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News
06/24/2020
4 min read

A mirror for leadership: Gai Foskett on the role of a Springboard coach

"All I do is ask questions – the rest of it, they do.”

Gai Foskett, Master Certified Coach, has a talent for keeping things simple. And while that’s undoubtedly a strength in the leadership coaching sphere, it perhaps belies the true value of what she – and Springboards’ volunteers generally - bring to the table.

Making a positive difference in the world

With 19 years of experience in the executive coaching sphere, Gai has an immense pool of knowledge to draw upon – and a clear understanding of what she wants out of volunteering.

“I can’t get rid of fossil fuels. But if I can make a big difference in lots of small places, it turns into a ripple effect.”

“The work I do normally, I have structured it so I always have time and space for one or two pro bono coaching projects. When the ICF (International Coach Federation) sent out a call for Springboard volunteers, I knew I wanted to give my support.”

As she explains, that’s because education is the most important sector there is.

"It’s undernourished, undervalued, but so incredibly important. Teachers shape young minds, and educational leaders – like leaders in any sector – get lonely at the top. It’s such a privileged space to work in.”

Starting with the leader in the mirror

Gai’s approach to leadership coaching is an holistic one, which means – in her words – getting out of the school leader’s way.

“Coaching, it’s a very empowered space for people to do their own thinking. I try to do that, then get out of their way. It’s a little like being a mirror – whether they’re deputy principals or CEOs, they often don’t have people they can speak to about their leadership struggles.”

“That also makes my role one of a sounding board, and a bit of a cheerleader. I provide rigour and accountability to what they say they want to do. It can be scary for the leader, coming into these sessions knowing they’re going to be stretched and challenged.”

“But that’s my job. Finding the simple questions they need to answer, no matter how hard, and then letting them come to that answer themselves.”

Building vulnerability

With that focus on enabling and holding accountable comes some significant challenges – especially in the education sphere.

“Leaders, especially new ones, seem to think they have to know all the answers, and refuse to be seen as vulnerable. They haven’t connected with the idea that vulnerability is courage. You have to learn as a leader that you’re not the one who knows everything – you're the one who empowers your people to find answers themselves, to learn and grow as individuals.”

People tell me things they’ve never told anyone before. About how they think, why they act the way they do – just because nobody has ever asked them.
Gai Foskett, Master Certified Coach

Better than equal

This is a difficult road, especially with so many ingrained behaviours that create barriers to vulnerability in leadership – something Gai understands well.

“When I was a senior executive in the corporate space , working with a lot of male lawyers and accountants, I had to be better to be considered equal. Sadly, I still see this in some workplaces - it's very detrimental.”

“I’ve seen women in leadership who refute that vulnerability because, like I did, they feel they have to know everything just to be seen as equal by their male coworkers. It’s an incredibly hard approach, because that idea that vulnerability is weakness is still so pervasive.”

Coming back for more

Despite the many struggles for leaders in education, Gai remains committed to helping them succeed.

“People tell me things they’ve never told anyone before. About how they think, why they act the way they do – just because nobody has ever asked them before.”

“That’s the thing with Springboard volunteering – you have the opportunity to make such a huge difference to leaders who play the most important role in our children’s lives.”

“It cascades down as well. You help leaders understand themselves, they help their team, who then pay it forward to others. That ripple effect, the trust you build, it is just incredible. If you’re ever on the fence about whether you should do this kind of work, let me tell you: just do it!”

Find out more about how you can help New Zealand schools

Capacity Partners

Capacity Partners are matched with a principal undertaking the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme, meeting one-on-one with them throughout the year with through nine workshops. They build trust, understand the needs of the principal and their context and support the principal in building their strategic plan and their leadership in their unique situation.   As a Capacity Partner, you will work with principals who are new to Springboard Trust and may have backgrounds, specialisations and experiences vastly different from your own. Taking the time to listen, learn and leverage your expertise to support them is critical to success.   The experienced Springboard Trust team will match you with a principal, making all the necessary introductions before the programme begins. You’ll also be part of a cohort with five other principals and their volunteer Capacity Partners, as well as a volunteer who will facilitate each workshop.   Who makes a great Capacity Partner?  Typically, Capacity Partners are senior leaders in their organisation, who are highly capable and skilled professionals.  Experience is typically in strategic planning, change or programme management with strong coaching skills. They may also be emerging leaders hoping to support their learning and ongoing career growth, or who want to accelerate their development in this area.   Volunteers who are also skilled and experienced in leadership or facilitation.   You’ll have experience in coaching, understand how to lead people (particularly from a strategic perspective), and grasp the core ideas of strategic planning, change management and transformation. Time Requirements Capacity Partners are asked to volunteer approximately 40 hours of their time annually, including a three-hour induction for first-time volunteers and nine half day workshops over a calendar year. Programmes typically start in March and have their final celebration workshops in November.  Participation in the workshops is encouraged to ensure maximum learning and impact for the volunteer but also encourages the conversation and discussion that happens within the cohort. 

Subject Matter Experts

The Subject Matter Expert (SME) role is a flexible opportunity to support alumni (principals who have completed the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme) as they take on a bespoke project built around their strategic plan.   This might be assisting them at a Kickstart Your Strategy workshop, helping them review an annual plan, or simply sitting down with a principal and/or their team to help them clarify goals for the year ahead. What makes a good Subject Matter Expert? SMEs are typically senior leaders in their organisation, and have a wide range of expertise, including but not limited to:  Change management  Strategic leadership  Instructional design and leadership  Project management  Transformation projects  Coaching  Strategy analysis and refresh Marketing, branding and communication  Depending on the project, we may require more specialist skill sets for principal support. We would ideally prefer SMEs to have previously worked with Springboard as a Capacity Partner.   Time requirements Due to the variability of the work SMEs do, requirements may vary. Setting up a project usually takes 8-10 hours, while implementation may be anywhere from four hours to 50, across three to 12 months.  

Coaches

Volunteer coaches work in the High Performing Leaders (HPL) programme, building an individual principal’s leadership insight, capability and practice – all with the goal of them successfully leading their school to better student outcomes and delivery to their strategic plan. You could be working with alumni principals, their leadership teams or their middle leaders.  What makes a good coach?  Our coaching volunteers are typically senior or middle leaders in their organisation, with extensive people coaching experience . They may also be emerging leaders, looking to accelerate their development but still have a core capability to coach and development others  Due to the advanced nature of the HPL programme, Coaches should be highly skilled in the usual areas of requirement: coaching, leadership development and planning, accredited or experienced in debriefing 360-degree surveys and analysis, as well as in-depth emotional intelligence.   Time requirements Coaching volunteers will have to spend at least 10 hours on the HPL programme, over a 90-day period (a single school term).  

Facilitators

Volunteer Facilitators Facilitators work in two of our programmes – the Strategic Leadership for Principals Programme and High Performing Leadership Teams (HPLT). In the former, they work with a full cohort of six principals and volunteers, while in the latter they work with full leadership teams. While facilitating SLPP means working with principals new to Springboard, in HPLT they will be working with experienced principals (now alumni of Springboard Trust) and their leadership teams. This presents a unique set of dynamics every time, and can be an incredibly rewarding for those who volunteer their time.   What makes a great facilitator?  Typically, facilitators we work with are middle to senior leaders in their organisations, with extensive experience in people coaching or leadership. They may also be emerging leaders looking to accelerate their development, or highly skilled individuals in this area.   The key aspects facilitator should excel in are the art of facilitation itself, the ability to bring the content to life for the participants and how they can relate it to their own unique context.  Experience working with High Performing Teams and Leadership Development helps bring the programme to life for the participants.  Facilitation of SLPP in particular, facilitators should have experience in leading teams, as well as the ability to engage large groups of people and tell stories with ease.   It is critical that facilitators have strong emotional intelligence skills as you will facilitating cohorts often in varying situations of need , and contexts you are not familiar with.  Empathy and listening skills are a must.   Please note that in most cases, we prefer Facilitators to have prior experience as a Springboard Trust Capacity Partner so they have experienced the programme from that perspective.   Time requirements Facilitation volunteers for SLPP will need to volunteer 50-60 hours, including induction (for first time facilitators), across the calendar year. For HPLT, facilitators are asked to commit to up 10-15 hours over a three month period.

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