Businesses across all industries have discovered that executive coaching is one of the most versatile and powerful change management tools available to organisations today. Celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year, the Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC) has been delivering just that. CEO Gina Lodge speaks to us about their world-class accredited coach training and coaching-based solutions and sets out what makes them one of the world’s most trusted executive coaching company today.
Good day to you, Ms Lodge! Thank you very much for meeting with us today. To start, can you share with us some of your favourite morning routines to kick-start and ensure a productive day ahead?
I usually begin my day by walking in the forest with our dog, which is uplifting at any time of year, followed by breakfast and a quick catch-up on the latest world news over breakfast.
You have a very impressive and extensive background in management roles and have been a part of The Academy of Executive Coaching (AoEC) since 2008. What was the journey like in becoming the CEO of a successful global executive coaching and training consultancy? How does being an AoEC graduate help you in driving the academy to further heights?
People talk all the time about the exams you need to pass, the skills you need, but time and time again, I have seen how important the human dimension is for everyone to succeed, feel happy and fulfilled, and know what to do when things go wrong between people and teams.
I have worked my way up through organisations and met many fantastic people on the way. I’ve been able to build important and valuable relationships, but I have also made time to listen first, learn, keep on learning and to look out for and take opportunities. At the AoEC, I am lucky to work in an industry that inspires me every day and I am passionate about continuing to make the place of work better for all by using coaching.
For 20 years, the AoEC has been providing top-notch coach training across the globe in four continents. Can you share with us how AoEC started and some significant milestones of the academy so far?
In 1999, executive coaching was having a big impact in the United States and it was a completely new concept here. The AoEC came about then because our founder John Leary-Joyce realised that executive coaching could be a good fit for the work he was doing in the leadership and group facilitation space, so he reduced his clinical practice to work as a coach.
John had also spotted a gap in the market where, although foundational courses were available, nothing took coaches into the deeper psychological area while applying it in a business context. Coaching was still very much in its embryonic stages then and there wasn’t much understanding as to what it could offer, but that observation led to the creation of our flagship Advanced Practitioner Diploma programme.
As an organisation we have grown in line with the coaching industry. As coaching has become universally accepted as a proven development tool, our training programmes have matured, too, and we now offer team coaching and specialist workshops for further professional development.
Our market stretched beyond the UK quite early on as we initially responded to a demand for coaching services in China. This has grown steadily over the last decade and we now have training programmes and faculties in Brazil, Africa, the Middle East and the wider European continent, such as Poland and Croatia. Our consulting arm has flourished, too, and we are working with client teams all around the world, because we are in a strong position to offer coaching expertise in most locations.
AoEC is known not only for its combined expert consultancy, coaching, training of internal coaches, leadership and management development services but also for helping graduates develop their own model known as the ‘signature presence’. How does this unique approach set AoEC apart from its competitors? What are the other inimitable features of your training services
The AoEC prides itself on offering programmes which expose participants to a broad mix of the best in theory and practice. We use experiential learning to allow our course participants to experience and practice coaching from day one and we do not restrict them to just one model.
We use a coaching style to facilitate their work, learning, development and thinking. Our faculty (who are all coaches in their own right) are highly trained to a set of criteria which is about their ability to facilitate, rather than stand up and just teach. We must provide psychological safety and be able to provide those people on our programmes with high-quality feedback.
Generally, many of our graduates will tell you that they were transformed through the programme. Not only were they learning advanced coaching skills, but they developed personally and professionally in a whole range of ways – not least in their confidence.
With our training programmes, high quality is achieved because our courses are accredited by the industry’s main professional bodies and the experiential nature means participants are practising coaching right from the start.
The efficacy of executive coaching has been in demand to meet the challenges of today’s fiercely competitive business world successfully. Can you share with us some of the best feedback you have received from your clients?
Numerous clients have discovered the benefits of partnering with us and we have a diverse client base, working with a wide range of industries such as financial services, manufacturing, healthcare and entertainment.
We’re very proud that a lot of these are long-standing working relationships because they are continually using coaching throughout the business. Many have crafted leadership and talent-development programmes that we support, and a lot are introducing new employees to a working environment which has a coaching culture at its heart.
One particular example is the work we have done to support the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG). Their initial goals were related to succession planning, using coaching as a means to support high-potential employees and creating a talent pipeline. This is still true, but the application of coaching has broadened considerably and the benefits of establishing a coaching culture across the organisation have gained traction because it has shown how it can play a pivotal role in supporting growth and continual improvement.
The feedback from Paul Williamson, head of talent development with ATG, has been that they have seen real business results from those leaders that have participated in their in-house development programmes. Improvements in the financial performance of their area of the business, and higher levels of engagement from their teams have been clearly evidenced, building a strong business case for ongoing investment.
We have a thriving community of alumni and are humbled every time we speak with people who have completed one of our diploma programmes. We are genuinely amazed at the impact the training has on people and the bonds that are formed between people on our programmes. To see people’s transformation is inspiring and we are honoured to play a small part in this.
Transformational leadership plays a crucial role in creating positive changes and sustained success in today’s fast-changing business world. How important is executive coaching in shaping leaders and executives who can facilitate this change?
Coaching is no longer a remedial tool and is being used to support personal development and make high-performing individuals or teams even more effective. However, coaching still has a huge role to play as we move into the new digital era.
Organisations are facing new challenges and must find ways of succeeding in a time of super-fast change and complex stakeholder needs. The priority is for senior leaders to prepare their employees to work and think in new ways. Organisational coaching and resilience coaching can make senior managers better able to develop strategies to keep them ahead of the competition. It’s imperative that workers should be equipped with the right capabilities and skills to work through change-management programmes and apply agile approaches to solve problems and create value for stakeholders.
Coaching offers many positives for businesses and underpins every touch point of a people-management strategy. From leaders to young professionals starting their careers, a coaching approach builds skills and resilience, while putting humanity back into processes and practices. It’s time to lose outdated management practices and really unlock the potential that your workforce offers.
What are the common roadblocks that usually affect the success of the coaching programmes? How do you meet the different demands of your clients and ensure that the impact will be long-lasting?
The industry faces many of the same issues it has always faced. The main one is the need for professionally accredited coaches. That works on two levels, with some organisations mistakenly assuming that employees sent on short coach-training courses will automatically return as qualified coaches. The other is a need for self-employed coaches to invest in training with an accredited provider, so they can show best practice and accountability.
Other roadblocks include big external pressures, such as the threat of recession or political uncertainty. Rather than investing in resources to help future-proof the business, L&D budgets can be cut and staff made redundant, and it becomes more difficult to hire or retain key skills.
Many industry sectors are faced with a skills shortage and we are seeing a lot of graduates entering the workforce without having key soft skills, like problem solving, creative thinking and teamwork. Well-being and resilience can be often overlooked, too. Organisations need to be investing in their employees’ potential, so they have the ability to cope with change and come up with new ideas.
What do you think are the emerging trends and developments in the executive coaching industry, and how will digital transformation redefine the industry’s future? How does AoEC prepare for these developments and what are your strategies to stay ahead of the curve?
I think you will see coaching being offered to more and more employees, including those starting their working lives. We’ll also see the continued demand for team coaching, because organisations are embracing collective leadership and working in teams. Technology will play a bigger part in how learning is delivered, and businesses are more likely to invest in in-house academies to scale their learning as a result. AI will influence coaching, too, so I would expect there to be more development in applications like CoachBot as time progresses.
AoEC is one of the few coach-training providers to hold a triple accreditation with the industry’s major professional bodies for its core programmes. How would you position AoEC as a global leader in the executive coaching industry? What industries are most likely to benefit from your coach training and consultancy services?
I believe that every industry can benefit from coaching. Coach training might be more obvious in larger organisations, because they have more employees, an HR team and several layers of management, but leaders in, or owners of, small businesses can profit from it, too.
Those trained in coaching skills will find that their management approach improves towards their direct reports and fellow colleagues. Employees who have received coach skills training also stand to gain, because they have more ability to work through problems, think laterally and have better communication skills. Globalisation is an important factor, too, so when working with organisations that have cross-cultural teams, the key is to ensure that the training they receive is consistent across the board.
For the AoEC, we have built a strong reputation in developing individuals, teams and organisations, because we take an end-to-end and proactive approach, where we look at the client’s needs as a whole. There might be an initial need for leadership coaching, but if clients are wanting to attain sustainable and lasting change, it may be that team coaching or resilience coaching is more appropriate for board members or at other levels within the company.
Bringing the system in can yield huge opportunities for learning and growth. Organisations operate within much larger ecosystems and, by understanding the needs of suppliers, partners, employees, shareholders and customers, we can help coach those connections and develop strength and value where it really matters in the long term.
As an accredited executive coach and a successful graduate of the AoEC, what are the key takeaways you have personally gained from the programme that you would want to share with our readers? How does this help you create value for yourself and for the organisation as a whole?
The biggest takeaway for me was the opportunity to reflect on ‘who I am’ and what it means about what I bring to coaching. Our courses are immersive, with a huge emphasis on the practice element, so that really helped me gain confidence in my coaching skills and leadership style.
My philosophy is that leaders are there to set the direction and to guide and support their colleagues to be their very best, enjoy what they do, and have a sense of achievement in their working lives. I believe in treating people as people rather than employees, regardless of what they do and who they are. Curiosity, kindness and respect are three qualities of high importance to me.
At the AoEC, we have a relatively flat management structure and the purpose behind that is to ensure that our employees have full autonomy in the jobs they do. We encourage clients to have a coaching culture, rather than a command-and-control style, and this is how we do business ourselves. We say how it is, try to do the right thing, stick together and try out new things. We want our employees and customers to do well and the environment we strive to create is about enabling them to do that.
How do you create a happy workplace and foster a healthy and beneficial competitive environment for your employees? As the CEO, how do you ensure your employees’ well-being?
We spend so much of our time at work that it is important that we enjoy it! We’re very purpose-driven, and I think all of our team live our core values.
As CEO, I’m responsible for ensuring that everyone has the skills and resources that allow them to deliver. My fellow directors and I support everyone to achieve, and sometimes that is not an easy task when you all work remotely.
We invest in developing our team members, so they can do their jobs to the best of their ability. I am committed to making sure that we are not judgemental and that we operate in an open environment where new ideas are welcomed and tried out.
We offer the usual flexible working, but I think what sets us apart is that we actively celebrate our people’s successes, we trust our employees and, above all, we appreciate and recognise their contribution to the AoEC’s success. We genuinely couldn’t do what we do if we didn’t have such an excellent team in place.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is just as important as propelling your company to sustainable success. Can you share with us how you spend your time off work?
Spending time with family and friends is a priority, plus I enjoy reading, watercolour painting, listening to classical music, travel and long walks in the countryside.
To end this interview, how do you define success?
Most companies wish to grow, and there is nothing wrong with creating profit, but this can be a soulless endeavour. For me, success comes from concentrating on delivering outstanding results, inspiring relationships and building a cast-iron reputation for trustworthiness. This way, success can be shared and sustainable.
Thank you very much Ms Lodge. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
About the Interviewee
Gina Lodge has over 20 years experience in management roles while employed by Shell International Chemical Co. Ltd and subsequently in IT and Education. During her career she gained significant experience in project and change management . Gina was directly involved in implementing Quality Management standards, Business Process Re-engineering projects, and IT applications. Gina managed a department of 25 handling the supply chain logistics for Shell Chemicals International Trading Co. Ltd, where she gained a detailed knowledge of International import and export procedures. The role included liaison and troubleshooting with global service companies. Gina joined the AoEC in 2008, became Marketing Director and Board member in 2010 and in 2015 was appointed CEO. She is an accredited Executive Coach and a graduate of the AoEC.