Leadership Interview: Caroline Wu ‘My Coaching Journey’

We follow the fortunes of a senior leader in China over a four year period as she learns and applies her coaching skills in three different and progressively more senior job roles and ends up Managing Director of a significant business unit with full P&L responsibility.

Caroline Wu

I first started working with the Top Team at Maersk Line East China Cluster (PRE) in Shanghai when I visited them in April 2011 to kick off the Coaching Master Class program. Caroline Wu was a member of the senior management team and starting out on her coaching journey.

I was very fortunate to be working with Caroline at that time. She translated my facilitator guide into Mandarin for the train-the-train roll out of the program. She also co-facilitated the program with me the following year for the North China Cluster (PRN) in Qingdao.

Here she reflects on that journey four years on. Caroline has been promoted twice in that period. I was lucky enough to capture her thoughts on her coaching journey at each stage. What has she learned along the way? What can we learn from her experiences?

My first interview with Caroline was in February 2012, some 10 months after the PRE Coaching Master Class in Shanghai in April 2011, when she was Director, Customer Service, East China Cluster (PRE) in Shanghai.


Trevor: “How did you get started and progress as a leadership coach”?

Caroline: “My reflection on my coaching journey is, in short, that it became part of my day to day management job. What has been more progressed is coaching on performance and coaching on some ad-hoc issues”.

Trevor: “What are your coaching priorities”?

Caroline: “In future I will spend more time on coaching on leadership behaviours and potentials. Performance wise, department productivity, customer satisfaction and local improvement initiatives all got ‘outstanding’ rating. In management meeting I went through the proposal and concluded 6-8 action plans with a responsible person assigned to each, and they will be reviewed in the Cluster master action list”.

Trevor: “What were your early achievements from your coaching – what are you particularly proud of”?

Caroline: “The two action plans I was assigned as responsible person have been finalized before Chinese New Year. I am proud of this work done and my boss also appreciated it. I did some peer coaching practice during the one on one pre-talks with selective functional managers”.

Trevor: “What were your early challenges as a coach”?

Caroline: “Some challenges about coaching – I need more learning by practicing, on how to provoke people’s thinking and initiative. Some of my managers said they have a challenge to coach senior individuals on their development – individual’s needs, job aspiration, work/life balance. I need to think more on how to coach them to be better at coaching in this aspect”.

In July 2013 I asked Caroline to give an update on her experience. By this time she had been promoted to Head of Sales for East China Cluster (PRE) in Shanghai.


Trevor: “Please update me on your coaching experience since we last spoke 18 months ago”.

Caroline: “Coaching is a natural part of my day to day management job. Reflecting on my coaching journey, I am gradually improving on a good mix of coaching for performance and coaching for leadership development”.

Trevor: “How have your coaching priorities changed”?

Caroline: “Coaching on ad-hoc task based issues are getting less. After moving from customer service to sales 9 months ago, coaching for performance becomes more critical important in my leadership role and I have committed significantly increased amount of time”.

Trevor: “What have you discovered are the core skills, factors and processes for coaching success”?

Caroline: “Trust building is very important before any coaching session for it to become a successful and effective one. This requires time and personal efforts. My recent experience of effective coaching session is about communication. How to speak with data, how to challenge in a structured way, and how to demonstrate professional behaviours. In this context, communication is leadership development. I am still learning by doing and I believe continuous efforts will get pay back”.

Trevor: “What are your challenges now as a coach”?

Caroline: “Some challenges remain – our frontline sales leaders are relatively junior (1-2 years position seniority in average) therefore how to help them to become better at coaching their subordinates on both performance and potentials is a major focus in the coming months and years”.

Trevor: “What is your mind-set and attitude towards coaching as a business tool at this time?”

Caroline: “I believe when we are improving coaching effectiveness at all levels of the organization, we will become stronger as a commercial team to deliver constant good results and establish a strong talent pipeline”.

In October 2015 Caroline was promoted to Managing Director for Damco Asia’s North & Central China Cluster. In July 2016 I asked her to give an update of her coaching experience in the light of her new role at a Business Leader.


Trevor: “When I last spoke to you three years ago you told me about how you were coaching your junior direct report leaders at the time. What is different in your new role when you coach more senior direct report leaders?”

Caroline: “There are mainly two differences compared to a couple of year ago. Firstly I am now responsible for a large P&L, and direct reports are senior cross functional leaders thus my focus is on how to develop them into better leaders. Secondly, the diversity of the direct reports group has largely expanded, thus this requires more coaching efforts and application in the relevant functional areas”.

Trevor: “How have you matured and improved personally as a leadership coach? Please give one or two examples”.

Caroline: “A lot of coaching experience and learnings have accumulated during the past several years. Compared to earlier, coaching sessions are shortened because of the effectiveness of the discussions have improved. Another example is I am more and more confident and comfortable in giving feedback and seeking feedback”.

Trevor: “Please tell me how you teach coaching skills to new leaders in your business?”

Caroline: “I co-facilitated several sharing sessions about coaching This is more about sharing concept and tools that leaders can use to build and continuously improve coaching skills. I always recommend new leaders to learn firstly on how to provide behaviour based feedback. New leaders can also observe how their managers leading by example”.

Trevor: “How do you assess the effectiveness and value of your coaching?”

Caroline: “Through regular one-on-one’s I seek feedback from direct reports on whether the feedback I give them is relevant and valued. I also ask how I can be better support them in their performance improvement or career development”.

Trevor: “Previously you said that trust and communication were key to coaching? What else has emerged for you in the past three years as key to coaching success?”

Caroline: “Yes, I said trust is critical factor to ensure success of coaching. Coachees must be comfortable to open their minds and share thoughts in a safe environment. I think another critical factor is listening skill. I think no one can be a good coach if he/she is a poor listener”.


Further reading from the Coaches Toolkit:

  • Techniques – AIDA Guidelines for Feedback
  • Techniques – Building Trust & Rapport
  • Tools – Levels of Listening

Further reading from the Subscribers Resource Pages:

Caroline’s LinkedIn Profile

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Author: Trevor Sherman

Trevor Sherman: Author, Blogger and Coach. What do I do? I develop leadership training material and personal learning modules. I am the owner and operator of this Blog. I coach senior executives for their development and role transition. I am based in Northamptonshire UK and operate globally - in person and through technology.

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