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The Cento Interview with Uzma Mohamedali


How an alumna of multinational organizations pivoted from communications to coaching.


Uzma Mohamedali is founder of Reflect to Act Coaching. Based in Switzerland, she works with directors and C-suite executives, with a specialty in helping leaders upgrade their narrative or operating system to meet new challenges or expanded roles. Connect with Uzma on LinkedIn. —Steph


Tell us about yourself.

My name is Uzma Mohamedali. I'm an executive and leadership coach working primarily with director-level clients across multiple industries, through my own practice, Reflect to Act Coaching. I love this work. Previously, I spent 20 years in change management and communications in a range of industries, from professional services to financial services to pharma.

With my British accent, people often think that I'm based in the UK, but I was headhunted eight years ago to Northwest Switzerland in Basel. My last corporate role was with the Swiss multinational pharmaceutical, Roche, where I was an executive communications lead. I finished in that role in 2020.

One thing that people might not know about me is that I'm an alum of Deloitte and Ernst Young, so two of the big four consulting firms, which is great foundation for understanding and empathizing with what my clients may be facing. I don't talk about it much, but my education and career foundation is in therapeutic communications: I originally studied to become a speech and language therapist at University College London.

What is your training and certification as a coach?

I’m trained and certified as a coach through the Co-Active Training Institute, and I hold a Professional Coaching Certificate through the International Coaching Federation. I’m also trained in the Leadership Circle Profile, which is a 360-degree assessment.

Tell us more about your previous career; how does that influence you as a coach?

Coaching has always been the golden thread of my career. I've done it without knowing it—I’ve always been aware of the human element of change. In my communications roles, I used to be responsible for forming corporate-level narratives for organizations of 10,000 people-plus; examples of this work might be communicating about vision or values, messaging about redundancies in a merger or acquisition, etc.

Now, as a coach, I’m looking more closely at leaders’ narratives and how they can tell their own story, or upgrade their story, especially when they're at a critical juncture in their career and life. Maybe they've started a new director or a leadership team role and their beliefs or assumptions might need to be revised. It is work to become more conscious and self aware; when we are, the systems we design come from that place, too. Helping to develop this flexibility has been my bread and butter.

Did you have an “a-ha” moment when you realized the power of the coaching model for yourself?

It's almost every day, but the Leadership Circle Profile was the transformational turn in the road. I was lucky enough, as mid-senior management, to complete this profile back in 2019. When I had my debrief on the 360-feedback and self assessment data, I couldn't believe it. I mean, I was aghast. I was upset. It's like, how can this be my leadership effectiveness level? I work so hard! I remember thinking, yes, I know this about myself on a personal level, but on a professional level, which is my gold standard and what I'm so proud of? I felt very vulnerable, and it was the biggest turn of my life.

From there, around the same time, I had my first training course with Co-Active Training Institute. It was mind-blowing to purely experience the exercises during that week in December in Basel, pre-Covid, in a hotel with a multinational group. The underlying premises were eye opening too: you don't have to tell people what to do because they already have the answers. They will find ways. Still, now, it just amazes me.

What are you like as a coach?

From client feedback, I think there are three reasons why people choose me. One is my executive, grounded presence. Second, people cite my deep listening skills. Clients often tell me they feel seen and heard. Third is my extensive business background across a range of industries. I've been described as a “creative provocateur,” which I really like because I think I have a gentle style, but I'm not afraid to ask the hard questions, or to provoke, or to truly hold the client’s vision. I would also describe myself as quite measurement focused.

What do you wish everyone knew about coaching?

I wish everyone knew that it's an investment in themselves. Some clients see it as a cost, or that you have to do it, especially if their company's paying for it. But if you're responsible for leading a new team in a new industry, or you're part of an executive leadership team, or you're guiding a new function and still operating from your old narrative, you will not lead for the change or challenge that’s been mandated. I see coaching as crucial for those vulnerable and critical periods of time in a leader's life.

What is your vision for the coaching industry?

I’d love to see more diversity and I'm passionate about inclusive leadership. I think we have to become more complex, more adaptable ourselves, before we can guide others. When we accept ourselves, we can accept others.

There’s value in understanding a global context, too. For multinational organizations, there'll be people who are on different continents with different cultures, races, and ethnicities, so how do you appeal to them?

I began to find my own voice after the Black Lives Matter movement, and I would like to see more allyship in the coaching industry itself. For example, when I'm co-facilitating a workshop with a very different leader, there'll be voices that perhaps wouldn't have normally spoken out. They feel encouraged because here I am a woman, and a woman of color.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interviewer: Steph Balzer

Steph Balzer is a coach, writer, publisher of Cento, and co-founder of Second Act, a startup community for mid-career professionals who are pivoting to careers they love, or are pursuing their creative ambitions. We provide community, structure, coaching, and connections with like-minded people worldwide. 

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