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041: Interview: Karen Dean, MCC

041: Interview: Karen Dean, MCC

A fabulous interview with author, MCC coach and an really interesting human being - Karen Dean. With over 28 years of coaching experience, this really was a treat.

Listen via the web player below, or find The Curious Coach podcast on your favourite podcast player.

This month I was honoured to interview Karen Dean.  Karen isn’t just an amazing MCC coach, she’s also an author, creator of an online coach supervision app and a really interesting human being.  Not only that, if you listen to the very end, you’ll also get a special bonus, where Karen read two stories from her latest book that she co-authored with Sam Humphrey.

Useful links:

Karen Dean on LinkedIn

Karen’s supervision app:

Karen’s coaching business:

Book: Coaching Stories by Karen Dean and Sam Humphrey


Stephen: (00:00)
Imagine spending eight years, abord a floating laboratory of sorts, having the ability to refine your craft and accumulate over three and a half thousand hours of coaching

Karen: (00:13)
up to the 2001, where I was the executive coach to a cruise fleet. And what that meant was I, I packed my bags, I went to a, to sea, 80 days a year, across four ships and those ships would have 1200 crew, maybe 3000 passengers onboard. And I was invited to work one on one with anyone who led a team. The people working on the ship were Filipino, Indian, Pakistani, eastern Europeans, as well as people from the UK and, and many parts of the world in a very closed community. It was a tremendous privilege to spend time with over 750 clients for about three and a half thousand hours. And I often say that truly was the laboratory for me.

Jingle: (01:17)
Welcome to The Curious Coach Podcast, so buckle up as we travel around and explore the world of coaching. Here's your host, and professional coach, Stephen Clements.

Stephen: (01:37)
This month, I was honored to interview Karen Dean. Karen isn't just an amazing MCC coach. She's also an author, creator of an online coach supervision up and a really interesting human being. Not only that, if you listen to the very end of this podcast, you'll also get a special bonus where Karen reads a story from her latest book that she co authored with Sam Humphrey, coaching stories. So without further ado, let me hand it over to Karen to introduce herself.

Karen: (02:12)
So I'm Karen Dean and I work as an executive coach. I'm a master certified coach, accredited by the International Coach Federation and I've been doing this work for about 28 years now. And I'm, and I'm quoting some statistics here, so in over 90 organizations across 22 sectors worldwide. So anything from lawyers and bankers to heavy manufacturing, to government, lots of change.

Stephen: (02:48)
Yeah, so even just in that introduction, there were so many, so many things. And I suppose maybe the one thing you left is author as well!

Karen: (02:58)
Indeed. And, and I think, I'm certainly an author and had a book published in February this year with my colleague, Sam Humphrey. And in fact I put author at the beginning of my linkedin profile now because it speaks very strongly to increasingly my way of being and when I'm most in flow, which is interesting because that word is in our title. So it's "coaching stories flowing and falling of being a coach".

Stephen (03:30)
Certainly looking forward to jumping more into, into the book. But I suppose the other thing I just wanted to go back to was you've been coaching for 28 years and are now an MCC coach. So if my maths works out correctly, you were coaching for eight years before even the ICF was formed?

Karen: (03:51)
Indeed. Most certainly. And in that period of time, the sorts of training that I was exposed to were more neuro linguistic programming based and, and although now I, as a non-directive coach, I certainly wouldn't use some of the prescribed processes. I know there are key principals that have stayed with me, all of that time, in really paying attention to the individual, respecting their unique qualities and beliefs and listening carefully to language and what that might enable inmy questioning, that is appropriate as they seek an outcome. So I found that very valuable. And prior to that I was doing a self-esteem approach, as well. And so being forever learning and experiencing, but I really welcome what is becoming an increasingly professional approach and that certainly expected, I think in the, in the marketplace now, that ultimately to have supervision, to be able to demonstrate continuing professional development, to have a credential that allows one to, underpin the, the qualities that we bring as individual coaches. I think is important in continuing ethically and credibly.

Stephen: (05:22)
Hmm. And I suppose on the, on the point of being, I suppose I myself being curious, how are you being different now as a coach compared to 28 years ago?

Karen: (05:39)
I think 28 years ago I was incredibly anxious about being perfect and, and wanting to do it right. And having very high expectations of myself and probably therefore others, which may looked like success but didn't necessarily give another person any particularly great experience of being with me. And although there were some that would resonate with that approach and that was fine, tick that box, but, I think didn't give me the flexibility that I believe I have now, but my approach now and when I was working with teams for over 22 years, and it came to a moment when I would be in a room with a team of 10 or 12 people, remember their names incredibly quickly and use them wisely and, and would find something in every individual that allowed me to respect, connect and feel some degree of joy or excitement about that person.

Karen: (06:50)
And that is very enabling and enable everyone to feel connected, part of the group, welcome, valued and that they have a place. And so whether it's with a group or with an individual, I think that's important to me. I'd be, and in the last, couple of years I've had the opportunities to write. And, because Sam and I, when we first met, worked together professionally and then decided we'd write an article, which we did for Coaching at Work magazine. And that article was, is a coaching culture and alternative tyranny. And in fact, we won an award for the best feature article that year and we're short listed in our article that we submitted the following year and decided, well, maybe we know how to write and perhaps we should go ahead and be brave and, and work with a book, which has now come to fruition. So the reason I'm raising that is, it speaks to unlocking a creativity, more peacefulness, tremendous joy. I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity to do that and it speaks to my, my values and my way of being now.

Stephen: (08:19)
Hmm. And yeah, I suppose what just struck me was when we were talking earlier, you had mentioned about moving away from team coaching into more one on one. And I'm struck again by then actually the solitudes of writing a book. It's bringing it down, to an even more personal is it?

Karen: (08:47)
And in writing the stories, it's as if they through me and time stands still, which sounds like a cliche, but it's true. And, and I often find that when I step back and read again what I've just written, that there's very little that I change. So there's a permission to just accept what is and to, to allow that space to be as, as broad as deep, as terrifying and as rewarding as whatever it might be and, and allow that flow. And I certainly want to continue writing and write more. And I think the one on one work for me also speaks to increasingly working in the supervision space. So I've greatly valued my own supervision, with a wonderful woman, who has been at the center of several transformations that I've had in these past years. And I think the opportunity for transformation and deep, deep learning in supervision,, is probably underestimated.

Karen: (10:16)
And, and I believe that's because of the systemic nature of what you're together standing back as colleagues and looking at in the work. And what is it that that's touching in the coach and how is that relevant, if that still feels a little strange or disturbing and even seems like a topic that one might bring. So, I want to do more and more supervision as well as the writing. So I heard you ask me about being solitary. Immediately you said that I was remembering that I was an only child until I was 10 years old and then my sister was born and, and I was just so excited about her being there, but of course found my, my role as a teenager was very much being like a second mum and, and having a tremendous amount of responsibility for her. And, she was far from introverted. She was just, she's like a lion or a firecracker and, was quite a handful for me to be with. We're incredibly close, now and, and we respect each other's capacity to have such different roles in our families and, and together on behalf of, of our parents. So, I love that she's in my life, but there were many, many hours of, of playing inside my own head and pretending to ride horses and galloping up. And, and, creating characters and, and different adventures.

Stephen: (12:00)
And I suppose I'm curious in terms of, you mentioned the courage piece and the transformation, where's for you, where's the source of that courage that's driving you to those transformations?

Karen: (12:17)
In writing the flying and falling stories, it matters to me equally that I celebrate, notice bare witness, build on, strengthen growing confidence from when it works as much as learning from the times when it didn't. And from being a small child, I always seem to be able to notice when that worked. And that was okay, let me keep going. I think I had quite challenging characters around me, but ultimately I always found a way to influence everyone. And, and that took a lot of courage. I'm from, a mining background in Nottinghamshire and my mother was one of 10 and I was exposed to many, of the aunts and, and uncles and her family and, and with my grandmother looking after me when I was growing up and they were formidable women and, and in order to both be hypervigilant to keep myself on track, it made me very aware but touching courage. But I think it began very early.

Stephen: (13:34)
Hmm. It sounds like you've carried that through then to today in the book. And to come onto the book in terms of the two pieces, the flowing and falling. Um, yeah. What was the inspiration for, for the approach that you took in the, in the book and how you've split it up into the various sections, I guess?

Karen: (14:01)
I think Sam and I are both supervisors and we were looking at the books that are out there and we're curious. So where are the stories that bare witness, that normalize, that encourage, that shine a light on a way forward and felt that it was important to offer something about what it's like being a coach. What is a version of the pathway, rather than to focus more fully on specific how tos. And so we decided that would be our approach and speaks to our purpose. And in doing so we learned so much and so many stories told, closed chapters, offered healing for us in our writing and we really hope that that's an experience that others have and that they can read in one sitting or dip in and out or come back to. And I think there are profound pieces of learning embedded within the stories but that are not explicitly named but are available for coaches.

Stephen: (15:24)
Yeah. And what I find, what I get from the book is every time I pick it up, I get something different. And in particular, it's not just the stories, but it's also then the, the questions that follow each story about what you wish somebody had told you and what you wish you had had asked. And yeah, it's, yeah, it's really profound in terms of getting out of it what you need at that moment.

Karen: (15:55)
Mm. And, and that structure and enabled us to really crystallize. So what was all that about and how would we name it? And, and you asked where the structure came from. And I'm wondering whether I might tell the story of, a particular piece of work that I did for eight years up to the year 2001, where I was the executive coach to a cruise fleet. And what that meant was I, I packed my bags, I went away to sea, 80 days a year across four ships and those ships would have, 1200 crew, maybe 3000 passengers on board. And I was invited to work one on one with anyone who led a team. So of course that may have been a captain or could have been a chief engineer, but equally it was a garbage supervisor or, a bartender or a head waiter.

Karen: (17:08)
And the people working on the ship were Filipino, Indian, Pakistani, eastern Europeans, as well as people from the UK and, and many parts of the world, in a very closed community. And for some of the crew, they're onboard for nine months, pretty much without a break and in very close confines both with their colleagues and shipmates as well as, enabling people to go on holiday and feel welcome and the processes of what's involved in, in that and moving a ship from A to B. So it was a tremendous privilege to spend time with over 750 clients for about three and a half thousand hours. And I, I often say that truly was a laboratory for me and I have great curiosity. I'm, I'm eager to understand more and I also like to make sense of what I'm hearing. So a structure evolved that was a closed system in my mind of what happens when it's going brilliantly well and what happens when things are missing and in, in what general order do those things emerge and crystallized from that, enabled us to name the 12 phases in the book, moving from novice to mastery. And we've also put in four sections for even further simplification. So that setting out, doing, integrating and being a coach and and all speak to that model.

Stephen: (19:06)
Yeah. It's, it's wow. Because this was up to 2001? Yeah. So coaching as a profession was still like, it's still in its infancy but back then it must have been a very different place. And the awareness that, that people would have of coaching at that time must have been very interesting?

Karen: (19:31)
And you're talking of courage. I think the, the, the people from the organization, and one individual particularly was very courageous in saying this might be a really helpful way of supporting, the crew and, and giving them an opportunity to be heard. And they committed and I went back time and again, I think the only reason that it stopped was, nine 11 had happened and, people weren't flying to the ports, the ports in the US and, they had to review their budgets and I had been a very significant budget for them. But curiously at the same time, I think eight years is quite a long time and in a natural cycle, I think I was probably coming to the end of, of that and was perhaps open to opportunities of attracting in other and different work. But I was working with many other clients at the same time. So, it wasn't just them. I just came and went up the gangway.

Stephen: (20:41)
I suppose I'm back to that transformation. It was time for you to, to transform and take that learning and go on. Perhaps if you hadn't, we wouldn't have had the joy of the book today.

Karen: (20:53)
No, indeed. Indeed.

Stephen: (20:58)
And, I'm also struck by how back then you were really ahead of the curve in terms of that, I was thinking coaching culture, but it's also really the way company cultures are going today and that it is more multinational. Teams are more diverse, not just in terms of gender but also in terms of countries and ethnicity and everything else. And Yeah. So you, you, you were already doing back then what the way work has gone now today. So it must be really interesting to see, see today what maybe you had learned back then?

Karen: (21:44)
And as you're talking I'm, I'm struck by something very particularly, which I, I would say to them, which is, regardless of the stripes on your shoulder or the uniform that you're wearing, that they're just markers of the responsibilities and role that you have onboard the ship. But you are the provider of this service and everything that you bring to it, is made and evolved from you and how you find your way of doing this is incredibly important. And we used to talk a lot about self esteem and inclusion and influencing other shipmates and trying to work with hierarchies, breaking through into new, more senior roles that were untrodden ground perhaps for some groups and, and also the role of women onboard. So, the variety of topics that would come to me, I had no idea what was walking through the cabin door, but, tremendous variety and, and I think that's really relevant and, particularly heartwarming for me is, remembering a comment that, one of the ship leaders said to me, and he said, we, we know who's been Karen Dean'd, and, and after that eight years, that I hadn't made a significant impact on the culture of the way the ships ran.

Karen: (23:31)
And I have no idea whether that's true or it's not, but the fact that that individual saw fit to share a comment like that with me, was really lovely. And of course, some people absolutely hated the fact they were going to come sit in a room with me and they were free not to do so. So, that was fine. And,, but I was never going to be flavor of the month for everyone and nor what I was setting out to do for them didn't feel right or appropriate. But for those that it did, then there were some good outcomes.

Stephen: (24:10)
What popped into my head was the, the fact that you never knew what was going to walk, who was going to walk through the door and what they were going to bring. And I suppose that's maybe one of the challenges for new coaches starting out in terms of, you've done the training, you're a professional coach, you can coach any anybody on anything, but yet there's always the advice about finding your niche. I just really curious what's, what's your view on, on that?

Karen: (24:44)
The second article that Sam and I wrote was, a bit of a throwback really "Martini coaching anytime, any place, anywhere". Which on the one hand celebrating that one can coach the person, but that professionally people exist in a context. And so awareness of the context and the system may be significant too. So we were talking particularly to, the law fraternity for example, where they have spent many years building their technical competency and they're suddenly sitting with a coach wondering, so where are their credentials and how are, how might I trust them or what respect do I have for this woman who's just been invited to be my coach? And I'm evaluating whether I want to work with her or not. So I think awareness of context without allowing that to drive the conversation and then real rigor around the contract that's being set up is really important.

Karen: (25:59)
And, and holding on to, and trusting the process. The process is there as a framework and to give guidance on where and how one might get to a particular place. But the artistry and what is co-created between the coach and the client in that moment is open to move wherever is right for that time. And that's the exciting, inspiring thing about coaching, I think. And, and knowing that it doesn't always go the way you want it to go. And again, that's something that's been cocreated, something that's triggered in both of you, that you suddenly begin to project, on each other. I will find yourself reminded of a previous situation that at some level hijacks, so staying open, trusting work with the process and increasingly believe in one's capacity to be with that other person, endlessly curious, seeking a future outcome and believing in the client's capability, resources and capacity to get there.

Stephen: (27:22)
And I think that probably brings us nicely on to those times when, when it doesn't go the way you might like it to or something comes up. And you mentioned earlier about supervision. Yeah. So I suppose at what point did you become interested in supervision and, and training as a supervisor and going down that path?

Karen: (27:49)
Actually, the, the training was five years ago. So I had my own supervisor for quite a while before then, but the timing never seemed quite right. And, and then there was just a moment of, do you know what, this is what I'd really love to do. And I'm really glad that I did. And, and it's been very, very nourishing, very challenging. I think the approach of supervision to stand back and look at what's actually going on, to find names and structures for that, to be explicit about resonances or a psychological model as to how that makes sense of it is such a different approach from the coaching. But I consistently use, Trudy Newton's model and in her work with Hillary Cochran, to guide my practice and to review what I'm doing and how I'm evolving and Trudy's model the, the supervision triangle is speaking to how the supervisor might pay attention to the, the management, the processes and the ethics of a coaches practice.

Karen: (29:12)
Of course, be there to stimulate, um, provoke their development, but equally to hold the coach the level of who they are as a coach and to honor what is to be celebrated and to support them when they're struggling or, or taking less time to care for themselves. Because ultimately sitting in front of the client, we have opportunity to be positive models of how it can be and, and if we're not preparing well, caring for managing our time so that we're not overworked, that we're not hydrated or eating properly or exercised or have bent to our curiosity and our creativity, then I believe we're missing an opportunity to be an even better coach and have that positive parallel that that supports guides and then enables the practice

Stephen: (30:18)
and how then did me and my come about?

Karen: (30:25)
Ah, me, my goes back to that work on the ship. So, and all of those points inside my head, 60 something, a closed loop in the system that I know and I have labels for and language for and a sense of, of the, the flow and the logic of that, enabled me to write the algorithm behind me, my coach and we talked to after, eight years, walking away and time for something new and different. I was so driven by the idea of what on earth am I going to do with everything that I've been learning here? And a very particular client said to me, once, how might you offer to a much wider audience the knowledge, skills and experience you've been building? Because that's not going to go where it might possibly go if it's one conversation at a time. And let me be clear, I'm very respectful of change one conversation at a time. Otherwise I wouldn't have done it for as long as I have, but as technology has enabled new and different learning, has opened up the world and coaching is spanning the world, then I wanted to create me, my coach as an online framework. That was a generous offering. Available 24x7, unlimited use for a year. That was a place where a coach can go in, actively reflect on a specific coaching conversation, what was happening for them and what were they experiencing and how might that help them evaluate the level of their competency and to track their progress when they do it differently, to be offered coaching questions in the framework that enable their learning and, and give them the chance to do it better the next time, and know how they grew and know what they did. So it isn't a replacement for supervision. It's a way of keeping on track or preparing well for supervision.

Karen: (32:55)
And if I just take a moment to say that matters to me because investing in a supervisor is significant for many coaches. And to get the best return in the valuable time you have with your supervisor, the preparation before you get to that supervision conversation is so important. And if you can reflect, understand what was, what, where it came from, and in the end, distill, what's the core supervision question I want to take to this conversation; That's when in half an hour an hour you might find transformation. So, it's the responsibility of, of keeping oneself on track and to be able to dip in and out and use as much or as little of the framework as feels appropriate at any time. So, and it now it's available now, which is lovely. So that's another way of, of offering, of sharing, of, leaving something in our profession, I suppose.

Stephen: (34:04)
And I'm struck by how the connections between all the transformation pieces and how it's layering on all, all your being up to each point and then building on top of that, which is lovely! And yeah, the supervision piece, I know I found starting out as a, as a new coach, spreading, spreading your wings into the world for the first time, it can be quite daunting. But having the fact that you have a supervisor and you have somewhere to go so that you're not alone is really, really important. Certainly I, I found it really important, um, for me anyway.

Karen: (34:54)
Yeah. And I think that step just beyond the classroom, and working with peers and being with live clients can be overwhelming sometimes. And that's part of what inspired me and also for internal coaches to have an opportunity to come together, learn together and build a common language around, around how they're growing and what does that mean and, and what themes does it reflect, I think, is also important. Any chance we get to step back, examine, learn and grow has to be useful.

Stephen: (35:38)
So I suppose I'm curious then in terms of where's next for Karen?

Karen: (35:48)
More writing. Mostly supervision. And more choice within my coaching and, in, in the writing at the moment I'm writing articles for three different publications, which is great. And, and I definitely want to write another book and Sam, and I, have arrangements in place to record an audio book where I can read my stories, Sam can read hers and that, that's going to be great. I am really fascinated and I'm so struck and, and want to celebrate you creating the podcast, Stephen, really, because, so many young people are, finding a podcast, such a great way to take in information to be able to reflect and learn. And you know, and quite clearly reading a book isn't everyone's favorite thing to do. So an audio book I think is probably important. But I had an opportunity today to sit and read a couple of stories to a group of coaches who are all learning their craft. And it's one of my favorite things to do is to read out loud. And, it was just so beautiful to, to have a live audience in the moment responding and, and resonating and reflecting on their practice and what stimulated by the words. So I would like to do more, speaking and, being available to that sort of audience too.

Stephen: (37:38)
And I love how you're embracing new technology and new ways of reaching the audience, you know, through the website and your app and the audio book. So lots of exciting things. So I just like to say thank you for, for your time today and sharing your journey and the wisdom that you've gathered along the way. And could I ask, could we maybe finish with a story?

Karen: (38:05)
Oh, I'd love to!

[Karen reads story which hasn't been transcribed]

Stephen: (47:08)
My sincerest thanks to Karen Dean for taking the time out of her day to meet with me and so generously share her own story experience and of course to read the extract from her fabulous book: Coaching Stories. I hope you enjoyed this interview and I'd love to hear your feedback, so please don't hesitate to get in touch by sending an email to Stephen at and that Stephen with a "ph'. Full details of this and all the other episodes can be find on my website at Thanks for listening, and until next time, don't forget, stay curious!