Kate O’Sullivan joined In Touch in 2016 and took part in our brand-new programme - The Successful Woman Director, a 5-week interactive webinar course, created to give female directors a boost in the boardroom. Read on to learn how the programme helped Kate to gain more confidence in the boardroom and enabled her to become an In Touch executive coach.
Kate has enjoyed a 32-year career in the Engineering, Chemicals, Higher Education and Sports sectors, working for outstanding organisations such as ICI, Huntsman Petrochemical and The University of York. In 2016, Kate decided to leave the corporate world and embark on a portfolio career. Kate now sits on the Board of British Rowing as Deputy Chair and also works as a Organisational Development specialist.
Commenting on her epiphany to transition to a portfolio career, Kate said: “I realised that if I didn’t make a change then, I never would. Without any planning - something I would never advise anyone else to do - I jumped into my own icy lake of recklessness and started down the portfolio career route.’
What was Kate’s experience of The Successful Woman Director programme?
Having started out on her portfolio career with mixed success, Kate had an accident that incapacitated her for nearly four months. With time on her hands to reflect, she realised she had to make a change or else abandon her portfolio career and go back to a job with a salaried income.
After a chance phone call from In Touch, The Successful Woman Director programme piqued Kate’s interest, at a time when she needed some guidance and assistance.
Despite initially being over-awed by “these amazing women talking about all the things they’d done”, she admits she learnt a massive amount from the group and the programme itself. Kate explains how the relationships forged during the programme continue. “I have met up with some of them, one of the participants recently helped me with some branding and we are all still in contact through a Whats App group. Through their eyes they’ve given me confidence; they saw things in me which I didn’t see or wasn’t really acknowledging” said Kate. She also felt the programme offered her “time to reflect and learn, time out from coaching other people, time for myself. It was a very good investment.”
What does Kate feel she brings to coaching from her previous roles?
Kate’s varied career has given her a very broad skill base and set of experiences that enable her to effectively question, listen to and analyse people’s situations from a number of angles when she is coaching.
As a woman in engineering, Kate learnt to be true to who she was, with authenticity becoming a touchstone for her. She respected the focus of the workforce on the problem they were being presented with, learning to try not to multitask too much and adds that assessing, “risk by probability, risk by consequences and problem solving” were great takeaways that she uses regularly when coaching.
Higher Education is all about challenging assumptions, debating, and working on problems together and for Kate, this really points to the collaborative but challenging nature of coaching. Kate also learnt much about Governance, which is especially helpful to those she coaches who are transitioning to a non-executive role.
Why would Kate recommend coaching?
Kate believes anyone embarking on a Portfolio career is, by definition, transitioning. Whether it be a purely career-based decision or a case of other things changing in your life, Kate says there is always an element of refining or ‘reinventing your identity’ in transition.
Her own transition to a portfolio career was a slow process, and one that The Successful Woman Director helped with immensely. “It was easy for me to say I’m Director of Learning & Development” Kate says, “But when I was asked what I do at the beginning of my portfolio career, it really raised some questions.”
It started a process of auditing her unique skills, attributes and values, as she looked to define herself for the new phase of her career. Further to this, Kate asserts that one-to-one coaching, “helps to crystallise your personal brand and identity, and to understand where you want to put your focus.”
In Kate’s opinion coaching doesn’t provide solutions but rather the tools with which to solve them and better understand oneself.
She adds: “I coach in sport and whilst I can’t row the race for them, I can give them the tools and tactical strategies to equip them for the race. To me it’s about being a confidential sounding board, independent and pragmatic, a listening ear through your career transition. A coach can help you arrive at the point where you can make the decisions you need to, help you visualise the challenges and provide tools to overcome the hurdles. Most importantly, coaching is all about enabling not ensuring.”