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Executive Education

From jesuit priest to executive coach

Peter Collins has taken a winding career path from Jesuit priest to executive coach, but one element has remained constant: his willingness to embrace new challenges. Peter’s participation in the Executive Master in Coaching and Consulting program gave him the chance to further hone his flexible, situation-oriented approach to dealing with changing contexts.

From Jeisut Priest shutterstock


From 1981 to 1995 Peter served as a Jesuit priest to a poverty-stricken parish in Sydney, Australia. Since then, his work has taken him from the government sector as a speechwriter for former Australian Federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer, to the world of sports as a leadership coach for the Australian and English rugby teams. He also worked as an executive coach in the corporate realm for international firms such as Itaú Unibanco, Pertamina and Shell Energy Europe.

He says the key to taking on such varied challenges is your mindset:

“I went from being a priest to working with the foreign minister, and it was just different contexts, but the same sort of mindset. We’re all works in progress; we’re constantly changing, adapting and disrupting ourselves.”

In other words, there isn’t a single leadership style that works across multiple sectors. Rather than trying to force the context to fit a particular strategy, a successful leader demonstrates the ability to understand a new context and the flexibility to adapt him or herself to it.

This outside-the-box approach and sense of open-mindedness helped Peter fully engage in - and thoroughly enjoy - his Executive Master program. “I loved the freedom to pursue areas we felt passionate about. That’s a really good learning style which I try and apply as it helps to see how people face challenges in their contexts.”


“The traditional model of winning support and overcoming resistance has had its day,” Peter says. “People have got to find different ways of winning others over, and you’ve got to make changes on the front line as central planning doesn’t always work.” Rather than starting with centralized strategy and pushing it out to line-of-business environments, leaders need to start with what’s happening on the ground. “What will work in one context won’t work in another. You need to be able to ask the right questions to find out what people are really trying to achieve and what the really big issues they’re trying to make inroads on are.”

This is particularly important in an ever-more interconnected world. Peter cites the vastly increasing importance of China globally, noting that the ability to work across very different cultures is “a huge mindset change” and that it’s essential “to be open, read the signs of the times, work out those challenges and find a coherent response.”

As Peter learned from his experience in the Executive Master in Coaching and Consulting program at HEC Paris, gaining a deep understanding of what people from different regions are dealing with is invaluable. “It was great learning from other people from different parts of the world—the sheer diversity of challenges people face in their context was really eye-opening.”


Based on an interview with Peter Collins, Executive Director, Peter Collins and Associates