The Joy of Peer Group Coaching

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Recently, I spoke to a group of academy trust CEOs on the topic of peer group coaching. As I was preparing for the session, I decided I was going to go for it. I don’t mean just turn up and speak, I mean really go for it! I decided that I was going to get right out of my comfort zone, take a risk and put myself on the line. Why did I decide to go for it? Well, I believe so much in the power of peer group coaching that I didn’t want the CEOs present simply to understand what I was saying I wanted them to experience what I was saying. I wanted to go beyond the head and reach for the heart and the soul in that room.

As I stood in front of the group in the opening five minutes, I was scared. I was scared because I knew what I was going to do. And I knew that the risk was that I would lose the group and that they would disconnect from me. And this was no ordinary group. It was a group of fantastically talented CEOs. I did not want to fail in front of that group. Immediately, I invited them to get into the experience; ‘What is the best thing that has happened in your schools in the past week?’ Table by table they offered inspiring examples of their passion for what they do; helping children learn. The glacier in the room was starting to melt.

Thirty minutes in, I glanced at my watch and realised I was way ahead of my agenda; a fresh opportunity to fail. I looked out at the group and made a choice; ‘I want you to turn to the person next to you and spend ten minutes discussing what we have experienced so far and then we will bring it back together and take some questions’. It was a risk, but they choose to get further into the experience with me. I let go of the powerpoint slides and we started to have a conversation. The glacier melted some more.

With forty minutes to go they were still with me so I decided to issue another invitation; ‘I’d like a brave person in the room to come forward and present to the group a real-life issue that you are working with right now in your schools’. At that moment, I looked around the room and it was deathly silent and still. Such a great opportunity to fail! I feared the glacier was about to make an unwelcome reappearance. But I held the line and waited. Eventually, a hand popped up near the front of the room. Someone had decided to go for it. I don’t mean turn up and speak, I mean really go for it. In the next thirty minutes that inspiring person got out of their comfort zone, took a risk and put themselves on the line. Why did they do it? Well, I suppose it was because they believe so much in the job that they do and they care so deeply about the education of the children in their care.

As this CEO bared his soul, the group decided to get into the experience at a more intimate level. Here was one of their own out on a limb. Not just some fancy dan facilitator who they might never see again. In their hearts they got around their colleague and you could feel the compassion and care flood into the room. There was no glacier left just waves of inspiration and insight being offered freely and without judgement. Only the loosest of touches was necessary as the group organised itself to respond to the situation in front of them. They were now completely immersed in the experience.

At the end of the session, I turned to the brave volunteer and asked him what he had got out of the experience. He looked at me in a state of shock and said ‘I feel five stone lighter’. ‘What do you mean?’ I replied. ‘I feel five stone lighter’ he repeated. It was like watching a magician pull a white rabbit out of a hat. I heard what he said but I didn’t really believe it. How could such a simple experience lasting only thirty minutes enable someone to feel five stone lighter? I couldn’t get my head round it. As the group filed out of the room, I sat down and realised I was shaking. I couldn’t get my head round it. Yet I am sure that I was shaking with joy.

John is the co-author of ‘Challenging Coaching’. In the past ten years he has coached over 120 CEOs from 22 countries, as well as Olympic medallists and England / Team GB coaches in rowing, cricket and target shooting. You can access free resources and download a free chapter of his book via

About blakeyj

John Blakey

As a pioneer in the executive coaching profession, John is uniquely placed to help ambitious CEOs and elite sport coaches deliver outstanding results, inspiring relationships and a positive contribution to society.

During the past 12 years, he has worked with over 120 CEOs/MDs from 22 different countries, as well as with Olympic medallists and Team GB/England sports coaches in rowing, cricket and target shooting. Most recently, he was engaged as leadership advisor and coach to Peter Moores in support of his second term as England cricket coach. He is the coaching subject matter expert at the Chartered Management Institute and a member of the CEO coaching faculty at Manchester Business School, Vistage International and the NHS.

In his own business career, John was an award-winning entrepreneur, FTSE100 International Managing Director and director of Fast Track 100 technology consultancy, Team121, which was sold to Logica for £86m in 1999. He has a rare mix of cross-sector board level experience with global corporates, SMEs and third sector organisations. 

In 2012, John co-authored the critically acclaimed book 'Challenging Coaching' with Ian Day. The book and its associated FACTS coaching model have been featured in the Sunday Times, the Guardian and the Financial Times. Due to the impact of 'Challenging Coaching', John has become a sought after conference speaker inspiring thousands of coaches and leaders around the world. 

John's work draw's upon a broad range of influences including his Christian faith, his PCC coaching credential with the International Coach Federation and his academic studies in business (MBA, Executive Doctorate) and information systems (MSc). His next book, 'Building Tomorrow's Executive Leaders - How trust transforms leadership', will be published by Kogan Page in April 2016.


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