The importance of empathetic support

Coach Oliver Hansard talks about how he helps managers with career transition and ‘leadership loneliness’.


Oliver Hansard isn’t afraid to admit it has taken him too long to identify the true purpose to his working life. He has had a wide-ranging career: initially he qualified as a solicitor in City law firm Clifford Chance and then he moved into business roles first in the Tesco-owned data science agency dunnhumby and then at Liberty Global, owners of Virgin Media in the UK.

In an attempt to tie the threads of his career together, Oliver eventually realised that what really intrigued him was the variety of people he met on the way. He has always been fascinated by how different people respond in different circumstances and under different stresses. The psychology of negotiation was a real draw for him, as was managing people and seeing them develop. “I am energised by bringing out the best in people so they can fulfil their potential,” says Oliver.

Two years ago, he decided he wanted a more flexible job and set up his own coaching business, Hansard Coaching. “I love helping people make the most of the potential and skills they have. I find it massively rewarding,” he says. “I am endlessly surprised and optimistic about the talents and futures of the wide range of people I meet and work with.”

Leadership loneliness

Oliver’s coaching practice focuses on senior leaders, middle managers and entrepreneurs in the professional services, media and technology sectors. Much of his work is centred on career transitions, career progression and what he describes as “leadership loneliness”. Often he works with leaders who find themselves stuck for a variety of personal and organisational reasons. “Coaching is rarely a remedial activity,” Oliver explains. “More often than not, it’s about helping someone see their situation from a different perspective and enabling them to design their own solution. It’s not just about offering a hug; it’s empathetic support with a tangible edge; an outcome that moves the individual and their business forward.”

Oliver believes that coaching has an important role to play in supporting talent, particularly because of the ever-increasing velocity of change in today’s workplace and because leaders have less and less time to develop the next generation. “Take a newly promoted manager, for example”, Oliver says. “One day you are one of the pack and the next day you are promoted and your responsibilities change dramatically.” Some find that people no longer speak to them in the canteen and that they have no-one to bounce ideas off. “We don’t prepare people enough for management,” says Oliver. “Businesses are good at promoting talent, but not at helping them land in that new role effectively and helping them to succeed. That’s where coaching can come in.”

Guided self-reflection

When it comes to career transitions, Oliver is clear that guided self-reflection can make a big difference. “Neuroscience shows that we ruminate massively before we make decisions. A bit of guidance can achieve great results. Most of the work is done outside of the coaching room, but coaches help to get people to think in a structured way that points them in the right direction, understanding who they are and what they want to do,” says Oliver.

Most of the people he coaches are senior managers or directors between the ages of 35 and 55 as businesses tend to be more prepared to invest in one-to-one coaching for longer term, more senior employees. Most are parents and the majority of issues they have with regard to stress are a combination of home and work pressures. “People are increasingly putting pressure on themselves to be better parents than their own or by trying to be just better than those around them. People measure themselves constantly and feel they are failing, but when you give them permission to be the best they can be – without reference to others – that is quite a relief,” says Oliver.

For Oliver empathy is a key element of his coaching and is a vital ingredient in a functioning workplace. It’s not necessarily about giving people everything they want, but about listening to and understanding what they need. “Get the balance right”, Oliver says, “and working life can be much more rewarding for both employer and employee”.

*Oliver will be writing a regular quarterly blog for for both employers and employees on a range issues that can be supported with coaching – these will touch on areas such as flexible working, career transitions, empathy and life stage changes.

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