Coach in the Spotlight: Leigh Jackson
We chat to Leigh Jackson, a leadership and career coach from the tech industry who's helped transform the careers of female leaders across the globe with her high impact career development programme.
What was your journey into coaching?
Prior to becoming a coach, I was in corporate communications for over 25 years – in central government, for the BBC, with the videogames industry and also in the global services sector.
My impetus in becoming a coach started a long time ago though.
When I left school I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the physics and chemistry A levels that were required back then, so I had to park that idea.
A couple of decades later, I returned to my original interest by training to be a counsellor and also did an MSc in Organisational Behaviour at Birkbeck, University of London.
My dissertation was about the cultural impact of executive coaching on senior leaders in a large organisation.
It dawned on me during my research that coaching was what I really wanted to do!
Coaching allowed me to reconnect with my previous interest in psychology and to draw on my counselling and organisational psychology trainings.
I therefore did an executive coaching and leadership mentoring qualification with the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) and started coaching senior tax inspectors in HMRC alongside my day job.
After that, I did my Firework training and became a licensed Firework career coach. I later trained with the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) in the States and got my CPCC certification.
It dawned on me during my research that coaching was what I really wanted to do!
What challenges were you facing, specifically around career coaching before you became a licensed Firework coach?
I started off in the late noughties coaching senior tax inspectors inside HMRC after getting my ILM Level 7.
It was great for me to be able to cut my teeth on such a demanding client group. I learned a lot through the experience.
Some of my clients came to me wanting to explore their career options in some depth and asking me to help them with this.
I realised I needed a proven framework and more in-depth tools that I could use to support these clients.
I asked around and a good friend of mine who is also a very experienced career coach strongly recommended the Firework programme to me. I've never regretted my decision to invest in Firework – it's been the backbone to my coaching business for over ten years.
It was great to cut my teeth on such a demanding client group
What was the experience of training with Firework like?
I remember very clearly the engaging nature of my initial training day. It’s not a 'training' day as such, since it assumes that you're already an experienced coach – it’s more of a 'download and experiment' day.
I was pleased to get access to all the 57 tools on day one and get to practise and experiment with the tools on that day.
Sue and Michelle, our experienced Firework trainers, represented two very different perspectives on how I could use the Firework programme.
From their own practical experience, they demonstrated the possibility of using the tools either as an end-to-end structured programme, or as a toolkit which you can dip into and select from on an ad-hoc basis to suit particular clients. I got the opportunity to see, explore, experiment with and interrogate all of the tools with those two different perspectives represented in the room.
It highlights the versatility of the Firework toolkit and it adds extra value to the training, in my view.
The whole programme was developed by highly experienced career coaches who've worked with real clients in a practical setting so that gave me reassurance that it works!
The tools are engaging and adaptable to a wide range of client groups. For example, I’ve used them with tough corporate leaders who are very sceptical about anything potentially “fluffy” and they've loved them!
There's such value in the community of coaches I've met through Firework too – real camaraderie. For me, it's been as much a friendship network as a coaching network.
There's such value in the community of coaches I've met too – real camaraderie.
What did you implement in your coaching practice as a result of what you learnt?
I tried the Firework programme out with my clients immediately. I felt it was important for me to apply the tools straight away because, as with any training, it’s easy to start forgetting what you’ve learned unless you put it into practice early on.
I worked initially with one lady who was setting up a horticultural business. She'd worked in academia all her life and wanted something more hands-on (literally!) and this was a dramatically new direction for her.
She needed reassurance that this was the right move though so I took her through my new programme end-to-end. She now has a successful business and it’s great to see her visible and active on social media. She was my first “guinea pig” in deploying what I learnt through Firework.
Who do you work with and on what areas?
I work primarily with senior leaders on development and career-related issues.
My clients tend to be from high-tech creative sectors such as videogames and broadcasting as well as from the government, the police and health sectors.
Interestingly, because of my background in videogames, I've also found myself working with aspiring leaders in the advertising industry (the advertising and media communications sectors are increasingly reliant on interactive technologies).
What results do you typically help your clients to achieve?
Every time a client sits down in front of me I’m reminded of how unique people are and how different their stories are.
That’s one of the fascinations and joys of coaching.
My coaching ethos is about connecting people with work that really inspires them. It’s about re-igniting that spark inside them which they may have lost contact with or pushed away for some reason.
It’s also about encouraging my clients to see a bigger version of themselves which they can step into.
I’m reminded of that beautiful and well-known quote by the spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson which Nelson Mandela drew on for his inauguration address: “Your playing small does not serve the world”. This sums up my coaching philosophy perfectly.
People tend to play small, whether through fear or lack of self-belief. As a coach, it’s my job to nudge my client into that bigger version of themselves.
They may initially resist, but it's about supporting them to believe that they can do it and that they want to do it.
I was working with a client recently who wanted to focus on leadership development goals.
However, during the coaching process, she reconnected with an inner spark involving her love of music with which she'd lost touch over the years.
She realised that she dearly wanted to incorporate her love of music into her work.
She'd been a professional musician but had abandoned this to pursue a career in corporate communications.
Together, we explored how she could apply her communications expertise and skills to something different in the creative industries.
As a result, she got a fantastic new job which set her off on a whole new career trajectory towards more inspiring and meaningful work, reconnecting with that creative spark that she had years ago.
This wasn’t the original intention of the coaching, but that’s how it turned out – and that’s not unusual!
Quite often, coaching can lead clients in new directions and unlock parts of themselves that they may have forgotten or pushed away.
My coaching ethos is about connecting people with work that really inspires them. It’s about re-igniting that spark inside them.
What has been the return on investment of taking part in Firework?
There's no doubt that my coaching practice is more profitable as a result of Firework.
Without it, I wouldn’t have gained the same traction with my clients or enjoyed my coaching business as much as I have.
It took me a couple of years to make my money back from the course as I was initially coaching part-time alongside running my consultancy business.
However, Firework ultimately supported me to deliver coaching programmes with global reach and impact with senior clients which have been lucrative for me.
I couldn’t have achieved that without the tools I gained through Firework. It really has been that significant.
How have you built your business? What have you found to be the most effective ways of attracting new clients?
While I would have loved to have thrown myself into coaching full-time straight away, it wasn't a viable proposition until I’d built up a sufficient coaching client base.
So, I kept my corporate communications consultancy work going until I was ready to switch.
Since going full-time into coaching, I’ve sought to grow my business by attracting a balance of corporate and private clients. They each offer different benefits. Corporate clients provide the significant revenue opportunities and help me raise my profile, whilst private clients can offer the chance to work at a greater depth because of the longer-term coaching relationships that are possible.
To attract clients, I've needed to be visible so they could discover me.
In particular, I've found that leading seminars and events has been a good way of building profile/reputation with potential clients. This has still been possible more recently as many professional events have transferred online.
It's also been important to be clear and distinctive in the way I present myself and the client niche I serve. There are so many coaches out there, including career coaches, so we all face a lot of competition in whatever we do.
Finally, my professional and personal networks have been hugely important to me over the years as sources of client work. Nowadays the majority of my clients come through word-of-mouth referrals.
I've grown my business through a mix of corporate and private clients because they each offer different benefits
How do you typically work with your clients? How have you had to adapt during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Before Covid-19, much of my corporate coaching work was reliant on face-to-face engagement, typically following a large leadership intervention in a company.
Now, most of that work is on hold pending the ultimate lifting of the lockdown.
I am, however, doing much more work these days for an online global coaching provider and that has gone some way towards filling the client gap.
The content of this coaching work is quite different to my pre-Covid work: the emphasis is less on career but rather on building resilience, navigating change and uncertainty and managing stress.
Meanwhile, my private client work has largely continued as before, with the same focus on career and leadership development. Much of this work has historically been done online anyway.
However, a couple of my private clients have decided to take a break from their coaching engagement in order to conserve funds for the post-Covid and post-furlough period. We are, however, staying in touch via email: it’s important that our clients know that we are there for them when they need us during this turbulent time.
How do you think "life after lockdown" will influence your coaching business?
That’s a good question!
From a content perspective, the issues many clients will want to address will be around rebuilding careers after furlough periods have ended. Sadly, for many people, this will result in redundancy.
It’s going to be a grim time for many, but potentially a positive period for career coaches wanting to provide valuable support, assuming affordable rates can be agreed. We stand to play such a useful role in helping people to get back on their feet.
I’m currently in discussion with a long-standing corporate client about how we are going to deliver a major initiative late this year.
Previously, most of this would have been delivered face-to-face in teams and groups. However, exposing valuable staff en masse to potential health risks will be a bridge too far for many organisations.
My sense is that much of my corporate work will therefore need to continue to be delivered virtually for the time being – my familiarity with Zoom and Microsoft Teams gets ever stronger!
We stand to play such a useful role in helping people to get back on their feet
How would you like your coaching business going to evolve in the future?
I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities!
I'm a typical coach – a perpetual student who loves to continually develop myself and allow my work to evolve. I'm always curious to learn more about the newest thing and the latest approach!
I think this helps to keep me fresh and continue to offer value to my clients.
My work is beginning to involve more business psychology in that my corporate clients are wanting me to do psychometric testing in addition to leadership development or career coaching.
Organisations are placing greater emphasis on psychometric testing as an integral part of their leadership development programmes and to support new team development.
Private clients are also asking me for psychometric testing so that they can use the data to help inform their professional development plans prior to pursuing more senior roles.
So, this is a regular part of the coaching landscape for me these days. Luckily, I do enjoy it!
What resources (other than Firework) have you found to be useful in building your business and enhancing your coaching skills?
Other than psychometrics, getting certified and my ICF accreditation has enhanced my professional standing.
Like the Firework licence, it provides reassurance to clients, both corporate and private, that I know what I'm talking about.
In my case, it also gave my confidence a tremendous boost.
I've recently rejoined the EMCC and have been really pleased to get back into some regular and active networking with other coaches as a result.
There's so much wisdom that can be shared across these networks and you never know what potential partnership opportunities may beckon once people get to know you.
What are your proudest moments as a coach?
I feel pleased to have set up a professional and engaging coaching practice.
I feel I’m now an established, confident career coach and what I learnt through Firework has been the foundation for my coaching practice, both in terms of leadership development and also career coaching.
There is one recent case study of which I am particularly proud.
I was working as a coach/facilitator with a global advertising agency, coaching their high-potential senior leaders.
Knowing I was a career coach, the company asked me to create a new career development programme for aspiring women leaders inside their organisation.
I drew heavily on Firework tools in creating that programme.
I'm pleased to say that it's now being rolled out across the world and impacting positively on the careers of these female leaders.
When I am on LinkedIn these days, I’m frequently offering congratulations to yet another woman leader who has been through the programme and achieved career success or a promotion!
I’m so proud that my programme is making such a big difference to these talented and motivated women.
Leigh is a licensed Firework career coach and works with aspiring leaders in the high-tech creative sectors and those seeking pastures new in their careers. She particularly enjoys supporting quieter leaders to find their authentic voice so they can communicate with impact. A technology fan and self-confessed “gadget girl”, Leigh grew up in Australia and now lives in West London. Connect with Leigh on LinkedIn or visit her website www.coachingtechnologyltd.com.