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.