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Recalling our sliding door moments

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

London Underground train at station
Photo by Josh Wilburne on Unsplash

Last year I met up with a lovely client whom I’d coached five years earlier. As he walked into the café, I could see just by his demeanour that he’d ‘grown’ in himself. He looked confident and comfortable in his own skin.

As we talked about the success he’d attained in his career and the contentment he’d found in his personal life he said: “I didn’t really get some of the things you talked about in those early coaching sessions but as time has gone by I’ve found myself thinking: ‘ah! This is what Hilary meant!’ ”

As we parted he said to me: “You really should make a habit of meeting up with clients a couple of years after coaching because then you’d see the real pay off and they’d be able to thank you.”

It stuck in my mind but – like most things – I’ve been too busy to put it into action. However, this year, when the super-talented Caroline Carruthers, a coachee from the same company got in touch, I knew I had to make the most of it!

I knew Caroline had gone on from being a Chief Data Officer (CDO), to co-writing the Chief Data Officer’s Playbook with Peter Jackson and then setting up their own successful company Carruthers & Jackson Ltd – which specialises in data-driven transformation.

Caroline asked me to take part in two of the six webinar classes running in the Chief Data Officer’s Summer School, a programme founded by Caroline, Peter and Collibra.

The CDO role is relatively new and rapidly expanding as organisations tune into how data can drive innovation and transform. So the summer school sessions bring together a new generation of international data leaders to talk technology, tools, teams, strategy, culture and ethics.

Feeling hot (and humble) in the City

My first 1.5 hour session a couple of weeks ago ran live in London (where Caroline and I were based) and New York (where Peter was) and focused on the first 100 days of a CDO being in role. Many others also joined the webinar from across the globe.

It happened to be on the hottest day on record here in the UK, so the air con of the Devonshire Club, a private members’ club in the City, was very welcome!

As well as talking to our transatlantic audience about authentic leadership and emotional intelligence in their emerging data roles, the webinar focused on Caroline’s story, our coaching experience and what she gained from it.

Caroline was one of the first people I coached. Coaching is a long and tough journey and you need courage and commitment to see it through. During that journey you can start to develop a deeper awareness of when you have choices – rather than just knee-jerking into your usual (but possibly unhelpful) behavioural habits.

When we look back at life we can see our sliding door moments but when you develop a deep sense of self it helps us to see those sliding door moments as they happen. You are better equipped to notice your options, choose the most effective one and take responsibility for it.

From the moment we first met, I felt Caroline was totally committed to facing up to her behavioural habits and if necessary changing them. She wasn’t one for skating on the surface and she leant into the challenge of the coaching I brought.

Authenticity and self-awareness can be transformational

Six years on, I felt humbled to hear how having faith in her authentic self had unlocked her potential. Hearing her draw upon her memories of how she felt at that time was far more impactful than I had expected.

I was right back in that organisation with her – remembering the challenges she faced and how we combined the science of emotional intelligence with practical understanding of Caroline’s personality, values and beliefs.

That fusion created a deep self-awareness of who she was, what mattered, what could ‘trigger’ her threat system, identifying the great strengths that she had (and there were many) and how, in the wrong circumstances, they could go into overdrive and come back and bite her.

She showed honesty, courage, strength and kindness in how she developed her best self in order to fuel her trajectory. But to be honest, until I heard her talk about it, I hadn’t realised just how transformational those early sessions had been.

Caroline is the perfect example of why personal mastery, self-knowing, listening to your gut – whatever phrase resonates with you – is so key for leadership success.

Ultimately it’s all about fighting the natural resistance to stay in the ‘think and do’ comfort zone. The very best leaders sense and feel too and dare to dial into their ‘whole’ system of sense.


Hilary specialises in

Two places available on our UK-based Courageous Women Retreat 26-29th September 2019 . Contact Hilary for details: email: or call 07940928725.

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