Taking the Next Steps

Do you have a dream you would like to bring into the world?  Do you have an idea you want to make real?

Recently I was asked to speak and demonstrate coaching at an International Processwork Online Community meeting.  I was delighted to coach Catharine MacDonald on her vision: to support IT sector organisations realise the potential of individuals on the Asberger’s or Autism spectrum.  With years of hands on experience as an IT manager, Catharine understands first hand that these employees can be star designers and developers – when managers create the conditions for their success.

I bet your own aspirations are equally as compelling.

Coaching The Gap

I want to thank Catharine for permission to share her story.  She was so close to her vision, in truth only a little tweaking was needed for her to reach out and take the next steps.  While they may seem small, minor adjustments can make all the difference between frustration and success.

Translating your skills into a new context can be a challenge.  To really believe in your own capability, to back your ideas and go for it, can seem impossible from your usual perspective.  Sometimes this means working with others who hold an important piece of the puzzle or approaching others for support.

At times our visions can be both close to the surface and tantalizingly elusive.  That’s where coaching comes in.  We coach the gap.  We look for what’s almost but not quite happening, and build the insight and action needed to achieve results.

Sometimes this means finding the right words to describe what you do.  At other times it’s about building confidence, recognising who your audience is, or tweaking your strategy.

Here at GCI, we have a passion for helping therapists, entrepreneurs, leaders, facilitators and social activists draw on their skills and experience and take the next steps to make their dreams a reality.

Thanks to Catharine, for connecting us with a core part of our own mission.

Our Group Coaching Offer

For more on coaching the gap and to support you in taking your next steps, please join us in our group coaching series, June 6 – July 26.


The Drive to Become a Coach: A Personal Story

Lately Vicki and I have had requests to share more about how we entered the world of coaching. Here’s the path I took, and Vicki’s story will follow shortly.

My own trajectory into coaching began as an occupational therapist specialising in psychological injury in the workplace. You could say fate positioned me at the intersection of therapeutic and organisational life.

My role was to rehabilitate individuals who had suffered serious psychological injuries and support their return to work.

In that role I engaged regularly with the workplace, which helped me to develop a strong systems perspective. I viewed the individual in context. I reflected not only on their personal psychology, but assessed the demands of their role and their environment. I understood that the needs and pressures of the workforce had to be encompassed, as well as the needs of the individual, in order to achieve robust outcomes.

Looking for a Preventive Model

Whilst I gained great insight into these systems, I felt like a paramedic, always responding after a crisis. Though I knew I’d done some great work with individuals, it would have been ideal if my services were no longer needed.  So, I was drawn to a preventive approach, but my brief did not authorize me to address underpinning dynamics – such as poor leadership and management practices or excessive workloads – that so often resulted in injury.

It was my desire to get ahead of the game, to prevent crises before they happened, that ultimately led me to coaching. The path was initially unclear, but I followed its scent. We all have moments like this; a knowing that arises within us, that there must be a better way.

With the understanding I now have as a coach, I see my commitment to the goal drew me forward into unfamiliar territory. Having travelled that path myself, I have a deep confidence that when an individual lets go and follows their deepest knowing or instinct, the information, support and resources they need will show up. I knew I could be having a greater impact and over time this proved itself to be true.

My journey saw me drawing on my knowledge of personal development to teach in leadership development programs. Through my clients I learned more and more about the challenges they faced. I developed an ear for the different patterns underlying common organisational challenges, diverse ways to respond and the consequences. These were skills I had learned in my early training as a therapist, and they transferred to this new field. I was also fortunate to work with some great Action Learning pioneers, on methods of enquiry that tap individuals’ tacit knowledge.

Supporting the Client to be Their Own Expert

However, it was when I discovered coaching that I truly learned to work beyond the limits of my own expertise. In coaching, I learned to resist the compulsion to be an expert. I learned to collaborate with my clients and facilitate their own enquiry.

Coaching opened new doors. These days as I coach executive teams in strategic planning and decision making contexts, coach individuals and groups embroiled in conflicts and pursue my fascination with leadership development, I am grateful for these expanded horizons.

I know I am supporting the creation of healthy workplace cultures, using my skills to their fullest.   As a bonus for myself, I also get to travel much more as a coach.  Since a lot of sessions can be done online, I can now do my work from the beach!


What is the vision that draws you into unfamiliar territory?

What do you sense even before it has taken form?

The DNA of Organisations

Edgar Schein, author of the ground-breaking text Organisational Culture and Leadership is fondly known as the grandfather of organisational development. Over the years Schein has begun to think and speak in terms of the DNA of an organisation, or its cultural genome.

Schein argues that we can’t simply transplant notions of how to improve culture from one setting to another. Instead we need to engage deeply with the inherent nature of the organisation. Not only do we need to know the organization’s structure, but also how it works psychologically and relationally. Coaches and consultants need to understand the process of an organisation.

Schein’s view makes absolute sense to process-oriented coaches. Our art is to engage with leaders in the midst of their transformational journey. We know it is fundamental to coaching effectiveness that we find out a leader’s mental models and uncover what is taken for granted within the organization.

Schein asks, “What are the things that, when we try to change cultures, turn out to be huge barriers?”

The Organization’s Growing Edge

As process-oriented coaches and organisational development practitioners we think of this as a great point of potential and growth. We call it the edge. This is a place where many leaders and teams may falter, but process-oriented coaches are like rock climbers highly adept at scaling the edge.

The edge is where our coaches come alive. They are skilled at exploringe edges from every angle; from within the moment when a leader is gripped by fear or from the mindful distance that offers a new perspective and insight. We climb with our clients, helping them gain new insights, as they prepare their organisation to cross into new and uncharted territory.

It is through the exploration of edges and other dynamic phenomena that the unique DNA of an organisation is revealed.

Yet edges are easily missed. Avoiding what is over the edge is so much part of an organization’s culture, people are usually unaware the edge is even there. In their efforts to maintain the status quo, leaders and teams tend to avoid edges, in favour of better known behavior.

A coach’s skill lies in their capacity to recognize and work with edges. We must catch the typical signs, such as sudden changes of topic, deflecting humor, nervous laughter, or just plain drawing a blank.

Despite their well-practiced avoidance strategies, we must hold our clients at this point of growth and enquiry. At the edge there will be resistance, in one of its many forms.

In our forthcoming Coaching with the E1ME2RGE3 Model and GCI Coaching Roadmap programs we will explore these ideas in greater depth. but for now let me ask you …

  • What are the common edges you encounter in working with clients on cultural change initiatives?
  • What have you discovered as unique to different organisations?
  • How do you hold these moments of discovery and potential?

What Lens are You Looking Through?

Have you ever considered your origins and the way they’ve influenced your approach to life and your work?

I began my professional life as an Occupational Therapist, so when I connected this morning with a group of OTs who have all become coaches it was like coming home. We spoke a language we all immediately recognised.

Eventually the conversation came around to something OTs are famous for, problem solving. My colleagues work in a range of contexts: executive coaching, business development, health care delivery and designing new models of service delivery. They all recognise the benefits of their “can do” attitude, whatever setting they find themselves in.

My own training no doubt enhanced the pragmatic approach I’d developed growing up on a farm. Working then with people who were taking up their roles in life after having major accidents or strokes taught me about unimaginable change and resilience. For OTs nothing is impossible; challenges are merely a provocation to go in search of solutions.

While this problem solving capacity is a real asset, it also has its limitations. Problem solving is a lens, but like all lenses, it operates at a specific focal length.

A problem solving mindset comes with certain assumptions….most obviously that life experiences are problems to be managed, rather than simply experienced or perhaps viewed with curiosity.

Unpack the problem before trying to solve it

At the Global Coaching Institute we think a little differently about the challenges clients sometimes bring to coaching.   As I’ve written previously, events that initially seem like disturbances can be a valuable stimulus for our growth.  Restlessness prompts us to think about what’s important to us in life and to look further afield for new career prospects.   The inability to win support for an idea can signal that we’re missing something important.  Even body symptoms and illness can tell us its time to readjust our lifestyle. When caught early enough these cues prove invaluable.  That’s why we welcome and become curious about them.

Rather than trying to immediately solve personal and organisational challenges it’s important to unpack them and to fully understand the feedback and meaning they hold for us.

Einstein famously said you cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them. Yet that’s exactly what we are doing when we jump into a problem solving mindset without getting upstream of an issue to understand what causes and contributes to it.  But more often than not the immediate and presenting problem is not the core issue.

In conversations with leaders I notice that they too can fall into this trap. They sometimes think about the challenges facing their organisations in ways that are immediate and reactionary.  When they do this, it’s a little like trying to drive a car with your nose pressed up against the windscreen.  They miss the bigger picture.  Having a strategic perspective that is a hallmark of effective leadership.

Coaches too risk getting bogged down in detail and adopting a problem oriented perspective.  When training people to become coaches I encourage them to ask questions from the perspective of someone in a helicopter.  Anyone who has worked with me will recognise the terms:

  • Hover above the issue.
  • Don’t get caught in the detail.
  • Look for the patterns.
  • Understand the landscape.
  • Map the territory.
  • Avoid getting caught in the mud.

Step back before you respond
When we take a few moments to step back before we respond, we can discover the core issue or even the benefits of the situation we find ourselves in.  And then, if problem solving is required we can apply these skills knowing we are tackling the real problem, not just the the surface issue that presents itself.

Of course all professions lend themselves to a particular way of viewing the world.  Surgeons develop precision, insurers learn to analyse risk, marketers learn how to differentiate themselves and their products, sales people learn to turn relationship into a sale.

My colleagues this morning had learnt the value of a coaching mindset. It allows them to explore issues from a strategic perspective. They have an ability to adjust the lens through which they view the world.

Questions to ask yourself

  • What mindsets and paradigms did your early training cultivate in you?
  • What are the strengths and potential limitations of your professional practice?
  • How have you buillt on and extended your initial skillset?

The Push and Pull of Change

The Global Coaching Institute is the realisation of a dream Vicki and I first spoke of lying on a beach in Hawaii when we were first en-route to study with Arnold Mindell, the founder of Process Oriented psychology. Our coaching methodology is based on the work of he and his colleagues.  At the time, the conversation could best be characterised as idle dreaming rather than a clear plan or from intention.  We were shy about our visions and still needed to grow into the ability to realise them.

Every new cohort of students brings new conversations and a fresh focus on what it takes to become a skilled coach.  We think about what prompts individuals to take that step to develop their coaching skills and perhaps embark on a coaching career, and what prompts individuals to seek out coaches.

The events and motivations that bring clients to coaching can be thought of as either push or pull forces.  At GCI we use the terms attractors and disturbances to describe those forces that provide the impetus to action.  Let’s define these terms.

Attractors appear as visions, dreams or opportunities which inspire us to pursue a specific endpoint such as a new career, the development of a new product or way of relating with our clients or team.  They prompt new ways of being or doing things.  For instance, a coaching client may enter a new role which requires them to adopt a new leadership style.

Attractors stimulate a creative tension which prompts change.  Even the act of speaking about our dreams set something in motion for Vicki and I. Coaching helps the client to engage with and harness this creative tension.

Coaching supports individuals to realise their aspirations by mining their visions until their essence is revealed.  It supports clients to believe in themselves and to take the steps necessary to achieve their dreams.  At times when the road ahead is steep our clients need to be reminded of what attracted them to their goal or vision in the first place.

Disturbances on the other hand, are something that most people would rather conquer or avoid.

Disturbances can come through the external environment in the form of organisational change or shifting market forces.  Disturbances such as negative performance feedback can also be more personal in nature or in the case of interpersonal or team conflict may be felt by many people. Sometimes clients seek coaching because a failure or disappointment prompts them to reassess their priorities or to learn from their mistakes.

Clients who enter coaching in response to a disturbance are more likely to present with a reactionary goal ‘away from’ the discomfort the disturbance brings.  The coaching experience allows the client to explore alternatives to their current situation and to identify a preferred future.  Coaches then work closely with individuals to develop the mindsets, skills and behaviours needed to address their situations.

Of course there’s usually an unexpected bonus when clients seek coaching. They don’t just end up with a troubling situation neutralised or resolved.  Individuals learn and grow through the process.  They build their muscle for dealing with conflict or gain critical insights into their interpersonal or management style.

It’s common for clients to develop an appreciation of the very crisis that prompted them to seek coaching in the first place.  Many people, having seen coaching’s powerful impact, continue coaching long after the initial crisis has resolved.

Over the years I’ve observed that individuals and teams who notice and engage with attractors and disturbers are more likely to realise their potential and develop agility in the face of a changing environment.  Confidence comes from learning to adapt and respond to both expected and unexpected circumstances.


What currently attracts or inspires you?

What would you need to do to have more of this quality or thing in your life?

How is it already present in your life?

What disturbs you?

What change does it call for?

What development is required on your part to meet this challenge?