This year, I celebrate three major career milestones: 35 years as a practicing psychotherapist, 25 years in private practice, and 20 years providing executive coaching services! To mark these achievements, I thought I would share a little about my journey.
From psychotherapy to executive coaching
I entered executive coaching after approximately 15 years as a practicing psychotherapist. As a Critical Incident Stress De-briefer and in my private practice, I found myself increasingly in contact with individuals in leadership roles who wanted to talk about mindset, conflict resolution, and managing complexity and change in the workplace. These individuals spent their time with me reflecting on their leadership practices — they did not need therapy. This led me to explore the training I needed to better assist them on their journey. In 2002, when coaching was still an emerging field, I started training as a coach. In 2012, I completed my Ph.D. in Human Development and Coaching. I enjoy working both as a coach and as a psychotherapist. I love the balance it gives me. I use my energy very differently in each setting and I find both enriching. I am as intrigued about my work today as I was 35 years ago.
How my background in psychotherapy supports my work as a coach
While psychotherapy and coaching are distinct areas of practice, the two worlds complement each other well. Having a mental health background helps me better understand human development and behaviour, including the dynamics of intra-personal and inter-personal struggles that my coaching clients may be dealing with. As a coach, I create a white space for coachees to begin a process of reflection, where mindset, beliefs, assumptions, and perceptions are uncovered. Often, people just need a nudge to get them out of “doing mode” and shift to “reflection mode”. When they do so, they engage in a more flexible thought process, consider new perspectives, and create unexpected solutions. That is when personal and professional growth occurs.
Change and uncertainty remain constant challenges for leaders!
In my 20 years of coaching, one thing has been clear; leaders are constantly dealing with change and complexity. While the nature of the challenge may differ over time, human reaction to change is quite consistent. Some feel excited and curious, others feel reluctance and resistance. I have found that coaching helps individuals shift from a closed to an opened mindset. I also have observed that coaching helps people refocus on what they can control and influence and create a plan to navigate the new waters. Over time, I have come to appreciate that leaders must keep growing their emotional resilience, develop their competencies, expand their mindset, and learn to zoom in and out from the problem to balance tactical and strategic thinking as they support their team.
There are many similarities in my coachees’ conversations. Leaders talk about having doubts about their abilities to take on the new challenge and struggle with operating from the right mindset to tackle the situation at hand. An important thing to know is that when adults face new and difficult situations, they actually revert to a different stage of adult development. While we have our centre of gravity in adult development, we can fall back in times of stress and lean into the next stage when we are in our zone. When leaders fall back, they are likely to feel more stressed and less competent. They will likely spend their energy focusing on mastering their environment and situation. Working with a coach who understands Vertical Leadership Development, can be helpful to normalize a leader’s reaction and help them recalibrate how they use their mindset, time, energy, and focus.
Speaking both official languages finally pays off
After years living in the Greater Toronto Area, where my native French language was not so in demand, I am happy to say, that being bilingual has been very helpful in my coaching work. It has allowed me to work with a broad spectrum of organizations including government, crown corporations, financial institutions, and major retailers. These organizations have leaders who speak either language and I have often found myself helping these professionals find their way when working with colleagues from the other culture.
Speaking two languages gives me a lot of words and expressions to draw from to convey ideas. I love words. They are so helpful in creating nuances and transforming perspectives. I also love metaphors. They enable us to create a mental image that can be very effective in provoking a shift in thinking and mindset.
I have always believed in the value of life-long learning, and when I look back on my career, I am most proud of having completed my Ph.D. in Human Development and Coaching. It required a lot of time and dedication. I loved the learning process and the people I worked with while completing my research project.
As well, I am proud to be associated with UBC Sauder Executive Education and Ivey Academy at the Ivey School of Business. Being part of the coaching team at these business schools enables me to connect with academic leaders, coaches, and executives who, like me, are committed to personal and professional development.
Over the years, I have served as a volunteer on the credentialing committee with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and created two programs that are ICF-approved for the continuing education of coaches. I also mentor new coaches on their credentialing process. I love supporting “La relève”.
Out of Covid
Covid was hugely disruptive. Coaching my clients during that time brought a myriad of new challenges and, more than ever, the emphasis was on supporting mental health. My deep knowledge of resilience and mental health came into play in many coaching conversations.
I am inspired by the potential of the future. Here is one of my favourite metaphors; I hope we can all live life the way we drive a car. We look in the rear-view mirror occasionally to keep track of what’s behind us but, mostly, we need to keep our eyes on the road ahead. I coach people to live and work in the present and the future. I believe we should focus on what we want for ourselves personally and professionally in the next five to 10 years. Let’s forge ahead.
Being part of the conversation about what the workplace will look like in the future is an intriguing proposition. I hope it will return to being a vibrant place where people come to connect, inspire, and motivate each other. As for my road ahead, I plan to continue to support people on their journey, and associate with other professionals who enrich my learning. I want to acknowledge and thank my mentors and colleagues for their support and friendship over the years, and of course, thank my clients who have been a privilege to know and assist. I feel fortunate to have chosen a path that really suits me, and to this day, I remain completely fulfilled in my work to the extent that it does not feel like work at all!