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An Interview with Leadership Coach Sarah Needham of Unique-U

Sarah Needham is a coach with an extraordinary vision, “To create a world where everyone feels they can stand up and engage in discussion about what matters most.” She wants us all to take off our invisibility cloaks and share courageously what we think and feel.

Sarah believes that we are all unique for a reason, and we should challenge ourselves to step proudly into our uniqueness, our own superpower!

As a coach, she challenges herself to inspire people by holding regular sessions on this topic. Sarah’s work brings together her three core values: technology, sustainability, and challenging others to embrace their uniqueness. She helps tech founders and leaders unleash their impact in creating a more sustainable life on earth whilst prioritizing their own self-care, and in doing so, creating a more sustainable business.

Sarah is an engineer with many years as a leader at one of the world's leading global engineering corporations. She is British, living in Potsdam, Germany, with her husband, two adopted daughters and two cats.

Sarah Needham, Leadership Coach
Sarah Needham, Leadership Coach

Who is Sarah? Hi, my name is Sarah Needham. I am a passionate & caring person who likes to see the best in the world & other people.

How would you describe yourself so that the readers know something about you?

I am an emotionally connected person who really experiences the emotions of others (I am the one crying at the kids' films, for example)!

I sometimes get overwhelmed by my feelings & it has taken me a long time to realize that this is ok. I am the one who will look for the person in the room who looks lonely or sad & talk to them. I love to understand people, not just what can be seen on the surface.

I love nature, sport, being outside, cuddling with my family & finding little moments of joy!

I grew up in Britain & have been living in Potsdam, Germany, since 2006 with my husband. We have two adopted daughters who are now 7 & 10 years old, two cats & a puppy! So we have a big crazy & often chaotic family!

I am passionate about:

  • sustainability; this to me means leaving the world so that future generations can enjoy the amazing joys of nature that we all have the opportunity to enjoy today;

  • technology; I have a degree in engineering & love to be amazed by how things work & how we can use this to solve problems;

  • inspiring people to step into achieving what they want to in life & creating a positive ripple through their courage to show up for what they believe in.

How did you go from a degree in engineering to now being a coach?

I worked in the tech industry for 17 years & held many different roles from engineering, sales, commercial & program management. As I built & flexed my career, doors always opened for me. Unfortunately, this meant I did not always ‘think’ too much about what I really ‘wanted’ to do or how I could best use my ‘strengths.’

I had been aware that I was not happy for the last 5 years in the industry, but I could not put my finger on what it was. I thought I should be grateful for the career I had built and just get on with it. After all, I had two young children. Now was not the time to take a risk & search for something new!

Until one day, I could not. I had burnout from juggling my career, young children, a husband who traveled a lot & a mum living with dementia in a different country.

I sat there wondering how did this happen? I had a virus (which you only get when your immunity is low) which meant I had a fever most days for the best part of 5 months. I was off work for 8 months & during this time, my mum died of dementia!

This was what triggered me to stop & get clear.

“If I go the same way as a mum, I only have around 35 more years left in this world!”

No one else could make the changes I dreamt of! It was my responsibility. It was clear!

So I walked away from my career as I knew it & started a coaching qualification… not knowing where it would take me.

I started listening & getting to know myself & what ‘I wanted.’ I started seeing my unique strengths & finally started seeing how my life story was a big part of my journey.

Things just started happening & I have felt my way through & built my business to what it is today.

What is important to you in building your business?

It is important to me that I do something I love & that my work inspires & motivates others to make positive change.

MY VISION is to create a world where everyone can stand up & engage in discussion about what matters most! To take off their invisibility cloaks - share courageously about what they think & feel; then be open to listening to other perspectives & being challenged.

I help tech leaders & their teams go from surviving to thriving by getting to know themselves & helping them step into courageous discussions about what matters most. Teams thrive when everyone feels empowered to contribute their strengths & perspectives towards achieving a vision they are passionate about.

I believe that we have all the technology around us or can develop the technology we need & now it is about enabling courageous conversations about what matters most at home, in the workplace, and politics!

What nurtures you?

I love being outside, enjoying the small joys of nature. Time with my family, especially outside or cuddling up on the sofa together. Physical affection (co-regulation) is really important to me. This is one of the things I have found tough during COVID is that I cannot see or hug any of my close friends or family.

Where are you too hard on yourself (or where are you unable to laugh at yourself)?

I am very driven. This is a strength and can be my biggest weakness & a big driver that led to my burnout!

So sometimes, I find it hard to tell myself I have done enough.

I want to be a great mum so I feel like I have never done enough here. My girls are adopted, so I feel like they have been through enough already. I want to nurture them so that they can grow up to be self-confident & content women. However, I have learned that I help them by not being perfect & having hard conversations in an honest & vulnerable way… this is constant learning for me.

What is the one piece of advice you wish you could tell your 10-year-old self?

I wish I could tell my 10-year-old self that the biggest opportunity you have is to be different, be unique. At school, I so much wanted to fit in & be the best I could at school, at sports & being a ‘good’ girl. This meant I lost my own sense of identity for quite a long time, trying to do things to please others rather than listening to & understanding myself!

Things often do not work out the way you planned, but the unplanned detour can be just as rewarding. I use the example of going through multiple miscarriages & feeling utterly broken & alone. This meant my husband & I had to have some tough discussions early on in our marriage, which has made us stronger as a couple and means that we now have the crazy family we do! I am grateful in so many ways for this detour in what I had planned for my life!

What is your one wish for the planet for 2021?

That everyone takes the courage to reflect on what is important to them; what they really want. If we can all start aligning ourselves to being the change we want to see in the world; whilst being kinder to ourselves & each other, then I believe we would see a major shift towards our more sustainable future!

What one change are you making in 2021 to live more sustainably?

Ohh, so many small changes in the way we live as a family. Trying to reduce our single-use plastic is a big one for me & one I find incredibly difficult. We now often get our food delivered from a local supplier in crates, which always fills me with joy, AND it goes further than this to changing over to shampoo/soap bars & laundry strips, for example.

On a business level, I am starting the process of getting my B-Corp certification.

What is your one motivational saying/book or podcast which you think others could benefit from and why?

There are so many authors who I have learnt so much in the last few years that I struggle to name just one. However, Brené Brown's ‘Daring Greatly’ probably is the one I recommend to others most.

Other authors I would recommend to anyone who wants to get to know themselves better include Simon Sinek, James Clear, Susan David & Marshall Rosenburg, as they all contribute to the idea that being involved in your life means being vulnerable & courageous!

What are your top three tips you can share from your journey?

  1. Spend time getting to know yourself. Invest in understanding yourself. There is only one of you in this world..

  • Knowing your values (what is important to you) helps you make clearer decisions & explain them to yourself & others;

  • Knowing your strengths (what you are good at) & being able to talk about them. Say what you can do & know how you can use them, then look for opportunities to play to them more;

  • Accept your life story & recognize it as an integral part of who you are.

  • You are the same person with the same values, strengths & life story in any ‘role’ you play in life. Yes, even as a leader at work! So take the pressure off & find ways to be you in whatever you decide to do.

2. You get to decide what you want each & every day. By ignoring something, you are ‘deciding’ not to listen to yourself. Each of these small decisions to ignore what is important to you leads you away from living the life you want. Be one thing, be true to yourself, even if that might mean having an uncomfortable discussion.

3. Own your thoughts & feelings; this helps people understand what is important to you. When you speak about them, use ‘I think..’ or ‘I feel…’. You dilute the meaning & often confuse people when you talk about your thoughts & feelings using the third person.

So how can anyone get to know more about you do?

My commitment for this year is to inspire 1,000 people, so I hold regular free sessions to do just this.. inspire people to be the positive change they want to see in the world. You can get notified of these events by signing up below. I have also taken some of the work I do with my clients & created the Be UNIQUE – 7-day challenge, which you can sign up for here! These are both good ways to challenge yourself & learn more about my coaching philosophy!

For more info, follow Sarah on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and visit her website!

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