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University of Bristol

University of Bristol

Creating the space to change

“There was a lot to be done – and fast.” 

Sandra Jackson had just taken on a new role as Deputy Director and Head of Development Services at the University of Bristol: “I needed someone to help me work through what I wanted to do and how I should do it.”

And that someone was Flo Bill, our resident coach, confidante and sounding board. As a former major gifts fundraiser, Flo understands the need to ‘show up’ well, whether you’re building donor or internal relationships. “You are your finest resource,” she says. “But often leaders are the last people to build in time for their own personal growth.”

The chemistry call
Sandra and Flo started with a ‘chemistry call’, to check they could build a mutually trusting relationship as coach and client. With both parties more than happy, they moved into six development coaching sessions, some in person and some on the phone.

To start, they spent time digging into what Sandra wanted from the sessions. They would then return to that goal throughout their time together, redefining it if need be. For each session, Flo would invite Sandra to bring an agenda with perhaps two or three ‘micro goals’ to discuss.

Together, they explored Sandra’s work challenges – including managing a large team and a daunting workload – using different coaching techniques. The ‘board room’, for example, invites someone to think about the imaginary ‘board’ that governs their life. Who sits on it? Who dominates decisions? And how might they change it to take more control?

Committing to change
Through it all, Flo was keen to pay attention to Sandra’s learning style: “Being outdoors was really important to her, so we went for a walk near the university and found a visual metaphor to stimulate her understanding.” As Sandra adds: “I learned that walking and talking really helps me to think things through.”

And, as with all coaching, work between sessions was critical. “Progress rarely happens in the session itself, but outside,” says Flo. “You need the drive to work on the actions that emerge. But change is hard, so I do everything I can to support clients through it – recognising that sometimes life just gets in the way.”

“The actions I took away from it all were incredibly helpful,” says Sandra, “They helped me to take control of my workload, and my team’s. They helped me make time for myself, and gave me ways to approach specific work activities, whether project planning or preparing for important meetings.”

Finding answers
As a result of their work together, Sandra now sets time aside each week to note her achievements. As she puts it: “My work has long-term goals, so it’s too easy to feel like nothing’s changing. But creating time to celebrate success reminds you why you’re doing it. It’s the difference between ‘I’m just doing things’ and ‘I’m someone who is achieving’.”

But perhaps the most impactful part of the work was also the most simple: giving Sandra the space to think. “Many people come to me because they have a huge amount on their plate,” says Flo. “As a coach, you need to ‘hold the space’, so that they are comfortable not talking and can really think.”

“Having this space helped me fix on my long-term vision,” says Sandra. “With the pressure off, I was able to find answers and shift my mindset.”

What they say
“Flo built my confidence in my ability to do my role. She has great clarity and brings out clarity in you. She is also an excellent listener and sounding board. She was incredibly supportive, but also challenged me where it was needed. She cares about you as a person, and remembers little details so it becomes a proper relationship. You’re walking into something with someone alongside you, someone who celebrates with you.”

Sandra Jackson, Deputy Director & Head of Development Services, University of Bristol

What we say
“Coaching is a balance between really digging into what people think and then looking forward with practical actions. It was hugely rewarding to see change in Sandra, and it was all down to her commitment. She shows that you can be extremely busy and have a lot to contend with and yet change is still possible. You can be who you want to be and achieve what you want to achieve.”

Flo Bill, Partner
Flo is an accredited and qualified ICF (international Coaching Federation) coach and is studying for a PGCert in Business and Personal Coaching.