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Executive Education

Atholl Duncan ICC
Atholl Duncan ICC
INSEAD Coaching Certificate

Game-changing, if not life-changing programme

Atholl Duncan

Executive Coach and Chairman of UK Coaching, UK

Atholl Duncan, Executive Coach and Non-Executive Director of the British Horseracing Authority on the power of coaching to unblock potential. And how the INSEAD Coaching Certificate programme is game changing - if not life changing.

The programme has given me huge insight into how coaching is a force for good and I’m very keen to develop this idea further.

Atholl, you have been Head of BBC News in Scotland, Director of Corporate Affairs with Scottish Water, and on the board of many companies. How did you end up getting involved with coaching?

Throughout my career people have consistently asked me for help. Whether it’s been in finance, within corporations, at the BBC or more recently in my role as non-executive Director of the British Horse-Racing Board. I guess I’ve worked in lots of different sectors and organisations, from functional roles to the C-Suite. I have recently been appointed Chairman of UK Coaching, the national body which trains, supports and represents thousands of sport coaches who work at an elite level in sport as well as right across the leisure and fitness sector. I am used to working with very different people. All of this has coalesced as a talent for and desire to help other people in realising their potential. As a result, I founded my own coaching company in 2018 working with senior leaders and businesses all over the world.

What brought you to the INSEAD Coaching Certificate programme?

I am largely self-taught so I was looking for insight into the theory of coaching practice. Specifically, I wanted the highest-level learning on the psychology of coaching. INSEAD enjoys a reputation as the market leader in this field and offered a learning experience that was both global and experiential.

And that tallied with the kind of learning experience you wanted?

Absolutely. What I got was exposure to thought leaders in this space and the kind of hands-on experiences that embed the learning. One of the really great things about the programme was the peer dynamic and the challenges of learning with a strong, global and hugely experienced cohort from a diversity of backgrounds and with a myriad of opinions. It was game changing - if not life changing.

How has the programme changed you?

It has lifted my understanding of the psychology of coaching to a whole new level. I work in a number of boards and interact with fellow board members regularly. So much of what happens in business life is not fully visible to us – there are layers of complexity that extend beyond our conscious awareness. The programme has given me the tools and the insights to look way beyond what’s immediately in front of me, and observe people and actions much more accurately.

Do you believe that the programme has given you insight into the kinds of leadership competencies effective decision-makers will need to develop too?

Yes. Traditionally we have focused on leaders’ technical skills and knowledge. But with the speed of disruption, and the timescale for change racing faster month by month, successful leaders in the future will need to cultivate their emotional intelligence and their agility. They will need to think more deeply about how they express and manage emotions, what impact they have on others, and how they can build a coaching culture within their organisations.

So you see a coaching culture as being integral to success moving forward?

A coaching culture is how you empower people to manage the pace of change by constantly adapting and learning within their careers. In the past, leadership development was all about singling out a selected few for acceleration programmes and so on. As things continue to change and develop, I see embedded organisational coaching as the real way forward for organisations that want to ride the tide of disruption, and stay ahead of the competition.

What plans do you have to continue to develop as a coach?

Well, the programme has given me huge insight into how coaching is a force for good and I’m very keen to develop this idea further. Together with my cohort network, we are looking at ways that we can continue to collaborate and build a movement of like-minded practitioners, all using the INSEAD method, to deliver positive impact. We have created a community of purpose within my cohort, and we continuously support and challenge each other, looking at new ways to deliver value.

In terms of my own coaching business, I will continue to build out my portfolio of clients. As well as coaching CEOs, one area that has become something of a niche given my personal background, is coaching Chief Communication Officers (CCOs) and Corporate Affairs Directors. This is an interesting group as they tend to suffer more than most from “imposter syndrome” – an insecurity about the value they can bring to leadership roles or to the board of their company. A lot of the focus here is on empowering them to see beyond what was a relatively narrow field of expertise and build the confidence and vision to create broader impact. It’s helping leaders confront what’s stopping them from realising their maximum potential.

So if you had to sum up the power of coaching in one sentence, what would you say?

I’d say this: coaching is helping people become who they truly are.