you find content you like, you can save it on apps such as Pocket and use tags to easily find articles/ images later
  • Get recommendations from your networks and see who your peers / like-minded people are following
  • Use an RSS feed – for example if you find a blogger whose work you like, you can subscribe to their blogs so each time a new blog is published you will automatically receive it
  • Create Twitter lists or subscribe to lists created by others
  • Subscribe to newsletters, updates, alerts , for example, I subscribe to Strategy & which enables me to stay current with their latest insights
  • Use a content curation platform such as Storify, Feedly, Scoop.It which you can have basic use for free


I wrote my first blog on 29 Nov 2010 and in the following month sent my first Tweet!

Having a record (whether it is a personal journal or an online blog) enables you to see your progress and the journey that you made…and that’s learning and development in itself!

I find that writing takes time. I am not someone who could just sit and write a blog and post it. I have do several iterations, leave it for while and then come back and look at it with fresh eyes.

Begin by writing for yourself, about things that you are interested in and keep writing. You will soon develop your own style and learn more about the art of writing for the web.

Writing can help you learn by:

  • Putting your thoughts and ideas into sentences and paragraphs, means that you have to organise and structure them
  • Broadens your knowledge through learning new things, for example, you may need to do some research to find some evidence to support your viewpoint or perspective
  • Through refining and editing you are making judgements, evaluating, interpreting, reflecting… and hence enhancing your critical thinking skills
  • Building your professional network as you engage with your readers e.g through discussions. You can build followers/ supporters/ a tribe, communities of practice…and learn from each other through sharing perspectives, knowledge, ideas, insights…
  • Doing the above helps to build your online presence, brand and establish your authority in that topic/ field. You are seen as the ‘go to’ person for that subject…and to maintain this means keeping updated, writing, sharing, having a voice

Would love you to share your tips with fellow readers on:

  1. Which blogs do you read or bloggers do you follow and why?
  2. Where do you find content and what tools, apps, platforms do you use?

Read the rest of the #AtoZofLearning series

A is for Action Learning 

I’m an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance, drive results and achieve career success. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, designing learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please follow, like, comment, share and connect with me @verawoodhead

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A is for Action Learning

A recent conversation about how learning has changed over the decades has prompted this series and challenged me to come up with 26 ways to learn #AtoZofLearning.

Digital content, tools and technology is transforming how learning is designed and delivered. Accessing learning any time, anywhere, any device, individually or collectively has given choice, flexibility and control to the learner.

Social media has enabled learners to collaborate, communicate and connect with others beyond their own natural work groups, creating communities not only within the immediate workplace but globally.

These are exciting times for those who facilitate learning – gathering new skills, embracing new technology and experimenting with new approaches.

With that said, I am kicking off with a methodology that has been around since the 1940’s when it was pioneered by Reg Revans. It’s popularity and staying power might be due to its dual benefits at an:

  1. Individual level of enhancing learning and development
  2. Organisational level of bringing about improvements and innovation

A for Action Learning

I was introduced to Action Learning over 25 years ago and it remains one of my favourite approaches to learning, especially in leadership development. What better fodder for learning and developing than solving problems from within your own organisation!

Peer learning sets from across functions within an organisation or from across organisations / sectors are a great way to learn experientially, solve organisational challenges whilst getting the support required.

How does it work?

  • A group of about 6 people at comparable levels of responsibility meet regularly for a contracted number of meetings (usually for half a day every 6-8 weeks for 6-12 months).
  • Each member takes it in turn to present their problem to the group
  • Through a process of skilled questioning and dialogue the group helps each member to get to heart of the problem, review options, and decide on what actions he will take in moving forward
  • In between sessions, each member takes action and reports on this action and its results at the next meeting

A facilitator acts as catalyst, guide and supports the process – helping the group to reflect on group processes, what and how they have learnt, how feedback and challenge is given, what they are achieving and the processes employed


  • Solutions to your challenges and issues
  • Fresh thinking and new ways of looking at and dealing with situations
  • Enhanced problem solving and decision making skills
  • Support, feedback and positive challenge from peers
  • Learning by doing and developing how to learn skills
  • Develop your questioning, listening, and diagnostic skills
  • Have the confidence to challenge, ask better questions, review, critically reflect and get to the heart of a problem
  • Increased ability to see situations from a wider perspectives
  • Develop facilitation and coaching skills
  • A safe environment to experiment, take risks, share feelings

Unlike the 1940’s, learning with a small group of people does not need to take place face to face as technology such as Skype and Google enables sets to come together virtually.

Find more information at:

ABC of Action Learning by Reg Revans

Action Learning for Managers by Mike Pedler

International Foundation for Action Learning

World Institute for Action Learning

What do you think of Action Learning as an approach? Would love to hear your views and experience of being part of a set or as a facilitator

Next in the #AtoZofLearning B is for Blogs and Blogging

I’m an executive coach, leadership facilitator and learning & development consultant working with leaders to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance, drive results and achieve career success. Within organisations, I help to facilitate better conversations, designing learning interventions which deliver practical and lasting solutions aligned to business strategy and goals.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please follow, like, comment, share and connect with me @verawoodhead

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Walk in her shoes, Coaching walks

A few days ago, this picture of Celine caught my eye. Instead of going to school, 4 year old Celine walks miles every day to collect water.

No school means no education – no opportunity to learn to read, write, have a better future.

It resonated.

Born in a developing country, I know what it is like to be poor, to have limited opportunities.

Education provided a way out for me. It broke the perpetual cycle of poverty and going nowhere. It provided me with so many opportunities, including:

– the ability to think for myself

-to learn and be exposed to new perspectives

– developing my potential to achieve things that I thought were beyond my reach

– and most importantly to build a foundation that continues to improve the quality of my life today.

Knowledge empowers. It gives people like me hope, ambition and a chance to be in a place / position that I could have never imagined possible.

I would like to give Celine and girls like her, an opportunity like I had. From 8-14 May, I will be walking 5 miles each day, to raise funds to help bring safe water closer to home, enabling girls like Celine to go to school.

To help me fund raise, I am combining walking with my skills as a coach and am offering  7 coaching walks during the week of 8-14 May in Leeds and around Wharfedale / Ilkley.

Join me on a coaching walk and help children like Celine to get an education

Together we will go on a journey where you will have the time to think, to talk about the issues and challenges that you are facing; to get clarity on what you need to focus on and the actions that you need to take.

Each day between 8-14 May, I am offering 7 coaching walks at a discounted fee. I suggest a donation of £120 for 1.5 hours coaching walk or £220 for a 3 hourcoaching walk.

Donations to be made directly to Walk in her shoes (you can do this anonymously as well)

Walks will take place at your pace, ability and at a mutually convenient time and are a stand alone coaching journey.

Those who have experienced coaching whilst out on our walks, have found that it:

  •  Calms and slows the mind down helping to streamline thoughts and open up new ways of thinking
  • Helps them to be more creative in finding solutions to problems and issues
  • Lifts the spirits and puts them in a better mood
  • Fires up the senses, making them more aware of what’s happening within the environment and themselves
  • Is easier to talk openly and be yourself
  • Provides bundles of inspiration

To walk with me between 8-14 May, get in touch vera@verawoodhead.co.uk

To help children like Celine get an education, please be generous and make a donation 

Thank you in advance for your help


I’m an executive coach & leadership facilitator working with professionals to develop the skills and behaviours to inspire performance and results, achieve promotion, make successful career changes and succeed at work. With multi sector experience from PwC and Merlin Entertainments to the NHS, I work with organisations to design and facilitate coaching, leadership and people development programmes.

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Am I too old for promotion?

‘Am I too old to go for that promotion?’ asks Mary. At 53 years old or young, she is questioning the possibility of going for a promotion at work.

Mary took a career break to bring up her 3 children. She re entered the workplace 7 years ago when her youngest child started secondary school. With the youngest just having started university and the older 2 children in employed positions, Mary feels that now she has the opportunity to focus on herself and to pursue those aspirations which she had put on hold whilst bringing up her family.

She recognises that this was her choice and one which she does not regret. Over the years, she has blossomed in her 3 days a week role, taking on additional responsibility, getting good performance reviews and being well respected by her colleagues.

A role has come up which she knows that she is capable and competent at undertaking. It will be a significant step up, with more leadership and strategic responsibilities and in a full time capacity.

She is is excited, enthused and motivated as she talks about the new role and the opportunity to progress her career.

Suddenly she pauses and a frown crosses her face. ‘Am I too old to be having these thoughts? Will they want to promote an older person? Am I mad to think about career aspirations at my age?’ she questions

In 2010, the Equality and Human Rights commission in their report, ‘The over 50s, the new work generation’ found that the majority of workers over 50 (62 % of women and 59% of men) wanted to continue working beyond state pension age.

This year, the Institute of Leadership and Management in their report, ‘Untapped talent: Can over 50s bridge the leadership skills gap’, the ILM surveyed  over 1400 UK managers with some interesting findings:

  •  61% of managers say their over 50s workers have low (20%) or very low (41%) potential to progress
  • This is despite the over 50s scoring higher than younger workers for occupation specific knowledge and skills (85%) and understanding of customers (78%)
  • The over 50s rated their own keenness to develop at 94%, higher than the youngest millennial age group surveyed, who trailed in last place with 87%.

Kate Cooper, head of Applied Research & Policy at ILM is quoted as saying :

We are seeing signs of organisational ageism, where highly skilled and talented staff members have less opportunity to progress as they get older. It seems this culture is so embedded that many workers over 50s are accepting they have limited opportunities in their current organisations.”

The report cites the Department for Work and Pensions figures  which predicts that an estimated 13.5 million jobs will be created over the next 10 years, over which time only 7 million young people will enter the labour force. This will leave the UK with a skills gap especially within leadership and management positions.

An earlier ILM report ‘Leadership and Management Talent Pipeline’ found that around 93 percent of UK employers worry that low levels of management skills are preventing them from achieving business goals

Should Mary be worried about her age as a factor which will hinder her promotion?


Will her organisation see this as an opportunity to recognise the benefits of an age diverse workforce and realise the untapped leadership talent of the over 50’s?

In July of this year, People Management ( magazine of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) announced its ‘50 over 50’ list, a celebration of the UK’s best workers over the age of 50.

The list which was nominated by the public ‘represents the very best of what older employees have to offer the modern workplace, and should serve as an inspiration to workers, managers and organisations alike to recognise and value their contribution to the British economy’.

Knowledge, talent, ambition and aspirations do not fizzle out when you reach a certain age.

People want different things from their lives depending on their motivation, aspirations, life phase and choices and pathways taken earlier

When we think of ‘talent’, are we conditioned to think ‘young, rising stars ’? How many employers, talent managers… when they considering  ‘high potentials’ and future leaders’ think of older workers?

Should talent not be nurtured throughout the organisation rather than focusing on age?

If you demonstrate the ability, motivation, aspiration and desire to progress surely age is irrelevant . Is it not more about the individual person?

Outdated stereotypes and ageist attitudes are holding many older women (and men) back.

Ageing starts at birth, not at 40, 50 or 60 years old. 

 What would you say to Mary?

If you were Mary’s employers, would you be worried about promoting her? 

                                                                                  Photo credit: Campus of Excellence

Wishing you greater career success, Vera


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Banish limiting beliefs to progress your career

campus of excellence - martin bauer group

Have you ever been in a situation in which you did not perform as well as you could, leaving your confidence at a low and a reluctance to put yourself in such situations again?

I know that I have and in most cases have plucked up the courage to have another stab at it.  But in a few situations, where the stakes were high, it was much harder because I convinced myself that I will fail again. I refused to put myself in such situations again – in case I failed again!

Sounds familiar?

The downside of this is that it limits new opportunities and possibilities being opened up to you and can have an adverse effect on progressing your career and moving forward.

The beliefs that we form when such events take place are usually not based on any evidence. They are assumptions that we make about ourselves and others from our exposure to the people around us, from what we see, hear, experience, read and think about.

They become embedded in our thinking, opinions and are demonstrated through our behaviours, attitudes, feelings, perceptions and affect our performance.

For example, Sally one of my clients applied for a director’s post, was shortlisted, attended the interview and was unsuccessful. Her presentation did not go as planned. She forgot some key messages, became nervous and lost her confidence and composure.

When another position came up, Sally is reluctant to apply as she believes that she was not good enough the first time round and will be unsuccessful again based on her past experience.

Emotionally, she is reluctant to try again for the fear of being rejected so she plays it safe by convincing herself that she will never get the job anyway.

Holding unto such beliefs and assumptions will stop Sally from moving forward. She may never progress her career for the fear of rejection and not being good enough.

Voicing our thoughts to someone else gives us the opportunity to get their perspective on what they are observing and hearing.

One of the fundamental aspects of coaching is to challenge assumptions and limiting beliefs to reshape patterns of thinking and the emotional connections to those thoughts.

This shift in mindset and emotional framing of reality helps the client to move forward, opens up opportunities and possibilities that would not have existed before.

Working with clients over a period of time, enables new learning, thinking and behaviour to be embedded.

Change your thinking

Albert Ellis, founder of REBT, developed a way to teach people how their beliefs cause their emotional and behavioural responses.

For example, you dwell on the negatives of a ‘bad’ experience of giving a presentation. These negative thoughts are played over and over in your mind until they become embedded beliefs.

Whenever placed in similar situations, the feelings of anxiety and nervousness emerge. It is not giving a presentation that causes those feelings, it is the beliefs that you have associated with them.

2 techniques  to use when faced with beliefs that hold you back

1. The ABCDE technique

– A (describe the activating event) I messed up in the job interview

– B (belief) I am failure, not good enough to be promoted, worthless

– C (consequence) devastated, sad, others will think I’m a failure, am unworthy

– Dispute those beliefs:  How do I know that this assumption or belief is true? What evidence do I have? Is this true of the bigger picture ? Interpret the situation more realistically and rationally. There is no evidence to show that by not getting promoted, Sally is an unworthy person or a failure. Indeed she has had many successes and accomplishments and is highly regarded by her colleagues.

– Effect : Sally realises that her belief is irrational and is keeping her stuck. To get better at interviewing she enlists the help of colleagues and friends and engages in role playing interview scenarios to build her skills and confidence

2. Visualisation: Image yourself coping with the situation that is stressing you out.

  • Think of a future job interview
  • Write down the specific aspects that are worrying you
  • Brainstorm ways to overcome these problems. Discuss with a trusted colleague or friend for additional insights/ support/ ideas
  • Make a list of the top problems and the strategies that you can use to overcome
  • Visualise yourself in the situation and imagine yourself coping with each problem by using the accompanying strategy
  • Picture yourself dealing with the problems as they arise. Keep the imagery, vivid and detailed and check in on how you are feeling
  • Keep practising until it feels that what you are doing and how you are behaving comes naturally

Don’t let limiting beliefs hold you back from progressing your career. Change  the way you think and you will change the way you feel and behave.

Wishing you greater career success 


                                Photo credit: Campus of excellence 

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Develop your team by helping them to be problems solvers

Emma is nettled. I can see it in her body posture and hear it in her voice. She is describing her boss and the impact his approach to managing and leading the team is having.

Emma is a highly skilled professional. Her new boss keeps telling her what to do, gives advice and always has a, ‘when I was in this situation, this is what I did…here’s what you should do..”

 Are you someone who has gotten into the habit of telling your staff what to do …?

Most managers have a high level of expertise and skills that they are used to sharing, mainly using a directive approach. This approach is useful in some situations, such as in a crisis or where an employee does not have depth of skills or knowledge to address the problem  and needs to be told what to do or be given  specific instructions.

In most work situations however, team members are trained professionals who are highly capable of undertaking their roles.

If you only have a directive style in your repertoire, you may have noticed that your team:

  • Is becoming frustrated, disengaged and unfulfilled
  • Shows a lack of initiative and enthusiasm

And you:

  • Are getting fed up that your team does not seem to be able to make a decision by themselves
  • Too much of your time is taking up by staff asking for advice

When team members are continually being told what to do and how to do it, they lose their ability to problem solve, to be curious and to learn.

In effective they become dependent on you for their answers. They are not empowered to think for themselves, are less accountable for their actions (you have told them what to do) and their commitment, ownership and motivation to carry out the task are diminished

What can you do to turn this around?

Shift your mindset – see your staff or team as people who are resourceful and have the ability to solve or find the means to work out what it is they need to do.

Move from the belief that you the expert with the answers to seeing your staff as people who have the solutions within them.

See yourself as a facilitator, a guide, a catalyst… in helping your people become more resourceful.

See the bigger picture – instead of thinking about the little extra time a non directive approach may take, see it as an investment. Think of the cascading power of helping your people to grow, develop and have the ability to solve organisational challenges.

Once this approach is embedded and becomes a habit, your team will in turn start to role model these behaviours and style to their own teams and soon you will have a department, an organisation… which has a learning culture that fosters problem solving and agile thinkers.

 Some ways to start:

  • STOP, don’t rush into giving an answer or providing advice
  • PAUSE, think – has this person the ability and inner resources to solve the problem / find a solution
  • Use questions to help the person develop new perspectives, thinking and insights. And remember to check in with feelings, assumptions, beliefs and motivations
  • Use the process of asking non judgemental, neutral questions that will help to identify outcomes, the way forward, options, challenges, a plan of action…. Help the person to come up with strategies that he/she is committed to putting into action

 Here’s an example of Sally whose boss is telling her what to do

Manager: “There are a couple of ways you can handle this. I would suggest that you do this …..” and goes on to tell Sally what she should do. Finishing with, “ let me know how you get on”.

Instead the manager could engage in dialogue, a coaching conversation, which may go something like this:  

Manager: What are the different ways you can approach this?

Sally: Well, I suppose I could do A, B or C

Manager: What criteria would you use to judge those different approaches?

Sally: I would consider cost, time, resources…

Manager: Which option seem the best against these criteria?

Sally: I would go for A because of…

Manager: What is the first step that you will take to get this moving?

Sally: To get your OK in going ahead with it!

Manager: Assuming that you have the go ahead, what will be your next steps?

Sally : I will speak with Y about timings, arrange a budget approval with Z, meet with X to get more information/ data…

Manager: Looking ahead, what potential challenges might you encounter along the way?

Sally: The timing might not be right and I will have to delay it, Z might say there is not enough money to fund it…

Manager:  You have listed 3 possible challenges ( paraphrase Sally’s own words to state what they are)  how might you tackle them if they arise?  

Sally: well, if Y says the timing is not right, I will…

Manager: What milestones do you envision for making this a success?

Sally: I hope to have a meeting set up with Y by the end of next week, get the information that I need by…..

And so the dialogue continues….

In this non directive approach the manager has facilitated a learning process by using questions to guide the conversation to explore outcomes, options, responsibilities, action steps…

Coaching conversations are about fostering learning, about helping others to be resourceful, to take ownership of the situation and be committed to finding a way forward and being motivated to take action.

It is a process, in which you as a manager can do informally or formally in 5 minutes or 55 minutes. The trick is get into the habit of listening, engaging in dialogue and asking questions to help your team find solutions to personal, team and organisational challenges and in so doing learn, grow and develop.

Wishing you better leadership and conversations with your team


Image: Flickr user Peter Hayes


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