Terry Johnstone

Why coaching has helped me become a better leader

Apart from a dalliance with education and being a Maths teacher, retail has always been my passion.

I was a store manager in Choppington for six years and worked my way up from a customer team member.

Nine months ago I got the opportunity to apply for a secondment as an area manager. I was gobsmacked when I got the call to say I’d been successful.

It’s been challenging, exciting, and frightening all at the same time then last week I found out I’d got a permanent role in the Macclesfield area.

Throughout my nine months I’ve enjoyed some brilliant leadership development opportunities.

Coaching matters

The day I spent with a coach was fantastic and one of the best leadership development opportunities Co-op has ever provided.

You spend the day with a coach in your own environment and they’re there to purely observe you.

I chose a day when I would be doing a performance improvement plan with a colleague. The coach looks at how you interact with the colleague, your facial expressions, the questions you’re asking.

At the end I said I wanted all the feedback – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I didn’t want to be in a situation where in five years I had a lot of flaws as an area manager.

They never tell you what to do, they just say: “This bit here I really like but wonder what it would be like if you tried it this way”.

Now I use this approach with my own team.


What I’ve learnt

  • Never put a timeline on your development. I’d given myself until 30 to start aiming for a step up but was 29 when I got this opportunity.
  • It’s OK to be uncomfortable. When you’re faced with a similar problem in future, you can handle it a lot better.
  • Conversation isn’t about the content, it’s about the intent towards an individual.
  • I thought I was a really good listener but I’m not. I’ve learnt that I can be having a conversation with somebody and when they’re talking to me I’m thinking about the next question and not listening properly.
  • Giving colleagues the answer doesn’t help. Helping them know where to find it themselves does.
  • It shouldn’t always be about sales, figures or waste – it’s more about how colleagues are feeling.

Dealing with change

We had a chance to attend Honest Conversation workshops around the country.

As we’re going through so much change it’s helpful to have tips on how to manage that with colleagues and the problems that might arise.

Tweet from Chris Whitfield

You’re absolutely going to have a mixture of store managers: those who embrace change and those who don’t. Sometimes they want to but they’re struggling with it.

Again it’s all about using the right language: “I notice you’re doing that, but I wonder if you could do this”.

If I’m talking to a colleague I always visualise a beach ball. They’re seeing the blue quadrant and I’m seeing the red quadrant but we’re looking at the same thing. So I try and turn it around and see it from their point of view.

I’ve felt 100% supported in my development as an area manager and would like to think that in 30 years time I’m still learning stuff about how to lead people.

As a business we talk about Being Co-op – that’s been absolutely evident in all the leadership development I’ve had. If it doesn’t fall into those four Ways of Being then don’t do it.

Terry Johnstone
Area Manager