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COACHING TO COMMERCIAL CONFIDENCE - Nathan Ramsay speaks with Laura Sellers, Executive & Leadership Coach for Procurement leaders

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about 1 month ago

by Nathan Ramsay and Laura Sellers

COACHING TO COMMERCIAL CONFIDENCE - Nathan Ramsay speaks with Laura Sellers, Executive & Leadership Coach for Procurement leaders

​There’s no denying that recent years have been challenging for procurement professionals, with the need to do more with less leading to high-pressure environments, demotivated employees and often burnout. But with procurement teams in a position to add value across an entire organisation, this is exactly where senior leaders should be looking when it comes to investing in personal and professional development - especially leadership development.

According to studies by Hay Group, leadership behaviour impacts bottom line performance by up to 30%. So, not only would this investment support the growth of the procurement function into a strategic enabler, it would also create a positive ripple effect across the organisation.

So how exactly can organisations help? Here Laura Sellers, Executive and Leadership Coach and advisor to procurement recruitment specialists Langley Search and Interim, talks to Nathan Ramsay around how coaching is the ideal solution.

Can you begin by explaining what the difference is between coaching and mentoring?

That’s a great question, as the two terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually two very different approaches. Mentoring takes on a directive approach, where a more senior person shares their advice, wisdom and experience with someone who is looking to pursue the same path as them. Mentoring relationships tend to have a long-term duration.

In contrast, coaching is a non-directive approach. A coach helps their client to achieve a specific goal, such as settling into a new leadership role, getting ready for one or helping them to break through a particular challenge that has been holding them back for some time. The coach uses their skills of deep active listening, emotional intelligence and skilled questioning to enable the client to reach their goal, rather than sharing their own experiences. It’s an approach that focuses on the whole person, allowing them to forge their own path in a way that suits their style, personality and development needs.

Which approach do you think is most effective?

I think there’s a place for both of these approaches in the workplace, and both can have a lasting impact. However, coaching can often have a positive effect on all areas of your life, both inside and outside of work, helping you to reach a goal you’ve always dreamed of but never thought you could achieve in the past.

As a coach who specialises in supporting procurement executives and leaders, what are the most common reasons people approach you for coaching?

Coaching is a personalised process and no two procurement leaders are the same in terms of what’s holding them back and what they want to achieve. However, in my coaching, I do often find some similarities between clients. Here are some of the most common:

Imposter syndrome

Given procurement’s evolution from an administrative function into a strategic enabler, procurement leaders can often feel that they’ve been thrust into the spotlight with expectations of leadership capability without any proper support. This can lead to feelings of imposter syndrome, where they don’t enjoy their successes due to feelings of low confidence and self-doubt. Working with a coach can help them to combat imposter syndrome and show up in their leadership role with confidence.

Leadership loneliness

This often comes hand in hand with imposter syndrome. Working in leadership can often feel isolating, and when we doubt ourselves, it’s easy to assume that everyone else has full confidence in their own leadership abilities. So instead of asking for help, afraid that we’ll be judged, we struggle on in silence.

I notice with procurement leaders in particular, there’s a fear that if they ask for help from their peers, the perceived ‘seat at the table’ will be withdrawn. Working with an external coach can remove this fear of judgement and give them a confidential sounding board to help them work through their worries.

Handling conflict and difficult conversations

Procurement leaders will often face challenges of conflicting priorities with stakeholders, which can lead to disagreements. Holding difficult conversations while remaining collaborative takes confidence, and working with a coach can help you to develop this skill.

Becoming more strategic

When you’ve got a big workload and you’re faced with having to do more with less, strategic activities can soon fall down the priority list. The coaching process can support procurement leaders to develop a more strategic mindset when leading their team.

Confidence in decision making

With so many conflicting priorities and the challenge of managing tricky stakeholders, procurement leaders sometimes lack confidence in their decision making. As part of the coaching process, I do fundamental work around this so that they can feel more confident in who they are, how they show up and how they come across in their procurement brand.

When you coach procurement leaders, how long does the process typically take?

When coaching one-to-one, I typically work with a client over a six- month period. When a procurement leader’s looking to achieve a breakthrough in their leadership career and achieve sustained change, it takes more than one session, as well as a high level of trust between coach and client. The coaching process is a partnership, and so it’s important to take the time to build a strong relationship.

How does the coaching process begin?

We start with a pre-coaching questionnaire, which the client completes before the first coaching session. This lays the foundations for the first session and encourages the coachee to reflect on their career and current leadership role.

What’s covered in the following sessions?

No coaching journey is the same as it’s a very personalised approach. However, in subsequent sessions we may cover the leader’s career values, understanding what’s important to them and what makes them tick. We’ll explore and work through what’s holding them back, such as limiting beliefs or a fear of conflict. In our final session, we’ll focus on embedding the learnings from the coaching process, ensuring that the leader has their own personalised toolkit to support them in their future leadership career, as well as celebrating their achievements.

What coaching methods would you recommend to procurement professionals to help self-analysis and reflection?

While goals are an important part of the process in coaching and personal development, when it comes to self- reflection, a good practice is to start noticing current thought patterns and how this impacts subsequent behaviours. How often do we talk about ourselves negatively? Or how often do we talk ourselves out of something because we think we’ll fail? Noticing those patterns is key to creating change. I think it’s important to acknowledge that everyone has a preferred style of learning, and being aware of what yours is will enable you to embed more effective reflection. For some, this means writing things down, such as journaling. For others, it’s listening to a podcast that’s geared towards personal development. Some people are in a place to reflect well when they’re doing something they love - it’s where the creativity comes from!

So, choosing the method that feels most natural and appealing to you is a good start.

Is there any other additional support that would be beneficial, outside of coaching?

Yes, it’s also important to think about your support circle. You need people who will encourage you, but who will also challenge you in a supportive way. Can you seek a mentor within your organisation? Can you connect with other procurement professionals in other sectors so you can learn from each other? LinkedIn is great for this.

Can you recommend any helpful resources?

The podcasts I’ve found most inspiring are The High Performance Podcast by Jake Humphrey and Professor Damian Hughes and How to Fail by Elizabeth Day. They all focus on personal development and how to achieve your goals. Two of the best books I’ve ever read are Emotional Agility by Susan David and Fear Less by Dr Pippa Grange, both of which brilliantly explain how to understand and build a better relationship with our emotions.

What would you say to anyone who is thinking about coaching?

It always starts with you. No matter where you find yourself in your procurement career right now, understanding yourself and applying this to your leadership style will set you up for the rest of your career, regardless of which roles you take on in the future. I would also advise that when deciding to work with a coach, you do your research. As well as feeling like a good fit for each other, ask them about their training and qualifications. Coaching can be truly career and life -changing when you find the right coach for you.

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