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Spotlight: We shine the light this week on John Blakey


John BlakeyJohn Blakey reveals his innermost thoughts about coaching - the need for coaching to 'grow up' and the exciting, transformative times he sees ahead for the industry.

Name: John Blakey

Age: 45

Job title: Managing director of 121partners and president-elect of the UK International Coach Federation.

I co-founded and help lead 121partners, a leadership transformation consultancy that specialises in improving the performance of 'top 100' leaders in FTSE250 organisations. I give 20% of my time to the voluntary role of president-elect of the UK Chapter of The International Coach Federation (ICF). The ICF is the largest global coaching body with over 15,000 members worldwide.

1. Why did you become a coach?

I became a coach because I was disillusioned with the prevailing leadership values in the world of business. I was tired of helping myself and wanted to help others. Having become international managing director in a FTSE250 company at the age of 38, I looked at what lay ahead for me down that path and thought 'No thanks'.

2. What do you love best about your job?

What I love about my job is that when I am coaching I forget about all the buzzing that is going on in my head. When I am totally focused on the coachee and their goals and facilitating that conversation, I lose sense of myself and that is extremely rewarding. It is like a sociable form of meditation. And when I am in that space, I trust that good things happen.

3. What do you find most challenging?

The most challenging part of being an executive coach is resisting the creeping feeling that you know best and that you should offer advice or slip into judgment. The whole world is set up on this basis and to stay pure to the non-judgmental, non-directive stance is to swim against a tide that has been in motion for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. As you become more experienced and more qualified then this temptation does not diminish, it increases.

4. What's the best advice that you would give to someone new to coaching?

The best advice I can give to anyone starting down a new path is to focus only on the next step. There is an eastern quote that says 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step' and you cannot argue with this truth. It is great to have a vision, a dream, a destination, but it is also great to not know how the dream will happen and to simply take it 'a step at a time'. This allows space for creativity and spontaneity to happen and it frees people up from the burden of living too far into the future. You follow this approach for days, months and years and then one day you look back and you think 'Wow! How did I come such a long way?'.

5. What's the best advice that's been given to you that has helped you in your career?

The best advice I have been given was something that I didn't really appreciate at the time. I was a young, ambitious 25-year-old at British Gas in my first senior management role. The company was reorganised and I failed in reapplying for my own job. My mentor at the time took me for a drink and, amidst my bleating that my career had come to a premature end, he calmly said 'Yes, but just think what you have learnt'. At the time, I thought it was a simplistic and even heartless comment but I now realise that he was pointing me back to the only career management factor that I can ever control - my own learning!

6. How do you see coaching developing over the next few years?

This is a fascinating question for a young profession like coaching amidst such challenging economic times. I am a great fan of the vision of the ICF that, by 2016, coaching is an integral part of society and that there are 100,000 ICF-accredited coaches worldwide. And the next step on this journey of a thousand miles? Well, I think the profession needs to 'grow up' and get over its cherished value of independence such that a degree of consolidation can occur both amongst the professional bodies and amongst coaching firms. I think this is in the interest of our clients and of society as a whole.

7. What's the best career help book that you've ever read?

The best career help book I ever read was The New Testament. If you can get beyond the language of the times and suspend the question of whether you are religious or not, then there is some fantastic wisdom in there. Regarding careers, how's this for a quote: 'Lay up your treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.' (Matthew 6:20-21). What more do we need to know about career mangement?

8. What's the best event within the training community that you've ever attended?

The best training event I ever attended was a team-building experience that I organised for my global team at Logica. It was led by an Olympic medallist rower, Olympic coach and ex-CEO, Bill Barry, who took our team rowing on the river in an 'eight' before facilitating a strategy planning workshop in the memorable surroundings of the Leander Club at Henley. I was so impressed that three years later, when I left Logica, Bill and I set up 121partners, our leadership transformation business. We have since taken many senior teams through a similar 'Olympic' experience as part of launching their coaching programmes.

9. Who do you think is the most inspirational member of the training community and have you ever met them?

There are many, many inspirational folk in the coaching world. But if I were to pick one person it would be Sir John Whitmore, author of 'Coaching for Performance' and founding father of coaching in the business world. I have met Sir John many times and had the privilege of sharing a conference platform with him last year at the UK International Coach Federation conference. I love the way that he provokes people's thinking and is fearless in his articulation of the truth as he perceives it. He combines a strong spirituality with a very practical outlook.

10. What else would you like to share with our members?

Members of will sense that we are living in truly 'transformative' times. Whilst it is easy to be alarmed about the scale of this transformation and the 'not knowing' of how current challenges will be resolved, I believe it is also a uniquely exciting time in which creative and daring solutions are required from all who are in the business of helping others move forward positively. I, like many members, have received great training, mentoring and coaching in my career. What has all this training been for? In my opinion, now is the time to answer that question at a more fundamental level and to have the confidence to step forward and take a lead.

To read John's recent opinion piece, 'Coaching in challenging times', click here


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