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April 15, 2020

iX Spotlight: Russell Cunningham, Head of iX Coach.

Written by

Russell Cunningham.


Russell served as an Officer in the South African Navy for seven years, culminating in his military career as a junior lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch’s Faculty of Military Science – the South African equivalent of West Point. He taught Industrial Psychology to young officers and was deeply involved in other training and development initiatives.

After leaving the Navy, Russell joined the Groupon team, heading up their Human Resources for sub-Saharan Africa, where his education complemented his leadership experience in moulding corporate culture and training leadership teams. In 2015, he was introduced to iXperience while hosting a handful of iX interns and was drawn to the iX mission and vision.


Russell has since joined the iXperience team, completed a Masters degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and heads the iX Services portfolio, which includes the iX Coach program, where he is empowered to explore his passion for personal development through overseeing the iX Coaches in their pursuit to unlock potential in their coachees.

russell-cunningham - Russell Cunningham

Russell Cunningham.

An interview with Russell

How have you worked with people development in the past?

In various forms - from the grassroots development associated with military training and organisational learning and development initiatives to more bespoke interventions aimed at enhancing executive and leadership prowess. Some of my fondest experiences have been working with young professionals entering into the gambit that is the world of work - it can be a daunting experience, but armed with the right tools, anything is manageable and even enjoyable.

What are the central principles that are most helpful for career development?


  1. If you can, align your focus with your purpose: then your days just don’t feel like work.
  2. We all exist only in the context of those around us: understanding your colleagues, bosses, and subordinates will enable you to make meaningful and effective connections.
  3. Have a plan: whether your goal is to upskill yourself in a certain area, find your dream job or even merge into a new job market, without knowing what it is you want to achieve and how you are going to measure success, you’re more likely to lose your way.“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there” - Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
  4. Learn how to manage upward: give your boss what they want before they ask for it, every time, and you can construct your own emotional and professional freedom.
  5. Network: there are loads of people out there with more experience, deeper insights, and richer perspectives. Meet them, share with them, and most importantly, learn from them.

How do you adapt your teaching to individual needs, personalities and visions?

In one word: preparation. Although I believe that there is a definitive set of coaching theories and tools that would benefit anyone, these are all seen through the lens of the individual. Pre-work becomes very important to create the context for coaching sessions, allowing me to get a glimpse into my coachees before actually meeting them, which is helpful in designing a bespoke approach aligned with our objectives.

What are you most looking forward to about the next cohort of coachees?

It gives me the greatest amount of intrinsic reward to know and feel that somehow, our coaching efforts have managed to make someone’s day, their perspective, or even their knowledge base a little brighter and fuller - I am excited to engage with our rockstar coaches and help guide them towards bringing these ambitions to life.

What’s one piece of advice that you have for the iX class of 2021?

The world has been in a bit of disarray over the last year, but as many nations begin to return to a greater sense of 'normality', focussing on a brighter personal future is the order of the day. Use your time purposefully: learn a new skill, discover something meaningful about yourself, be creative with getting the exposure you need to grow in ways that you want. There is a world of possibilities out there that are accessible to us through technology, networking, and a willingness to seek them out.

What would students be surprised to learn about you?

I have been an artist for most of my life - mostly pencil and ink sketches - and recently turned my focus to tattooing. Drawing is something I have just been able to do for as long as I can remember, and I try not to squander my talent.

What song do you know all the lyrics to?

Billy Joel - “Piano Man”.

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