In the Flow with Nancy Hughes

There are coaches and there are Master Coaches. As one of a handful of Master Certified Coaches (MCC) in this region, Nancy Hughes has over 20 years of experience in the professional coaching and leadership development industry. She also has been a key figure in shaping the coaching
industry in Asia as a founding member and past president of the fledgling International Coach Federation (ICF) Singapore Chapter.

In this instalment of our “In the Flow” series, we speak with Nancy to find out more about
what drives her as a coach and her coaching ethos.

How did the journey as a coach start out for you?

I don’t think it was planned, at least not initially. I just fell into it like I was meant to all along. I used to design executive education programs for Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania, through the International Forum, as well as doing a little of everything that constitutes project management – organising, marketing, designing, etc. – but when I came to Singapore in 1998, I decided that the day-to-day organisational work wasn’t for me anymore. The leadership aspect of work interests me though. So when I saw a leadership consultancy ad in the Career Resource Center for Excellence (CRCE) at the American Association of Singapore, I applied for it even though they were only looking for someone to put together public seminars. Eventually we came to a consensus that I would train someone to set up the public seminars and in exchange, they would work with me to learn about coaching. And within the first six months of working there, I knew I finally found what I was meant to do.

As a coach, is there someone you look up to? A role model or key influence?

I don’t know if I can pinpoint just one person because there are many. But yes, there is someone I did work with who had a very big influence on me, and she continues to. Her name is Soleira Green. Also amazing coaches like James Flaherty (New Ventures West) and Julio Olalla (Newfield), whose words have given me much inspiration. Zoran (TNM Coaching) – a mentor, peer and friend – has also had a great deal of influence on me. There is just something very different about him and his abilities as a person and as a coach that I highly respect.

What are some of the challenges you have encountered as a coach?

Apart from occasional disagreements with co-workers and disappointments and heartbreak that stemmed from failed partnerships, I reckon having to work with clients who are disengaged and uncommitted is one of the biggest challenges I have faced. I personally find it hard to work with people who show up only because they have to, not because they want to. Relationships in any situation are often two way, not one sided. The same goes for a coach-student (client) relationship: nothing will blossom or change if one side is unwilling or uncommitted.

What advice would you give to new coaches to resolve these challenges?

Be upfront and state your expectations before the clients choose you as a coach, or before approval of assignments. Also, be certain what would contribute to the success of the coaching relationship and be confident enough to make that known. Honour the process. Be willing to address conflicts and do not hold back doing what is right due to fear of criticism.

What continues to motivate you to coach?

What is motivating is knowing that I can help people explore other dimensions of their lives and establish some kind of clarity for them. It is also exciting to bring out the best in people and see them achieve greater potential, beyond even what they can see for themselves. It is rewarding and encouraging in the same breath.

Do you have any regrets?

I perceive everything that has happened to me to be a valuable learning experience. Maybe in hindsight there will be things I know I could have done differently, but I believe every learning experience happened for a reason and they have moulded the person I am today. So I wouldn’t say I have any regrets. Instead, I would say that if not for these experiences, I wouldn’t have found my own voice, and neither would I be willing to confront situations or conflicts that are not right. Nor would I have learnt to trust my intuition and be true to my inner voice, making sure it doesn’t go unheard.

Looking ahead, what are your plans for the future?

I do not have a clear notion as to which specific direction I am heading toward, but I am strongly convinced that we will be going through some sort of a transition (in the coaching industry). Something else is coming up – something special and something that is going to make this world a better place. So while I am trying to free myself up for this “something else” work, I am continuing to work with the horses (Equine-Assisted Leadership Coaching) in addition to my traditional coaching and leadership work. There is an interconnectedness I feel when I work with horses that doesn’t always happen face-to-face with someone. Maybe it is the lack of a bigger world setting, but horses make me feel the connection of the earth with leadership, people and animals – it is amazing.

Do you have any final words or advice for aspiring coaches?

Trust the coaching process and know that when you enter the profession you are passionate about, you will attract the pureness in it and everything else will simply fall into place.

Thank you for taking the time to share this with us, Nancy!

One of the key lessons we can take away from Nancy is that it is imperative to honour our inner voice, values and passion. These are the anchors that will
hold us together in the storms of adversity and the winds of change that each of us will undoubtedly face in our lifetime.

If you keen to explore how a mindfulness practice can help you reconnect with your inner voice and make clearer decisions, check out our MBSR program at

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