After seven years as COO, Jamie Christon has just been appointed CEO of Chester Zoo, the most visited zoo in the UK. Having worked with Jamie for the last six years, you could say a little bit of credit should be given to Matt Fowler, his performance coach…
In this candid interview, Jamie explains how his relationship with Matt has flourished, how learning the power of reflection and harnessing peoples’ strengths has led to success, and how Matt’s 121 coaching has enabled him to more confidently ride the ups and downs of life – both professionally and personally.
Tell us a bit about your career history before you met Matt…
Well, the first two decades of my career was all about rapid progression. I moved jobs and locations, and was never in the same job more than four years. I worked through a period of boom and bust, predominantly in the tourism, leisure, retail and hospitality sectors. I then landed the role of COO at the zoo, and now my focus is on stability and long-term progression in my new role as CEO of Chester Zoo.
What elements of your life did you want Matt’s help with?
I needed Matt both professionally and personally. At work I was essentially allowed me to do my own thing. So I needed help creating a robust work framework and better leadership habits. And I had ambitions of career progression I wanted to define more clearly.
Matt helped me with my personal life too – when we first started working together I just gone through a separation, and then a divorce. This emotional stress was having a significant impact on all aspects of my life, including my work. I wanted someone to help me get some grounding and stability, so I could be happier and more productive.
What key areas has Matt helped you improve so far?
- Reflection. Before Matt I reacted impulsively to things without taking the time to consider ways of behaving more effectively. Matt’s given me a number of tools which I use to consider my options rationally, and I now gain the benefits of being more considered in my actions as a leader.
- Strengths. Together Matt and I looked at strength-based leadership, to work out what my team and I are good at, and what we’re not. The results have been enlightening, and I think we’re working together a lot better now.
- Talking. They say it can be lonely at the top, and it is! Talking to Matt in confidence as a sounding board, and working through issues and their potential outcomes, is invaluable to me. A prime example is my recent promotion at the Zoo.
Getting the most out of a coach like Matt means being really honest about your challenges, and being open and vulnerable. How did you find this?
From the beginning I put great trust in Matt by discussing my personal life with him, especially my low points around the divorce. Matt made this incredibly easy with empathy and understanding. It’s a two-way relationship, and Matt’s got a special way of engendering trust in people.
How does Matt bring out the best in you?
He challenges me. He asks the awkward question I’m trying to avoid. And he often knows my answer before I say it, which shows how well he knows me!
Matt goes about things with a combination of professionalism and a sense of humour, which really helps break down barriers. He’s even supported me in all manner of ways, often above and beyond what you’d expect of a coach, which I really value.
What would you say to someone considering Matt as a coach?
Matt is a truly incredible performance coach, especially for leaders at C-suite level and their teams. My experience has been very positive; I now feel much more confident and supported in my decisions, and I’m more productive. To get the most out of Matt and improve your performance you have to approach this process with an open attitude to change, and you must tell Matt everything! Like me, you will reap all the rewards this level of honesty brings.
And in summary?
Matt is professional, open, honest, and friendly. He is genuinely interested in understanding and developing you to be the best leader you can be. He’ll help you create new habits to achieve your goals, reduce your stress and build your emotional resilience. I can’t recommend Matt and his 121 coaching enough.