In Presence-Based Coaching, we hold that our Project (what we do in the world) and Curriculum (the unfolding development of a Self) are inextricable. These two threads are interdependent, each evoking and requiring the other, like the two linked and mutually reinforcing strands of a double helix.
When we make a new commitment in the world (Project) it requires us to look at ourselves, develop new ways of thinking and acting, and literally become a different person. [read more….] Consider an engineering director being promoted to vice-president. The new Project (being a VP) requires her to transcend and include a technical worldview to build the competencies and identity of a leader with a wider strategic portfolio. This self-development work often requires uncomfortable changes. It’s more like a snake shedding a skin that has become too small than like building muscle mass through exercise. Project begets Curriculum.
Another person I know had breast cancer. Realizing that life was short, she left a fast-paced and very successful consulting career to spend more time at home, doing non-profit board work and pursuing her art. Here, a developmental leap was revealed in a re-examination of what was most important to her. Newly clarified values, sharpened in the fire of crisis, required a change in external commitments. Curriculum begets Project.
In both of these examples, one shift follows another in sequence. A new career challenge requires unknown behaviors. Or, a new developmental certainty, revealed in newly clarified values, requires a change in profession. In both, a known shift in one provides a fulcrum for the resultant shift in the other. It’s a little like standing on a dock and throwing a grappling hook over a wall into something solid so that we have a lifeline to pull ourselves forward.
I am working right now with several coaching clients who are experiencing simultaneous transitions in both threads. Such a person experiences an undeniable pull towards a “next thing” that is not yet known, and senses herself as being in transition at the same time. In the fragile throes of this developmental leap, she is seeking to imagine a structure/form that is only imaginable by the person that she has not yet become.
This is like trying to throw a grappling hook over the wall, but while standing on an unstable boat rocking in the water. While these clients may feel tremendous energy and excitement for what is emergent in both threads, there is little ground to stand on, and it can be a confusing space to live into. Coaching by someone who recognizes and can leverage this dynamic can be extraordinarily helpful.
When we are coaching people who are experiencing this process of parallel emergence, pay attention to both energies (grounding and emergence) in both threads (Project and Curriculum.) This provides four fertile areas for coaching attention, all of which are important and simultaneous.
To support the client in building ground, she can work with:
- being “present in the present,” being fully in her current activities while also knowing that they are moving towards completion.
- engaging with a consistent set of grounding practices: sitting, being outdoors, regular exercise, somatic practices, and gratitude.
- normalizing her experience through conversations about the transition process with people who know her and understand transitions
- building recognition and understanding of what it is to be in transition (William Bridges’ classic works, of course, are a good starting place.)
- Inventorying and leveraging resources, including financial, spiritual, social, somatic and professional
In supporting what is emergent, useful work often includes:
- listening to, and learning to trust, the strongly felt Yesses and Noes, however unexpected, that arise from this fragile new knowing and which shape her evolving web of commitments
- staying curious and unattached to what the future will look like, and relishing the discovery process itself
- engaging in conversations with people who know something about similar territory to what she entering, or who have gone through similar parallel transitions
- recognizing and shifting narratives, embodied patterns and structures of interpretation that are embedded in an identity that is in the process of being transcended
- visioning and imagining: finding language and images for what is emerging without needing to nail it down
- recognizing that the process of discovering the next Project has its own rhythm, and that rushing to nail it down may result in a more limited result than if it is allowed to gestate, and for the self-development to proceed in parallel.
Over many years, I have come to accept that it doesn’t take much to move me to tears. Wolves howling, the miracle of a starry night, a smile from a grandchild. I gratefully inherit this trait from my beloved father, who has been known to weep openly at the simple sight of a rock covered with moss, or a mountain vista. When my kids were younger, we’d watch a movie and in every emotional scene, my kids would look at me to see if Dad was sobbing yet. As preface, let my reputation be acknowledged!
These tears are not tears of grief or sadness, (which I also experience.) Rather, they have the feel of transcendence. This feel arises in many circumstances, with a sense of being lifted, opened, touched deeply.
Several themes in my range of experience reliably evoke tears of transcendence. One is when I watch almost anybody, completely focused on what they are doing, completely embodied and present in THIS moment.
Some examples. Watching my daughter’s high school boyfriend pitching a baseball game… the focus, the windup, the pitch… Doug’s tears. Watching Gabby Douglas winning Olympic gold. Bobby McFerrin conducting a large audience at the World Science Festival, jumping around on stage in blue jeans. Ray Bethell, a deaf 80 year old, flying three kites simultaneously with consummate grace and precision.
I’m curious about this. It’s not me that’s doing; I’m simply watching. Yet, in these moments, I am transported. I’m moved, changed, opened by simply witnessing someone at that level of mastery. There is a resonance. Something in my being connects with the other. My inner state changes dramatically.
Coaching sometimes evokes these moments of grace. Through our own self-work, we cultivate a level of mastery and resonance. We bring presence to the conversation. We witness and hold. And, something shifts in our client; something opens in this privileged space that we, for this moment, are sharing. In that privileged space, new possibilities open in perspective, possible future, and action. And, as coaches, we actually “did” very little.
As coaches and leaders, our presence and quality of being supports an opening for our clients. As developing humans, our experience of watching mastery in others informs us in our own unfolding.
I invite you to be curious. Watch these brief clips, as an experiment in your own awareness. First, take a moment to center yourself, in order to be fully present in the experience. Then, allow yourself to be moved, affected, transported. See what happens.
Gabby Douglas (gymnast; better with sound off…)
Bobby McFerrin (musician)
Ray Bethell (kite flyer)
- What opens in you from being present to these masters?
- What part of you is touched?
- What happens to your aliveness when you allow yourself to be moved?
- Where in your life are you fully present in a way that touches others?
Please share your experience and insights in a comment below, and any other brief clips that illustrate Mastery in a way that moves you in a transcendent way and forwards this conversation.
Our winter course community has had a great on-line conversation around the “both/and” of intuition and rigor. I want to share something of this because there’s so much to be seen here about the use and misuse of intuition, and the healthy marriage of intuition to rigor.
During a class call, a student I’ll call Ruth made a nice contribution about the role of intuition in her work. I, sensing a moment to make a favorite point, jumped in with comments about “intuition not being a substitute for rigor.” (This is, BTW, a useful and relevant point. Sometimes people who are not grounded in a rigorous approach to coaching DO substitute intuition for rigor, to the detriment of the profession and sometimes the client.)
However, the way I did it was unskillful. While Ruth had made a welcome contribution, I responded (intuitively!) in a way that was really not about Ruth or even her point, but about something in me, and which carried energy completely unrelated to Ruth. This, ironically and unintentionally, perfectly illustrated intuition as a substitute for rigor! (I want to laugh, but can’t quite!)
Ruth felt the impact of this at the time, and checked in with me by email afterwards to be sure I had not misunderstood her. I hadn’t; I was just responding to my own inner, intuitive voice, rather than the voice of the human who had just spoken to me. I had also felt the disconnect in the moment, but hadn’t done the work to identify what it was about.
Then, another student (Mary) weighed in with me both privately and in the community conversation. She had sensed the disconnect during the call, and had feedback for me about the energetic tone of my original response to Ruth. I quote in italics with permission from Mary, because it is informative on several levels:
“In the conversation with Ruth on the phone it felt like you were responding to something other than what she said. And if I were she, I would have felt shut down by the tenor of your response… I feel compelled to say that the undercurrent of the statement felt like it came from a place of fear -- maybe that people in the field won't take the model seriously, or that this work is perceived as mushy, or that your students will go out and wallow around in whatever feels good to them... And, of course, maybe none of the above. This, of course, is interpretation, based on Mary’s “intuition” about what was underlying the tenor of my response. (In coaching, I would consider this way too much interpretation, but that’s a separate issue and this was not a coaching conversation. I had invited her perspective, and she also acknowledged that she could be wrong.)
Her interpretations happen largely to be accurate. The statement “intuition is not a substitute for rigor” is one I used in The Mindful Coach, written nearly ten years ago. When I wrote it, I did have some concern that people wouldn’t take me seriously, a desire to differentiate myself from some of the fluffier elements of the coaching profession, an underlying childhood insecurity that I’d never be seen as good enough, and a real desire to be seen as grounded, smart, and rigorous. This is a psychological interpretation of the context for my words.
A neurological interpretation is this. All the above is in my embodied history. This includes default neuronal patterns that manifest in experience as the habits, fears, and language that I have practiced on many occasions. When Ruth said what she said, something in the precise language or tone of her comment triggered a pre-existing pattern of neuronal connections in my brain. In that moment, I disconnected from Ruth, and a hijack took place in which an identity-based opportunity to make a point took over from my connectedness to Ruth.
Here’s what’s important. “Intuition” is a broad term that means many things to many people. Given this example, intuition can also include instincts, thoughts, and hunches that are not accurate or helpful. While the point I was making on the call was legitimate, it emerged unskillfully as a response to my attachment-driven intuition, rather than as an honoring of Ruth’s contribution. It was, in fact, at the expense of Ruth. Like all of us, I am conditioned; my identity-based habits will show up sometimes, unbidden. Bringing these unconscious drivers to awareness is precisely what we are working with in Presence-Based Coaching.
If I had been both intuitive and rigorous (as I was advocating) rather than intuitive as a substitute for rigor (as I was modeling) I would have moved differently. I would have acknowledged and honored Ruth, checked in with myself about the urge that arose intuitively, and decided consciously whether to speak it or not. If I chose to share, I would have offered it as a build on Ruth’s comments, rather than as an apparent refutation, which it was never intended to be.
I advocate, and always intend, intuition married to rigor. We seek to recognize and leverage the polarity. Intuition imbues the coaching process with grace, with art, with connectedness that opens new territory. Rigor is the process of recognizing and owning the inevitable pieces of unfinished business, holding ourselves accountable to skillful means, and grounding our intuition to ensure that it is truly of service, at least most of the time. Really, what more could we ask? As Mary said, “while intuition is not a substitute for rigor, both are critically important to a successful outcome for client and coach."
Last point. A coaching partnership with rigor is, in part, a result of showing up in the conversation as did both Ruth and Mary with me after the concall, and holding the coach accountable. We all have blind sides. My learning and our relationship are elevated because they were both willing to have a meta-conversation about a brief moment on a conference call that others may or may not even have noticed. That is also rigor.