hpc’s Tom Armstrong’s shares his perspectives of the EMCC 25th Annual Coaching, Mentoring and Supervision Conference 2019


The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) recently held its 25th Annual Conference in Dublin. hpc’s Executive Coach, Tom Armstrong attended the three-day event alongside international coaches and mentors from as far away as New Zealand, Canada and Bahrain. With a keynote each day and a choice of over 40 sessions, there was enough variety to satisfy all appetites.


We asked Tom to share his views from the conference; here are his personal insights and highlights:

Magician Keith Barry kick-started the conference with an entertaining session including some good tips around increasing our persuasive powers through non-verbal communications. With my head still spinning from Keith’s mental hijinks, I headed for the session entitled ‘Feedback – take it like a champ, give it like a pro!’ led by Squadron Leader Carolyn Pezaro and Flight Lieutenant Andy Armstrong.



This was an interesting session with focus on the ‘sometimes forgotten’ feedback receiver as well as the giver. Our New Zealand colleagues reminded us that despite their ‘tough’ operational focus, Airforce personnel are just as sensitive to tough feedback as the rest of the population. While most of us externally espouse a ‘growth mindset’, receiving and giving critical feedback can be uncomfortable and trigger negative emotional responses. And it’s hard to receive critical feedback when you are in a somewhat stressed state. To help the giver and receiver manage emotions through tough feedback conversations they brought us through their 4 step process (apparently engineers love processes) or ‘Empathy Standard Operating Procedure’:


1. Naming the emotion (even guessing it)

2. Validating the emotion

3. Allowing some time and space

4. Tackling the feedback together


Here’s what it looks like: “so you’re upset?”; “who wouldn’t feel upset after receiving critical feedback”; “how about I make us a cup of tea”; “what are your thoughts on how we go forward, let’s get this sorted”. This approach is simple and works well for them. It’s where pilot training has moved towards coaching culture, with emphasis on empathy and moving forward together.


Coaching Culture and Leadership

The keynote on Day Two entitled “Myths and legends of embedding a coaching and mentoring culture” was headed up by Professor David Clutterbuck, Rosarii Mannion and Paula King. A key output was the proposition that rather than embedding a coaching culture as a stand-alone project or goal, we might view it as part of a wider approach of the organisation to reach its goals in the light of its own realities. It’s a component of its strategy and not an end in itself.


In an exploration of leadership, as opposed to leaders, our attention was drawn to the commonalities between coaching and leadership…the 3 Cs…which turned into the 4 Cs:


1. Compassion – understanding and alleviating the pain of others

2. Curiosity – how are others making sense of the world

3. Courage – facing taboo topics

4. Connectedness – with each other and with the world


When I reflect on my time in leadership in industry, in a very practical sense, I wholly subscribe to the idea of achieving positive results while embodying the 4 Cs. As an Executive Coach the 4 Cs are essential components within and beyond the coach / client relationship…tools of the trade.


Reflection and Reflexivity

Dr Jacqueline McCartney led the session “Reflection and reflexivity – what’s the difference”. I was drawn to this session as I didn’t know the answer! Essentially, reflexivity is beyond the comfort of knowing…rather than things being “as they are”. It’s about being within a system and seeing things “as we are”. Reflexivity is beyond observation and reflection of self and system, it’s about bringing a range of perspectives to our actual experiences, knowing what is influencing us while we are affecting it, and distilling the reality of experience. It’s when professional development becomes personal development…a cycle incorporating new understanding and new practice.


Jacqueline led us through a simple paired exercise (one doing and one observing) of making a square out of a rectangular piece of paper. “Nothing much going on here”, I thought…until we broke the exercise down. Did I jump in? Did I have a plan? Did I stand back and assess matters? Was I wondering what my observer was thinking? What assumptions and choices did I make? What influenced my choices?


This was a great example of a simple exercise that tells us a lot about ourselves; great learning for coaches and for clients.


The Digital Age
No conference is complete nowadays without exploration of the impact of the digital age. As coaches and mentors, it’s probably fair to say bias and perspective play a big role in how we perceive the world of digital. The takeaways from this session weren’t that coaches would be replaced by robots but rather that the nature of coaching interventions will change and that certain types of coaching (for example career coaching) may actually benefit from the introduction of more technology.


This brings with it the possibility of making coaching available to a wider audience in the future…a welcome prospect. However, the belief remains that as complexity grows, the need for wisdom and human contact increases rather than decreases. We were reminded that individuals need to be seen and to be heard; that the need for connection is human.


The obvious conclusion is that the only certainty is change and that human growth is possible through embracing new possibilities whilst learning from experience.


Game, Set and Match

As a keen tennis player and an Executive Coach, I was excited to hear from ‘Mr Inner Game’ himself, Tim Gallwey, a former tennis coach. During his keynote on “Learning from Experiences”, using nothing more than a tennis ball and an engaging delivery style, Tim brought us back to the basics of learning from experience. Rather than trying to repeat something that has worked well or correct something that hasn’t, Tim extolled the virtues of paying attention to what is happening and learning by awareness and doing.


He recounted his early tennis coaching days when he had to deal with the uncomfortable truth that less telling and less instructing (apparently ‘doing’ less) led to better results. He realised that his role was to empower his clients to learn from their own experience. He highlighted the importance of making the environment safe for the client and eliminating the stress of judgement from the coach…or whomever. I think
both coaches and their clients can identify with this.


To close the conference, Tim left us with a beautiful line; “Enrol in the school of life as a learner rather than a knower”.

Whether as a master coach or a human being, Tim left us with food for thought, smiles on our faces and hope in our hearts.


Tom Armstrong is a key member of hpc’s Accredited Executive Coaching Team. Coupled with his coaching expertise, his commercial focus extends to over 25 years in senior executive roles across multiple industry sectors.

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