Team Coach Life: Jenna Woolven

an artistic image of people sat on the floor surrounded by postit notes and laptops

I recently facilitated my sixth workshop for a brilliant Leading Edge client in the independent hospitality sector. These face-to-face full-day sessions form part of a bigger series covering three focus areas within leadership development – and I’m delighted to be one of four Leading Edge Team Coaches involved in design and delivery.

This client is so committed to making sure its service line managers can access the most appropriate workshop for their individual leadership development that they’re putting on sessions right across the country. I’m currently delivering the Leading People workshops for participants from across the client’s hospitality business areas. While one participant might manage a catering team for a university, another will be running the hospitality set-up for a Premiership football team, and another leading food service within a major airline’s first-class lounge. Their team sizes and working days vary greatly – and they’ve rarely met before. I love helping the group to connect as they share and listen to each other’s (vastly different!) worlds.

What makes a good leader?

One of the first activities of the day is to ask the group to think about previous leaders they admire, and why. We take time to draw out qualities and characteristics that they exhibit, and I also encourage reflection on leaders they’ve not liked as much. For me, this is a good way to bring front of mind what they value in leadership. I then give them an opportunity to reflect on all the qualities discussed, encouraging them to think about where their individual strengths and development areas might lie.

It’s so important that people know they’re in a safe environment when being open in this way, and it’s my role to create that safe space. It’s more than just saying “this is confidential”. I don’t position myself as an expert in the room. I acknowledge that they are the experts at what they do, encourage them to learn as much as they can from each other, and give them ‘permission’ to jump in and keep the conversation going.

My approach is to set up the activity or discussion and then get out of the way while they explore it for themselves. Sometimes, with smaller groups, I might sit in the discussion circle with them and join their exploration journey. It very much depends on the flow of the conversation.

Focusing energy as a leader


Another activity covers prioritising time and where to focus energy. I ask participants to write each individual task – ‘menu planning’ might be one of these – on a sticky note. Without fail, they look at me as if to say, “You want me to write out everything I do?” And my answer is “yes” because I then share a model to help them prioritise their time and ask them to move their sticky notes around and plot their tasks on a graph. This is a great visual way for them to see what takes up their energy and time, and where they might be able to benefit from spending it differently.

Sharing models and approaches is always part of a session like this, but I also share stories that bring in my own experiences of high performance and leadership. Every Leading Edge Team Coach will bring their backgrounds and experiences into a room as a way to draw synergies and help who they’re supporting to go on their own development journey.

For me, I can often see crossover in dealing with pressure. And with this group, there are definitely similarities between a chef/chef manager under pressure to deliver in a busy kitchen and an elite athlete with thousands of pairs of eyes on them. I have worked as a psychologist at England Football and seen how coaches can revert to unhelpful behaviours when it comes to match day because of the pressure they feel. Pressure does amazing things to people, whatever the role. So by sharing these acute insights into some key ingredients of high-performance culture, I hope to help the managers working in pressured hospitality roles to lead well.

A new way to develop leadership

This client is currently in a big change period as it transitions to a new strategy, culture, vision and branding. These workshops are supporting this – a new way to develop leadership for both new and existing managers. I know participants will be walking into the room with mixed feelings; there will always be those who are open and keen, and those who are more sceptical. But it’s brilliant to see them warm up when they realise that I’m there to help them think about development areas that they probably already know about but have put on the backburner or aren’t facing up to.

I received some wonderful feedback recently from a manager, 30 years with the company, who was the most senior person in the room and wasn’t sure there would be much he could learn. But he absolutely threw himself into the session and really opened up, challenging where he felt it necessary. I love that. Challenge helps to bring in other people in the room and therefore improves their own opportunity for development in that moment.

That senior manager is keen for all his chef managers to experience this workshop as well, so it would be brilliant to meet them as future participants. I’ll be going off on maternity leave in summer, and I’m thrilled to already be booked to facilitate some more workshops for this client at the end of the year. I’ll look forward to stepping back into the room with them.

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