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Interview: How coaching can help balance priorities in the land sector

Balancing priorities as a land manager

“Scotland has a history of innovation, of making bold decisions that move the world forward. Talking to people in the land sector today, they want to make things happen, to manage land in an environmentally friendly manner. Coaching can help support them to do that.” – Landscape Leadership coach Emma Cooper


The coaching sector has rapidly expanded over the last 20-30 years, but in the rural sphere it’s still less common for land managers to seek out coaching to support them in meeting their goals.

Our last Landscape Leadership session in Loch Lomond on March 17-18 focused on prioritising landscape goals. It became increasingly clear throughout the session how valuable it was to have programme coach, Emma Cooper, ask the right questions, offer tools, and act as a sounding board for ideas.

Here Emma tells us how coaching can help you as a land manager to prioritise your landscape goals.

Why is coaching so important to the land sector?


“In the land sector in particular, people are making really big decisions,” Emma says. “These are bound by history and culture, and are also often long-term decisions that will have an impact not just on their organisation, estate or business, but on everyone who lives in the world, because of the impact on climate and nature.

“So it’s important for those making these decisions to be the best leaders they can be.”

Picture: Emma Cooper at work. CREDIT: Andy Buchanan

“There’s also an issue in the land sector about being quite isolated. Coaching offers someone to talk to, to debate things with, and to act as a sounding board – but a really constructive sounding board that can give you the kind of feedback you need, and ask really meaningful questions.

“That helps you to think in a different way, to challenge your own perceptions, and to identify different solutions. It considers self-reflection to be an important way of developing.

“It gives you time out to consider how you want to be acting, and how you want to prioritise your goals.”

How can coaching help leaders in the rural sector?


“Rural leaders come to coaching with a whole range of topics they want to discuss. Sometimes these are around very practical issues, such as how do I increase visitor numbers, or how do I decide what to do on which parts of land?

“In that situation it’s very much about helping the person work out how they’re going to answer those questions, because I’m not here to give advice.”

Picture: Emma facilitating our first Landscape Leadership session at Drumlanrig Castle. CREDIT: Andy Buchanan.

“People have asked how do I balance my priorities, how do I fit in my long-term goals when I’ve got day-to-day pressures, or how do I engage challenging stakeholders?

“Others want to identify their purpose and identity as a leader in the sector. There are difficult challenges around making money, delivering what you want to deliver, and respecting the history and culture of the landscape, all while balancing risk.”

How should you start prioritising your goals?


“If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s really difficult to make decisions and prioritise, so I’d recommend starting with what your overall purpose is – what’s your vision for your land?

“To take an example, maybe your goal is about wanting to be seen as an innovative land steward, and you want to build up a visitor centre around your innovative practices. That’s a really good starting point to help you make decisions, because you know that’s what matters to you the most.

“You can then start thinking about where you are at the moment. Have you already been doing innovative work but not telling people about it? Or are you quite a traditional land steward keen to explore alternative options?”

Picture: Our landscape leaders figure out their priorities for their landscapes at our second session at Loch Lomond.

“Once you’re clear on that, there are some practical tools you can use to establish what resources you have, what resources you need, and how to weight these against each other. It might be that one option would take a lot of time and resources, while another would just require a different way of working so would be easier to start with.

“Quick wins are important to identify. They can be quite motivating and can make a big difference.

“It’s also important to consider which ideas you need to let go of. Something that you know is too much to tackle in the next couple of years can be parked for now, and can be mentally taken off your plate.”

Tools you can use to prioritise your goals


Emma has put together some tools you can use to help make decisions and prioritise your goals for your own landscape:


More about Emma and the Landscape Leadership programme


Emma Cooper has a background in landscape management, influencing on rural matters, and in facilitation and coaching, putting her in an almost unique position to facilitate the Landscape Leadership project.

You can find out more about the programme on our Landscape Leadership webpage, or learn more about the 2020 members of the Landscape Leadership programme in our Meet Our New Landscape Leaders article.

If you want to be kept up to date on the Landscape Leadership programme, you can also get in touch for more information on how this year’s programme progresses, or for news of future rounds of the programme.