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Ann Collins - executive coach and language school owner | S2E3

March 15, 2022

Ann Collins - executive coach and language school owner | S2E3
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In this episode:  What happens when executives and senior leaders start receiving coaching. Moving from 'to-do list' goals to transformational goals. Volunteering adventures from providing care in a rest home to advising on education policy in Nepal. Moving to France and starting an English language school. Starting and abandoning a PhD in girls' education. Learning to build rapport.

About the Guest:  Ann Collins is an Executive and Leadership Coach who helps successful senior leaders to get clarity on their next career steps, uplevel their thinking and transition into new roles with confidence and ease. She taught at Bedford Prep School for a number of years and has since worked across the world in education, teaching and consulting. She has a language school for adults in France and trained as a coach a few years ago. She now works with clients internationally, in Switzerland, the US, the UK and France, specializing in one to one executive coaching, team coaching and leadership development. 

She lives on the Swiss/French border in France with her family where she enjoys the mountains, local music making and French food! 

[Ann's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/annridleycollins]

Recorded 9 February 2022

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About the Host: Despite never letting school interfere with his education, Danu has nevertheless acquired two social science degrees and an executive MBA. He toils at the intersection of education, technology and society and has worked at various times in teaching, research, project management, business development and customer service. He has so many interests that he has started to outsource them, and his life plan is rapidly running out of alphabet.  [Danu's LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danupoyner/]

Music: Kleptotonic Swing by Tri-Tachyon

Website: stillcuriouspodcast.com | Email: stillcuriouspodcast@gmail.com
Instagram: @stillcuriouspod |  Twitter: @stillcuriouspod

Transcript
Ann Collins:

People often arrive with a goal. It's all about doing, I want to do this. I want to do something different. I want to have a different kind of job or have a different kind of career. In fact, What they leave with is something far greater in many ways, because they've changed the way that they have thought about themselves and their own capacities, which has an impact on everything.

Danu Poyner:

You're listening to the Still Curious Podcast with me, Danu Poyner. My guest today is Ann Collins, who is an Executive and Leadership Coach based on the Swiss French border in France, who helps successful senior leaders to get clarity on their next career steps, up-level their thinking and transition into new roles with confidence and ease. Ann works with clients internationally, specializing in one-to-one executive coaching, team coaching and leadership development. She also has an English language school for adults in France and hosts her own podcast called Leaders Who Love What They Do. In this episode Ann discusses setting goals, what it means to have a transformative experience through coaching and why she believes it's something everyone should have access to.

Ann Collins:

A great question that I love at the moment is, how good are you willing to allow your life to get? Even when I ask it to myself, I'm surprised of the answers that come out

Danu Poyner:

We talk about Ann's formative volunteering adventures in her earlier life from providing care and a rest home to advising on policy around girls' education in Nepal, and how those rich life experiences taught her how to build rapport in way she didn't expect.

Ann Collins:

My job on paper, wasn't the same as the job. And It changed my view of teamworking and how to get things done. It's all about who you communicate with and what people want, what people need and what you can give at that particular time.

Danu Poyner:

We also explore Ann's move to France, What happens at her language school and how she came to be 11 years into what was supposed to be a two year adventure.

Ann Collins:

We always start with cooking. And that really gets everybody talking. And they actually present a recipe and they have to speak and tell everybody how it's made and cook at the same time, which is not that easy in a second language

Danu Poyner:

Ann is an incredible communicator and an absolute go getter. And her observations on goal setting have already made me stop and reflect on my own practices. Enjoy this one. It's Ann Collins coming up after the music break on today's episode of the Still Curious Podcast. Hi Ann, welcome to the podcast. How are you?

Ann Collins:

I'm very well. Thank you. And thank you so much for having me. It's such a pleasure to be with you and to talk about learning. I'm very excited to have this conversation, so thank you.

Danu Poyner:

Oh, thank you. Likewise, I'll dive straight in then so you described yourself as an international executive and leadership development coach who helps organizations drive transformation and meet their business goals. You've got over 25 years international experience in the field of education that spans the public private and not-for-profit sectors. And you specialize in helping successful senior leaders to get clarity on their next career steps. Up-level their thinking and transition into new roles with confidence and authenticity. That's a lot. What's the most important thing for someone to understand about what you do?

Ann Collins:

It does quite a lot, but I can assure you, I don't do all of that all of the time. So that's the first thing at the moment. I'm doing a lot of coaching, but I have been in education for many, many years. So for me, generally, as an overarching theme, I would say my job is really to empower people to thrive. That's for me, my mission. And whether that has been working as a Montessori teacher, which I've done here in France, or teaching English to adults or now coaching for me, it's under the same umbrella. It's about unlocking the potential in people so that they can achieve what they want to achieve and really have a very expansive view of what they can do.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, thank you. I think that's a really good explanation. You said that by becoming a coach, you've become the teacher that you always wanted to be. Could you expand on that a little bit?

Ann Collins:

It's an interesting thing, isn't it? That as we move through our careers, I think certainly the clients I work with now, they often say to me how they see how different parts of their life, different parts of their careers start to fit together. Almost like a puzzle. And that for me, has definitely been the case. Some people would say that I've had a very diverse career. I've worked in lots of different places. I've been involved in education in lots of different ways. But for me, coaching came at a great point where I realized that I wanted to go further with helping people to learn. I wanted to be able to help people to realize. What they could do, not just help them to achieve certain skills or competencies or gain a certain amount of knowledge, or even improve their thinking around a certain area, but to be much broader than that. And for me, that's what coaching was. I wasn't expecting that .When I decided to train as a coach, I didn't, before I started realize how expansive the results would be. So it was a great surprise for me because during the coaching training, in fact, you're being coached all the time. So every session you're learning how to be a coach, but you're also experiencing it on the hoof. And it was amazing to see how my own thinking was shifting. The more and more I thought about it, I thought this is the kind of training that I wish I had had when I was 22 and training to be a primary school teacher, because it's this kind of transformation that I really feel people should have access to. And I feel very strongly about that, that it should be in the toolkit of teachers, not just to help their students, but also to help other teachers to learn and develop, because it's all about changing the way we think. And if we can change the way we think, then really the sky is the limit.

Danu Poyner:

Wow, very powerful. I'd love to talk a bit about how you recognize that learning process in yourself as you're doing what you're doing. To do that. It might help to get into the detail a bit about what you do with the coaching. We've spoken to a leadership coach on the podcast previously, and that was largely about the challenges faced by first time frontline leaders and particularly the shift in mindset from doing it and being good at something to actually having to get it done through other people. Could you describe firstly, what a senior leader is? Cause you're working with senior leaders and then what kind of challenges senior leaders commonly face in your experience?

Ann Collins:

The senior leaders that I work with are generally in corporate or educational environments. They tend to be people who have a huge amount of responsibility in terms of looking after other people and leading people. I don't tend to work with leaders that are managing projects. That would probably be a little bit different. When I'm talking about the leaders that I tend to work with, they are people with sometimes quite complex teams and global teams as well. So they could be dealing across time zones, different cultures. It can be really quite complex. In terms of the problems that they face, it's very hard to say because it's so individual, it really depends on the person. And it depends whether we're focusing on leadership development, which is one part of my work, or whether it's to do with the leader themselves and their own career development. So those are two quite different areas that I help people with in terms of career development. I would say a very common theme at around that midlife point when leaders are very senior and especially when they're very successful is that they have this paradox of on the one hand. They have so many choices. In fact, they're so good. And then on the other hand, they feel a bit stuck because they're beginning to question, are they really aligned with that purpose? Is this really what they wanted to do? And can they continue to be aligned as they move through their careers? And what do they want to do with the last 20 or 20 odd years of their careers? And maybe beyond that as well into retirement sometimes. So that's quite a common question. That comes from my one-to-one clients. When I'm talking about leadership development, it's two areas really that I'm working on firstly, how senior leaders can work together as a team, which is a really interesting one because senior leaders at that very high level, it's the executive committee level. Each person has a huge amount of responsibility. At one level they are in a sense competing for resources sometimes. You might have the operations leader who needs to fight for their corner and all the temptation is to fight for their corner and other areas that are also doing the same. But then on the other hand, they need to also come together as a team and there must be value of them working together and being able to help each other in their area. So I really enjoy working on teamwork at that very high level. It comes down to communication. It comes down to managing conflict, managing emotions and coming to that conclusion that actually, okay, we can all disagree, but at a certain moment, we have to agree to disagree and then go with the decision that has been made So that's not always easy, as imagine

Danu Poyner:

I have some questions about that, but I guess to flesh that out a little bit more, how do you typically work with a new client? I'm imagining not only you need to build up trust quickly, but there's also quite a large knowledge transfer about the context they're working in that needs to happen. How does that work?

Ann Collins:

Yes, it's an interesting one. And certainly in terms of working with teams, that very much depends on the context of the organization and how they want to set it up. But with a one-to-one client, the most important thing as you say, is to build rapport, actually, it's to build that relationship of trust. And that comes right from that very first meeting. From that point onwards, you're already starting that relationship, which is so important because there needs to be that trust on both sides. There also needs to be a real understanding of what coaching is. That it's not mentoring, it's not therapy, it's not counseling. It's really something different. It's about looking forward and it's about providing accountability and helping people to get rid of limiting beliefs that are maybe blocking them from moving forward. So that's one of the first things is making sure that there is a shared understanding of what the process is. Then we tend to look at what the goals are, the general goals. And most people come with a goal in mind, they know what they want by the end of the coaching period. And then after that, it depends really whether it's a leadership development issue or whether it's more looking at career clarity. If it's leadership development, we might do a 360 appraisal or assessment with people from their work. So they're invited to ask their colleagues. And that of course is always very useful, and it can be a very moving way to start as well because often leaders don't realize how many nice things that they're going to hear, which is always a good way to start from our strengths, work out what our strengths are. And then from there, we tend to dive into looking at values because for me, values are so important. It's very important to make decisions about what kind of goals are going to be suitable and how you're going to feel aligned with those goals. So I start from values, can we work out what someone's values really are? Talking through those values, it's a very powerful process because often if we get to the age of 40, 45 50, we might think that we know our values, but maybe we haven't revisited them for quite some time. So going back and really thinking about, and having the space to think about that without the pressures of, maybe expectations from other people, being able to be truly honest and to think through those things is often very powerful. So that's how we start. And then from there, Very often the goals have changed already, because when we go back to the goals, quite often, we find that the goals look very small. But when we look at the values and if somebody, for example, they're saying one of their values is to make a contribution, which successful leaders, often that's one of the things that's very important to them. And so then if we're revisiting their goals and they're keeping in mind this value of wanting to make a massive contribution in that particular area, then the goal often evolves and becomes expansive, which is very exciting. I think Also we talk a lot about different types of goals. There are three levels of goals. So the first level of a goal is it could be something like, I'm going to do a menu plan every week for my family. But in fact, that's not really a goal. It's a to-do list because I know how to do it. I know exactly how to do it. The only thing that's stopping me is just a bit of motivation and organization. A level, two goal will be what we've typically thought of as smart goals. So these are things that may be push us outside of our comfort zone. Maybe require a bit of a change in organization, but in fact, we know how to do it. So for me, it might be to go running, for example, every day, I know how to do it. I know how to get myself organized. It is going to push me out of my comfort zone, but I know exactly how I can build up to it. I know I can download an app and I can follow a program. So there's no worry about the how. And then the level three goals are goals that we don't know the how. And that's where we really get the transformation. So The how goal might be something about, well, I want to, have a real impact on the coaching world and talk about what's I think is important for example, but I don't know how I'm going to do that. Maybe it's going to be writing more articles. Maybe it's going to be training to be a trainer. I don't know. So that's a real level three goal, and that's, where I'm going to have the biggest transformation, because I have to learn truly learn. The pathway isn't clear, but that doesn't matter. Those are the kinds of goals that we're looking for.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, absolutely. I imagine most people don't start out with a level three goal in mind, but I'm curious what drives them to seek out a coaching relationship in the first place and how they're thinking about that.

Ann Collins:

Yes, that's an interesting one. Certainly they very rarely come with those level three. In fact, I can't think of anybody who has, and I think it would be quite difficult to get to that possibly on your own as well without having really thought that through. But I think why people search out coaching, well the people who come to find me often, they come because they've come to one of my free events. I quite often do free webinars because exactly that people don't really know what it is. So that gives them a little bit of a taster. And, for example, I do one talking about those goals and very often that's can be a bit of a click for somebody to think, oh yes, that's the kind of thing I need to do. That's what I want to do. I don't want to just do the same things and set the same kind of goals and get the same kind of results. I do want to make that kind of bigger change. So people have to be ready for it. I think, there are lots of debates around in coaching about whether everybody is coachable and I think everybody is if they want to be. That's the thing you have to want it because ultimately the client does the work. I can be there to support and to help to remove those blockages in terms of thinking. But ultimately the action can only be done by the clients. So, people have to be ready for it. And sometimes it might take quite a while before they are ready for that process. It's something to be considered when people are going into coaching and it's something that also, you have to make sure you're with the right kind of coach and the right coach. You have to feel confident and feel comfortable with that person. And you have to make sure that they're able to help you with the right kind of thing. I had someone recently. Who wanted me to help him with his business? And I said, well, I'm sorry, I'm just learning about business myself. I'm a coach, but I'm sorry, I can't help you with business coaching, but I know somebody who can, so coaches are very good like that, we will sign post people to other coaches who specialize in that area. So that's a nice thing about the coaching world. Generally, the people are very good at picking up clients and helping out. And so we make sure the match is good.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. Once you enter into that kind of world, everyone is so supportive and everyone just genuinely wants everyone to be better and work from strengths as you said. So I think it's a really nice uplifting process. One more question on this, about the rapport. It sounds like through the workshops and videos that you've produced, that you're really building rapport with people before you know that they exist. But also when you take on a new client, you mentioned that 360 degree feedback process where you're talking to their own team and everything. There's a vulnerability involved in that. And I'm curious how honest people are at the start about what their own challenges are and how they see themselves and how much honesty you start out with and how much bubbles up as you go along.

Ann Collins:

Yes, I feel that people bring to the table what's right for them at that moment. And that can change. And quite often it does change, but I honestly feel that it's not people not being honest. If they're not sharing it, it's just what they're ready to share at that moment. And that can go up and down and it depends on what's going on in people's lives. We all know that on a particular day, we can be feeling better than on another day. So I always try to meet people where they are in that particular moment. And that could even change during a session because if we've touched on something that's maybe a little bit challenging, maybe we need to just, lighten up a little bit and come back at another time. It's about constantly trying to keep that rapport, and read the signs and watch people very carefully, to be tuned into what they need in that moment. I don't always get it right. I do my best, but it's a case of being extremely concentrated. And I think that's one of the elements of coaching which is very interesting is that level of concentration that's required and being on good form yourself as a coach. That's really important. Yeah. Just going back to the 360, is that in fact, the way that I do it is with a form. The client sends the form and they choose the people that they send it to. So the client is absolutely in control of that process.

Danu Poyner:

Okay. Makes sense. Thank you. I really liked the way you framed that. People bringing to the table. What's right. For them at the time. I think that's a nice image. Interesting. You're using the word concentration. Do you draw a distinction between concentration and listening or is one a version of the other?

Ann Collins:

I think they are different. For me, listening, especially really active listening is obviously requires concentration. But I think, listening itself is a separate skill in my mind. But it does, of course involve being extremely attentive and not just using the ears, but also looking very carefully at people and seeing their body language and how they're reacting to a question and listening to the tone of voice and listening to the speed. There are lots of techniques to build rapport, but one of them is to match that of the other person. I'm sure you've noticed when people are sometimes very upset they'll lift their voice and they'll go higher and maybe speak slightly louder and all slightly faster. Now, in that case, if you can see that someone is getting a little bit anxious about something, I might deliberately slow down and lower my voice. So you're listening and reacting and trying to keep the space is what's coaches always talk about holding the space, which I'm not sure that means very much to people outside of coaching. But what it means to me is it's making sure that there is a space that's always open for that person to communicate what they want and to make sure that they feel safe and supported in whatever they want to communicate in that moment.

Danu Poyner:

Thank you. I think that's a really good explanation. And then that leads me to my next question, which is I see you offer emergency coaching sessions. I'm very curious to know what is the coaching emergency. And if you have any examples of that, as I imagine holding that space would be a slightly different and more high pressure in that situation.

Ann Collins:

Yes. It's an interesting one. And obviously an emergency is all down to the clients to decide what's an emergency. It's often arises when there are difficult conversations to be had. So that could be for a job interview, or it could be a difficult conversation at work that has to be had around performance or something like that. Emergency coaching would be a last minute preparation for something like that. But it doesn't arise very often, but I think it's important to offer that. And then in terms of my coaching, I have an unlimited, package for my clients so they can have as many sessions as they want. But I do say to them, I think once a week is probably intense enough, but if they do need an emergency session, then, if I'm available, if I can, then I'm very happy to do that.

Danu Poyner:

Thank you. Understood. I'm hearing that you're taking this very tailored bespoke approach to coaching. Every client is different. Do you see, when you zoom out a little bit, a red thread that connects the different experiences that people are having.

Ann Collins:

Yes. It's interesting because I've just done an exercise actually, where I've gone back to previous clients just to ask them what they thought of their experience, because we know that the impact of coaching is often delayed. So often what people will say at the end of a session, and they might talk about feeling energized or feeling motivated or feeling better in some way. And then during the next week or two weeks, they'll translate that into some kind of action that we've agreed usually. So then the feedback is a bit different. It's we, as I felt different about that, or something changed or they might be that they didn't do the action. And so then they're reflecting on that. And then months afterwards, and sometimes six months after I finished coaching with somebody, I will receive an email and they'll tell me about something that's happened or something that they've done, something that they've changed in their lives. And they'll say that's because of the coaching. So this sort of this different stages of impact is something that I see. But I think as a red thread, through all of that, it's all about changing the way people are thinking. And that's what they say. They say I'm thinking differently. It's very interesting because people often arrive with a goal. It's all about doing, I want to do this. I want to do something different. I want to have a different kind of job or have a different kind of career. And in fact, What they leave with some is something far greater in many ways, because they've changed the way that they have thought about themselves and their own capacities, which has an impact on everything. It's really a privilege to work with people and to see that kind of transformation, and people describe that in different ways. People will articulate in that way. And other people will say it in a different way, but I think that that's the message that I receive. But again, it's all about perception. Isn't it? Am I receiving what they are really feeling? With coaching we never really know.

Danu Poyner:

Well, as you say, ultimately, it's the client doing the work. So it makes sense that to get a transformational outcome, they would need to change the way that they think and maybe drop some beliefs and have some different beliefs. So that makes sense.

Ann Collins:

Yeah.

Danu Poyner:

You said something that made me curious about what normally brings a coaching relationship to a close. How long do you normally work with people? How does everyone know when to stop?

Ann Collins:

Yes. I think it's different for everybody. For the one-to-one clients who are really thinking about how can they gain clarity around their purpose and where they want to go. That tends to be six months. After that, some people are absolutely ready to go and some want to stay a little bit longer. I have a different kind of program that follows on from that if they want to, or they can continue with the one-to-one program. So it depends, it's really down to the client to decide, are they satisfied with where they are now? And do they feel ready to move on? Certainly the idea is that they feel autonomous in taking forward their learning in a sense to the next steps without me, that's the idea. It's not intended to be longterm for many, many years, but I haven't been coaching for that long to be able to tell you what might happen over a five-year period.

Danu Poyner:

Thank you for that. Let's zoom out a bit now then and talk about how you came into the coaching work. You've been doing a lot in education for a long time, but was there ever a coaching plan, A.

Ann Collins:

Yes, it's interesting because I moved to France and we decided to come here just for a couple of years originally, my children were small and when we were here at the beginning, I did a little bit of English teaching, for adults and we decided to stay and I set up an English language school for adults with a very different kind of formula than has been typically offered. As a result of that, I got to know a lot of professionals who wanted to improve their English. And what I realized was that people were coming to me saying they wanted to improve their English, but actually what they wanted to do was change a lot of things in their lives. And I realized that, I could do my best and listen, and just be generally supportive, but I didn't have the skills to help them to really work out what was stopping them from making these changes. These were very successful people in business who certainly had the capacity to make the changes but something was stopping them. They often thought that learning English would be the solution, but in fact, it wasn't, it was never about learning more grammar or learning more vocabulary. It was something much deeper about, am I good enough to do that? Can I get over this confidence block to be able to take that next step in my career? There weren't many students like that, but they fascinated me and I thought. I really want to learn how to help people like that who are stuck. And in fact, my teaching ability is not able to take them to that next level. And that's where I thought about the coaching and started to explore that. Then the COVID hit. Um, And all of a sudden I had the opportunity to do the online training. My own children were at home and their activities had stopped. So I was no longer being a taxi driver for a good part of the week. So I had the opportunity to study in that time and I took it. So it was a number of factors that came together. But to answer your question coaching wasn't a kind of a dream that I've had forever. It really came out of working with adults in a different kind of way before I'd always worked with children. It was a different space. I'm very grateful to those students who opened my eyes to the fact that there was this extra step of helping people to learn I could explore.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you. Can you tell me a little bit about the language school then? You mentioned you had a different framework that you were working in there.

Ann Collins:

Yes. In fact, it's still running, we've had about seven years now and we have small groups for adults, six students maximum, with a teacher and an assistant. So it's very small and the focus is on communication. And we also use a very practical way of teaching. So for example, the new ones that come in, they've often done some English at school, but they've never really used it to communicate. We always start with cooking. I'm sure you know, that the French love cooking, they love food. So we start with a master chef module and that really gets everybody talking. It gets everybody wanting to communicate about their food and they actually, at the end of the first six weeks, they actually present a recipe and they have to speak and and tell everybody how it's made and cook at the same time, which is not that easy in a second language. That method definitely seems to work here and people enjoy it and there's a lot of humor and we try to make the curriculum, very focused on adults because a lot of textbooks for language learning, they're targeted at students or university students, and they're not really targeted at 30, 40, 50, 60, and even 70. We have a lot of retired people who come as well. So we adapt and we use lots of different resources. We use a lot of video. We use a lot of acting. We keep it very active. We do events. We have aperitifs we go for dinners. This was obviously pre COVID. So we really made it very sociable. My idea was that I would like my students to feel that they are coming really to my home. They are coming to my home and that they are being welcomed as a guest, not as a student and this made all the difference because people want to feel welcomed. They want to feel that they're important that they're visible in the classroom and myself and my other teachers as well. We make a huge effort to really listen to what's going on in people's lives to remember to ask about their families. We create a family atmosphere for these adults and with that, they thrive because they feel safe. They feel safe to make mistakes. Having done the coaching training. I think we've moved even further with that to looking at how can we develop, a goal setting mechanism that's much more expansive than we had before. How can we tap into that purpose and really tap into the motivation, and looking at the goal beyond the goal. This is what always very motivating for people. When people say, why do they want to learn English? And they say, oh, because I want to go on holiday. Well, why do you want to go on holiday and speak English? And then they say, because I want to be able to speak to people. Why'd you want to speak to people or because I want to actually connect with them. Okay. There we have it. That's the real goal, because that is motivating. I want to connect with people. And then that changes everything because that connection is where the power is.

Danu Poyner:

Thank you so much. There's so much in that answer. There is a real sense of hospitality in the way that you're going about that in a literal sense with the cooking and coming into the home, but also in the broader sense, certainly making me want to learn

Ann Collins:

Oh, good. Good. Yes. I think the hospitality side is so important for adult learners. I've seen that hospitality in education throughout my experience with children as well. The more welcome you can make people feel as a teacher, I always used to stand at the door and welcome every single child as they came in the room. Partly to give them that sense of hospitality, but also to really read how somebody is as they enter the classroom and to be aware of what's going on for them. And tapping into that little bit of news, or it might be something about the football game that's happened the week before, or just to really check in and it only takes a few seconds, but again, it's all about building that rapport. At the time, I didn't know, that's what I was doing now as a coach. I know it is, but I think it's so powerful. We must give teachers the space do that and to build that rapport because it accelerates learning. We know that we can feel it when we're students, if a teacher cares about us and we're visible, it changes everything. Doesn't.

Danu Poyner:

absolutely. It's that rapport building something you've always had in you or is it something that grew through experiences you've had.

Ann Collins:

I'd like to say it was always there, but I don't know. I think probably my experiences of working overseas a lot as a young person, I think that helped a huge amount. Even as a very young student, just doing A levels in the UK, so that's kind of AJT and I worked in an old people's home and I think right from that moment, I learnt very quickly that I needed to build rapport and I watched other people doing it. I remember working as a care assistant in the old people's home and watching the more experienced ones and how they manage to connect with old people who were anxious and who couldn't really understand what was going on and how they adapted to the different people and also to the relatives who visited, how they manage to reassure them, how they managed to communicate sometimes quite difficult news in a very sensitive way. Again, building rapport, maybe with a bit of humor or just by offering a cup of tea at that right moment. I definitely learnt a lot in those early years as a care assistant. And then I think when you are a foreigner in another country, it's a crash course in trying to build rapport because the rules are different. So you have to notice them quicker and try to learn and pick them up and follow the cues from other people. All of that is about building rapport really is about learning how people communicate joining in.

Danu Poyner:

You mentioned the old people's home work, and you've also done a lot of volunteer work that's taking you to Zimbabwe and Germany and Nepal. What can you tell me about all of that?

Ann Collins:

Yes. I think all of those experiences they've been so formative for me in so many ways, because when you volunteer, you feel like you're giving something, obviously, but in fact, you're receiving so much more. Each of those experiences were very different kind of experiences. One in Germany, I was, living with a family and working in a hospital as a volunteer, and it was only for three months. And that was my first experience of really being away from home. I had so much to learn just. Organizing myself. So then going to Zimbabwe from there, I was working on a mission station and a children's home. And there was able to give a lot more, but again, I was able to learn a lot more. So I think that you have this ability to the more open that you can be, the more confident you feel, you're able to learn more and also able to give more. And then being in the pool, I was there for three years, I worked as a volunteer for a good part of that. And then I worked for the UN as a consultant, so that wasn't voluntary, but those kind of experiences. I think you'd learn so much from seeing other people doing their work and watching how people just communicate has been the biggest learning and that's something that, of course I've brought with me to France and serves me very well as a coach because I'm working across international borders now. I'm still learning that it's never finished.

Danu Poyner:

Uh, of course. One of the things that we like to do on the podcast is dig into the paths that people take through life, because it's never a straight line. And that range of experience that you've just rattled off, certainly says diverse career. I'm wondering if you can flesh out a little bit how those opportunities come up and how you're selecting, what to move to, and draw a line for me, from those early experiences to where you are now.

Ann Collins:

I suppose, when I was at university, I always knew that I wanted to do VSO, which is voluntary service overseas. And from a very young age, a friend of mine, her dad had done VSO, which is usually a two year placement, somewhere in the developing world. I remember at the age of 14, listening to him talk about his experience. And I remember very clearly saying to myself, and I didn't say it out loud or to anyone else, one day, I'm going to do that. And it was amazing that at the age of 26, That's when I did it. I just loved the idea of the adventure of working in education. Education has always been something very close to my heart. I come from a family of teachers. Everybody's a teacher pretty much. And working in that environment and having an adventure and learning about another place in the world, all of this was something that attracted me from a very young age. So I would say that early part was all leading towards that experience in Nepal. After that, I think a lot of it was opportunities that came up. When I came back from Nepal, was lucky to be offered a job and I was doing my PhD at the same time. I took that, and I was very happy to be able to do that. So I think there's been a mix of times where I've been very focused on where I wanted to. And there've been other times where I've been very lucky and I've been offered opportunities, or people have said, we really need someone like you, would you be interested? I said, yeah. Okay. I'm someone who's always curious. I love the name of your podcast. Always curious, And I don't really have fear around things, not going well. I'm quite happy to give things a go and if it goes, well, it goes well. And I've had some times that haven't gone well, and then I fixed it pretty quickly. So yeah, I think there's a big part of me that enjoys trying new things. Definitely. And then when we came to France, it was a little bit different there. I think it was about really thinking about what my purpose was because I was being offered a lot of little bits and pieces. Of teaching. I had to just stop myself and think, no, really what do I want to do at this point? My children were starting to get to the point where they could go to school and that had a bit more time in the day. And I had to just take that moment to think, I need to stop now and really think what's important to me. And I came back to my original purpose of education and that's when I started my English language school, but there was a moment there where I was a bit lost. I think often that can happen when you've got young children and all of a sudden there is an opportunity to transition out of that world of small children back into the workplace. And that transition be a bit tricky. I think been diver, so yes, you're absolutely right.

Danu Poyner:

I wonder if you can tell me a bit about the VSO experience, because as you said, you've been building up to it for a while. It sounds very transformational. Could you tell me about what you were doing and what it was like?

Ann Collins:

Yes, absolutely. I was based in Katmandu and I was an education advisor to the Nepalese government on their basic education program. This was a program that was shared between the British government, which provided the funding for VSO and the Nepalese government who then welcomed a number of us in different roles to work on the education program. My job on paper was to work around the resource centers and to work on teacher training. In reality, my job became doing a lot of advocacy work for girls education and for helping my colleagues, my counterparts, around policy. It was very interesting because it evolved. And I think for the government there, they didn't really know who they were going to get. So it was a case of we got on, I got on well with my counterparts. And so I ended up working on what they were working on and really helping around those policy issues. I also learnt Nepalese. And so we had language training which helped enormously. So I was really able to support my counterparts, from the inside as it were. And they were talking a lot to other countries about funding. So there were a lot of discussions about where that money should be going and a lot of communication between the donors and the government. And often I would be. Not in the middle of it all, but certainly trying to smooth the way so that the discussions could happen, productively in the right space. So my job on paper, wasn't the same as the job. And I think that was a great learning, so often it's all about the people, isn't it, it's all about who you communicate with and what people want, what people need and what you can give at that particular time. I'm sure if I did that job now, I do it differently. But that's what I was able to do at the time. I really enjoyed it and it was very challenging at times. But it was transformational. And I think I grew up a lot in that time. It changed my view of teamworking of leadership in particular and how to get things done. Quite a lot of the time, it's easier to get things done over a cup of tea, standing outside and having an informal chat that's where the real work happens. So I think, was definitely transformational and, no, I'm very grateful to have had that experience that's for sure.

Danu Poyner:

You talk about, the job being different in practice to what it is on paper. That sort of dealing with ambiguity and figuring that out is in itself quite an important skill. Is that something that you developed through that experience?

Ann Collins:

Yes, I think it was, it's not something I've thought about before, but I think you're right. And I think it was such a big change. Certainly coming from a teaching environment, our terms and conditions and quite clear, you know you're responsible for this class. You teach these subjects, you're expected to do this duty and that duty and everything is pretty clear. But in a job like that, if I wasn't flexible, nothing would have happened. I wouldn't have been able to do anything. So that was a huge learning curve. And I think very useful one to realize that well, firstly, we can be flexible. I think that's the first lesson learning that we can be that flexible and an almost turned things on its head completely in the way that we thought we were going to work and the practicalities of it. And being able to find a way to work when you're trying to understand a different culture, a different language, and trying to be diplomatic. And at the same time, trying to be challenging in one sense, but supportive as well. None of those skills are that easy. And I think at the age of 26, that was a steep learning curve.

Danu Poyner:

It is a big adventure. It seems to me to be 26 and on the other side of the worlds, unfamiliar language and high level settings, doing something quite important and knowing that it's important, but not knowing exactly what's required and trying to feel the way through that. I wonder what help and support you would have really wanted then and how you managed to figure it out yourself.

Ann Collins:

I was very lucky because I had a colleague from the Danish international aid community who was also working in the ministry of education. And she was very experienced and she took me under her wing and I learnt a huge amount from her. So that kind of on the spot support was really useful. And then as an organization, VSO had people in place as well. And we got a good deal of support from the local office. And we also had support from previous volunteers who was still in country, who were able to give us advice. So in fact it was a whole learning community that relied on people just going that extra mile. And of course, all of us volunteers, we then wanted to help the next group who came along to find their way as quick as possible as well, because in fact, two years is a very short period of time. You need to settle in quickly and get going quickly to have any kind of impact and to be seen as useful in any kind of way.

Danu Poyner:

You've mentioned the move to France and that also seems like a transformational time and it was meant to be another two year adventure. And now your tip 10 years into that two year adventure, is

Ann Collins:

yes. Nearly 11. yes. My husband and I had always wanted to learn French. And we'd always wanted to have a linguistic adventure with the children when they were little. And we naively thought that we would all be fluent in French. After about a year, we thought that would be enough. Maybe we're slow learners, but it wasn't enough. And at the same time, we found that we were really enjoying what we were doing here. We also felt that we hadn't finished that we wanted to do more. We wanted to really make the most of being in such a beautiful place. And we were just starting to make friends after those two years. We had good friends, but in terms of the language, we were just starting to be able to form those kinds of good relationships. So we decided to stay a little bit longer. And that was when I decided also to start my language school and decided, okay, we'll buy a flat and really settle for a time. The children were ready to then start primary school. So we decided to make that a longer term adventure. It has been a family adventure. We've enjoyed it. It's very different kind of adventure to Nepal and you might say, well, it's not that far from England, is it? There's only a little stretch of water, but actually culturally it's quite a leap but we've thoroughly enjoyed making that leap. Although we are going to be moving back this summer. We have decided that now is the time to go back to grandparents and so on. So it's coming to the end of this adventure, but then for our children, moving back to the UK is going to be an adventure because for them, that's going to be a new phase. And so that will be the next stage.

Danu Poyner:

That's exciting. I'm curious how you went about settling into a French way of life. I'm sensing that the language school was actually an important way of, doing that for you as a learning experience. But what can you tell me about that?

Ann Collins:

Yes. That came a bit later, but I would say in the early days we were very lucky to arrive into a town where in fact, it's pretty small here in Balfour on the French Swiss border. I think that really does help because we were quite visible as the only English family in the old town. So we got to know people pretty quickly and at the school gate, of course, having young children really helped. My daughter was going to preschool. So I was going to the school gate four times a day. I was spending quite a lot of time learning French, and every afternoon, my youngest was having her afternoon nap in the buggy, but I would go to a different cafe every day and do my homework and just talk to people as much as I could in my very broken French, but that was a great way to meet people. It was also a great way to practice my French and really to get up and running with it. And it got me into a rhythm of practicing what I'd learnt in my lessons. Then I also set up a bilingual book club with other people that I met, for people who wanted to speak English and French. And that's still going today, actually, that book club and I set up a conversation group for women who wanted to speak English. And through that group, I made very nice friends very early on. Again, it was the voluntary work in a sense that sort of got me moving. And also joined the local church. And again, that was a great way to meet people and increasingly we've done more in that space as the children have got big Erin in terms of the music we sang and we organized bits of music here and there. So yes, there've been lots of different avenues of just joining in. I'd say been our strategy. Just join in.

Danu Poyner:

Join in dive in. That's very inspiring and a good lesson. I just wanted to come back to what you mentioned about girls' education. I know girls education is very important to you. Firstly, one thing I like to do on the podcast is just ask people to explain something as if to a 10 year olds. I wonder if we could unpack what girls education actually means to you in that way.

Ann Collins:

Sure. So, for me, girls education is all about making sure that every child has a right to go to school. But more than that, Every child also has a right to a good education, an interesting education, one that's stimulating. Unfortunately in many countries, particularly girls are not always getting that, particularly after primary school. Before COVID many girls of primary age were getting into school that has now unfortunately, definitely backtracked, but it was really that secondary age group that has had my interest for some time. And through the Balfour school of English and my coaching company, we support a program in Nepal that gives scholarships to teenage girls and also young professional women to learn English. So I'm still very much involved in that. It's all about empowering girls and women to be able to use the potential that they have. That's the crux of.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah. And the PhD that you mentioned you were doing was about girls education.

Ann Collins:

Yes, partly it was about Dalit girls. So Dalit are low-caste children. So it was really about the group that are the hardest to reach and the hardest to keep in school, but also the ones that were discriminated against the most and still are. My research was actually looking at government policy. It was pretty dry in a way, looking at how those policy documents reflected the fact that that particular group were so excluded. What I was finding was that group were actually invisible in the policy

Danu Poyner:

um,

Ann Collins:

Probably not a great surprise.

Danu Poyner:

no, you certainly, making me recall the critical policy stuff I used to do. How problems are defined in the policy, affects the solutions and who is silenced and who is present in those conversations is hugely important.

Ann Collins:

Yes, absolutely. If people are not even included in the policy, then it's almost impossible to have any real government action on it. That's for sure. It's absolutely vital the groups that are discriminated against appear very visibly and are promoted in the policy, but when they're not actually there at all, it's clearly a red flag.

Danu Poyner:

What was the outcome of that path that you were following with the pH.

Ann Collins:

I suppose I probably did about 18 months, work on it. And to be very honest, I loved the topic. I was absolutely passionate about it, but I didn't love being an academic. It just wasn't me. I was doing it at the Institute of education in London. And the first part was organized a bit like a master's degree. So you had quite a few sessions with other people. It was quite sociable. You did certain sessions about research. So it was like being a masters student and quite fun. And then it got to the part where you have to get on and work independently. And that part, I didn't enjoy so much. But what it did help me to do was to be used as a consultant by UNESCO, for example, in Bangkok. And I worked a lot for UNICEF in Pakistan as well. So as a result of doing that PhD study, even though I didn't finish it, it did result in other work which was much more practical, it was really out in the field. And I was working on teacher training materials, or I was reviewing research and then I had to write it up in a way that was accessible for people writing policy. I was able to use those academic skills, but in a much more practical way. And that suited me much better. I certainly enjoyed that and I felt I added some value.

Danu Poyner:

Thank you for sharing that. I think that's an experience that quite a few people have in that the structure of the PhD in that academic environment is not always the best fit, but we also talk about how no learning that you do ends up being wasted when you're following your curiosity.

Ann Collins:

Absolutely. And I think it gave me such a good understanding also of what academics do and a great respect for that and for their work and a real interest. I still am passionate about those issues. So I think it's certainly never wasted. And I used it a lot in my teaching, in fact, I've always taught modules around. Girls' education around development. I think the fact that I've actually been to schools in Pakistan in the mountainous areas. And I can describe what it's like for the teachers working there. That means something to the children, I can explain that there children are sitting outside on the floor and it's cold and it's a link in a way between children who are very privileged and have access to an amazingly easy system and those that don't. I hope that in that sense as well, that I've been able to bring some value in my actual teaching.

Danu Poyner:

Mm Yeah. It may be it's a long bow to draw, but do you think there's that those experiences. Connect in any way to the work you're doing with senior leaders now in, coaching? Are you bringing this into your coaching practice in some way?

Ann Collins:

I'm not sure I bring it in directly, but I think when you've worked in those kinds of environments, it keeps you very alert to the fact that what you think you're seeing is maybe not correct. It makes you question more. It makes you maybe, analyze things in a slightly different way. And to remember that's just my perception and to not take anything for granted. That's very useful in coaching because everybody communicates in such a different way. Sometimes it is easy and it's dangerous to assume that you've understood something. So those kinds of follow-up questions and that delving a little bit deeper to make sure that I've really understood something. I wonder if that comes from that experience.

Danu Poyner:

Um, I think that's an interesting answer. Thank you. Speaking about how you've learned to do coaching because that's a relatively recent journey for you. We've talked about the best way it seems to learn about things is to actually join in and start doing it. And giving means that you're actually receiving a lot along the way. What is something that you have learned about, coaching that has surprised you along the way?

Ann Collins:

Yeah, it's a good question. I think. That continues to surprise me is just how powerful it is. The fact that you can ask a question that can totally shift someone's view of their situation so that they can start to see solutions for themselves. I find that continually surprises me the power of that. You know, a great question that I love at the moment is, how good are you willing to allow your life to get? And I think, a question like that, even when I ask it to myself, I'm surprised of the answers that come out. So it's having those kinds of questions that give people space to think about things in a different way, and to come to their own conclusions is always surprising, and I can see that my clients, they surprise themselves. They will say, I don't know where that came from.

Danu Poyner:

Without breaking any confidentiality, is there an example of a coaching transformational experience you can share that you're particularly proud of or affected by?

Ann Collins:

It's a bit tricky without giving too much away, because by giving details, probably if the person's listening, they would know that it was them. Um, I think what really makes me feel happy is when I see clients start to do what they really want to do, and they're not pushing anymore. They're not forcing things anymore. It's not a big effort. And even though they're outside of their comfort zone, they're able to enjoy it. It might be to go for a different type of job that they've never been for. It might be to take on a new challenge in their work or a new task. It might be to have a conversation that they've been putting off and all of a sudden it doesn't feel that difficult, because they've got the purpose in mind and they feel, they know how to lean into that conflict and make it a positive experience for everybody which they maybe weren't able to do before. So lots of examples like that, which certainly are transformational because you can apply those to other areas of your life to another situation. That's the beauty of coaching as well, is that people arrive with one goal in mind, but everything they're learning, they can use. It's always something that they can apply to another situation. So it's ongoing. It's I can't remember the phrase, but the gift that keeps giving. Something like that.

Danu Poyner:

Yeah, may I be slightly cheeky and ask what you're focusing on at the moment in terms of goals. Do you have a level three goal you're working on at the moment?

Ann Collins:

Yes, I do. My level three goal for this year is to be expansive. The reason why I chose that is because we're moving back to the UK and I know that with such a big change like that, it would be very easy to say, I won't do that until we're back in the UK or when we're back in the UK, I will do that. Or, oh no, this year I'm going to be too busy, so I can't do it. So I wanted to have a goal of truly being expansive this year and remember. Moving back to the UK is just one part of it, but I can still be expensive in all the rest. I'm finding that very useful. I have it in my diary actually in each week. I review my week from the week before. And I look ahead to the next week and expansive is at the top of my list every single week. It keeps me very focused on what I'm saying no to, I don't want to say yes to everything. That's not the answer for me, but the answer is to be careful what I'm saying no to, to make sure that I'm staying in that expansive state, where I can continue to learn, continue to move forward and continue to give the best I can to my clients. Ultimately.

Danu Poyner:

Thank you for sharing that. It's kind of counter-intuitive that being expansive would really be about focusing on what you say no to, but I totally get it. You have your own podcast called leaders who love what they do. What happens on there and is there an episode that you would direct people to?

Ann Collins:

Oh, well, thank you for mentioning that. That's very kind. Yes, I love doing my podcasts leaders who love what they do and it has two parts to it. So I have guests and they are leaders who love what they do. And we talk about what inspires them, what challenges they've faced and what their approach is to leadership. And also, what advice they have for other leaders. So that's always really interesting. And they come from all over the world share experiences from very different industries and organizations from, international aid, but also, luxury brands, education, lots of different things. And then alongside that, I have solo episodes where I talk about issues that have often been coming up for my clients. So I decided to make either a little series or a one-off. And one series in particular does seem to be quite popular and seems to resonate with people. It's called, the inner voice. It was a series of solo episodes that I did. And it's all about how to harness the power of your inner voice. I think it's very interesting because it's about that little voice that can sometimes tear us down and how can we actually transform that into inner voice that is supportive of us when we need it to be, so that might be one for people to try.

Danu Poyner:

Good suggestion. Thank you. I'll put that in the show notes for people to

Ann Collins:

Thank

Danu Poyner:

Um, I particularly enjoyed your one about, shifting from a doing to a being mindset. I thought that was very powerful.

Ann Collins:

Oh, great. We've actually got a webinar coming up about that. The details are available on the podcast for that as well. If anyone's interested.

Danu Poyner:

Wonderful. We'll share those. One thing we always ask people on the podcast is if you could gift someone a life-changing learning experience, what would it be and why?

Ann Collins:

I was thinking a lot about this and it's a great question. I think I would gift someone at a time to live abroad and to experience another culture. It's coaching every day, because you're having to adapt and think and reflect. You learn so much about another place obviously, and other people, but you learn so much about yourself too. And you also learn so much about where you've come from. You see things with a different eye. You're able to communicate in a different way and really have a lot of gratitude for what you have and for the people around you. I think you appreciate what other people do for you. For me, every time I've lived overseas and I do make a distinction between going on holiday and actually living, I think living is another adventure. It's a gift that I would love to give to other people. I've always been very grateful that I had the opportunity to do that. My parents gave me that possibility with their encouragement also to go and do that. In the days before mobile phones and internet, it must've been quite a thing. So yes, be my gift

Danu Poyner:

Thank you. I would second that as well. I remember very clearly, an experience I had when I was bumming around in Berlin for awhile and going to an inter-nations group where all these ex-pat immigrant people and we just caught up and it dawned on me during that conversation, how interesting everyone was and how they're all navigating these unfamiliar experiences, but also just rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it. That was just really nice to be among that group.

Ann Collins:

Yes. The people you meet is it's always a definitely 50% of it.

Danu Poyner:

Absolutely. So thank you for that. We've been talking a long time, but is there something else you'd like to talk about while we're here that we haven't covered or we skipped over

Ann Collins:

Well, I'd just like to say thank you to you. It's just been such a pleasure and thank you for your very thoughtful questions. I've so enjoyed our conversation and thank you for inviting me on the podcast. It's been an absolute pleasure. So thank you.