Tailored for success – Exclusive Leadership Coaching Interview

Graziela Graziela Cajado-Ogland, a renowned executive coach, in conversation with CEO Today

Reading Time: 8 minutes

In this interview, we’re excited to present an exclusive and engaging conversation with Graziela Cajado-Ogland, a renowned executive coach who is empowering C-suite leaders to build coaching skills and promote coaching cultures within their organisations. In our comprehensive interview, Graziela delves into a wide array of topics, from her belief in the value of coaching for those committed to personal and professional growth, to her unique approach to group coaching.


 Graziela, do you believe that everyone needs a coach?


I believe coaching is only valuable for individuals who are sincerely committed to personal and professional growth and are willing to embrace change.


Bill Gates, Eric Schmidt, and other prominent executives have openly expressed their belief that everyone needs a coach. Much like athletes who engage coaches to enhance their performance and maximise their chances of success, Executive & Leadership coaches can play a critical role in accelerating professional achievements.

Consider this: Would you be interested in partnering with someone who can skilfully identify your blind spots, offer motivation to push your limits, and encourage you to explore new approaches? What if this person could guide you through deep introspection, assisting you in aligning your life with your core values while holding you accountable to your goals and aspirations? Not everyone fully understands the potential benefits of coaching. According to the ICF (International Coaching Federation), “Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.”


In our busy lives, we rarely carve out time to reflect on our values, to check if we are playing to our strengths, and to explore new avenues for greater impact and fulfilment. A certified professional coach’s undivided attention who can facilitate that process can make all the difference.


In addition to 1-2-1 coaching, you also offer group coaching. Can you talk about your group coaching/facilitation experience and how the group dynamic of Gra’s Circles enhances the coaching experience compared to traditional one-on-one executive coaching?


The dynamics within a group are truly unique. When we actively listen to the challenges others are facing, we realise that we are not alone in our struggles. For example, in the same discussion, one participant might be facing the difficult decision of letting go of a valuable team member, another is navigating a controlling boss, and another is enduring the challenges of a divorce. Some might be managing health concerns; others are grappling with financial insecurity. The group discussions shed light on the diverse range of difficulties we all face, and this realisation helps us move away from helplessness or victimhood and into collaboration and action.


The coach reminds the group that we all have the resources to navigate our challenges successfully and that we can leverage the group’s collective experiences. Through open dialogue, empathy and support, we explore alternative perspectives, expand options, and move towards collaborative problem-solving.


Can you also discuss the significance of creating a supportive and inclusive space for coaching in Gra’s Circles?


When I was trained as a group facilitator through HBS, one of the first things we learned was that the agreement of basic norms/contracting of behaviours early on is critical to the group’s success. The group must agree on certain rules upfront: confidentiality is key to creating a safe space, respect for each other, ensuring equal participation, learning to listen without judgement and not offering advice unless requested.


In addition to endorsing the agreement, the coach can play a vital role in role-modelling vulnerability. When someone is vulnerable, the group usually follows, and that’s when the discussions become meaningful and deep. Without vulnerability, the sessions can become superficial and lose their purpose.


The sharing of challenges enhances connection and strengthens our relationships, and when that happens, the group can evolve into a beautiful support system. We find ourselves helping each other in various ways: opening up new job opportunities, making important introductions, celebrating promotions, and seeking and providing reassurance. During Covid, we also reminded each other to prioritise our self-care and self-compassion. It can be a truly heart-warming experience to take part in coaching groups.


Can you share with us some of the core principles or philosophies that guide your coaching practice?


I follow the ICF principle that clients are creative, resourceful, and whole, and it is not my role to give advice. We all have the temptation to give advice, but (sadly) our own experiences are never as relevant as we think they are.


The greater their self-awareness, the most powerful coaching becomes. So first, I ensure that clients are clear on their core values, key strengths, self-sabotage tendencies and what’s on their way to achieving their aspirations (the discovery phase). Then we set short-term and long-term goals together.


Once goals are set, and clients have good levels of self-awareness, we have a great foundation to work from and a great framework for decision making. Then my job is to be their thinking partner: that includes helping them see the bigger picture, motivating them to move towards their objectives and empowering them to face and deal with the challenges that arise.


When they face obstacles, I work hard to create a safe and non-judgemental space to guide them to see the real issue behind a problem and to consider different alternatives. Very often, what prevents clients from effective problem-solving is that they rarely set up space to reflect and see the bigger picture.


Once the issue is clear, I empower the client to problem-solve. When clients truly engage in exploring alternatives, they are not only more likely to find a solution that is better suited to their needs but are also much more likely to implement them.


How do you adapt your coaching methods to suit the unique needs and goals of each individual executive?


Coaching is a very personalised experience, and I spend 1-2 sessions to really understand who my client really is and what really matters to them at this stage in their lives. I use a questionnaire and recognised assessment tools to build greater self-awareness and uncover blind spots. I use a fantastic 360 Leadership evaluation tool (Leadership Circle Profile) to assess leadership effectiveness if that’s important. These critical initial findings are truly unique to the client and will become the foundation that will enable them to set clear goals and a realistic development plan fully tailored to their needs and wants.


In addition, I share tools and resources curated to their needs to encourage further reflection after our sessions and deepen their learning on topics that come up during coaching. Over the years, I have built a large database of articles, ted talks, and books, and I have created my own coaching tools. For example, I recently worked with a client who was certain he had to let go of a team member but was struggling with how best to have that conversation. We discussed different approaches, I reminded him of his values of courage and of his qualities of empathy and kindness, and I shared articles about leading with humanity and compassion. He took his time to reflect and build his own approach and managed to execute it with kindness, flexibility, and support. Another client had been avoiding a difficult conversation at work for fear that it would create friction or negatively impact their relationship. I shared a 4-step framework for preparing for difficult conversations, she used it, and it was very effective!


Can you give us an example of a significant breakthrough or transformation that an executive achieved through your coaching?


I find that some of the most gratifying outcomes happen when clients become aware of blind spots and limiting beliefs they did not realise were holding them back. These “lightbulb moments” are magical and open space for personal change and significant positive transformation.


I’ve helped many clients progress in their careers and find more fulfilling work, but my goal is really to help them see their full potential and live lives with more purpose and in line with their core values. The longest study on happiness done by Harvard shows that what really matters is the quality of our close relationships, much more than power, fame or success. Coaching allows individuals to understand how their unique styles and behaviours impact those around them, and by making a few simple changes, these dynamics can have great long-term positive impacts on their relationships and well-being.


Some examples are:


The CEO of an asset management company had not realised that his perfectionist tendencies were getting in the way of his relationships at home and at work. As a result, he was not capable of enjoying the small things in his life and was looking for more joy. Coaching helped shed light on this blind spot, and slowly letting go of getting things his way (prioritising being happy rather than being right) led to quick and effective positive change in his relationships and his happiness level.


A very bright lawyer was getting in her own way by not believing in her capabilities and constantly worrying that she would not be recognised or get the promotion she deserved. She realised she was being hijacked by her hyper-vigilant tendencies and wasting energy on issues outside her control. By focusing on playing to her strengths and spending her energy on what she could control, she was able to perform at her best. As a result, she was not only recognised, promoted, and given a significant salary raise, but also she reached C-level at her firm.


Another senior client had taken a redundancy package after 20 years+ at a large organisation. He had worked on highly complex projects and had a very strategic mind, but came to coaching lacking confidence and belief that he would be able to find another role and was convinced that his skills were not transferable to another industry. After recognising this impostor syndrome, he moved towards action and networking and eventually got a job at a start-up and was promoted to Operations Director in less than a year.


Why should organisations invest in Coaching and what are you doing to increase awareness of coaching’s benefits to society?


The case for more Coaching in organisations is very strong: not only is it a fast-growing industry, but it offers a high return on investment, boosts productivity and improves employee retention.


The Coaching industry is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.6% – and reach revenues of $27.5 billion by 2026, and Harvard Business Review studies concluded that coaching boosts productivity by 44%1.


The ICF Global Coaching Client Study found that nearly 90% of organisations surveyed made back their initial investment. The receivers of the coaching also benefit: 99% of individuals and companies who hire a coach are “satisfied or very satisfied,” and 96% say they would repeat the process.2


A 2021 study concluded that Coaching produced a 529% ROI ($5 for every $1 spent on coaching) as well as significant intangible benefits to the business. When the financial benefits of employee retention were included, the ROI was 788%.3


40% of organizations that use coaching or mentoring report that their organization has realized better retention of desired talent, compared to 24% of those that do not use mentoring or coaching4. Retention has a very high cost to organisations (the average cost of turnover per employee earning £25,000+/ year is £30,614)5 and this has been accentuated with the Great Resignation. Organisations are losing out on money and valuable members of staff, and coaching can help alleviate that.


Some of the initiatives I am working on alongside my ICF Coaching colleagues include:


1) Raising awareness of the benefits of coaching to organisations and to society: I serve on the Board of the UK ICF Chapter, and one of our key strategic priorities is to advocate for the value of coaching to society. UK ICF has organised conferences, events and webinars to promote the value of coaching and to encourage organisations to build a coaching culture.


2) Encouraging more leaders to adopt a Coaching approach: This past May, during International Coaching week, I co-hosted a session called “Leader as Coach.” We discussed the benefits of training leaders with coaching skills. I introduced the concept of Leader as Learner (offers guidance and support) rather than Knower (commands and control). We shared evidence that today’s leaders can no longer rely solely on their knowledge pedestal, as knowledge is readily available everywhere. True leadership strengths lie in leveraging the collective abilities and expertise of their team. A recent example that illustrates this is a client who was dealing with a very demotivated and disengaged team. The leader was spending extra time on tasks that the team was expected to handle, as whatever they produced was not good enough. However, once the leader embraced the coaching approach –taking a step back from excessive control, understanding and leveraging the strengths of employees and their collective wisdom, and involving them in finding solutions – the positive impact on relationships, morale, engagement, and productivity became evident. The Coaching approach allows employees to feel heard, have their strengths utilised and ultimately have more influence and impact.


3) Encouraging organisations to offer coaching across all levels, not only to senior leaders: while one third of all Fortune 500 companies utilise executive coaching as standard leadership development for their elite executives and emerging talents6, this approach is not widespread across all organisational levels. The importance of offering coaching beyond the senior leadership is becoming increasingly evident, particularly as organisations face challenges in recruiting and retaining Gen Z professionals. Research indicates that Gen Zs individuals are motivated by more than just financial rewards; they prioritise lifestyle, purposeful work, and learning opportunities. To attract and retain these professionals, organisations must adapt to these changing preferences. Establishing a coaching culture is key to facilitating cross-generational learning, enabling younger generations to bring their unique skills and strengths such as social media expertise, digital skills, and purposeful goals, into the workplace. This inclusive approach ensures that younger employees can feel valued and can make a meaningful impact despite their limited professional experience.


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