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My Journey of Becoming a Master Certified Executive Coach

Jan 31, 2024 | Becoming a Coach FAQ, Executive Coaching

I thought I’d share my story of how I got into executive coaching. I’d never set out to be an executive coach or even pursue coaching as a career. And yet here I am, 15 years later a master certified coach and also the Founder of a coach training academy, training leaders to be executive coaches. 

That’s quite a journey from someone who’s never quite envisioned herself being cut out to become a coach! 

My first executive coaching assignment 

I remember my first executive coaching assignment in 1999. My then-boss said ‘I’ve got a coaching client for you.’ I literally said ‘What’s coaching?’ Together my coaching client and I worked it out. She was a senior leader looking for her first board posting (which she got!) and we worked out how we could help her. From then on, I decided that this was where I should be and this was my passion. 

But before I get into how I got into executive coaching, allow me to share my early career days. 

As I said, I never set out to be a coach, I started my career as a primary school teacher – it was all I wanted to be as a child, and by the time I was 20, I was in charge of a room of thirty – 7-year-old children. Nothing prepared me for that. I was only 20! I taught in Auckland New Zealand and then in London over a 5 year period.

But I soon became unsettled. I wasn’t finding the satisfaction in teaching I had imagined.

Through a series of wonderful coincidences, I got the opportunity to do a small amount of after-school education for teachers – and discovered a passion that wasn’t quite fulfilled. I LOVED working with adults. 

With a lot of courage and some bad timing, I left teaching, straight into a recession, with the aim of becoming a trainer in organisations. After enduring two challenging years, I eventually secured a position in a training department, and the subsequent five years of my career brought great satisfaction and joy. I designed and ran leadership and organisation development programmes in Local Government and then switched over to the Healthcare industry. 

During my time, I led teams and enjoyed having an impact within an organisation. However, I felt that unsettling feeling creep in again. 

Upon evaluation of my career values, I found that I loved the work of facilitation and training and what we now know as coaching. And I didn’t love all the organisational aspects, the bureaucracy. And that led me to find my next passion. 

Through the next wonderful series of synchronicities (and a short stint in a consulting organisation), in 2001, I had the opportunity to start to build a coaching and consulting practice and started Bailey Balfour – that was 23 years ago!

And that’s also when I set out to become an executive coach. 

Since then I have been coaching, teaching, and facilitating alongside being CEO of the company. I’ve been living out my passion for teaching adults and coaching while not having to deal with bureaucracy.  

After making that decision, I started my first coach training in 2001 to become certified. I had the privilege of spending 10 days training with Nancy Kline training in The Thinking Environment. Underpinning Nancy’s work is the idea that if we truly deeply listen to someone, magic happens. The person who is being listened to is able to think more deeply and come to new insights. I witnessed this in action and this started my fascination with coaching. 

I also went on to get my Masters in Organisation Consulting and the highest certification in ICF as the Master Certified Coach just to establish myself. The journey was not straightforward! I publicly failed a coaching assessment about 15 years ago and nearly gave up. But I managed to convince myself that I could be a good coach and kept moving forward. 

Part of my failings through learning to become a coach allowed me to craft a safe environment for our students in our ICF Accredited Coach Training – I learned what to do for students and what not to do to provide them an environment where they are set up for success! 

Upon reflecting on my career journey, from becoming a teacher to now a coach and founder of a coach training academy, my deep interest still lies in coaching at work, coaching leaders and executives. I believe that leadership and organisations are relational at their core. And coaching sits at the center of this. In essence, I enjoy leading and guiding executives and leaders to become successful at work. 

For executives and leaders, this means having a coach to explore how they lead through relationships and that this is critical to their success. I love helping leaders become transformational. Who becomes a leader who builds a successful business and a leader people want to work for, a leader who helps others grow at work.. I am always curious about how our inner critic impacts our effectiveness as a leader and enjoy working with practical tools to overcome this. 

After 25 years of executive coaching, I am still curious and excited about this – the connection between coaching, leadership, and organisations.

In our accredited coach training programmes we help our students make the connection between coaching and leadership. Leaders who coach become leaders people want to work for. Either in becoming an executive coach or a better leader, our programme’s focus is on creating workplaces that are both successful and fulfilling. 

To sum up….

As a leader myself, and coaching leaders, I see that deepening our own self-awareness is part of what helps us to understand and lead others. I am happy that I made many bold decisions in my career to come to where I am and took a chance on myself to pursue my passion. 

I am lucky to have met wonderful colleagues and leaders who saw potential in me and encouraged me to coach. I am glad I took a chance on the training I’ve done and they have been invaluable to my journey of becoming a great executive coach to leaders.

So this is my story of how I got into executive coaching! I’d love to hear about your story as well! I’d love to connect on LinkedIn and learn more.

If you’re interested in becoming an ICF coach find out more here

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Jean Balfour ICF Accredited Professional Coach and Managing Director of Bailey Balfour

Jean Balfour

Founder & Programmes Director


About the Author

Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes. Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.

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