Dawn Metcalfe is an executive coach, facilitator, trainer, leadership advisor, and author of two books, Managing the Matrix and The HardTalk™ Handbook. The HardTalk Handbook is accompanied by the HardTalk training programme – a fully blended, customisable, certified, modular programme designed to help individuals and teams to have difficult conversations more effectively. She is also the founder of Dubai based PDSi, which helps individuals and teams get even better at what they do best.

Tell us about yourself

I was born in Ireland, but left at the age of 17 to study in Manchester. Since then, I have lived and worked in Europe, rural Japan and China, before landing in Bangkok and then the UAE. When I need to escape, I go to Sri Lanka and allow the beauty to relax me and recharge my batteries. Having worked in seven countries, Metcalfe has had the privilege of meeting leaders at all levels, around the region and beyond, to change the way they see the world, their behaviour and impact on others.

 How long have you been in the UAE?

I’ve been based in Dubai for almost ten years which seems crazy given I didn’t really know where it was in relation to Abu Dhabi, when I first got here. I’ve come to love living here. In particular, I love the diversity of this young nation. The fact that every day I learn a name I’ve never heard before, and something new about the various ways we’ve found to navigate our journey on this planet makes this a fascinating place to live. It’s ambitious and I’ve seen so much change in the short time I’ve lived here. I’m looking forward to seeing (and being a small part of) what happens next.

Tell us about your company PDSi?

I started PDSi in 2010 and we essentially do one thing: we help individuals and teams to get even better at what they do. We do this through coaching, training programmes and facilitated retreats. Our clients are in every sector because people are the same whether they’re running a bank, an engineering firm or are in retail.

What field were you in before you launched this?

I’ve pretty much always been in education. Starting from when I was a little girl, learning my Irish verbs (and forcing my best friend to learn them with me). I’ve been interested in how we learn and how we change. After becoming ill, I moved from the public sector to the private sector and was quickly part of building a business. It was an obvious progression to marry my love of business and my understanding of education to build my own company. As for the books? I never thought of writing my first book until I realised I had clients with the same questions and no answers. The next thing I knew, I had written a book proposal and accepted an advance. After that there’s no going back. But it just happened and Managing the Matrix was published in 2014. My second book, HardTalk, is different. I’ve been involved with every single step along with a great team of people. It’s my current obsession and I guess I’ve gotten over my impostor syndrome, with regards to being an author.

Why did you write HardTalk?

In some ways, the book and the accompanying programme are the results of more than 20 years of thinking about what it takes to communicate effectively. I work in a diverse place: across a lot of different industries, with people from varied backgrounds, and from all over the world. This brings many opportunities, but it also makes it difficult for us to speak up. And it’s already difficult enough with our brains working against us more often than not. When we choose not to speak up, it has horrible consequences for morale, then quality and turnover and ultimately, the bottom line. All because people are afraid or don’t want to or don’t know how to have a difficult conversation. I built HardTalk based on extensive research and using techniques from many disciplines, including neuroscience, to give people the skills they need to engage effectively in such conversations. It’s not easy – as the name suggests – but the benefits of successful HardTalk can be transformative for individuals, teams and organisations.

Why should companies hire an executive coach?

Everybody needs somebody who’s on their side but doesn’t have any personal “skin in the game”. As an executive coach your role can change from being a teacher or cheerleader, to reflecting a client, showing them how they are really perceived by others. You’re the person on the outside who wants them to win and is okay with being “the bad guy” or the “shoulder to cry on” or whatever that person needs to get them to where they want to go. We all need somebody like that. The more senior you are, the harder it is to find somebody who really doesn’t have an agenda beyond yours. If you’re a team then you need one person whose role it is to focus on making that a great team – on the intent and interaction rather than the content. Somebody who forces you to think about how and why you’re doing what you’re doing as individuals and teams rather than just “what”.