Fukuko Ayama, Program Lead & Lead Sprint Coach at NewCampus

March 22, 2023

Seven questions with our Program Lead about her career journey and her hopes for future learners at NewCampus

Fukuko is the Program Lead at NewCampus, responsible for leading and managing the delivery of the sprints run by NewCampus. Here are some vital stats on "Fukes"!

  • Prior to joining NewCampus, she was the President & COO of LearningLeaders, an education start-up based in Shanghai, China.
  • She built her career in investment banking and HR
  • Fukuko's passion has always been in learning, where she’s able to both support and guide individuals to become more self aware and recognize their full potential
  • Her super-power is to build relationships with her team by balancing empathy and accountability in her management style
  • Outside of work, Fukuko enjoys cross-fit exercises, playing in a funk band, and cooking.

We thought it'd be fun for NewCampus learners (and their leaders) to get to know Fukuko better through seven simple questions...

Tell me about your journey and experiences before you first became a NewCampus sprint coach. 

My most recent experience has been with LearningLeaders, an education startup in Shanghai as its COO. Its expertise encompasses the disciplines of debate, public speaking, and critical reasoning. We taught young adults, kids, and also companies how to speak and communicate more effectively by utilizing debate and public speaking.

My responsibilities spanned different areas by running the operations, but also essentially building the people management platform within the company. Because I started my role mainly in HR, where I was in charge of recruitment, learning and development, and training the team internally as well.

So a lot of my experience before this was a combination of education, operations and start-ups. But my passion has always been in people management and being part of that development. What I used to do has really allowed me to bring different parts of that experience into this role as Sprint Coach at NewCampus.

Have you always been in the education/management space? 

I initially started my career in finance and I think that's when I really started to gain a bit of experience in the area of sales, corporate life and communications as well. Because my role was to provide investment ideas to investors around Asia and globally. It allowed me to recognize the pain points and gaps that exist when it comes to training young professionals - particularly people who are entering hypergrowth, fast-paced environments.

That initial experience in my career allowed me to identify the gaps as a young professional before focusing more on managing teams as a whole. 

While the NewCampus Management Sprint covers many areas of development, you’ve got a lot of experience with teaching delegation and buy-in from different stakeholders. What’s your personal take on that?

I always say that stakeholder buy-in is literally what you need to do in life. Like whatever you do, it's not just in the workplace, but if you're talking to your partner or your friends and you're trying to make a decision of like where to eat for dinner. That’s also stakeholder buy-in.

Jokes aside, I do think that stakeholder buy-in and delegation are actually such a big part of our lives. The most recent experience and challenge I found when I started as a manager is letting go. I thought that I needed to do everything and this was something that a lot of learners resonate with when they come to this Sprint as well. 

How did you discover that your passion was in coaching?

I think that we’re always going through a journey of self-discovery and to be honest, I’m constantly on that journey. I feel that every change in environment and the people you work with also moulds who you are as a person. I think we’re never going to say: “I’ve found this life goal and I’m going to continue this for the next 20 years.”

At the same time, what I love about coaching is that I get to go on that journey with people by hearing about their experiences. Hearing different perspectives puts me in an environment where I’m constantly challenged about the beliefs and assumptions that I have. I think it’s so necessary in the world we live in right now that’s becoming more and more polarized.

Coaching is being able to see things from different perspectives while also empathising with that perspective and being able to have a very productive dialogue around the challenges that we’re facing. So when I see myself as a coach, I don’t see myself doing, “Here you go, this is the material that you should have. Go take it with you.” That’s not my approach at all.

Instead, it’s about how can we create that experience together. Every cohort that comes in has a value that they’re beginning into that experience in their own way. That’s what I love about not just the workshops, but also this idea of coaching: “How can we co-create that learning experience together?”

I think that’s why I decided to pursue this path for myself. 

Being a coach at NewCampus not only gives you access to a diverse set of ideas, but also to talents and backgrounds from learners throughout Asia. Is that something that stands out to you about being here?

Definitely. Number one on the list is the diversity of cultural backgrounds and the fact that everyone has their own walks of life that they're coming from. The fact that I get to see that in these groups for a brief moment is definitely one thing I enjoy. I’m constantly challenged in terms of the assumptions that I have.

What’s great about this cohort is that we get to not just see the cultural backgrounds, but also the assumptions that we might have around different cultures and to be challenged on those as well.

Besides overcoming imposter syndrome, do you see other challenges that learners also face?

There are two that come to mind. The first is around self-management, prioritization and time management. Because when you're going from an individual contributor to a manager, the biggest gap in terms of responsibilities is that often you're still doing the day-to-day work that you used to do as an individual contributor, but now you're also given responsibilities to manage people.

When you care about the people on the team, you want to go above and beyond to manage them. Most of our learners are like that. They want to give 150% to their team but struggle with all the things they still need to do themselves. How do you then prioritise all these tasks and draw the boundaries and communication around those tasks that they need to take on?

I’ve noticed the second one more recently. This ties now that we’ve entered into the new phase of work after COVID with people who have been working remotely for the past two years are now going into a hybrid model that allows team members to choose their own way of working.

How do I make sure that my team is not just doing the day-to-day job, but also going above and beyond in terms of asking questions and not just doing what they’re told?

You want to make sure that the learners who come in with these challenges are motivated and aligned in terms of their motivation and tasks they need to take on while also creating this culture of taking initiative.

What are some of the hopes that you have for the learners after experiencing the Sprint?

One of the things that we always say in the workshops is “this is really the beginning of the journey.” We provide these toolkits and frameworks, but at the end of the day, each learner then goes and figures out their own leadership style and tailors the frameworks that we share.

I think this is so important and undervalued, but I want them to make sure that people feel excited and more confident about bringing success to their team and be more self-compassionate towards themselves.

When you’re a new manager, you’re given all these new responsibilities that come as a result of being successful as an individual contributor. The most important thing is to make sure that they feel that they have the tools and a foundation. I want them to walk away feeling confident and excited about this next journey.

That's something that I always try to keep in mind in terms of the experience that I want them to have. But the second part is also challenging them. We hope that they come across something new or never thought about. It could be something we share, but also something they learn from other people in the cohort.

Oftentimes, someone in the cohort says something and I see a big nod that says, "Oh yeah, I definitely resonate with that. Thank you for sharing this." That moment to me is so valuable because that means that this person was able to build a relationship with someone else that may not have happened otherwise.