Brenda Ross

I need to say at the outset, that my story isn’t one of finding a brand new passion, but rather of building on what already exists. I’ll come back to that.

I was born and brought up in NW London, and haven’t moved very far. I have been living 5 minutes walk from my old school for the last 40 years! I studied Modern Languages at University which in those days was a 95% based literature course. I’d always imagined I would stay in academe, in the world of books and writing, but a combination of reading Émile Zola with his focus on the suffering of the socially and economically deprived, and a holiday spent in France, working with deviant adolescents, changed my direction dramatically. The London School of Economics beckoned. It was a hotbed of student protest and political activity in the 70s, and I spent two years studying psychology and social sciences there, and then finally qualified as a Psychiatric Social Worker.

I loved my first career. I worked in the Psychiatric Departments of London Teaching Hospitals, in my last post setting up a social work service at the newly created Psychiatric Day Hospital attached to the then Middlesex Hospital in the West End (to be merged with UCH). I loved working in a multi-disciplinary team as well as the therapeutic work with individuals and groups. Once my three children started to arrive, I realised I could no longer take on the challenges presented by extreme emotional need, crisis and distress and knew that a transition into another career was essential. I enrolled in a programme at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations where I studied organisations, organisational behaviour and consultation practice part-time for two years. This opened the door to a number of interesting years consulting to staff in a range of public sector organisations, such as the NHS, Social Services and Mental Health providers, working again with individuals and groups.

Gradually I moved into roles within the private sector, working for a management training consultancy and facilitating interpersonal leadership skills programmes across the UK. An introduction to London Business School led to a 20-year extremely active relationship as an Associate and Coach. Working initially on the leadership skills elements of MBA, Sloan and a range of in-house programmes, I moved into an exciting role within LBS’s private client business. I was involved in designing, directing and facilitating a huge range of leadership development programmes, with leaders and high-fliers from blue-chip companies across the world, working in London and Europe. At the same time, I took on assignments with faculty and colleagues and started to develop a practice, coaching individual clients drawn from a number of both these and LBS programmes, and studied and qualified as an accredited executive coach.

My interest and love of one-to-one coaching grew. I joined an executive coaching consultancy and worked with them for 9 years, at the same time continuing to build my busy private practice.

The time for a gradual transition had arrived. A few years ago, I felt I needed to refocus my professional life. I wanted to start to use my experience and ’give back’. For a few years, I worked pro bono for Jewish Care, coaching many senior staff. I so admired their incredible work, the enormous commitment and devotion each and every one of them contributed. I joined the Kilfinan Group which offers pro bono mentoring to CEOs of charities, and have worked with some absolutely fascinating and amazing CEOs, and I took on a number of mentees who were themselves transitioning – following retirement or looking at new work options.

Perhaps it might be useful to define briefly the key differences between executive coaching and mentoring:

Coaching aims to partner with clients in a non-directive way, within a structured programme, to inspire them to maximise their personal and professional potential. The coach will support and challenge clients to set clear objectives for change, gain insight into strengths and weaknesses, explore obstacles, and conflicts and help them to find strategies to deliver for their organisations with excellence, gravitas and confidence.

Mentoring is a longer-term relationship and is not structured by the organisation. The mentor is more concerned with the holistic needs of the mentee, and often provides the mentee with the information and skills they need to address their concerns. The element of support and guidance is key in mentoring. Mentors mentoring within their own professions will be far more senior and more experienced. There is no brief to meet specific organisational objectives, but the mentor will support the mentee to succeed and achieve their own hopes and goals.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, my story isn’t one of a new passion, rather it is an adaptation of an existing love and deep interest into an engagement that is stimulating and rewarding.

I think that for all of us it’s important to value our experience and expertise when reflecting on ‘what next’. We need to examine what has made our heart sing, consider our current priorities and needs, and think about the interests and pulls we’ve always wanted to pursue but haven’t had time for. We must determine the essential elements that we need in our lives for balance: stimulation and activity, leisure, family time, and good health. And maybe we can give ourselves permission not to have to create an impressive new career or occupation, but instead put together a portfolio of involvements that speak to our wisdom, expertise and varied interests, which can be built into a rich and enriching refreshed life.

Circle Square Member Q&A

What 3 words best describe you? Analytical, insightful, and persistent.

If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be? Don’t be too self-critical.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? Bringing up three terrific children.

Which person (dead or alive) would you most like to invite to dinner?  Émile Zola – he influenced my view of the world at a young age and I love his writing.

How has age strengthened your advantage?  I’m wiser, more patient and more tolerant. When I was bringing up children and working, it was a struggle, there was barely time to breathe. Now I can step back, go slower, and experience the pure joy of grandchildren.

What inspired you to join Circle Square? New horizons, new people, and new activities like The Book Club.

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