How I went from an overwhelmed and "outcome driven" leader to helping leaders in international development achieve the impact they're seeking. 


During my 12 years' experience in international development I have learned a lot about leadership.  It began as a passion to understand what makes an effective leader.  In search of an answer I consumed hundreds of hours of leadership books, tools and put them to practice with my team of 50.  Through this experience I now know that "people centered leadership", or focusing on people and results will follow, is the key to becoming an admirable leader and achieving greater impact.

Here is more about my own leadership journey, and how you can do the same...


When I first supervised
more than two people...

It was as the Head of Office in a dusty remote town in Timor-Leste.  I was overseeing an office of 15.  Although an exciting opportunity, it came with responsibilities such as overseeing some of our biggest agriculture programs. 

So I did what I had done in the past - I used my managing skills to focus on deliverables. 

I tracked our progress in various spreadsheets, and obsessed over whether we would make deadlines.  And I followed up with team members - a LOT.  It seemed like I was constantly having to follow up with them, and this was really draining.

One day we had a
particularly painful meeting.

My local partner attended, as well as my team. 

We met in an open room with a steady stream of rats running across one wall.  

As we used a projector to review the Detailed Implementation Plan,
it was clear that my team was lost. 

At first I wondered if it was the rats.

But as I looked around the room and they looked back at me,
I realized that I was lost too. 

And not because of the rats.

I realized I had no idea how to lead a team. 

I had received no formal leadership training from my organization. 

And sadly, although I had a Masters in Business, I had received no leadership courses - only management. 

And leadership and management, as I was to learn,
are very different things.

I decided to learn more about leadership to see if that helped strengthen my team.

I read TONS of books and listened to HUNDREDS of hours of podcasts on leadership, and learned a lot. 

And one thing that caught my attention was many of these resources mentioned coaching as a great way to create a high performing team. 

Interested, I decided to give it a try by enrolling in a professional coaching course.

I soon discovered coaching was more about helping others reach their full potential, in work and life.

I started to become a people centered leader by focusing on coaching my team, rather than be worried over deliverables. 

I coached team members on becoming more independent, more confident, more proactive and to gain skills in areas they needed to advance. 

My team began to perform better, and I saw our deliverables being achieved more easily, without all the follow up!

My team was more motivated, and I had more time to focus on “important” tasks. 

And coaching fit well with the development context, allowing me to connect with my staff in ways I had not previously.

Four years and a promotion later I said a tearful goodbye to my team.

Even though it wasn't easy to leave, I knew my team was stronger because of my support and I knew they would be fine without me.

The impact of becoming a people centered leader has made me want to share how
others can do it too.

Today I am not only a leadership coach but I also offer a digital course to teach  supervisors in international development how they can coach their teams. 

And now my pride comes from watching my students become people centered leaders, as they apply their new coaching skills to develop strong and high performing teams.

Focusing on deliverables?

Okay, that’s fine. 

But focusing on becoming a people centered leader? 

TOTALLY worth it.



A Little
About Me

Obsessed with podcasts during long, bumpy road trips (Shout out to "The Tim Ferriss Show" and "The Moth")

Witnessed 2011 independence of South Sudan and the 2013 outbreak of war (thought it was fireworks)

Believed to hold longest record for ordering and then receiving project laptop (eight months)

Favorite meal on a budget: canned tuna mixed with salsa

Most fascinating place visited: Yemen

Jacqui Wagner

Program Quality Manager,
CRS Timor-Leste

"Hearing all of Torrey’s experiences as a leader in the development and aid sector drew me to listening to the podcast.  She shares her previous experience from being a Project Manager in South Sudan to being a Country Manager in Timor Leste in the coaching course as well, and I find the content and leadership advice very relevant to my work."