Leadership Interview: Michael Han ‘My Coaching Journey’

“I want more leaders in this Company join this great journey; once and forever this will change our way of leading people and managing business. As a coaching ambassador and trainer, I aim to help more people become professional leaders, to use these great tools in their daily life and become great coaches”.

I first started working with the Top Team at the Far East Asia Liner Operations Cluster (FEALOC) in Shanghai when I visited them in January 2013 to kick off the Coaching Master Class program. Michael Han was a member of the senior management team and had already made a start on his coaching journey.

Michael turned out to be one of the bright stars of the coaching work I did in 2013 in eight different worldwide locations. He is a great coaching ambassador and trainer. His humbleness meant he often used to hide this brightness. Here is an example. In one of our coach-the-coach sessions I gave Michael positive feedback on the great results he was achieving with his coaching. Then came the humble bit from him: “OK Trevor – that’s all bright side. But what can I do better?” In another example I observed this characteristic again in group sessions where he instinctively held back from offering his views on a topic to allow others to contribute. He was making sure others were able to shine.

Michael became a facilitator for Coaching Master Class program and rolled it out to the next leadership level in China and in Japan. He is a bright shining star for coaching in the Far East.

Here Michael reflects on his journey three years on. I took Michael through four stages of his coaching development journey to find out what he has discovered along the way, and what can we learn from his experiences.


Trevor: “How, when and why did you get started as a leadership coach?”

Michael: “After many years of continued rapid growth, we saw the container shipping business shifted to lower gear. This also put forward new challenges to the way we manage the business and lead the people. One of the major challenges was how to keep the team motivated to satisfy and exceed those ever-intensifying business demands on top of what they are extremely busy with, and the least to mention, with restricted budget”.

“With those things keeping me awake in the night, I was informed by the company that I was enrolled to a training course in January 2013 on coaching for performance”.

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

Michael: “Different from some of the leaders. I benefited from my wide experience obtained from my frequent rotations between business units, functions and geographies. The downside, however, also made me aware that it’s impossible to have all the answers in all the processes we engage. I came to use some of the questioning techniques in my roles as manager before participating the coaching master class and found them effective but not enough. You can imagine how excited I was when I learned that it’s a whole package of business coaching tools out there waiting for me to explore, and practice”.

Trevor: “What were your personal goals as you set out on your coaching journey?”

Michael: “The Liner Operations Cluster of Far East Asia set out for an exciting journey since 2013. I went all-in with high hope and held firm believe that I would be able to help my team members to release their true potential which we might not aware ourselves. Ultimately, we all want to be the one (team) winning, both in the business world and in developing ourselves”.

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

Michael: “Both, without a single doubt. The two come hand-in-hand, and none can be achieved without the other one being successful”.

Trevor: “How were you held accountable by your manager for coaching success (or how you held yourself accountable)?”

Michael: “My boss took up the coaching journey (officially) almost at the same time. We work very closely in the management team to ensure it’s not just another tool introduced and a book to show on the shelf, but a mind-set change and new way of engaging people the entire organization regardless of ranks”.

“We established an operating system (some elements later got adopted by the Future Operations Execution project and become part of the MLOS, Maersk Line Operating System) in the LOC to help managers adopting the new way of working. Those scheduled coaching talks since then became an effective enabler for two-way performance discussions that inspire creativity and deeper reflection”.

“I am accountable for a set of stretched business targets, which can only be achieved through a motivated team with laser focus on striving for challenging ourselves with new and higher standards”.

Trevor: “How did you integrate coaching into other programs and initiatives?”

Michael: “I found coaching can work with almost all elements of my daily work, well, might not so well in emergency situation such as vessel collision or salvage, where command-and-order worked better. But I consciously tried, when time and situation permit, to coach people even in emergency”.

“In projects I sponsored, coaching has apparent strength in helping the project teams realize what needs to be done since we don’t have to align on what the end-goals are”.

“Different managerial tools tend to work better when incorporated with coaching techniques since managers in most cases no longer have to deal with the teaching tasks and to carry the two monkeys on their shoulder”.


Trevor: “What was your experience of the coaching training you received – for example, Coaching Master Class?”

Michael: “The Coaching Master Class was a great opportunity for the leadership team of FEALOC to embrace the change from managing business to leading people. This has changed our way of working in many ways, one of them is the new way we call ourselves. It used to be ‘the management tea’, now we use ‘the leadership team’ J.”

Trevor: “What were the success factors for you and the colleagues who started out on their coaching journey with you?”

Michael: “To start a new routine, you will need quite some discipline and lots of hard work. We agreed among ourselves to follow the coaching template in our monthly performance dialogues with our subordinates. Ultimately, the success factors of our coaching journey is to develop our people and improve our business”.

Trevor: “What did you discover were the core skills, factors and processes for coaching success?”

Michael: “The most important skill in coaching, in my view, is to ask the right questions in the right way. The GROW model is a very simple, but very powerful tool, and is applicable in almost all scenarios. As a coach and a manager, we will also have to ask the fundamental question: how we can turn the moment into a coaching opportunity?”

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

Michael: “I was proud to see my subordinates started to ask questions instead of providing answers”.

Trevor: “What did you discover about your strengths as a coach?”

Michael: “I think I am good at engaging people, gaining their trust, so that my coaching questions become more relevant and eventually their own questions”.

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

Michael: “Time, or lack of it. Sometimes this led to providing solutions in a coaching dialogue. This is also why we as leaders must invest a lot of time and energy; and exercise discipline”.


Trevor: “How do you prepare yourself now for coaching?”

Michael: “Trust is the most important element in preparing a coaching session. Then the right environment needs to be created, by the coach. It cannot be too relax – we mean serious business! And cannot be too stressed – you want people to think! The coach has to find the right balance taking consideration of the purpose of the session, and personality of the coachee”.

“Then it comes to the easier (not so easy) part: be on time, stay in the zone, the wrap-up actions, etc.”

Trevor: “How did you use the GROW model as a template when you started out coaching?”

Michael: “You have to follow the template with discipline, at least in the beginning, to obtain the feeling and build intuition”.

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

Michael: “In most of the sessions, I found active listening and giving feedback/feedforward most useful among all tools”.

“We often jump into conclusion without truly understanding what the coachee tries to express, or even worse, we could miss sub-conscious ideas unless we stay on top of the conversation at all times and apply active listening. This is to ensure we ask the right questions in the right way”.

“Giving feedback, especially regular and timely feedback, is crucial to a successful coaching plan. This is to ensure a shared reality and a fact-based discussion”.

Trevor: “How do you support and follow up with your direct report coachees after/between coaching sessions?”

Michael: “We are very close in the day-to-day business. I devote time to participate in their team meetings, observe their behaviour and have quick by-the-coffee-machine talks. These are for two purposes, one is to ensure what we agreed in the monthly 1:1 sessions is progressing as planned, and if they need any support or resource to make it happen; the other one is to ensure the culture change also happens in team meetings and with their respective team members”.

Trevor: “How do you ensure you are using your coaching time wisely?”

Michael: “I spend most of the time in asking open questions, triggering thoughts and inspirations. Sometimes I run overtime in a session, but all of them turned out to be well spent with good payback”.

Trevor: “How do you use feedback in coaching?”

Michael: “Giving feedback to people is a gift. Just do it like selecting a gift for a friend! They will like it because they can read your heart”.


Trevor: “How have you extended the use of a coaching approach in other areas of your leadership role?”

Michael: “We extended coaching into other areas of business out of the operations function, such as joint customer visits. It’s a good way of interaction with clients. Maersk Line is having more functional communities, I also found coaching techniques are also applicable in such environments”.

Trevor: “How do you evaluate the success of your coaching – for example, return on investment, business impact, etc.?”

Michael: “I want to see the team highly motivated, happier at work, delivering better and higher business results, and not the least, they are able to take higher responsibilities”.

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

Michael: “We have the standard work/operating system in place now, so it’s happening as planned”.

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


“1. Purpose of the coaching session defined”

“2. Mutual trust established”

“3. Coachee is able to come up with new and better ideas”

“4. Clearly contracted way forward, and follow-up review”

Trevor: “How would you describe the correlation between performance (yours and your direct reports) and your coaching success?”

Michael: “Very positive and direct correlation”.

Trevor: “What are you aiming for in terms of future personal development as a leadership coach?”

Michael: “I want more leaders in this Company join this great journey; once and forever this will change our way of leading people and managing business. As a coaching ambassador and trainer, I aim to help more people become people leaders or professional leaders and to use these great tools in their daily life and become great coaches”.


Further reading from the Coaches Toolkit

  • Techniques – Building Trust & Rapport
  • Techniques – GROW Summary
  • Tools – Purposeful Questions, Active Listening, Challenging Perceptions & Feedback

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Michael Han LinkedIn Profile


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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