May 15 to May 21 is the International Coaching Week. It is an annual global celebration for the coaching profession.
The Kenyan Chapter of International Coaching Federation (ICF) was launched in May 2015 and is run by their president, Eileen Laskar who is driving the organisation’s need of advancing the coaching profession in Africa to maximise people’s potential.
She spoke to JACKSON BIKO at her office where she runs a consultancy under the banner, Coach Development Institute Of Africa (CDI-Africa).
I don’t know why I thought you were Indian, or something like that.
Really? So when you opened the door you expected some kind of look...
Yes, your name; Eileen Laskar…
That’s my dad’s name. My stepfather, actually. (Pause) he’s half-Arab, half Kenyan.
Yes. That’s the genesis of that name. A lot of people don’t actually ask me and when they do they ask me, “where are you from?” and I ask, “are you checking which tribe I am?” (chuckles). I tell them I’m Kenyan. I made a deliberate choice to use names that actually don’t place me anywhere.
Because people box you…
Absolutely. It happens a lot, doesn’t it? So I like to keep it that way. It works for me. I think it works for my clients as well. It works for everyone.
I need to ask...if I’m prying too much you’ll have to stop me, I’m very nosy..
(Laughs) Yes, You can ask but is this off the record? It won’t appear in the article…
(Laughs) Oh God!
So your dad...what’s the story then?
I don’t think I want to go there. Not on the record, at least. But off the record I could…
OK, what’s the difference between mentoring and coaching?
The two are distinct yet not very distinct. (Pause). Mentoring is where you look up to me, so you come to me because there is something you admire in me. You learn from be because I have been there and done it. Coaching on the other hand is about drawing the person— the coachee—with the brief that they are the expert in their own world, they know what they need to do.
So if you are someone who is a good listener, is curious and has a good sense of perspective, would you consider yourself a coach?
That’s just a set of what a coach does, really. But we have three focal points of coaching; being able to be present in conversation and switch off your agenda, your own thoughts and your own assumptions and listening to that person exclusively. Second is listening and the last is questioning, because as you question you draw.
What’s been your life’s greatest revelation?
That we actually have answers to the life’s questions that we imagine are so complex. Everything we go through we have answers from within ourselves.
When did you become comfortable and confident in your skin?
I would say it’s been a journey and I’m still on this journey. I wouldn’t say I’m there yet. (Laughs). But there has been turning points, like working with a boss who believed in me because he saw the potential in me.
Is there a part of coaching in counselling?
No. A lot of people who go to see counsellors have problems. People who find coaches do not have problems. A lot of counselling conversations are delving into your past; how did you start feeling how you are feeling? What are the events in your life that led you here.? I have gone through counselling myself, not because I wanted to learn what they do but because I had life’s issues and I wanted to talk to someone.
What was your life’s issue?
(Pause) I can only say that off the record. (Laughs). But in general I was going through a transition in my life, it brought in a lot of my past and I just thought it was weighing me down. So I saw a counsellor and I struggled with it. I felt like I was on an operating table, and the doctor had opened me up to look at my heart but then said, “Look, I think your lungs also have an issue, and goodness, look, your liver also looks rotten on one side…” [Laughs] I thought it would stop on the operating table but I was wrong because I realised I was not stitched after this “operation”.
Days after my counselling I realised that I did not have to go into the past to handle my problems. I’m not saying counselling does not work, all I’m saying is that it has its place. You want to ride a horse? I won’t ask you why you want to ride a horse, what in the past made you not ride a horse. We start from you wanting to ride a horse and we move forward.
How is your relationship with your mother?
Very good. (laughs).
Can I pursue that further?
When in your life did you have the greatest conflict with yourself?
(Pause) I wish I knew how to put off your voice recorder. I think major conflicts come where you’re transitioning.
How old are you now?
(Laughs loudly) I will be 45 in exactly one month’s time.
During your midlife transition, where did your answers come from?
It came from discovering something else I could do that was meaningful, which was coaching.
What were you doing before?
I did everything...except journalism.
Oh, lucky you.
I was in the government before this. I worked with a regional micro finance institute, then I jumped into the NGO world worked for three international NGOs working with micro entrepreneurs. A part of me knew this was not it, what I was doing, that there was a better life for me.
Is this coaching thing a better life?
Yes it is. I love it.
If we take away coaching, what’s left of Eileen?
(Laughs) It’s very difficult. Maybe I should quit coaching to know who I am. (pause)] I’m a change agent, I believe there’s a gift of transforming life in me, transformation on a business and personal level.
What are you most passionate about outside work?
I struggle here. You know why? Because I no longer take coaching as work. It stopped being work. As you can see I’m in the office on a Sunday. I get bored and restless when not working. I love being with people, listening to them and helping them see new ways and perspectives.
Yes to both. Three boys; the eldest is 21, the youngest is 10.
What have you learnt about motherhood?
That it’s a good challenge. That every child is unique. The first born is introverted, second born is extroverted and the third born is a charming baby who everybody wants to steal from my house. They are gifts from God and you just have to raise them in the best possible way.
Are you a better wife or a better mother?
(Laughs) I think I try to balance. But I’m cognisant of one thing; the boys will one day grow up and they’ll meet women who will steal their hearts and they will leave me. So I need to take care of the person who I will be left with.
Very smart! That’s the best answer I have ever gotten for that question!