At Salt, a global, award-winning digital recruitment agency we understand that careers are constantly evolving, and our aspirations and skills no longer fit into one neat career box. One person who knows this is Leadership Development Specialist and Executive Coach Alexandru Popa-Antohi. We spoke with Alexandru to find out more about his interesting international career, how and why he created a career bringing Technology and Coaching together, and the benefits of coaching on leaders and their teams.
How would you describe your current role?
I have set-up my own independent practice where I focus on three key areas: one to one executive coaching for Technology business leaders, systemic team coaching for leadership teams and making leadership development work ‘stick’.
Prior to this, I was a Leadership Development Manager at Vodafone Group, based in the global HQ in London. I worked there for four years and I co-architected the global Performance Development learning programme – the first digital end-to-end offering of this kind for the organisation. This impacted over 8,000 leaders and over 100,000 employees in 26 countries.
I have spent the past 10 years working in corporates in various leadership development, learning & development and coaching roles. In my current role, I love the diversity of clients and industries that I work with, from a cultural institute in London to a mid-sized software development company in Germany.
What inspired you to bring coaching and technology together?
I have an unusual background in Computer Science and Psychology. The two domains felt distinct and separate initially and the conversations to explain my switch were pretty interesting. Over time, I found that they were both part of the same umbrella of Cognitive Sciences, involving subjects like Psychology, Philosophy, Linguistics, Computer Science, Neuroscience and Anthropology. These are all domains I care about!
In the past 3-4 years, there have been significant breakthroughs in technology that apply in the HR, leadership development and coaching world. I’m noticing the ever-growing ecosystem of HR tech and how we might use technology to facilitate better conversations in organisations.
I am particularly interested in how we can use AI to enhance team development over time, and how we can use Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality in executive coaching to facilitate new types of insight and accelerate progress. These are fantastic new domains that open-up endless possibilities that were not in reach with traditional ways of working.
I have recently shared some of my thinking about the intersection between coaching and technology at the Psychometrics Forum UK and the Coaching at Work yearly conference. Organisations and practitioners are becoming more interested to invest in pilots, which is very exciting for a geek like myself.
What has been your career highlight?
I would say it is my international relocation from Romania to The Netherlands in 2012. While in The Netherlands, I worked in a mid-size tech company in Leiden, where we counted 27 nationalities with approximately 130 colleagues. This was extremely impactful. Two years later, I moved again to my next international experience in London, UK, where I’ve been living for 5 years now. It was part of a broader plan I had with my girlfriend (now my wife) for living internationally, exploring and understanding new cultures, not only through travelling, but through deep immersion over a period of time.
What challenges do you face within your career?
A recurring theme in my career has been to create new offerings and programmes that deliver value, under conditions of scarcity, especially for time and resources. As a trustee of an educational charity with very little budget, I designed a four-year educational programme for high-school students, together with our team.
While in The Netherlands, I lead a new client-facing service line for external training across 7 international locations. For the company this was a new role which we set-up and tested together. Later, while in the UK, I set-up a global HR Academy for approx. 3,100 human resources professionals in the global footprint of Vodafone (26 markets), again with little resources available.
I have learned a lot from these experiences, such as how to deliver with and through others, how to generate excitement and interest in a vision, how to start small and scale-up and the importance of making the work replicable by creating templates, processes and routines etc.
Do you have a mentor and what do you think makes mentors so effective?
My biggest mentor has been Daniel Bichis, a person I respect and admire. He was the lead trainer in my four-year coaching accreditation in Bucharest. Daniel is a particularly skilled individual – a Master Coach with various international associations, trained experiential and Gestalt psychotherapist, biochemist and EQ coach. Next to his sharing his knowledge, I have learned most from Daniel by watching him at work, noticing how he is and acts with his clients, how he embodies the values and principles he preaches, his integrity and professionalism, his deep humanity and optimism. His style was challenging but not confrontational – it helped me explore new depths of self-awareness and develop into a much more flexible individual.
For example, as a logical, structured and pragmatic decision maker, I didn’t have the awareness and skills to take emotional data or intuition into the decision-making process. Daniel worked with me to develop my flexibility and increase my effectiveness, by developing the mindset, skills and physiology to be able to achieve this. It wasn’t easy, but it was rewarding.
What are the benefits of combining coaching with Technology?
Executive coaching for technical leaders can be particularly useful in a variety of areas for them, from scaling up their start-up without sacrificing culture, building the right team, letting go and delegating, addressing disharmony amongst the team and critical stakeholders and investors, to prioritising self-care and avoiding burn out.
The leaders I work with tell me the benefits of coaching range from understanding self and impact on others better, getting back the time to think, making informed decisions about their future, integrating conflicting perspectives, resourcing themselves better and becoming more resilient, and more which in turn, makes them become better leaders.
What is next for you and your career?
Together with an associate partner, we have spent time recently thinking about our team coaching offering. We are going to engage in a dialogue with leadership teams about the usefulness of having a team coach that then becomes a trusted companion and thinking partner over time.
One area I’m particularly interested in is the use of technology in coaching. There are a few technology vendors I know and trust, and we will explore together how we can serve individual and team coaching clients.
One example of a tech vendor allows teams to record the full audio content of the meeting, translate that into speech-to-text and use AI and social sciences to derive reports on the effectiveness of team meetings. This allows teams to develop using their real data and work, instead of going through simulations that feel fake.
You mentioned your charity work, tell us more about the charity and development work you get involved in and why.
For many years, I have been involved in charities, especially youth-based ones. I have learned the value of growing and developing through others, and more importantly, the value of giving back in a non-selfish, altruistic way. I’m particularly proud of the work we did in a charity I was a trustee of, where I co-designed a four-year curriculum of non-formal learning for high-school students. This has now been followed by over 17,000 students across Romania.
I have also taken an active role in the development of my professional field, executive coaching. I have sat on the Board of the Romanian Association for Coaching (ARC), and more recently I have taken a role of Director in the Association for Professional Coaching and Supervision (APECS). The latter is a top-level professional membership body for executive coaching. This was a tremendous opportunity to contribute to the legacy of the organisation, provide direction and leadership together with the team, members and various stakeholders.
Since 2018, I have been contributing to The Future of Coaching Collaboration (FCC). This is a multi-stakeholder group and includes representatives from corporates and other organisations, leading professional bodies for coaching, academia, research institutes and Coaching at Work magazine. I am now a Core Member of the FCC, contributing to positioning papers and thought leadership around the advancement of the coaching profession, the impacts of mega-trends and technology on coaching, running experiments with new tech etc.
I strongly believe that we have a responsibility to develop others and bring a contribution to our professional domain.
How do you ‘switch off’?
I don’t have a silver bullet but, I practice some simple habits such as not bringing the phone into bed with me. I leave it to charge a distance away so if I need it, I must get out of bed.
When I am doing work where I need to concentrate, I try to avoid getting distracted. I take small actions such as disabling email notifications on my mobile, keeping my phone at a distance away from me and setting a reminder on Facebook to say when I have already spent 30 minutes on it during the day. This all helps me stay focused for longer periods of time.
More broadly, I take regular breaks and do physical exercise. This way, I get better sleep and feel more productive the next day.
Fun fact about you?
I have lived in 5 cities, 3 countries and 11 homes until now. Together with my wife, we will hopefully take a new international adventure in some years.
Where can people find you and find out more about you?
Alexandru Popa-Antohi is a Leadership Development Specialist and Executive Coach with 10+ years’ experience working in international businesses across Europe and the US. He is accredited as a Practising Executive Coach with the Association of Professional Coaching and Supervision (APECS). To connect with Alexandru, reach out to him on LinkedIn or on his website.