Meet the Crew: in conversation with Janine Woodcock, executive coach & author
Creative is something we all have potential to engage in.
In the latest of our conversation series with our talented Firehaus Crew, we talk career leaps, the writing process, drive and channelling creativity with executive coach and former agency CMO Janine Woodcock, author of ‘The Power of Choices: 7 steps to smarter decisions about work, life and success’.
Beth Pope: We’re thoroughly delighted to have you as a Crew member, Janine. Tell me: executive coach, author, business mentor, speaker. That’s quite a portfolio! Do you have a favourite?
Janine Woodcock: Thanks Beth! I love them all. I obviously choose and manage how much I do of each. Rather than what I love most, it’s about what connects them all, which is helping people to be whatever they want to be.
BP: Tell me more about that!
JW: When I was a business leader, before I moved into the world of executive coaching, I believed that everybody should be the best they could be. I wanted to bring out their full potential. What I now understand is that people should be allowed to be the best they choose to be. I might think they could do more, but if they don’t want to that’s not appropriate. That’s the space I’m working in.
BP: How did that shift in your own viewpoint happen?
JW: I decided to do my executive coaching masters-level diploma when I was still in agency land. I was working with clients who were going through significant transformations and I felt I needed some frameworks to help me help them even more. But as an agency our role was to find all the answers, so I was quite attached to my version of the truth being right. Of course coaching is the complete opposite. So, during the coaching diploma there were quite a few confronting moments where I realised there was another way. And I still, 6 years later, probably on a daily basis, have to let go of my version of what’s right and best. It’s all about the coachee and their context. Not mine.
BP: What triggered the desire to switch to making coaching your career?
JW: I fell out of love with marketing. I’ve always needed to feel passionate about what I did, and I needed to do something that felt more important. That sounds really crass because marketing is important, but I lost the sense of purpose with it. I remember sitting in a cafe in London and something happened that triggered me - I can’t even remember what it was - and I just slammed my hands down and said ‘Oh my God, I’m going to resign and this is what I’m going to do’. And the next day I had my letter written.
BP: Looking back, how easy was it to have that complete career change?
JW: It’s funny. I’m such a driven person so I don’t really reflect on stuff! It felt such a right decision. So in that sense it was an imperative. This needs to happen. I don’t think I even questioned it. When you start any business there’s luck. And on my diploma I had peer coached someone who was already a very successful global coach. At the end of that session, given I’d not ever really done any ‘proper’ coaching before, she said ‘Janine that’s the best coaching session I’ve ever had. If you ever set up on your own come and talk to us’. So that gave me some work from the get go.
BP: How about the skills you developed as an agency CMO - have you been able to take those with you?
JW: One hundred percent. And that’s about running and promoting the business. When you’ve been a marketer that’s just part of what you do and you know how to have those conversations. That set me up really well. Not being afraid to ask for business. Knowing how to close conversations. Knowing what work to say no to. That’s been really important.
BP: And now you’ve written a book! So for all of those people out there who think they’ve got that elusive book in them, how was it for you?
JW: I didn’t have any expectations because writing a book wasn’t on my list of things to do. Ever. In November 2017 I had joined the Professional Speaking Association and there was a speech from the regional president about ‘The 7 P’s of Publishing’. I was listening to that from the point of view of what she was like as a speaker. But she talked about how, when you write a book, it's all about the purpose. And being able to reach more people. And that connected with me. At the end of the session she asked ‘Who’s got a business book in them?’ and it obviously seeded something. Two weeks later I literally woke up with ‘I’m going to write a book and this is what it’s going to be about’. It was extraordinary.
BP: How did you find the process of writing it?
JW: Terrifying. My initial self narrative was ‘I’m writing a book but I’m not a writer’. And I used to say that out loud, probably for about 6 months. So I had a word with myself. I shut myself away for a week in a health farm, all emails off so I could force myself to write. But I found myself really loving it. Then there were choices about which parts of my personal story to bring into the book, so that brought up a lot of personal challenge. But it’s been massively cathartic.
BP: It was the idea of purpose and reaching more people that prompted you to write the book. So what are you hoping it will achieve?
JW: The purpose was to help people who are driven - like me - make choices in their career that will allow them to sustain that success over time; rather than make those choices that we are all seduced into doing where you tell yourself ‘I’ll just do this extra thing’ and you keep working and working, getting yourself to the point where you can’t do what you want to do.
BP: In my experience that’s a pretty widespread problem.
JW: I work with senior executives and boards. The more senior you are within organisations the more pressured and lonely it is, because people stop giving you feedback. My clients feel this huge sense of responsibility to their teams and their organisations. I remember one chap joking ‘I really love my job. But my son does joke that I love work and my laptop more than him’. And he laughed. So I asked him: do you love your laptop and work more than you love your son? ‘Of course not. But I have to do this’. He continued to justify why that was the case. And then he went really really quiet. And so we had a very different conversation. But again the shut down is ‘I don’t have a choice’. Therefore you just continue pushing and pushing and pushing. And that’s how the Choices Programme was born.
BP: Do you think it’s endemic among certain types of individuals?
JW: It’s people who enjoy what they do and are very driven and passionate about it. And that drive and success being wrapped up in who you are. When those things combine I know, from personal and professional experience, it can be the best and the worst thing. If you keep pushing to the point where you are physically or mentally incapable of doing what you love, it’s terrifying because your whole identity is bound up in that doing.
BP: What aspect of writing the book did you most enjoy?
JW: The solitude. Because as an extrovert I have never created that time in my life before. And actually it’s funny how events sequence. In September 2017 I’d gone on my first yoga retreat on my own for a week and I was so terrified of not having enough to do I had a colouring book, I downloaded films onto my laptop, I had about 3 books. And I didn’t use any of them. That was my first experience of choosing to stop and do nothing. And I loved that about writing the book. So I seek that out more now, which is really interesting.
BP: We’re also super excited that we’re collaborating with you on our Ignite your Creative Mindset masterclass!
JW: Me too. I’m honoured to have been asked! Thank you.
BP: Talk to me about the way you’ve been helping people in that area.
JW: Creative with a little c is something we all have the potential to engage in. You only need to look at children to see that we all have that. What I notice now in my work and when I look at my agency experience is the amount of creativity that is shut down before it’s even had a chance to take its first little breath. It’s extraordinary. When you help people understand even at a basic level about neuroscience - how our brains work - it helps them step back from the hard wired mindsets we have about needing to be right or judging the now based on our past experiences. That awareness allows us to step into some of that freedom, which allows creativity to flourish.
BP: I imagine some people might feel apprehensive about going through that process.
JW: They might, but it’s not about something being broken that needs to be fixed. It’s not that you’re not creative enough. It’s more that if you can find ways of tuning into your natural curiosity and be able to let ideas live a little bit more, as a company, we might be able to do x, y and z. So it’s in the context of how to move forward to a new purpose or a new beginning. Which hopefully takes away the apprehension.
BP: What can people expect?
JW: They can expect laughter! The workshop experience is not one where you sit on your seat and just listen. There’s lots of engagement. And challenge - not in the sense of judging, but just noticing. For instance, some personalities speak more than others. And when you’ve brought that out into the room so that it’s really clear, and then one of those extroverted energies cuts right across somebody with an introverted energy and shuts down their idea, all I need to do is look at them both and everyone starts laughing because they can see it playing out. And then the group decide ‘now that we know our group dynamic and how it helps or hinders creativity, what do we agree to do moving forward’. So I work with what comes up in the room, and it’s all in good humour.
BP: I’m very excited about doing that with you.
JW: Well thank you. And I’m very much looking forward to seeing your success. I was very excited when you announced you were getting together as Firehaus. It was meant to be.
BP: Thanks Janine!
Janine’s book, The Power of Choices: 7 steps to smarter decisions about work, life and success, is available from all good book stores now. For details about Janine’s executive coaching, visit www.janinewoodcock.com.