Beyond the Turkey

This post was shared by Executive Certificate in Facilitation faculty directors  Maya Bernstein and Rae Ringel. 

“Don’t begin a funeral with logistics,” warns Priya Parker, author of The Art of Gathering; and we would like to add, “and don’t focus your Thanksgiving meal on a turkey.” As facilitators, and teachers of facilitation, we believe that when people gather together in any context, whether it be a ten minute meeting or a festive Thanksgiving meal, there is an opportunity for transformation. The phenomenon of human beings breathing, eating, and interacting in the same physical space is an increasingly rare and unique opportunity to create meaningful connections, and to touch people’s hearts and minds. The feelings that derive from a well-designed, emotionally resonant experience fuel all relationships, and often the majority of our behavior. So let’s not waste it on the turkey.

If you are like us, Thanksgiving preparation involves a lot of thinking about food. Sweet potatoes (we’re partial to marshmallows on top), cranberry sauce, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, turkey, tofurkey; we spend so much time planning menus, preparing recipes, and thinking about the meal (and how we’re going to strategically beat traffic to get there). Often, what we actively avoid thinking about, or grumble about to friends, is the stress of being with certain family members, or how an uncle’s politics will derail the entire day, or how this relative doesn’t get along with that relative. Sometimes we throw an “activity” into the meal (other than eating and football watching); it rarely receives the amount of attention and preparation it deserves.

Professionally, we dedicate much of our time to leading gatherings or teaching others how to hone their art and craft of facilitation. A foundational piece of facilitations is the design — all of the things you do before you even walk into the room and sit down at the table. It is essentially the recipe preparation — menu planning, shopping, table arrangements — for the human interaction side of the experience. What would it look like to take this part of the Thanksgiving experience as seriously as the food? What might it involve?

We would like to offer you a core element of best practice in the design of gatherings to help you elevate your Thanksgiving experience off the table and into people’s hearts. It’s as simple as A,B,C…

When preparing for any meeting, speech, training session, or, yes, family gathering, you must first answer three basic questions:

— “Affective” — How do I want people to feel as a result of this gathering? Empowered, included, motivated, connected, appreciated? Or might there be a fire you want to light to create a sense of productive discomfort?

B — “Behavioral” — What do I want them to be able to do at the end of the experience? How is their behavior going to be different as a result of this? Stay in close touch throughout the year, or be more open and vulnerable when together? Address difficult parts of the past? Or simply gather more often?

C — “Cognitive” — What do I want them to understand? What new things will they learn? Something new about your shared family history? Perhaps there can be a generational exchange of ideas and skills?

These ABC’s are the foundation of any gathering. They are the equivalent of putting an address into “WAZE” before heading out on your journey. It is crucial to know where you are going and why, and to articulate your final destination before heading out on the road. We encourage you to come up with your A,B,Cs only once you have immersed with the people who will be attending and experiencing the gathering. It is critical to have a sense of what is on people’s hearts and minds; you cannot make that decision for them.

Do not ask people exactly what they want from their Thanksgiving dinner experience. Instead, try to hear what is important to them. Keep Henry Ford’s quote — “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse” — in mind as you speak to people in advance of Thanksgiving. Perhaps call that difficult uncle, or quiet cousin, or friend you haven’t seen in years, and ask: “what has been keeping you up at night this year? What do you value most about our family? What has brought you inspiration and hope over the past year? Where are you feeling depleted?” Your role is to take that information and cull it, pulling out themes, determining what is foremost on people’s minds and bursting from their hearts. These themes can help inspire you to design meaningful experiences.

For example, if you are having a large family gathering, you might learn from some of your immerse conversations that family members feel that the family has grown so big and dispersed that people don’t even know each other anymore. This might lead you to define your A,B,Cs as:

As a result of this Thanksgiving gathering,

A: Family members will feel more connected to each other

B: Family members will be more likely to connect throughout the year

C: Family members will better understand each other’s interests and passions

Now that you have your destination plugged in, you can be creative about how to achieve this. Here are three ideas we love (and we encourage you to come up with your own):

– Family Networking: randomly pair up for one minute per round, and do up to 20 rounds — and have family members spend 30 seconds each answering: What am I most interested in? What fills me with passion/purpose? You can have light music playing in the background; your job is to call switch every minute.

– “If I Weren’t Doing What I’m Doing” — go around the table and have everyone share what they do professionally/with their time, and then answer, “but if I weren’t doing what I’m doing, I would be…” This pushes the assumptions we might have about each other, and shows us another side of people we think we know well.

– 4 and 1: divide your guests into groups of 4 people, and give them 10 minutes to figure out four things they all share in common (the more specific, the better!) and one thing that is unique to each of them. Make sure to have a scribe to take notes! Then have each group share out what they learned about one another.

In our work, we have learned that, perhaps surprisingly, it is the “A” that drives it all. If all you have is an “A,” your gathering will still be meaningful and impactful (even in professional settings). People are motivated and inspired by their feelings. And feelings ultimately drive behavior. Ironically, we give the least amount of time and attention to that “A.” Rarely, even in social settings, do we ask: “How do we want people to feel at, and after, this experience?” It is a more complex question than it might seem. The good feelings of coming together and sharing a meal are a wonderful start. But there is so much more potential when we gather friends and family. How might you inspire your guests this Thanksgiving to connect — to each other, to a cause, to an idea — and to spark passion, meaning, and commitment? Might we all commit to taking this small and powerful step to move beyond the turkey, into the realm of giving thanks?

Maya Bernstein is an independent consultant working in the areas of innovation, leadership, and creativity. She is a faculty member at the Georgetown University Institute for Transformational Leadership and co-director of the Executive Certificate in Facilitation program.

Rae Ringel is the president of The Ringel Group, a leadership development consultancy specializing in facilitation, coaching and training. She is a faculty member at the Georgetown University Institute for Transformational Leadership and co-director of the Executive Certificate in Facilitation program.

Improving Patient Outcomes through Coaching

This post shared from Health and Wellness Coaching Co-director, Petra Platzer, PhD. 

Georgetown’s Health and Wellness Coaching (HWC) program, housed within the Institute for Transformational Leadership, is proud to acknowledge Cynthia Moore, MS, RD, CDE, FAND for being awarded a 1st place poster award for her research presented at the recent Institute of Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare conference in Boston.  As a former co-director and current guest speaker on the HWC faculty team, Cynthia continues to bring her expertise in diabetes and coaching into the clinical settings to improve patient outcomes.  Research-based work like Cynthia’s, and by other health and wellness coaches across the nation, continues to increase the understanding of the impact health and wellness coaches are facilitating for their clients.

In other big news, this past week a significant milestone was achieved for the HWC profession. The American Medical Association approved a new category III Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code for coaching that coaches can begin using in 2020 for reimbursement from insurance providers.1 The governing body of for the HWC field, the National Board of Health and Wellness Coaching (NBHWC), was a key driver for this major advancement and will continue advocating for increased reimbursement models for coaching. This milestone acknowledges HWC’s role within the healthcare continuum and opens the door for increased access and further advances for HWCs within coordinated healthcare bundling of coaching.

ITL’s Health and Wellness coaching program is at the forefront of this emerging and exciting field.  If you are interested in learning more about how to become a practicing Health and Wellness coach or a member of our HWC community, please contact our enrollment staff at

Applications for the Spring 2020 cohort are now open, apply online.



Introducing Executive Director – Denise Keyes

Denise Keyes is the new Executive Director for the Institute for Transformational Leadership. Denise brings extensive industry and academic leadership experience to her new role, as well as her own experience as a practicing coach and facilitator, and a grateful graduate of both Georgetown Certificate programs. She is honored to join ITL managing director Lynn Screen and the ITL program team, as well as the inspired founding director, Kate Ebner, the ITL program directors, and their faculty, and the ITL Network to work together to continue to strengthen and grow the Institute, and its global network of graduates–all in service to ITL’s mission. More to come about plans for the future in the months ahead.

Prior to her new role, Denise served as the Senior Associate Dean of Georgetown University’s Division of Professional Communications for over a decade. In this role she founded four masters programs, and the Center for Social Impact Communication (CSIC), which educates and inspires communications professionals to create positive social impact through their work.

She retains the role of Executive Director of CSIC, as well as ITL and will bring the lessons learned from this experience to her new role, particularly in the areas of strategic partnerships, thought leadership research and communications, fundraising, and branding.

Denise’s foundational knowledge and approach to leadership was developed through many years of collaborating across sectors, from big corporate brands and government agencies, to innovative nonprofits and large foundations. She has designed signature cause and CSR programs for Fortune 100 companies, developed award-winning social marketing and advertising campaigns, and crafted strategic corporate partnerships while serving in senior management roles in industry-leading agencies including Ogilvy & Mather, Cone, and Fleishman-Hillard in New York, London, and DC.

In addition to her role at Georgetown, Denise is a principal of–a strategy and leadership coaching firm. She is also a meditation teacher and incorporates this practice into her own life, as well as into her leadership coaching and training for graduate students and clients in mindful leadership.

Denise lives in Bethesda with her husband Bob, and their Aussie-doodle Dylan. She has two grown children Molly and Patrick.

Women’s Leadership in Action

This post shared from guest faculty members Kristin Haffert and Jessica Grounds on their inspiration behind Women’s Leadership in Action.  

We began to be exposed to the issue of gender imbalance when we were in college.  For Kristin, it was during her studies at Rutgers University where she learned that clinical trials for heart disease at the National Institutes of Health, only included men, even though heart disease is the leading killer of women.  And for Jessica, it was her junior year in college when she worked on her first political campaign in California for a woman running for the state assembly. She quickly understood the power of political office, but also the fact that few women represented the public in elected bodies throughout the country. In each instance we wondered, how is this lack of representation by women impacting the outcomes?

We were inspired to this work for different reasons and now after decades of experience working globally to advance women’s leadership and develop approaches to incorporate gender differences into business models, policy-making, and leadership strategy, we find that we are still stuck.

Women to continue to make up only 20% of U.S. Congress, 5% of Fortune 500 CEO’s, and just 38% of tenured professor positions.  We see the low representation of women in leadership as a near universal problem globally.  So why is this and what can we do?

Three years ago, we created Mine the Gap in a business climate where we continue to see that organizations do not understand the strategic advantage of bringing women into leadership roles with men. When men and women understand and respect each other more deeply in their professions, productivity flourishes and retention improves. When an organization works to build a gender inclusive environment, the organization is more innovative, nimble, and profitable.  More women leaders, working with men, open up new markets, perspectives, and approaches.  But most industries have a long way to go to put these strategies into practice.  There is a competitive advantage to advancing a culture where gender differences are seen as a benefit, not a liability.

Scientific American cover page explains, This is Not a Women’s Issue.  This is an issue that is disrupting the workplace today.  We are limiting the potential of our workforce.  We are underutilizing our talent and we are losing ground.  The potential is there if we are aware and strategic.

We are teaching a course at the Institute for Transformational Leadership, housed at Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies, because we want to equip professionals with the knowledge base and skills to better understand the challenges that women face accessing places of power, and how we can be more intentional to grow women’s leadership.  We want to equip business leaders with the knowledge to become more gender aware and see the strategic advantage gender balanced teams offer. In the climate of #MeToo and #TimesUp, there is a rich conversation about issues impacting women and men. We will be sharing strategies that we use globally with our clients.

Come learn how you can mine the gender gap and become a trailblazer on gender dynamics in your field.

Learn more and register for Women’s Leadership in Action: Tools & Tactics to Transform the Workplace here. 

The Presence to Embrace Complexity

This article is based on an interview with ITL faculty Carolyn Coughlin (CC) and Bebe Hansen (BH) on the three-day Advanced Training: Coaching for Presence-Based® Leadership. 

What sparked the creation of Coaching for Presence-Based ®Leadership?

BH: Doug Silsbee has long been considered a thought leader in both mindfulness and presence in leadership coaching.  His latest (and last) book, Presence-Based Leadership was written specifically for leaders, and thus moved the Presence-Based® work into a new realm.  We have always trained leadership coaches, as Georgetown does, and the new book speaks directly to the challenges leaders face in today’s current fast paced and global organizational environments.  The training was a natural offspring of Doug’s work on the Presence-Based Leadership book.  The trainings served as a practice and evolutionary ground for the content in the book, and a lab to experiment with both coaches and leaders in a live workshop environment.  I have witnessed and been a part of this type of emergent learning in years of co-teaching the Presence-Based® Coaching training to our students. This work is continually evolving and changing, with many iterations and refinements along the way that hone the material and support the curriculum to grow and mature.  And, it’s fun and enlivening to learn this way!  We might say this method of experimentation supports a dynamism that continues to spark more creativity.

CC:  For many years, my colleagues and I at Cultivating Leadership have been helping prepare leaders for a complex world by teaching them about complexity, helping them to recognize it in their daily lives, and supporting them to work in ways that are more complexity-friendly. Most of our clients love the perspective shift and the new tools they get from our programs, our coaching, and our work with teams.  And yet, many of these same leaders–even those with more than enough organizational power and influence to buck cultural norms – tend to quickly revert to their tried and true approaches to leadership.  Through my somatic training, my many years of using adult development ideas and practices in my coaching, as well as training other coaches to do the same, coupled with my own personal experience, I had the sense that the missing link lay in finding a way of better integrating these into my work with clients who were seeking to lead well in complexity.

The fact is that, by our nature and our nurturing, we humans are not particularly fit for complexity.  Even when our brains have learned plenty of tools and approaches that are fit for complexity, our bodies and our identities remain fit for a predictable, controllable world. While our human tendency to predict, to know, and to be in control is extremely useful in the right conditions, they are seriously anti-helpful in the wrong ones. So it was this dissonance between knowing that our context demands a particular set of actions and ways of being one hand, and the lack of psychobiological fitness for such action and ways of being on the other, that Doug and I saw the opportunity for this workshop and the body of work upon which it is based.

What makes the Institute for Transformational Leadership at Georgetown the right place to offer this training? 

CC: Over the years, my colleagues and I have, through our Growth Edge Coaching Program, trained hundreds of coaches to use the theory and practice of Constructive Developmental Theory as an integrated part of their coaching practice. Many of them have been Georgetown Coach Certification Program alumni.  My experience with Georgetown alumni is that they have been exposed to and are deeply intrigued and informed by all three of the threads from which the tapestry of Presence-Based® Leadership is woven—Complexity Theory, Adult Development Theory, and the Presence-Based® approach.  Coaching for Presence-Based® Leadership provides an opportunity for Georgetown alumni to both deepen their understanding and application of these ideas to which they’ve already been exposed, and to use the deliberate weaving together of these, to support their clients (and themselves) in cultivating the complexity fitness they need to address the challenges of today’s world.  Put simply, ITL’s philosophy of educating the whole person is very much aligned with both the philosophy of Cultivating Leadership and Growth Edge Coaching, and particularly with the very heart of the Coaching for Presence-Based® Leadership offering.  I am also deeply committed to bringing the ideas and approaches of PBL to as many coaches and leaders as possible because, frankly, I think the world needs it.  ITL’s reach, attracting a broad and diverse range of coaches and leaders, is a great way to do that.

BH: I live in the DC area, and Doug and I have many colleagues in this region. We have taught the Presence-Based® Coaching work at universities, ICF conferences, and directly to leaders over the years, locally (as well as internationally).  Doug most recently taught as faculty of the ITL program, co-teaching a module on presence in the Executive Certificate in Transformational Leadership.  It seemed a natural fit to continue this work, now as Presence-Based® Leadership, as part of the ITL offer.  The work is a good fit for the mission and feel of ITL, and of course, we are excited to be a part of its excellence and impact for those in this region and beyond.

How do participants respond to this approach?

BH: Coaches find many useful new perspectives and tools that enable them to support clients who are navigating the current territory of turbulence and disruption.  The view of complexity theory and practice offers a new way to understand the context of our current reality.  This view of complexity is woven into the new Nine Panes model described in the book and operationalized in the training. Doug’s collaboration with Carolyn Coughlin, and in particular around the complexity piece, has been a valuable addition to the framing of this work. This training material is accessible and inherently developmental in nature, with very practical applications.  The new Nine Panes model is quite profound, with many layers to dive into for more information, understanding and practice ideas. Participants respond with enthusiasm and leave the training excited about new experiments to try in their own coaching practice with clients.

CC:  Having just completed a running of this workshop on the cliffs overlooking the Tasman Sea in New Zealand, I am more convinced than ever that this work is not only immediately accessible and useful and also transformational.  Participants bring their most pressing challenges and use the workshop’s simple, elegant ideas and practices to help them make sense of their challenges and themselves in new ways.  Because the workshop is designed create the conditions for participants to cultivate the very things the theory suggests will be helpful to their clients as they face complexity, participants report they come out of it feeling they are not only more able to support their clients to be more fit for complexity, but that they themselves are more fit as well.  I’m already hearing reports of last week’s participants trying things out in their real lives. What could be better feedback than that?

How might my coaching change as a result of attending this program?

CC: Because this program blends together the three overlapping but complementary threads of Adult Development, Complexity Theory, and Presence-Based® approaches, every participant is likely to walk away with both a deepening of your current practice and an expansion of it into related but different areas.  Depending on your starting point, you may find one or another of these threads is more novel to your current practice, and you will walk away with a more integrated and holistic approach to supporting your clients.  In addition to integrating these three theoretical threads, the program takes an integrated approach to complexity itself—inviting participants to engage with the full range of both their environment and themselves.  It would be difficult to leave this workshop and not have your coaching changed in some way.

BH: For experienced coaches, this approach brings a breath of fresh air to coaching best-practices. The program is highly experiential and includes the whole person.  The program offers participants an opportunity to understand the new models and frameworks by trying on the material in the present moment of the classroom, with their own challenges as the context.  This method includes the body, mind and heart of the coach in the learning, and allows space for the practitioner to glean their own personal and professional insights and shifts from the material.  This translates into the coach’s capacity to offer a more integrative view and experience to their clients. This methodology aligns with our principle that we must do our own work before we can offer new and congruent coaching moves successfully to our clients.  And in the process, we cultivate our own presence as a coach, which adds a depth and resilience to our coaching moves.

Click here to learn more about the Coaching for Presence-Based® Leadership training at Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.