My Coaching journey – Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou

In 2018 Despina Panayiotou Theodosiou was listed the 9th most influential women in shipping. Domingos Silva interviews her about her personal coaching journey.

I am publishing today with great amusement. One, because today we reach the 150th posts milestone and also because it is the first leadership journey I publish and from someone I really admire as a professional.

Despina and I met a couple of years ago when I was leading a project related to fleet monitoring. I was very impressed by her passion about the business, knowledge and also her leadership skills and gravitas very evident in every interaction we had. On a personal level, me being the father of a young lady (and I related this to my previous post – (Dreams I Dream for my Daughter. A Successful Business Woman). who aspires to be a business woman, Despina also became famous in my place because of her drive on topics related to Diversity and Inclusion and to empower women in shipping – historically a predominately male-dominated business. She’s someone who my daughter looks up to as role model.

I am glad women like Despina has taken such discussions and I can honestly see things changing in the world. This gives me peace of mind thinking that that when my lovely daughter enters in the labour market, she will be a professional measured, get paid and promoted based on her education, skills and most importantly, performance and professionalism, without gender being in any way a factor.

A brief intro about Despina

In 2018 she was listed the 9th most influential women in shipping. She is the joint CEO of Tototheo Maritime and currently serves as president of Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association – WISTA International, which oversees 46 WISTA national associations with more than 3,000 individual members. She is also Cyprus’ national advocate for the European Commission’s Europe 2020 “Equality Pays Off” Initiative, which is seeking to address the gender pay gap. (more can be seen on her LinkedIn profile

Prepare the Ground

  • How, when and why did you get started as a leadership coach?

A: It started about five years ago, and it came naturally. As I progressed in my career and had more people to manage, unconsciously I started coaching some of them. I became more mindful of it as the time went by, and now it is something that I find very gratifying doing.

  • What was your mind-set and attitude towards coaching as a business tool at that time?

A: I believed that it was a useful tool to create the team that I wanted – high performing but at the same time accountable for their actions and empowered to progress.

  • What were your personal goals as you set out on your coaching journey?

A: I was at a point where I was taking a very senior role and needed my team to be able to act more independently because I did not have the time to “dictate” to them what needs to be done. So, my personal goal was to have a team that gets the job done so I could focus on my responsibilities.

  • What were your coaching priorities for your direct reports at that time – performance, development or both?

A: It was both. Working for a fast-developing company, one that was on the path to becoming international (rather than a regional company as it had been), performance and development were equally important.

  • How were you held accountable by your manager for coaching success (or how you held yourself accountable)?

A: In the beginning I wasn’t, as we had not set a structure for the coaching. It was frustrating as I felt I was coaching but there were no deliverables. As soon as we started “measuring” the results of coaching we started realising the benefits.

  • How did you integrate coaching into other programs and initiatives?

A: As a coach, I tried to integrate that into the culture of the company. As I mentioned we were going through a transformation and it was an opportunity to create positive impact, to make our team feel that their individual goals and growth aligned with the organisation’s goals and growth, thus creating an environment conducive to high performance but also enjoyment and fulfilment.

Sow the Seed

  • What was your experience of the coaching training you received ?

A: I became more aware of the fact that with coaching you need to be able to ask a lot of questions and really listen to what people are telling you. It can never be about you as a coach telling them what to do; they need to come to that awareness themselves.

  • What were the success factors for you and the colleagues who started out on their coaching journey with you?

A: The success factors were to reach the point where coaching would allow our team to be high performing, responsive, agile and aligned.

  • What did you discover were the core skills, factors and processes for coaching success?

A: Understanding that coaching is the new way to lead, in a world where the leadership model is fast evolving. Giving out instructions, leading with fear and censorship are replaced by partnership, collaboration, honesty – these are the key factors.

  • What were your early achievements from your coaching – what are you particularly proud of?

A: I am proud that my team became more accountable, created a culture of cooperation and they take satisfaction from their job and the fact that they are trusted to perform.

  • What did you discover about your strengths as a coach?

A: My strength is that I feel confident enough to empower other people. I want my team to be better than me because that is a reflection of my leadership.

  • What were your early challenges as a coach?

A: I was not patient enough; it was a skill I had to learn if I wanted to be an effective coach.

Nurture and Grow

  • How do you prepare yourself now for coaching (clarifying the need, creating opportunities and contracting with your direct report coachees)?

A: I always come prepared to the coaching session, having studied the situation (why we are having this particular session), being prepared with open-ended questions (so that there can be a discussion), and having possible suggestions and opportunities for the coachee according to where the discussion takes us. The coaching session needs to be a safe environment for the coachee to express their thoughts and opinions.

  • How did you use the GROW model as a template when you started out coaching?

A: I still use the GROW model. It is quite powerful in its simplicity because it gives a direction as to the questions to be asked and in which sequence. It also emphasises the Will to do something therefore it is a platform for self-motivation which is critical for the success of the coaching.

  • How did you use the core tools (purposeful questions, active listening, challenging perceptions & feedback) when you started out coaching?

A: Active listening is very important for me – it makes the coachee feel appreciated. Listening and understanding their viewpoint was particularly helpful in situations of conflict.

  • How do you support and follow up with your direct report coachees after/between coaching sessions?

A: Follow up needs to be part of the coaching if we want to have results. Reflection allows the coachee to evaluate their actions/plan, re-align if needed, manage expectations and most importantly learn. I always check-in with them and encourage a follow up meeting to discuss their progress.

  • How do you ensure you are using your coaching time wisely?

A: To be honest I am not always rigid with my plan. Sometimes the conversation itself takes you were you need to go, so I always encourage a free and honest discussion.

  • How do you use feedback in coaching?

A: Feedback is very important for the coachee because it helps them see how they are performing. Feedback should always be candid and constructive. I also ask for their feedback for my self-improvement.

Reap the Rewards

  • How have you extended the use of a coaching approach in other areas of your leadership role?

A: Coaching is not only about solving problems or improving performance, but also about increasing creativity, innovation, presenting new ideas. The coaching approach has helped our team do all these things.

  • How do you evaluate the success of your coaching (return on investment, business impact, other)?

A: We have seen improved business results and team members have since been promoted and taken on more responsibility.

  • How have you embedded coaching into your daily leadership business rhythms, and if applicable, into those of your team of direct report leaders?

A: We have a coaching routine – specific prescheduled sessions that we commit to. Coaching is as important as our other work routines because it promotes self and team improvement as well as higher performance. I also encourage managers within our team to have coaching sessions with their direct reports, and this is recognised and supported.

  • What metrics are you working to yourself, and/or applying to your team of direct report leaders, for coaching success?

A: We always discuss the success criteria in advance and set goals for our team, so the performance or the coaching success is measured against that criteria.

  • How would you describe the correlation between performance (yours and your direct reports) and your coaching success?

A: Long term coaching has an impact on performance, as it develops the skills and capabilities of your team as well as their attitude towards collaboration and eventually success.

  • What are you aiming for in terms of future personal development as a leadership coach?

A: In a highly connected and complex world, we move towards collective leadership models, so I focus on collaboration, shared resources, flow of information, and empowerment of the team to take ownership of their own development.


Author: Domingos Silva Junior

Domingos Silva Jnr is Brazilian by birth and a shipping industry specialist with over 21 years of experience of international container shipping operations leading multicultural teams globally. Domingos encourages his teams for continuous improvement, teamwork and the ability to transform challenges into opportunities. His motto “If a problem is said to be difficult, my team would need a few hours. And if said to be impossible, three days would be sufficient to find a solution.” LinkedIn Profile:

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