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-BasedÒ Leadership is woven—Complexity Theory, Adult Development Theory, and the Presence-BasedÒ 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-BasedÒ 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. 

Coaching to Health and Wellness

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate yourself in terms of your health and well being?  Is this where you want to be?  If no, why not?  What’s getting in the way of you achieving your optimal health?  Could it be lack of knowledge?  Or is it something else?

Most of us know cognitively how to live a healthy life, but we are not putting this knowledge into action.  Knowing better does not always equal doing better.  This gap between knowing and doing is the expansive territory of a health and wellness coach.   In this space, coaches focus on the often invisible barriers  and take the hands of clients to support and guide them towards their goals.

In the Health and Wellness Coaching program within Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership Health and Wellness coaches are trained on fundamental coaching competencies in the context of health and wellness.  From  nutritional challenges, stress/anxiety, and sleep disturbances to smoking cessation, chronic disease, and physical activity, the context of Health and Wellness is broad.  Health and Wellness Coaches partner with clients to compassionately support and provide accountability to the goals clients set for themselves.  Coaches help clients see what they are missing and better understand what is getting in the way of success.

“Health & Wellness Coaching is the change agent that shifts the culture and delivery of healthcare from dependency to empowerment.”
–International Consortium of Health and Wellness Coaching

Health and Wellness coaching is all about creating change in the most important area of your life.

To learn more about Georgetown’s Health and Wellness Coaching program. click here. 

Graduates Ignite ITL Network

On October 5, 2018, Graduates of Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL) officially launched the ITL Network.

The mission of the ITL Network is to create connections and foster continued learning and growth among all members of the global ITL graduate community, to support their professional journeys as they extend ITL’s mission of transformational change.

The virtual community-building and learning event showcased a variety of talent from across the graduate community drawing from ITL’s seven certificate programs.  Kate Ebner, Chris Wahl, Frank Ball, Rae Ringel, Amanda Blake, Jackie Bsharah and Fasika Tafera  delivered both Inspiration and thought leadership.

“We were absolutely thrilled with the warm reception we received from the more than 300 graduates of ITL certificate programs who registered for inaugural virtual conference of the ITL Network, Innovations in Transformational Leadership.  The feedback from our participants confirmed how excited our Community is about the future of our ITL Network. We look forward to continuing to serve our members with programs that support professional growth and development and enable ongoing connection with our Community.” Sharon Krohn-Kick-off Event Chair

“As part of the team that’s putting together the technology platform for the new Network, we are imagining all of the different ways in which we might foster a greater sense of community across the population of graduates and faculty of ALL of ITL’s certificate programs is both a bit daunting and extremely exciting.  The developers of the platform that we’re using seem to have anticipated everything that our imaginations serve up (plus many things that we hadn’t dreamed of attempting), and it’s so much fun working with the inspiring and selfless folks who have come together to form our technology team.  I’ve been learning every day, and can’t wait until the community can begin taking advantage of all that is possible.” Steve Heller, Technology Committee Chair.
Congratulations to the ITL Network board led by co-presidents Deiadre Rauch and Pamela Potts and the kick-off event volunteers.

Calling to You Like the Wild Geese

This post is adapted from Kate Ebner’s address to the ITL graduate community on the launch of the ITL Network.   

Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

The ITL Network is a community of graduates of our Institute’s programs, graduates from all of our certificates, cohorts and offerings.  When we finish our programs, we find that we really aren’t finished.  We reach for each other; we ask our new friends: how can we stay connected?  Can you help me think about myself in this work?  How shall we keep learning together?  What can we share about our practice of the ideas learned at ITL that will sustain us?  How might we continue the joy of being a community of learners, practicing our craft?  When we meet others who have had an ITL experience, we find wondrous diversity of perspective and many kindred spirits.  The learning doesn’t stop when we finish our cohort-work!

Again and again, I hear from so many you about the generosity of this community and what it means to be part of it, about the wealth of ideas and willingness to share without reservation, about the quality of what we offer to each other.  I believe it is our very best.

In the creation of the ITL Network itself, I see the selfless hard work of a group of committed volunteers who believe not only in our ITL mission for sustained impact, but also in you, in us, in our ever-expanding circle.

I must tell you that I know of no other self-sustaining community that shares so generously, expresses such compassion and care, and is willing to work so hard to continue to grow as human beings.  It is an honor and privilege to be part of our growing graduate network.  It is a source of pride for me to be able to say to prospective students:  when you graduate from a program, you are just beginning.  Now, you are part of a proud tradition and a network of more than 100 faculty members and 2000 graduates who come together for support, learning, and just plain fun!  (Think retreats in Maine and the southwest!)  We understand now that ITL is a truly a gateway, a threshold for a transformative journey that you may continue with the encouragement of our amazing community.   On behalf of ITL, I’d like to thank you for coming to us in the first place and for staying with us and sharing from your heart and gifts.  Every single one of us is making our vision and our mission real in the world.

The Leadership Coaching Program, founded in 2000, evolved and earned an international reputation as one of the top coach-training programs in the world.  You may already know the story of how the faculty of that program came together in the year 2011 to envision what else might be.  They knew that their knowledge and contribution was needed in the larger world; they had a desire to come together and create something with even greater impact than the Leadership Coaching Program alone.  In 2011, the vision of ITL was born at two visioning events.  Georgetown Deans Darcie Milazzo and Edwin Schmierer helped us to translate the vision into a business plan and proposal for the Dean of the School of Continuing Studies.  When we were approved in the Spring of 2012, the Institute for Transformational Leadership was born.

Today, we are an institute that features 7 extraordinary cohort-style certificate programs.  These programs share a common DNA and, together and individually, they demonstrate our core values and mission – to develop communities of leaders capable of meeting the challenges of our modern times, who work together towards a more harmonious, compassionate and sustainable future.  The seven certificate programs are:

*Leadership Coaching

*Transformational Leadership

*Health and Wellness Coaching

*Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Management

*Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership


*Polarities and Paradox

Additionally, we proudly collaborate as partners to offer the Academy for Innovative Higher Education Leadership, an 8-month cohort-based leadership development program for university and college leaders who seek to learn how to bring innovation to higher education.

We also offer many shorter learning experiences for leaders, facilitators and coaches in the form of workshops and special events.  I would like to specifically mention the outstanding grassroots work of the New Normal Initiative, which has resulted in a superb leadership program on how to convene, and host a dialogue about race in America.  We will be rolling that out in November of this year.

The mission of ITL is operationalized by Lynn Screen, Hernando Zambrano and Tara Aldridge all with a tremendous amount of support and encouragement from Dean Cynthia Chance and special advisement by Denise Keyes.

Each of our certificates is a unique, transformative – deep – learning experience, designed thoughtfully to prepare our students for our times.

In these troubled and divisive times, our mission is evergreen.  I wonder if you, like me, feel the call to action, action that includes listening deeply, asking powerful, open-ended questions, creating safe spaces and sustaining connections even when in a difficult conversation?  The world needs leaders, coaches, facilitators and conveners who have the courage to step up and the confidence to do so in a way that calls forth the participation, engagement and gifts of others, in ways that open up the conversation, allow for many views to be expressed and for us all to keep learning from each other’s experience and wisdom.

As you know, Georgetown is a Jesuit institution, founded on important values that define the Georgetown experience.  We have spoken in other settings about some of those values and for the past two years, we have been committed to the value of Community in Diversity. The results of that commitment are beginning to be evidenced in growing diversity of our faculty and students and the way that we are bringing topics forward in our classrooms.  We will continue this commitment as we move forward.

At a gathering of volunteer graduates of our program, folks like you, on October 31, 2016, almost two years ago exactly, we asked you to help us think about our future.  Our commitment to diversity and inclusion emerged as vital to you and to the Institute.  We committed.  We also decided to illuminate one of Georgetown’s values every two years.  Our next area of focus will be Men and Women for Others, a clarion call to us as a community of leaders to redouble our efforts to be in service to others, not only in our nation, but around the world.  You will see this focus as we move from 2018 to 2020.  I believe that one tangible outcome of this value-focus will be specific initiatives related to putting our Institute’s work in service to those who will benefit greatly, but may not previously have been able to access our offerings, through community initiatives, practicum projects and offerings for our students and graduates that show us how to use what we know to build a more compassionate and just world.

One of the most exciting ideas that came from Ideation Day 2016 was the idea – no, the MANDATE – from our community to create a “container” for our community, post-graduation from our programs.  Everyone asks all the time:  What’s next?  What else must I learn?  What else is being offered? Where do I go to stay active with our community of practice?   Today – this very day – the ITL Network – takes shape. Our Network will be that place to go, to find out what is happening, to discover upcoming opportunities for learning – both at ITL and all over the world, to share insights and ask for ideas.  The ITL Network is one of the greatest outcomes of the past seven years – a community-led hub for continuing our learning, together as a community of leaders.  Its mission is an extension of our own here at ITL, and we are working closely with the Network as advisers, supporters and, of course, community members and graduates ourselves.  Hooray!  This endeavor allows us to be the force-multiplier that we imagined and to expand our reach to each other, as well as the world.  The ITL Network is one of our most significant and proudest achievements as a community, all thanks to our outstanding, committed board of volunteers who represent all of ITL’s program graduates.  Welcome!  Welcome!

I would like to close today with a poem or two. This is from one of my favorite poets, a Vermonter named James Hayford, who was a student of Robert Frost and a national treasure in his own right.  The poem came to him almost complete. I would like to dedicate it to the memory of my mentor, Frank Kelley, who was the first natural leadership coach I ever met.  His influence changed my life, and although he is gone now, this poem remains as a remnant of a conversation we once had in a troubled time in America. It is as timely today in our conversation as it was back in 1992.   Frank told me that he felt it best expressed his faith in the future, as it does mine now as we forge our way as a nation.  I offer it to you as a poem of hope and a reminder that the ITL mission is more vital today than ever:

“Persuaded” By James Hayford

I am persuaded
That everything will be all right
In that good night.
The power that let us love and write
And think and build
Has not been killed
Even though our faith has faded
And grown perplexed;
It will make sense for us of what comes next,
I am persuaded.

Those who know me also know that not a day passes for me without the inspiration of Mary Oliver.  Of course, this poem is seasonally appropriate as we look overhead at the wild geese making their annual migration.  I chose it for us today because of its last line which I read as a great invitation, one that our ITL Networks is making to you.  Here we go:

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

          love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountain and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.


“The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”  Your place in the family of things….. I hope that you always remember that you have a place in the family of things, that you have a place with our ITL community – at Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership and as a valued and welcomed member of our ITL Network.”


New ITL Programs

 The Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL) welcomes two new certificates to its portfolio of transformational learning opportunities.   We are delighted that the Executive Certificate in Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership, Directed by Marcia Feola, and the Executive Certificate in Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management, led by Director Sukari Pinnock, have moved under the ITL umbrella.  These certificates are not new to Georgetown and have been offered for some time within the School of Continuing Studies.
Both programs are well-aligned with the ITL mission.  The Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership program teaches participants to lead change and build thriving, sustainable organizations while positioning themselves as true partners with clients and stakeholders in any organization.  Participants in the Strategic Diversity & Inclusion Management program learn to apply diversity and inclusion best practices through a systems-thinking approach and learn to effectively measure the impact.  The two programs bring a long list of graduates to the ITL community of transformational leaders.
In addition, ITL is launching the brand new Executive Certificate in Polarities and Paradox.  This program kicks off in the fall and will be taught by Kelly Lewis and Brian Emerson, Phd.  It is a wonderful offering designed for coaches and leaders alike who are looking to skillfully navigate complex, paradoxical issues