Still Curious S2E3 - Ann Collins

Ann Collins00:00

People often arrive with a goal. and It's all about doing, I want to do this. I want to do something different. I want to have a different kind of job or have a different kind of career. And In fact, What they leave with is something far greater in many ways, because they've changed the way that they have thought about themselves and their own capacities, which has an impact on everything.

Danu Poyner00:26

You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. My guest today is Ann Collins, who is an Executive and Leadership Coach based on the Swiss French border in France, who helps successful senior leaders to get clarity on their next career steps, up-level their thinking and transition into new roles with confidence and ease.

Ann works with clients internationally, specializing in one-to-one executive coaching, team coaching and leadership development. She also has an English language school for adults in France and hosts her own podcast called Leaders Who Love What They Do.

In this episode Ann discusses setting goals, what it means to have a transformative experience through coaching and why she believes it's something everyone should have access to.

Ann Collins01:08

A great question that I love at the moment is, how good are you willing to allow your life to get? Even when I ask it to myself, I'm surprised of the answers that come out.

Danu Poyner01:18

We talk about Ann's formative volunteering adventures in her earlier life from providing care and a rest home to advising on policy around girls' education in Nepal, and how those rich life experiences taught her how to build rapport in way she didn't expect.

Ann Collins01:33

My job on paper, wasn't the same as the job. And It changed my view of teamworking and how to get things done. It's all about who you communicate with and what people want, what people need and what you can give at that particular time.

Danu Poyner01:48

We also explore Ann's move to France, What happens at her language school, and how she came to be 11 years into what was supposed to be a two year adventure.

Ann Collins01:56

We always start with cooking. And that really gets everybody talking. And they actually present a recipe and they have to speak and tell everybody how it's made and cook at the same time, which is not that easy in a second language

Danu Poyner02:11

Ann is an incredible communicator and an absolute go getter. And her observations on goal setting have already made me stop and reflect on my own practices.

Enjoy this one. It's Ann Collins coming up after the music break on today's episode of the Still Curious Podcast.


Part 1

Ann, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Ann Collins02:54

I'm very well. Thank you. And thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure to be with you and to talk about learning. I'm very excited to have this conversation, so thank you.

Danu Poyner03:03

Oh, thank you. Likewise, I'll dive straight in then.

So you described yourself as an international executive and leadership development coach who helps organizations drive transformation and meet their business goals. You've got over 25 years international experience in the field of education that spans the public private and not-for-profit sectors.

And you specialize in helping successful senior leaders to get clarity on their next career steps, up-level their thinking and transition into new roles with confidence and authenticity. That's a lot. What's the most important thing for someone to understand about what you do?

Ann Collins03:37

It does quite a lot, but I can assure you, I don't do all of that all of the time. So that's the first thing at the moment. I'm doing a lot of coaching, but I have been in education for many, many years. So for me, generally, as an overarching theme, I would say my job is really to empower people to thrive.

That's for me, my mission. And whether that has been working as a Montessori teacher, which I've done here in France, or teaching English to adults or now coaching for me, it's under the same umbrella. It's about unlocking the potential in people so that they can achieve what they want to achieve and really have a very expansive view of what they can do.

Danu Poyner04:17

Yeah, thank you. I think that's a really good explanation. You said that by becoming a coach, you've become the teacher that you always wanted to be.

Could you expand on that a little bit?

Ann Collins04:27

It's an interesting thing, isn't it? That as we move through our careers, I think certainly the clients I work with now, they often say to me how they see how different parts of their life, different parts of their careers start to fit together. Almost like a puzzle.

And that for me, has definitely been the case. Some people would say that I've had a very diverse career. I've worked in lots of different places. I've been involved in education in lots of different ways. But for me, coaching came at a great point where I realized that I wanted to go further with helping people to learn.

I wanted to be able to help people to realize. What they could do, not just help them to achieve certain skills or competencies or gain a certain amount of knowledge, or even improve their thinking around a certain area, but to be much broader than that. And for me, that's what coaching was. I wasn't expecting that .When I decided to train as a coach, I didn't, before I started realize how expansive the results would be.

So it was a great surprise for me because during the coaching training, in fact, you're being coached all the time. So every session you're learning how to be a coach, but you're also experiencing it on the hoof. And it was amazing to see how my own thinking was shifting.

The more and more I thought about it, I thought this is the kind of training that I wish I had had when I was 22 and training to be a primary school teacher, because it's this kind of transformation that I really feel people should have access to. And I feel very strongly about that, that it should be in the toolkit of teachers, not just to help their students, but also to help other teachers to learn and develop, because it's all about changing the way we think.

And if we can change the way we think, then really the sky is the limit.

Danu Poyner06:19

Wow, very powerful. I'd love to talk a bit about how you recognize that learning process in yourself as you're doing what you're doing. To do that. It might help to get into the detail a bit about what you do with the coaching. We've spoken to a leadership coach on the podcast previously, and that was largely about the challenges faced by first time frontline leaders and particularly the shift in mindset from doing it and being good at something to actually having to get it done through other people.

Could you describe firstly, what a senior leader is? Cause you're working with senior leaders and then what kind of challenges senior leaders commonly face in your experience?

Ann Collins06:58

The senior leaders that I work with are generally in corporate or educational environments. They tend to be people who have a huge amount of responsibility in terms of looking after other people and leading people. I don't tend to work with leaders that are managing projects.

That would probably be a little bit different. When I'm talking about the leaders that I tend to work with, they are people with sometimes quite complex teams and global teams as well. So they could be dealing across time zones, different cultures. It can be really quite complex.

In terms of the problems that they face, it's very hard to say because it's so individual, it really depends on the person. And it depends whether we're focusing on leadership development, which is one part of my work, or whether it's to do with the leader themselves and their own career development.

So those are two quite different areas that I help people with in terms of career development. I would say a very common theme at around that midlife point when leaders are very senior and especially when they're very successful is that they have this paradox of on the one hand. They have so many choices.

In fact, they're so good. And then on the other hand, they feel a bit stuck because they're beginning to question, are they really aligned with that purpose? Is this really what they wanted to do? And can they continue to be aligned as they move through their careers?

And what do they want to do with the last 20 or 20 odd years of their careers? And maybe beyond that as well into retirement sometimes. So that's quite a common question. That comes from my one-to-one clients. When I'm talking about leadership development, it's two areas really that I'm working on firstly, how senior leaders can work together as a team, which is a really interesting one because senior leaders at that very high level, it's the executive committee level.

Each person has a huge amount of responsibility. At one level they are in a sense competing for resources sometimes. You might have the operations leader who needs to fight for their corner and all the temptation is to fight for their corner and other areas that are also doing the same.

But then on the other hand, they need to also come together as a team and there must be value of them working together and being able to help each other in their area. So I really enjoy working on teamwork at that very high level.

It comes down to communication. It comes down to managing conflict, managing emotions and coming to that conclusion that actually, okay, we can all disagree, but at a certain moment, we have to agree to disagree and then go with the decision that has been made So that's not always easy, as imagine

Danu Poyner09:36

I have some questions about that, but I guess to flesh that out a little bit more, how do you typically work with a new client? I'm imagining not only you need to build up trust quickly, but there's also quite a large knowledge transfer about the context they're working in that needs to happen.

How does that work?

Ann Collins09:52

Yes, it's an interesting one. And certainly in terms of working with teams, that very much depends on the context of the organization and how they want to set it up. But with a one-to-one client, the most important thing as you say, is to build rapport, actually, it's to build that relationship of trust.

And that comes right from that very first meeting. From that point onwards, you're already starting that relationship, which is so important because there needs to be that trust on both sides. There also needs to be a real understanding of what coaching is: that it's not mentoring, it's not therapy, it's not counseling.

It's really something different. It's about looking forward and it's about providing accountability and helping people to get rid of limiting beliefs that are maybe blocking them from moving forward. So that's one of the first things, is making sure that there is a shared understanding of what the process is.

Then we tend to look at what the goals are, the general goals. And most people come with a goal in mind, they know what they want by the end of the coaching period. And then after that, it depends really whether it's a leadership development issue or whether it's more looking at career clarity. If it's leadership development, we might do a 360 appraisal or assessment with people from their work.

So they're invited to ask their colleagues. And that of course is always very useful, and it can be a very moving way to start as well because often leaders don't realize how many nice things that they're going to hear, which is always a good way to start from our strengths, work out what our strengths are. And then from there, we tend to dive into looking at values because for me, values are so important. It's very important to make decisions about what kind of goals are going to be suitable and how you're going to feel aligned with those goals.

So I start from values, can we work out what someone's values really are? Talking through those values, it's a very powerful process because often if we get to the age of 40, 45 50, we might think that we know our values, but maybe we haven't revisited them for quite some time.

So going back and really thinking about, and having the space to think about that without the pressures of, maybe expectations from other people, being able to be truly honest and to think through those things is often very powerful. So that's how we start. And then from there, Very often the goals have changed already, because when we go back to the goals, quite often, we find that the goals look very small.

But when we look at the values and if somebody, for example, they're saying one of their values is to make a contribution, which successful leaders, often that's one of the things that's very important to them. And so then if we're revisiting their goals and they're keeping in mind this value of wanting to make a massive contribution in that particular area, then the goal often evolves and becomes expansive, which is very exciting.

I think Also we talk a lot about different types of goals. There are three levels of goals. So the first level of a goal is it could be something like, I'm going to do a menu plan every week for my family. But in fact, that's not really a goal.

It's a to-do list because I know how to do it. I know exactly how to do it. The only thing that's stopping me is just a bit of motivation and organization. A level, two goal will be what we've typically thought of as smart goals. So these are things that may be push us outside of our comfort zone.

Maybe require a bit of a change in organization, but in fact, we know how to do it. So for me, it might be to go running, for example, every day, I know how to do it. I know how to get myself organized. It is going to push me out of my comfort zone, but I know exactly how I can build up to it.

I know I can download an app and I can follow a program. So there's no worry about the how. And then the level three goals are goals that we don't know the how. And that's where we really get the transformation. So The how goal might be something about, well, I want to, have a real impact on the coaching world and talk about what's I think is important for example, but I don't know how I'm going to do that.

Maybe it's going to be writing more articles. Maybe it's going to be training to be a trainer. I don't know. So that's a real level three goal, and that's, where I'm going to have the biggest transformation, because I have to learn truly learn. The pathway isn't clear, but that doesn't matter.

Those are the kinds of goals that we're looking for.

Danu Poyner14:33

Yeah, absolutely. I imagine most people don't start out with a level three goal in mind, but I'm curious what drives them to seek out a coaching relationship in the first place and how they're thinking about that.

Ann Collins14:47

Yes, that's an interesting one. Certainly they very rarely come with those level three. In fact, I can't think of anybody who has, and I think it would be quite difficult to get to that possibly on your own as well without having really thought that through. But I think why people search out coaching, well the people who come to find me often, they come because they've come to one of my free events.

I quite often do free webinars because exactly that people don't really know what it is. So that gives them a little bit of a taster. And, for example, I do one talking about those goals and very often that's can be a bit of a click for somebody to think, oh yes, that's the kind of thing I need to do.

That's what I want to do. I don't want to just do the same things and set the same kind of goals and get the same kind of results. I do want to make that kind of bigger change. So people have to be ready for it. I think, there are lots of debates around in coaching about whether everybody is coachable and I think everybody is

if they want to be. That's the thing you have to want it because ultimately the client does the work. I can be there to support and to help to remove those blockages in terms of thinking. But ultimately the action can only be done by the clients. So,

people have to be ready for it. And sometimes it might take quite a while before they are ready for that process. It's something to be considered when people are going into coaching and it's something that also, you have to make sure you're with the right kind of coach and the right coach.

You have to feel confident and feel comfortable with that person. And you have to make sure that they're able to help you with the right kind of thing. I had someone recently. Who wanted me to help him with his business? And I said, well, I'm sorry, I'm just learning about business myself.

I'm a coach, but I'm sorry, I can't help you with business coaching, but I know somebody who can, so coaches are very good like that, we will sign post people to other coaches who specialize in that area. So that's a nice thing about the coaching world. Generally, the people are very good at picking up clients and helping out.

And so we make sure the match is good.

Danu Poyner16:55

Yeah. Once you enter into that kind of world, everyone is so supportive and everyone just genuinely wants everyone to be better and work from strengths as you said. So I think it's a really nice uplifting process. One more question on this, about the rapport. It sounds like through the workshops and videos that you've produced, that you're really building rapport with people before you know that they exist. But also when you take on a new client, you mentioned that 360 degree feedback process where you're talking to their own team and everything. There's a vulnerability involved in that. And I'm curious how honest people are at the start about what their own challenges are and how they see themselves and how much honesty you start out with and how much bubbles up as you go along.

Ann Collins17:40

Yes, I feel that people bring to the table what's right for them at that moment. And that can change. And quite often it does change, but I honestly feel that it's not people not being honest. If they're not sharing it, it's just what they're ready to share at that moment.

And that can go up and down and it depends on what's going on in people's lives. We all know that on a particular day, we can be feeling better than on another day. So I always try to meet people where they are in that particular moment.

And that could even change during a session because if we've touched on something that's maybe a little bit challenging, maybe we need to just, lighten up a little bit and come back at another time. It's about constantly trying to keep that rapport, and read the signs and watch people very carefully, to be tuned into what they need in that moment.

I don't always get it right. I do my best, but it's a case of being extremely concentrated. And I think that's one of the elements of coaching which is very interesting is that level of concentration that's required and being on good form yourself as a coach.

That's really important. Yeah. Just going back to the 360, is that in fact, the way that I do it is with a form. The client sends the form and they choose the people that they send it to. So the client is absolutely in control of that process.

Danu Poyner19:02

Okay. Makes sense. Thank you. I really liked the way you framed that. People bringing to the table. What's right. For them at the time. I think that's a nice image. Interesting. You're using the word concentration. Do you draw a distinction between concentration and listening or is one a version of the other?

Ann Collins19:19

I think they are different. For me, listening, especially really active listening is obviously requires concentration. But I think, listening itself is a separate skill in my mind. But it does, of course involve being extremely attentive and not just using the ears, but also looking very carefully at people and seeing their body language and how they're reacting to a question and listening to the tone of voice and listening to the speed.

There are lots of techniques to build rapport, but one of them is to match that of the other person. I'm sure you've noticed when people are sometimes very upset they'll lift their voice and they'll go higher and maybe speak slightly louder and all slightly faster.

Now, in that case, if you can see that someone is getting a little bit anxious about something, I might deliberately slow down and lower my voice. So you're listening and reacting and trying to keep the space is what's coaches always talk about holding the space, which I'm not sure that means very much to people outside of coaching.

But what it means to me is it's making sure that there is a space that's always open for that person to communicate what they want and to make sure that they feel safe and supported in whatever they want to communicate in that moment.

Danu Poyner20:33

Thank you. I think that's a really good explanation. And then that leads me to my next question, which is I see you offer emergency coaching sessions. I'm very curious to know what is the coaching emergency. And if you have any examples of that, as I imagine holding that space would be a slightly different and more high pressure in that situation.

Ann Collins20:53

Yes. It's an interesting one. And obviously an emergency is all down to the clients to decide what's an emergency. It's often arises when there are difficult conversations to be had. So that could be for a job interview, or it could be a difficult conversation at work that has to be had around performance or something like that.

Emergency coaching would be a last minute preparation for something like that. But it doesn't arise very often, but I think it's important to offer that. And then in terms of my coaching, I have an unlimited, package for my clients so they can have as many sessions as they want.

But I do say to them, I think once a week is probably intense enough, but if they do need an emergency session, then, if I'm available, if I can, then I'm very happy to do that.

Danu Poyner21:42

Thank you. Understood. I'm hearing that you're taking this very tailored bespoke approach to coaching. Every client is different. Do you see, when you zoom out a little bit, a red thread that connects the different experiences that people are having.

Ann Collins21:57

Yes. It's interesting because I've just done an exercise actually, where I've gone back to previous clients just to ask them what they thought of their experience, because we know that the impact of coaching is often delayed. So often what people will say at the end of a session, and they might talk about feeling energized or feeling motivated or feeling better in some way.

And then during the next week or two weeks, they'll translate that into some kind of action that we've agreed usually. So then the feedback is a bit different. It's we, as I felt different about that, or something changed or they might be that they didn't do the action. And so then they're reflecting on that.

And then months afterwards, and sometimes six months after I finished coaching with somebody, I will receive an email and they'll tell me about something that's happened or something that they've done, something that they've changed in their lives. And they'll say that's because of the coaching. So this sort of this different stages of impact is something that I see.

But I think as a red thread, through all of that, it's all about changing the way people are thinking. And that's what they say. They say I'm thinking differently. It's very interesting because people often arrive with a goal. and It's all about doing, I want to do this. I want to do something different.

I want to have a different kind of job or have a different kind of career. And in fact, what they leave with some is something far greater in many ways, because they've changed the way that they have thought about themselves and their own capacities, which has an impact on everything. It's really a privilege to work with people and to see that kind of transformation, and people describe that in different ways.

People will articulate in that way. And other people will say it in a different way, but I think that that's the message that I receive. But again, it's all about perception. Isn't it? Am I receiving what they are really feeling? With coaching

we never really know.

Danu Poyner23:52

Well, as you say, ultimately it's the client doing the work. So it makes sense that to get a transformational outcome, they would need to change the way that they think and maybe drop some beliefs and have some different beliefs. So that makes sense.

Ann Collins24:07


Danu Poyner24:08

You said something that made me curious about what normally brings a coaching relationship to a close.

How long do you normally work with people? How does everyone know when to stop?

Ann Collins24:18

Yes. I think it's different for everybody. For the one-to-one clients who are really thinking about how can they gain clarity around their purpose and where they want to go.

That tends to be six months. After that, some people are absolutely ready to go and some want to stay a little bit longer. I have a different kind of program that follows on from that if they want to, or they can continue with the one-to-one program. So it depends, it's really down to the client to decide, are they satisfied with where they are now? And do they feel ready to move on? Certainly the idea is that they feel autonomous in taking forward their learning in a sense to the next steps without me, that's the idea. It's