Celebrating Sarah: Partner and a mother of two boys, Professional Services

“I was at a crossroads. I am now more mindful and strategic in my leadership. I was doing a lot of transactional things rather than valuing my time strategically. I also wanted good quality time with my two sons. There were huge parallels between my work and personal life.

Sarah

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

Welcome to High Definition You, it’s Gitanjali here and I am thrilled to be welcoming Sara Elms. We’ve been working together on your executive coaching for three months now, one to one, can you believe how quickly that’s gone by Sarah, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do in the world.

Sarah

Okay, so I am one of the partners at BDO. So we’re accountants and business advisors. And I’ve been a partner for a number of years, I have spent my entire career at the firm or iterations of the firm before. So I’ve been a partner for a number of years, I’m hugely, hugely proud of how I’ve grown the team over the last few years.

And actually, how I have sort of brought them along and developed them. But I’d actually got to their kind of almost a bit of a crossroads where I wanted to be a bit more mindful about my leadership and a bit more strategic about it. So that was, that was really why I came looking for some coaching and came looking for you.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

What were you really struggling with, and I know we talked about that as two key areas to look at how you could be more strategic and be more mindful in your leadership. But what were the obstacles? What were you really struggling with?

Sarah

I think some of it was actually down to volume and valuing my time. So you gotta have I obviously have quite a lot of competing demands in terms of your time. And, I wasn’t really focusing on what I should be focusing on. But I was doing a lot of what I’ve preferred to do a lot in our sessions about transactional things, rather than actually really strategic things. I think in some of our early conversations, we talked about actually valuing my time.

So as I value my time in a client meeting, and we never cancel that, actually some of the things that I’m doing on a strategic level, which are really important, why do I give up time like that? If somebody needs me for something else? Much protecting that time? I don’t know if that has answered your whole question?

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

Yeah. And I think, you know, I think it’s okay to share that you’re also a busy mom of two. So there was that as part of it? And what are the competing demands and priorities there? You are very senior in the business as a partner, and very visible. But also the other side of it in terms of what happens particularly on that subject of time and valuing your time that you are saying yes to or no to, as the case may be on the other side of your life?

What were some of the struggles that may be crossed over for you with both of those things that you were this work-life balance that we like to talk about? You know, I don’t like the term, but how is that playing out for you in terms of what you’re really struggling with.

Sarah

I think I mean, I’ll be quite personal on this. But the other thing that was going on in my life, sort of prior to the coaching, is I’ve been going through quite a bit of divorce over the last year or so. And so I’ve adapted to becoming a sort of a single parent within there as well.

And actually, what I wanted to make sure of was that the time that I do have with my two sons, actually was really good quality time and that I was focusing on what parenting qualities I wanted to bring to that relationship rather than it just being I guess, in a similar way to the work side of things, this transaction, a lot of, you know, I cook their dinner, and I and I get them ready for school and all this kind of stuff.

And but actually just really, really been mindful about that time that I spent with them, making it as good quality as possible. So there was quite a lot of overlap. Actually, I didn’t realise that from the start. But the more we talked, there were a huge amount of things where we talked about a specific work example. And actually, I then found that by our next call, I’d actually related it to personal life as well. So yeah, huge, huge parallels between the two.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

We’ve had a lot of conversations about leadership and parenting and the crossovers of skills. And when we first talked, obviously, it was through video, and there were conversations with your sponsoring partner about whether they were going to invest in your coaching, etc.

But for you, was there anything, you know, did any resistance show up for you in terms of committing to the coaching process that stopped you from saying yes, straight away?

Sarah

Ah, no, I suppose I’ve had coaching previously. And what went through my head initially was actually I had coaching around time management and delegation and how to improve on those things. And they’ve always, they’ve always been absolutely fantastic, but it was kind of I needed something more than that I needed something a little bit different.

And I think the difference with you, when I first spoke to you was around the kind of the science, the psychology behind everything as well. So that bit made a difference. But in terms of hesitation about it, no, I don’t think I had concerns about it, only that I didn’t want it to be exactly what I’d had before I wanted it to be something different.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

I think some of their concerns from the business’s perspective were around time, right? Like actually coaches take time and there’s a lot going on at the moment and your roles are pretty big. And how did that pan out for you?

Sarah

It was really interesting because I do remember that, that one of the initial calls where we were having all these people on the call and they said about this time commitment. I haven’t actually felt like it’s been hard work in terms of, but you haven’t sent me homework you’ve sent me, you know, we’re not set for me. But you’ve suggested some kind of experiments that I could do along the way.

And, you know, try this, try that with your team, try that. Try that with the kids. And also things to read to give me kind of some background understanding or watch a TED talk or something like that. But there’s never been a, I don’t have to do that.

It’s just kind of enhanced that experience, but it doesn’t really feel like it’s been hard work. And in terms of the time commitment, as well as the, obviously, the sessions that we’ve had, I do, as you know, I’d like to be prepared.

And I like notes and things like that, I do find that having a period of reflection straight after our call, where I will note down certain things. And I’ll go through and highlight the kind of real key points from our discussions and things like that. And I just automatically use that over the next, you know, the period until our next call, and try out some of those things. So it isn’t just part of the job, but it doesn’t impart parenting as well, actually. Now, it’s just built into that, too.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

I mean, you were brilliant from the beginning, in terms of sharing with me those results and the reams of emails that I would get excitedly saying, Oh, my goodness, this thing has happened. Can you share a little bit now of what life is like in your leadership? What’s changed? You know, maybe three, there’s been so many results, maybe three of the more significant results that you’ve noticed in our time together?

Sarah

Oh, my goodness, picking three is a challenge, okay. Because there have been loads of really high points and low success stories. And I think one of the things that I was working on, was, that it was a five-year strategic plan for my team. And actually, when you’ve got to think about financial growth, and you’ve got to think about how you’re going to develop a team, I mean, my team is just over 50.

Now, just to give it some kind of context, there are lots of interrelated factors in there, different people’s progression, and bits like that, and how you’re going to win new clients, and all those kinds of things come into the melting pot. And so it can feel like this huge, great task to do. And I think what I struggled with before was actually breaking down the task.

And, you know, I guess the stuff that we know, we should do the stuff around brainstorming and ordering and getting your mind into the different mindsets of the different tasks you need to go through to do that whole thing. So I was much better at that, actually, than I probably ever would have been before. So I broke that down.

I also didn’t do it all myself. But actually, I had team leads, that’s actually, you know, they need to be engaged in this. It’s them who are running those aspects. So yeah, I’ve got really good engagement from them. And they’re now taking forward. So all of those bits of the plan, and they had input into it. And I feel like I’ve empowered them more.

And I feel that through that process, I asked them what they needed from me to deliver all of those, all those objectives. And actually, what’s coming out of it is that they wanted some coaching sessions as well. So I’ve been relaying some of this stuff, actually to them as well. And they’re really grateful for that time. And I actually started to say no to some things. It’s enabled me to choose, what do I want to do? And what do I get to do? And actually, it’s given me more time to do things like that. So it’s been great.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

It has been so great to watch you sharing that and becoming a coach in essence yourself with your team and applying some of the things that we’ve talked about and creating that lexicon with them. What would you say is, you know, I call myself a possible listless about positivity and negativity, more about the possibility. What would you say is possible? Now that seemed impossible when we first began?

Sarah

Oh, I kind of want to say anything, but probably the wrong thing to say. But well.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

Ohh, I love that.

Sarah

I think I was before I almost not stagnated. That’s the wrong word. But actually, every setting. This is this, this is the role. This is the team, this is what we’re doing. And actually, now I just kind of think, well, what if we did this? And what if we tried this and thought about recruiting different kinds of skill sets into my team, thinking about, you know, how I want the team to evolve and how I want my role within BDO to evolve as well.

And the huge range of possibilities that are out there. And actually, I don’t need to decide on that today. But I just need to be open and curious about things as opportunities as they come up. I think I’m very much more aware of those now.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

To some brilliant results. I mean, we had a three-way conversation with your sponsoring partner and some of the contributions that you’ve made in that real move into that strategic contribution. And sort of got to the point where we’d have conversations about where you were really, really excited about doing that stuff.

Whereas once upon a time you were afraid to do it and voice your opinion around it and Actually now, okay, maybe a little bit of the operation is still required. It’s been such a move for you. I think sometimes, you know, in this type of work where we work very deeply with that shift in mindset, and then the methodology as you know, it can be hard to identify like, how did that actually happen? Can you take me to a moment Sarah, where you knew that the coaching was working?

Sarah

I think the first was the first bit for me, but it was certainly a real milestone for me. So I’m doing a proposal, or it’s not even a proposal, it’s actually happening now. But I needed to put together a proposal for learning and development within our team. And it’s something that I’ve called Talking Heads.

And I needed to put this proposal forward to the rest of the partners in my particular business stream. And I needed to get there, well thought I needed to get their engagement to it. But actually, it wasn’t quite like that. It was a case of actually, they just needed to see what it was I was doing. And they were quite happy to back me on that.

And but it was when I put all of the thinking about how I would normally have done it, I then kind of put science and the psychology bit behind it as well. And some of the stuff that I’d learned from the TED Talks that you’ve recommended all of those, it kind of all kind of came into the melting pot.

But it didn’t take me forever to do. This proposal didn’t take it, I’ve broken it down into all the planning sections and stuff like that. But it was about 90 minutes total. And it was all together, I felt very passionate about it, I felt really confident presenting it to people. And actually I felt less that I was being judged on it.

And I know that sounds really weird, but I didn’t feel like somebody was gonna judge and scrutinise it and I just felt really confident about it and actually thought, I really believe in this. And I’ve, but it didn’t take me three weeks to procrastinate about it before I did it. And then I kind of went, Oh, wow, if I can do that in 90 minutes, what else can I do in 90 minutes.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

Anything’s possible, as you said, anything’s possible. So what is it about the way that I work and the way we work together that’s really enabled you to get those results?

Sarah

Quite often, that’s one of the discussions that we have. I like the fact that you let me explore those. I kind of explore why this happened. And I need to give you an example. Because I can’t explain unless I’ve got examples. I had a week where I talked to you about, I had a meeting with some calls with some of my team members.

And one of the calls didn’t go very well. And I felt quite Oh, that wasn’t how I wanted it to be. And you let me explore that as to why did you feel like that? And what happened on the call, and what did you want it to be? And you would just by kind of the right questioning, you got me to realise what had gone wrong, what I’d not done on that call that I should have done to steer it in the way that I wanted it and to have that experience that I wanted it to be. So those are the kind of challenging questions.

They’re not leading questions, but challenging questions, and just kind of like, well, why was that and you know, those kinds of things that’ve been really helpful. There’s not, I haven’t found loads and loads of stuff that I’ve got to go and read afterwards. It’s a case of, actually, this might be quite interesting, because it’s related to something that we’ve been talking about.

So you might just find that interesting as a bit more background behind it. So I’ve been able to dip in and dip out according to which bits of you know, really resonating which bits are important. And yeah, I think it’s just that it hasn’t felt like hard work. It’s like, it’s quite natural. And, but it’s been, we can talk more broadly, or we can talk about specific scenarios, and then relate that back to, you know, the wider team and stuff like

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

And it has been wonderful to watch, you go through that reflection cycle and bring those examples. And you’ve just done them using examples to talk about what the results have been. So we have that conversation, as I said, which is part of you know, if it’s through cooperation with the stakeholder, in this case, you’re sponsoring a partner to say Where were you when we began? And where are you now and where would he like you to be?

And I remember that he said at the beginning that he saw you as someone with great potential and that now he could see an incredibly high level of confidence and engagement that you were bringing at a strategic level. And he would love to see you move forward into really an inspiring role model. What would you use? Which words would you use Sarah to describe where you were when we first started? And where are you now?

Sarah

I know where I am. Now. I’m trying to think of when I’m like way back um pressured, stressed or stressed or pressured? Certainly before um now actually, there now is really much easier because it’s, it’s in the moment, but just excited actually, you know, I don’t, I don’t open my emails in the morning and just have that sinking feeling anymore. I’m actually quite like, oh, what’s here, and actually, I have my plan for the day and I can flex it.

But I just feel excited about the opportunities. And I said to my sponsoring partner, I had a call last week. And I said that there, it doesn’t feel like there’s anything at all, on my list of things to do. That is insurmountable. It feels like, okay, there are some bits that are going to take more work than others and more time investment than others. But I don’t look at any of it and think, I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to go about it. I might need input from people and things like that, but I know how to go about it and break it down. Excited.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

And I mean, sometimes people feel like it can be, as you said, an intense process. It’s time-consuming, which you’ve said it’s not what you would say, has really surprised or delighted you about this journey together in this coaching programme?

Sarah

Um, I think just how quick things changed. Because actually, even from the first call that we had, I could they were really, really practical things that just made sense that you talked to me about, and with all the, you know, bits of theory and stuff embedded into it as well. But they were really practical things that I could just go, oh, I’ll just try that and see what happens.

So it was literally from I think the first call I had with you I think the next day, I tried something that you’d suggested with the team and went, Oh, wow. Oh, like that result? I can’t remember. Remember what the first thing was now. But yeah, just how quick. And actually, the more I could see the impact from it, the more it made me mindful about, okay, so that little thing has this impact? Well, what else is possible there.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

Really work with a very deep understanding around shifting that mindset of who you are, and how you create your reality. And then all the downstream and the little experiments and methodology and you really move so quickly into that space, which I saw just happen so innately for you, which was wonderful. To be that catalyst for that.

And then yeah, all of the results that followed were wonderful. So I thank you for our journey together. It’s been a privilege to journey alongside you. If anyone’s watching this and feeling inspired by Sara, by your success story, and they’re thinking about investing either personally themselves, or maybe through their corporation in coaching with me, what advice would you give them?

Sarah

Um, I think just being open-minded actually, just being open-minded because I think I remember the first call that I had with you before we even started the coaching process, but actually, you just opened my mind to possibilities and to a different way of thinking and to actually.

Yeah, again, examples are the best way that I can kind of put words to it. But we talked about the impact, you know, other people have on me. So this, this person does this, and it makes me feel like this. Well, actually, that person can’t control my feelings, actually, it’s down to me as to how I feel about certain things.

And that piece to start off with was really invaluable. So I think just to be open, be really open to those ideas. Because as soon as you start to kind of really embrace those ideas, you’re like, Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, I get that. I can change that. It’s in my power to change that.

Gitanjali – High Definition You Coach

What has been wonderful, Sara, and I’m thrilled to have been on this journey, as I said with you, and hopefully it’s to continue, and we can take it to a whole nother level again. But thank you for sharing your success story with us today. And I’m sure I will talk to you again soon.

Sarah

Thank you