Shirley Thompson, BSc, MSc, DCM
Soft skills and empowerment facilitator
Coach (ACC with ICF)
Coach Supervisor (Oxford Brookes)
Project manager (PMP with PMI)
Mentor (soft skills primarily, volunteer in the PMI UK mentoring team, and mentor students on The Coaching Academy coaching personal diploma for coaching. In the past have been a Princes Trust business mentor and mentor for leaders/speakers within Toastmasters International programme)
Coaching has helped me to become more interested in people than my natural drive towards getting things done. The realisation that everyone is uniquely different has made me more curious about philosophy and belief. I'm interested in how our behaviour has to become subconscious to be efficient, yet conscious to become aware and to learn. It's fascinating to learn what people consider they can change about their behaviour and what they cannot. It's rewarding to observe people see a new perspective which can magically overcome an apparent challenge.
Personally, I believe I have gained more from being a coach than being coached, but the two go hand-in-hand. Being a professional coach necessarily means being coached, supervised and mentored. However my feeling is that personal learning through supporting others is immeasurable: it's a privilege to gain insight into others' thoughts and feelings, especially when I reflect on the range of different people I now meet, compared to past work roles.
I have a 'soft spot' for project managers because I was last employed as a project manager and consider this role is the 'glue' in any collaborative group. My doctoral thesis explored my belief about the value of coach practice with these strong-minded facilitating types. I showed project managers can voluntarily change their work behaviour after very little coach skills practice. As a result, I constantly seek ways to encourage project managers - and others - to find ways to practice these coach-like philosophy and skills.
I start 2023 with an intention to refocus attention on responsible conversations. Are you clear about your intentions for 2023?
My doctorate initiated the interest in philosophy. Ethics has always been part of being a professional project manager or professional coach though my upbringing might have meant I took morality for granted. My thoughts on responsibility are now being tested by the Responsible Project Management initiative. (Responsible Conversation became a focus in 2021; its aim is to 'contract' - in some way - at the outset, so that intentions are clear for everyone concerned with the value of negotiation being recognised. My doctorate taught me that people ‘get’ the philosophical benefits of contracting a partnership when they step into the shoes of a coach, even as a novice, because the person being coached must be ready to become self-responsible.)
My strengths are in sorting out problems so I’m naturally drawn to those who are not succeeding as well as they’d personally hoped. Engineering education led me to find a solution, and coaching education has taught me adults prefer to follow their own solutions, even if they want ideas from others. The coaching philosophy of stepping back is generally more helpful; the coach is the enabling support and asking questions that avoid making assumptions, to focus attention on important nuances in the other person's thinking.
This stepping back objectivity of coaching has been key understanding for me for any conversation, including presentations. At Toastmasters new speakers generally struggle because they think about themselves first (e.g. their nerves) and the audience second. Despite the monologue it really still is a conversation. The speaker's purpose relates to the audience and what the audience will do as a result, so making the audience comfortable and speaking in relation to the listeners' needs is far more important for the speaker's attention.
In my career I’ve been known for calling out the 'elephant in the room', asking the 'awkward question' and generally not believing the first thing that I am told. It’s the way I was brought up! Over time I have learned to be 'nicer' to others – though note my awkward questions have mostly been cheered on by others in a group! 21st century diversity understanding has presented a culture of not upsetting people and seriously challenged my ways. However, perhaps we have gone too far because now giving feedback is tricky and many avoid doing it, yet this is so essential to learning, and to partnership, because we can be blind to our own behaviours and having them pointed out can be so helpful, if we aspire tobetter selves and relationships.
My activities are torn between the responsibilities of running a business – ie to make it profitable and meet a purpose – and ‘giving back’ from a fortunate career in hardware and software development. Primarily I'd like to support you and your team to be inspired, energetic and engaging/engaged, by enabling you to overcome challenges, to seek learning, and to help others to learn. Right now, I help coaches develop their skills, freelancers keep their business focus, Agilists to air their issues (no process is challenge-free) and project managers to mentor, coach and to venture into airing the broader issues of planet and people responsibilities with stakeholders.