Coaching will be integral to empowerment in WIL 3

Published On: 6 June 2022|

The opportunity of one-on-one interaction and coaching by a professional coach will be a significant component in the Women in Leadership 3 (WiL 3) programme in 2022.

For the 36 female academics drawn from 21 South African universities to participate in this year’s WiL cohort, coaching will help them realise their personal and professional goals and give them a greater sense of how they see themselves as leaders, and how they engage with the world around them. This was the message given at the opening session of the WIL programme, that is designed to embolden  women leaders and prepare them for more senior roles in academia.  The WiL programme is now in its third iteration.

During the first meeting of the 2022 cohort on 25 May, organisers ran an online poll asking if the participants had been coached by a professional coach before.  Almost three quarters of the group (74%), comprising deans, deputy deans, heads and deputy heads of departments and directors, said they had not been exposed to such an opportunity.

What to expect

Ms Brightness Mangolothi (left) has been the Coaching Co-ordinator for the WiL programme since it started in 2020. She also holds the position of Director for HERS-SA.  As part of her orientation to the coaching component in WiL, she gave participants an idea of what to expect, while sharing feedback on the impact of the coaching component received from women leaders who had participated in WiL1 and WiL2.

Starting the coaching process

Ms Mangolothi told participants they would first have to set goals and flesh out what it was that they wanted to achieve during the coaching period.

This component would involve six individual coaching sessions, interspersed throughout the programme.  Individuals would be matched with a coach who would guide them through the process of fulfilling what they set out to achieve.

Need for vulnerability

“Something that comes out very strongly in the coaching process is that you need to allow yourself to be vulnerable; to be authentic,” Ms Mangolothi advised the participants.  “If you are resistant, you miss learning and benefitting from this opportunity.” She also advised the ‘coachees’ to provide her with constant feedback saying: “Don’t wait until the end to let us know the match with your coach is not working out for you. Sometimes the coach and coachee do not work well together and that should be corrected at the beginning.” She said the organisers had been fortunate, though, that coach-coachee challenges had not been experienced thus far.

“We have an excellent pool of coaches, all of whom have a deep understanding of the higher education sector,” Ms Mangolothi said. She added that most of the women in the earlier cohorts engaged fully with the challenges of leadership so as to become effective leaders themselves. “It was not just about leading others, but also about developing their own emotional intelligence, self-care and work-life balance. If the individual is not firmly grounded, it becomes a challenge to engage or interact with the environment — I mean at both a macro and interpersonal levels — with those that you are leading, as well as your department, division or faculty.” She said it was also important to understand the processes and procedures at organisational and institutional levels.

First-time heads of departments, she had noted, had always looked forward to the coaching engagement. “Everyone needs help,” she surmised.

Coaches as sounding boards

Ms Mangolothi said a coach serves as a sounding board, someone who can listen and provide advice or another point of view.

The view above is corroborated by the testimony below, from one of the WiL1 participants in 2020:

“The coaching process has truly for me been life-changing. At every session and in between I felt like I had someone completely objective, but as invested in my growth as I was. She challenged me and my reasoning and provided me with perspective that is hard to achieve by myself. She provided me with tools to harness the power and strengths that I believe I have. My growth has been profound”.

“As you engage with the coaching process, think about your goals,” Ms Mangolothi continued. “Think not just about leading within the organisation, or institution — think internationally. How can I get my footprint out there? How can I ensure that my brand becomes visible as a leader? How do I begin to engage at multiple levels outside the organisation?”

Sharing feedback from earlier cohorts she chose the following as critical advice to the new cohort: Just embrace the journey. Be authentic. Be vulnerable. Be open.

Summing it all up: “Most importantly, when you engage with the coach, you need to be present. It is one thing to show up but showing up is not enough if you are not present in the process. Engage your coach. Be mindful of the process. Remember, time is precious.”

Coaching is a joyful process, says Dr Johnson

A qualified coach who forms part of the WiL coaching pool and is also Director: Transformation and Employment Equity Officer at the University of the Witwatersrand, Dr Bernie Johnson (left), provided further insight from her perspective as a coach. She quoted from Myles Downey: “It’s a joyful process, the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another.” She said that coaching enhanced learning effectiveness and fulfilment and, according to the International Coach Federation, was also “a professional partnership between a qualified coach and an individual or team, that supports the achievement of extraordinary results based on goals set by the individual or team.” Dr Johnson said the WIL programme was rooted in an integral model that recognised both the professional and the personal.

“It really grounds itself in the personal or self-leadership, leading to individual and professional transformation. This is an empowering way of thinking about coaching.”

Citing a study by Bertrand (2019)[i], who looked at the benefit of executive coaching in university deans, she said it had shown interesting results. This included the development of a sense of empathetic behaviour and social awareness of context.  “This is especially important for deans considering who they are responsible for and where they fall within the organogram. It is interesting that much was made of self-care — this predominantly emerged among female leaders who were coached. Surprisingly, being humble and compassionate came up among males who were coached within the study.”

Coaching as an opportunity to reflect

“As we know, the journey of leadership can be a lonely one,” Dr Johnson went on to say. Previous cohorts had pointed out, as some of the benefits, the opportunity to reflect; to have breakthrough moments; and to develop a sense of optimism about their leadership in a caring and supportive space.

“We are all mindful that we live in a context of extreme uncertainty with constantly shifting sands. So, creating an individualised opportunity of engagement or reflection we can consider what are our needs; how do those shift as the context shifts — including values, beliefs and priorities. The point is to go deeper, and this is the moment of transformation.”

For an example, she cited challenges that occur in Human Relations departments, such as racism. “When someone is accused of racism, it is important to be mindful, to ensure we are in our higher order thinking.” She said that is where coaching helps, as “it helps regulate emotions, provides that insight and flexibility in our thinking and helps us moderate behaviour. Coaching creates a sense of calm, that Zen moment where we slow ourselves down and can think more clearly.”

She added that coaching provided an opportunity to explore one’s own thinking and thoughts.

Dr Johnson urged the participants: “See this as your moment of self-care. I found, with the coaching sessions, that we are all under so much pressure that we stumble in and out of zoom meetings. Make sure you give yourself 10 to 20 minutes before and after the session for reflection. It is a lot to take in.”

Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa

[i] David W. Bertrand (2019). The practice of executive coaching to improve leadership capacity in academic deans at American higher education institutions, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 12:2, 110-124, DOI: 10.1080/17521882.2018.1545136