Sue Belton: On Becoming an Elite Coach with Co-Active
Posted on October 6, 2021
Many individuals have begun their coaching journey with Co-Active and gone on to achieve incredible things in their life and work. We always find it powerful and illuminating to put a spotlight on these individuals and learn about their experiences.
Read on to learn more about where Sue began and where she has arrived.
Thanks for being here, Sue. What did your life look like before discovering Co-Active and becoming a successful life coach?
It’s my pleasure! Well, I was a TV producer for the BBC for 14 years. I was very driven, high achieving, and all about the job. It was my passion, going into other people’s worlds, being curious, finding out what drives and moves people. I loved it. I loved what I did.
I was what you would call a typical hardcore workaholic and high achiever. But underneath I suffered from imposter syndrome (though I didn’t know that at the time).
What pushed you to make the decision to change your career?
I had my daughter. It’s a classic case of having a child: everything completely changes, especially your priorities.
Returning to work wasn’t what I had in mind, because I discovered that I actually wanted to do something else. I wanted to be around for my daughter. Suddenly, the life that I had built up wasn’t a fit for me anymore. I was experiencing a midlife crisis, which is not really a term used much anymore, but that’s what it was. The person I’d become didn’t fit the life I’d built around me.
“This often happens to people when experiencing life-changing events. It makes them pause, question, and evaluate their lives.”
The change in mindset was all about the arrival of my daughter. It’s either gradual or sudden, and mine was a bit of a shock.
Did you look for coaching programs, or was it a chance discovery?
Becoming a life coach was not the initial plan! I had no idea at the time that I would be a successful life coach. As a matter of fact, I was actually looking into becoming a psychotherapist, because my uncle is one. But when I looked into it, I realized I couldn’t do seven years of training: I needed something now. I looked into teaching next, and during this time I happened to meet an ex-BBC producer turned coach. This was the first time I heard about coaching.
I tried one coaching workshop, but it wasn’t great. Everything felt very transactional and very superficial. So, I got my journalist head on. I did loads of research. I found lots of life coaching programs that are either very theoretical or just very surface level in terms of coaching models.
“I had a 45-minute Co-Active coaching call, and that changed my life.”
After lots of research, I found out about Co-Active. This is where I first met Judy, who was a program advisor for Co-Active at the time.
What happened on that 45-minute call? What was it that was such a flip of the switch?
It all felt very tangible. I was brought up in the army, so I’m keen on everything like tangible processes, systems, evidence, and proof. That’s why I was a journalist.
My daughter was two years old, and I was in a relationship with her father. But I was very unhappy. I also didn’t know what I was going to do next. In that one session, Judy took me from one place to another — I physically moved.
Judy did balance coaching with me. This is where you get somebody’s perspective about their life. During that time, I thought my life was miserable. That was not true, but that’s what I thought about my life. That was my current perspective at that time.
She separated those two out and got me to embody and really feel into how I was feeling at the moment, my current perspective. And it was like I was literally in a hole; that was how I felt about my life. She got me to try different ways of thinking, different perspectives.
“My coach got me to a place where I could actually see that there was possibility and hope. And then from that place, I could actually start taking action.”
So, she moved me. I was on the phone, and she physically moved me into different positions, which led me to experience different perspectives, ways of thinking about my life and situation.
That was really beautiful. How long ago was that, and have you been coaching for the past 13 years?
Yes, that started it all. And now I’ve been coaching for 13 years.
During that call, I realized how amazing coaching was. This shifted me from a place of despair to a place of hope in the span of that 45-minute phone call. I was blown away. Looking back, I realize I would not be a successful life coach if not for that call.
Let’s talk about Co-Active. You’ve experienced a lot of different coaching modalities. How is Co-Active different from other coaching models?
I do a lot of corporate work. I work with the board level, the C-suite, mainly men. When I work with them, I focus on emotional intelligence, which is self-awareness, self-management, awareness of other people’s emotions, and relationship management. These are the four quadrants.
The Co-Active model addresses all four quadrants of emotional intelligence. So, you are dealing with a much deeper level rather than just the surface. That’s why the impact is bigger. We’re always looking at who you are and what you are doing. We are addressing the model, and you address the emotion. Humans are emotional creatures. We like to think we’re logical and cognitive, but everything we do runs on emotions.
“The Co-Active model addresses our emotions, whereas a lot of other coaching models are theoretical or practical, and with this, they can miss the emotion.”
Would you say that the Co-Active model is uniquely well-suited to that senior layer?
Absolutely. A lot of the guys that I work with are very logical and analytical thinkers. They’ve got it nailed. In terms of neuroscience, they’ve got that left hemisphere going on.
But what they’re not using, commonly, is their gut brain. We have a neural system in our gut and a neural system in our heart, and it is all linked by a vagus nerve to the right hemisphere, which is creativity, vision, emotion, empathy, and all that great stuff. That’s what the Co-Active model does. And that’s what I’m doing when I’m working with them.
In the professional coaching context, what are the common repeated struggles you see out there in the professional world?
Well, almost all the struggles I see out there come back to neglect of the right brain. Everything comes back to emotion, consciously or unconsciously. And the common issues I see are those three key areas: wellness, stress, work-life balance, and now mental health issues which is the big area.
Most of my clients, corporate or private, have terrible work-life balance. They don’t have the basics sorted out, they’re stressed, they have anxiety, they’re overworked, and they’re unknowingly driven by emotion — just like I was 13 years ago.
People are always doing back-to-back meetings, going to the next on screen, not venturing outside, not getting any exercise, and not getting proper sleep. There’s no mindfulness and presence. There’s no taking a pause or a breath. There’s no time for reflection. It’s just “go, go, go.”
That is not right. You have to bring in more boundaries. I’ve done it for myself and also got clients to do it. What I do is take all my notifications off, turn off my phone, and create firmer boundaries.
I also have buffers around every single call. Extra buffers of things. I get clients to treat themselves as their number one client and put that in their diaries. So put your morning meditation into your morning routine. If you haven’t got one, get one. Put in a break for lunchtime and put in 10-minute breaks.
Can you say more about how the world is suddenly more competitive and how skills are becoming outdated faster?
Nowadays, the pace is just through the roof. Systems and processes are changing all the time. Mindsets are changing. The people, especially senior leaders, who have been doing things a certain way for 10 to 20 years are going to struggle. They need to be able to adapt and be flexible.
How does the Co-Active model address wellness, stress, and anxiety — and the need to adapt to fast-paced environments?
In terms of wellness, stress, and anxiety, the Co-Active model addresses it because it’s all about who you are now. It’s what you’re experiencing now in your whole body, the impact of what that costs you, and then linking that into what you want. Though you may not know the big plan yet, you know what you want for your life. How is this serving that and the specific goals you have?
“You can’t make any change if you’re not getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutrition — you would not be in a condition to do anything.”
How you show up in your life is not in isolation; the Co-Active model is all about that. It is all about the whole person. It’s looking at the bigger picture, and then asking what perspective would be helpful to change, what emotions are going on within that fixed mindset.
“The focus on process, balance, and fulfilment: Co-Activity gets you to go much deeper, into those things that are holding you back.”
There is a lot of fear involved in terms of fixed mindsets. And Co-Active coaching also deals with this directly. What you resist persists, that’s the whole process piece.
For the successful people you coach, when you go to the deeper level of coaching, do you see them become empowered to make changes?
The first step is always self-awareness. Stress in your body takes a moment to actually tune into, because most of the time we ignore it and that’s why people have heart attacks at their desk. There is a word in the Japanese language, Karōshi, which translates to overwork death.
“The first step is taking that moment and actually realizing what is going on in your body, brain, and whole being.”
That’s what Co-Active coaching leads to. The first step is always the self-awareness piece.
It’s been 13 years since your first session. Can you say that even after all these years, the Co-Active framework and philosophy is still the very core of your coaching approach?
Absolutely. I have people now writing to me saying lots of lovely stuff about what the book has done for them. And a lot of people are now doing CTI courses, because of the book, because of what they see and read, and because of my own personal experience.
“Despite everything I’ve learnt about all kinds of coaching, the Co-Active model is the one that I recommend to people to this day. Throughout my book, I refer constantly to Co-Active.”
I was especially honoured to have a beautiful conversation about my book with Karen Kimsey-House, co-founder of CTI. As a result of that conversation she offered to write my foreword. It’s beautiful, and feels like a full-circle moment.
Do you have any final thoughts?
“One thing that’s really important about the Co-Active model is one of its cornerstones: people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.”
I think that’s a unique thing. And that’s one I’m always asking new coaches: how are they holding their clients? Are they assuring them that they are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole?
In lots of coaching, there is a connotation that you need to be fixed, that there’s something wrong with you. That’s not what coaching should be about. It should be all about getting the other person to tap into their inner resources and come up with the answers themselves. That, for me, is the definition of what coaching is. So I think that’s a really, really important cornerstone.
In Co-Active coaching, the coach and the client are equals. We are both part of this process. So, it really does teach personal responsibility and equality. A lot of clients and coaches get into a tricky dynamic where it’s very parent-child, and it feeds into that old dynamic, whereas Co-Active is all about we’re both in this together and design this together.
“Co-Active coaching gets you in touch with who you truly are. We’re not human doings; we’re human beings.”
After I had my daughter, I developed a deeper, more spiritual view of the world. I don’t talk about that publicly very much. But I will say that when we’re truly in touch with who we are, great things happen. And that’s what Co-Active philosophies address.
The views expressed on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Co-Active. Any solutions offered by the author are environment-specific and not part of the commercial solutions or support offered by Co-Active.