Case study: Coaching builds confidence for young leader championing ethnic diversity in rail

NSAR talks to Lorraine Mhonyera from Network Rail, about her experiences with coaching and the differences it has made to her mindset.

Coaching can be hugely beneficial for the career development of burgeoning leaders, especially those from diverse backgrounds. Great leaders who can build successful workforces will be vital to addressing rail industry skills shortages and steering the industry through challenges. Read our article about how coaching can support the development of successful leaders and benefit organisations.

Lorraine Mhonyera is a Project Management Consultant for Network Rail. She is a black woman from a British-African background and a single mother. NSAR Chief Executive Neil Robertson met Lorraine at an industry event, and they kept in touch. After a few conversations, Neil suggested that Lorraine should consider coaching sessions with Shaun Jones – an accredited coaching practitioner with extensive senior leadership experience and a background in the rail industry. Neil knew Shaun from his previous capacity as Managing Director of Thales.

Neil says: “I wanted to support Lorraine with her ambition for personal and career development and raising awareness of issues with ethnicity in rail. I felt that coaching might help her build confidence and refine her goals and plans.”

The coaching started with a ‘chemistry session’ to address the fit between Lorraine’s goals and Shaun’s expertise and progressed throughout six sessions over several months.

Shaun commented: “I could see that Lorraine had high potential as a leader. She hadn’t had the opportunity to explore the topics that would unlock her potential and performance as an emerging Leader. I sensed she was comfortable about exploring new ways of thinking and understanding her behavioural traits, as well as other peoples.”

NSAR talked to Lorraine about her coaching journey and how it has impacted her.


NSAR: Why were you interested in coaching?
Lorraine Mhonyera: “The problem with coaching for people from an underrepresented background is that it’s not easily available. It’s not a well-known methodology that we exercise at all.

“I wanted an opportunity to gain personal understanding. The world that Shaun existed in and that I exist in are completely different worlds. With Shaun having been an MD, I was interested in understanding how he made it, what makes him different from me, and how I can structure who I am to reach the same heights that someone of Shaun’s calibre has reached.

“I wanted to understand how to reach my goals and be the best in what I do, project management. Coaching was an opportunity for me to channel my attributes in the right direction and elevate my career.”

What was the coaching process like?
“The coaching journey was exciting because it triggered different thought processes. It gave me transparency into another world – the world of senior leadership. Because I was born and bred in Zimbabwe, my mindset, my thinking, my cultural beliefs and my ways of working in general were completely different to how Shaun lives his day-to-day life. So, the journey was interesting because I had to demobilise or deactivate the thought processes that I relied on. I had to challenge myself.

“Shaun posed lots of questions that prompted me to challenge some limiting beliefs and focus on my strengths and the things I control.

“What Shaun gave me during our sessions was the opportunity to see situations from a different lens. It was very challenging but in a positive way. We discussed topics that were unfamiliar to me but there was also clarity, and I could see where I was going, the final destination. The end destination is future leader. Navigating my thought processes and mannerisms and ways of working to help me become a good future leader. So that was always our focus.

“Coaching was a new experience for me; it was very daunting. Shaun offered a level of comfort. He was polite and respectful of how my world existed. And I think what made the coaching process even more interesting is that there were insights, I believe, he also learned from my world. We learned from each other.”

What were your key learnings from coaching?
“The key takeaway from the coaching is elevated self-confidence, it has raised my awareness and ability to engage differently. So, I’m better at navigating my responses at work and in life in general.”

How has coaching changed your mindset?
“I’ve seen a positive confidence boost in myself and how I come across to individuals who don’t face the same challenges as I do, given my diverse background. Coaching has given me better ammunition to be able to conduct myself irrespective of my environment and know that we are all equal. I’m not going to approach a conversation thinking someone is better than me because of their skin colour or job title or gender. Coaching has activated a different way of thinking.

“The systems that I work in are systems that have been structured to not give people like me equal job opportunities. Coaching has helped me build great resilience and confidence, so I can help change these systems for the better. At the end of the day, I’ll know I’ve done my best and coaching helped me believe that. Coaching has very much been focused on mindset change and overcoming internal challenges.

“Project management is about liaising with different stakeholders. Coaching has helped me believe I could aspire to run major programmes. And that is all based on greater confidence, reduced bias and less discomfort from working with people who are privileged by the system.”

Would you recommend coaching to others?
“I would definitely encourage people from underrepresented backgrounds to talk to people who live in worlds that they might have no relation to. That’s when you get greater positive outcomes from coaching. It’s not like for like. It’s not me mentoring another black female who’s in project management. Yes, that works, but you’ll only be learning one side of the game. You need to understand how the opposition works, and that opposition sits outside of the cultures you were born and raised in. Coaching delivers the most value when you’re learning something that doesn’t sit within your norm. That’s when you start to expand your thought processes and learn a different school of thought. I would certainly advocate for people from underrepresented ethnicities to get coaching.”

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