Linda Allen

Linda Allen

Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail Head of Talent Management

Linda recently completed the Diploma in Business & Executive Coaching and will shortly commence the Diploma in Team Coaching.

Helping people achieve their full potential

Linda Allen has never taken a break from learning since starting her career with CIE Group almost 30 years. “I did a marketing degree at night when I first started working for CIE and I’ve never stopped since then,” says the Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail Head of Talent Management who has just completed the UCD Diploma in Business & Executive Coaching programme.

Her role is to fully develop Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail employees to support the successful delivery of the company’s mission, vision and values and to be recognised as an employer of choice. That sees her working with high potential employees to deliver on the significant investment in the railway over the next decade.

“I also manage the graduate programme, which is our talent pipeline for the future, as well as the learning and development needs for all of our emerging female leaders” she adds.

She was motivated to do the Diploma in Business & Executive Coaching by a desire to help people in Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail achieve their full potential. “I already had an MSc in Organisational psychology from DCU,” she explains. “I thought going into Smurfit Executive Development that I would pick up some extra skills. But that was just the beginning of it. I wanted to bring more of a coaching culture into Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail. I think it had been more associated with corrective coaching over the years. I started to explore more’ my why’, my purpose in the world and that was helping people achieve their true and fullest potential. I wanted to learn the skills that would help me do that.”

One thing that triggered her interest was an apparent lack of self-confidence and self-belief among some bright employees in the company. “I also started to notice it in people who were unsuccessful at testing and interview stages,” she says. “There as a lot of quite negative self-criticism. We see it in all areas of life how people attribute failure to faults in themselves rather than other external factors. I see people putting themselves down. I really wanted to learn how to work with this”

She wanted to change that. “We have some really great people here who are not putting themselves forward for promotional opportunities, and it’s not due to a lack of ability. Maybe it’s because they are not good networkers or because they don’t want to risk putting themselves forward for fear of rejection. Part of the skill in coaching is finding the real gems, working with people to challenge the perceived obstacles that are holding them back. That will also make Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail a better place.”

Having taken the diploma to add to her skills, Linda quickly found there was a lot more to it. “I have always felt comfortable in academic education but the Smurfit Diploma in Business & Executive Coaching forces you to look at yourself and your behaviours and how you are living,” she notes. It takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you in so many ways. I was not ready for that at the beginning but there’s lots of support there. It’s action oriented and so practical. You get to practice your skills by coaching other people and being coached by someone else. It really goes below the surface.”

It also changed her perspective on life. “The biggest thing to learn is that you have control of your circumstances to a certain degree. Things can happen to you that you don’t fully understand but you have the power to choose your reaction to it. A lot of people don’t understand that life is a series of choices. We have to look at our own ingrained behaviours and how we sabotage ourselves in different ways.” 

And it has had a direct positive impact on Irish Rail. “Everyone in the class has to do 90 hours of pro bono coaching during the course and a number of people in class took on Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail employees. About 60 people were coached because of my own class and I did that again last year. It has started to have real impact here. We also have a very good CEO who appreciates the power of coaching. It has changed the view of coaching in Iarnród Éireann Irish Rail, and we now have people on a waiting list for pro bono coaching.”

Her advice to others considering the programme is to be prepared for the work on the programme as well as on yourself. “In order to work with people, you have got to do the work on yourself,” she explains. “I have recommended it to a number of people. The high quality of the course makes it different to any other coaching programme. It is so interactive, and the practical skills elements are where the real stuff happens. There is a very strong support network and the peer learning in the class is great. You spend a lot of time building relationships and get a lot of learning from the coaching projects. You get very honest feedback from people, but only if you want it.”

And it has changed her own leadership style. “I am using a more coaching approach. Before now, I might have been tempted to give my team answers instead of more questions. It’s about giving people the psychological safety to make a mistake when looking for the answer. What’s the worst that can happen with a wrong answer?”

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