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INSEAD Participant Interview
Coaching does for leaders what spring does for cherry trees
Executive consultant and coach at Executive Leadership Partner, France
François Thouret shares his thoughts on coaching, on re-thinking “the team,” on infiltrating the “inner spaces” between people and on the impact of the INSEAD Coaching Certificate on his life.
François, you have had a 25-year career in high-tech leading R&D, sales and marketing, and business units, yet two years ago you switched direction to coaching. What drove this change?
I have always worked with leaders and high-impact teams, looking for ways to drive performance. Over time, I realised that I was good at developing people as business leaders. I have received positive feedback from individuals and from teams, with people telling me that I had a talent for empowering others. Simultaneously, I understood the importance of this kind of work – and how much I enjoyed doing it.
And this dovetailed with your decision to pursue the INSEAD Coaching Certificate?
Yes. Making the wholesale career switch to coaching, I figured I needed to dig a little deeper into how coaching is different from simply managing people: the latter is more advisory and mentorship oriented, while coaching is about building awareness, unearthing the meaning of emotions and asking people the right questions so that they find their own solutions. I wanted to explore the unconscious dimensions of organisations and behaviours and unlock the data in emotions. And I chose INSEAD based on my previous experience there on the Advanced Management Programme– a brilliant learning experience built on peer learning together with guidance and input from faculty.
So did the INSEAD Coaching Certificate live up to your previous experience?
Very much so. It was an amazing experience. Going into it, I did expect to connect with my new cohort; but in fact the ties and bonds we established were even stronger than with the Advanced Management Programme. We are a very diverse group of coaches and non-coaches from around the world, and we’ve built a support community where we share best practices and insights. We’re even planning two meetup events in the coming year – one in Belgium and the other in Jordan. The network has been a great benefit of the programme.
What other takeaways have there been for you?
There were so many. I think one thing that has really stayed with me is rethinking “the group.” I no longer see groups as a collection of people, but as entities in their own right. You can talk with an individual on one level, but I’ve learned to be more analytical and observant in assessing how members of a group interact with each other, and in reading the group as a whole.
Any surprises or elements of the programme that didn’t tally with your expectations?
A recurrent element in the programme is a tendency to throw you in at the deep end. You go into activities without preparing tools or frameworks in advance. Initially I found this uncomfortable until I realised that it’s all part of the learning – it’s essential to laying aside biases and allowing us to behave naturally and authentically. It’s also part of the challenge to leave your comfort zone.
I think something that really characterises the programme is the challenge to try new things and to be open to experimentation while being tolerant of failure. The academic director, Professor Derek Deasy, stresses the importance of authorising yourself to do things without dogma, while remaining aware of the fact that you are experimenting and focusing on learning from it. This is something that continues to live with me and that informs my choices and decisions both professionally and personally.
You mention your professional and personal decisions. What thoughts do you have now about the future direction of your career?
I’m working on a new project that will integrate walking into the coaching process. I’m a passionate rambler. I recently completed 1,400 km on the Camino de Santiago. And I’m conscious of how the activity of walking has the capacity to infiltrate the inner spaces between people. So this will be a bit of an experiment – taking people out of the conventional business context and exploring things like complex decision-making as we walk together. It will be interesting to see how this develops.
You are obviously passionate about coaching and about its potential to empower both coach and coachee. Do you think this is something that businesses are increasingly becoming aware of?
I think the new generation of leaders are coming into businesses with the practice of coaching already embedded. It’s no longer unusual for a senior executive to say that he or she coaches their team. Then there’s a general acceleration of business cycles, with new CEOs acceding to their positions more quickly. As that happens, people need to skill up and develop their leadership competencies faster. So these two things together will increase the need for coaching competencies across the board I think.
How would you sum up the power of coaching in one sentence?
Coaching can do for leaders what spring does for cherry trees.
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