Get Focused: More of This, Less of That!

This post was shared by Maria van Hekken – faculty in Georgetown’s Executive Certificate in Leadership Coaching.

Tozi, one of my clients, called me today with a sense of sadness I have never heard from her before. “Maria, I feel like this year has been a total blur,” she told me. “I’ve missed out on so much that was important to me. Why is all this happening?”

As I listened closely, I silently thought of the three other clients who told me about their anxiety, therapy or medications this week. Yes, it seems we are all feeling the effects of this chaotic year in so many ways. This year is taking its toll on us collectively – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

While we would have NEVER asked for these circumstances, this pandemic can still be our teacher, if we let it.

Of course, we may have to pry ourselves open to any wisdom it may hold (not an easy task, I realize). And be willing to listen as it screeches its lessons on our likely unwilling ears.

If we are thoughtful, we can even dare to look for the gifts hidden deeply in this situation. And gifts abound (they always, always do).

Let Go of Missing Out
As I spoke with Tozi, we talked about the value of slowing down and going within. Instead of resisting what she was feeling, she agreed she wants to practice a process that helps her look more closely at what she has been doing, thinking, and feeling. She also decided she would identify what she wants to focus on in her life that she actually has influence over.

How I Approach It
That led Tozi to ask, “Is there anything special you do, Maria?” I described how I check in with myself at the end of every week. I make a list of what I want more of and less of in my life. And how it has made all the difference in the world. With this practice, I even discovered some real treasures from the simple to the profound.

Here’s a glimpse at what these lists have revealed to me over the last months:

  • More love (much, much, more to share)
  • More noticing (including grief for all we have lost)
  • More gratitude (for all we had before)
  • More deep conversations (from joyful to sad)
  • More time for family and friends (treasuring relationships)
  • Less taking things for granted (be thankful in the moment)
  • More home cooking from scratch (so much better than takeout)
  • Less clutter (how this frees the spirit)
  • More dog time and long walks (and a great way to be outdoors)
  • Less driving (much more stillness and quiet)

Check In with Yourself
These are such challenging times to navigate because everything changes and shifts so fast. I encourage you to look within yourself, too – to start making your own revelatory list. It’s such a simple way to allow you to sift through your experiences, to reflect on lessons you’ve learned, and to understand your frame of mind.

Willing to try it for one week? I promise you’ll be delighted and inspired at what you uncover.

This blog was originally posted on the website. 

Maria van Hekken is a leadership coach who helps executives and their teams become even more successful with a special approach that inspires positive vision, encourages positive action and delivers positive results. She has an established record of success supporting diverse leaders in corporations, the federal government, universities and nonprofits. Maria completed her coach training at Georgetown University and is on the faculty of the Georgetown Leadership Coaching program. She holds an International Coach Federation Professional Certified Coach credential, and has served as the president of the Philadelphia area chapter of the International Coach Federation.

On the Hard

This post was shared by Bebe Hansen – faculty of Coaching for Presence-Based® Leadership 

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” ~Louisa May Alcott

My husband identifies himself as a sailor. He is the proud owner of his father’s 30‘ Alberg sailboat, and he carries that legacy with care and respect for all his father taught him about the beauty and art of sailing. And, Sun Spur is in need of some loving attention right now. She has been in the water a bit too long and recently sprouted a tiny but significant leak in her bowels. This was not a dire emergency (despite my husband’s triggered reactions to the situation), yet she required a trip to a nearby marina sooner rather than later, where she could have access to experienced technicians who could repair her hull and perform some needed maintenance.

I watched the story of Sun Spur’s situation unfold, entangled with my husband’s reluctance and several dilemmas about how best to take care of the problem (should he travel further to a marina where he could perform the work himself at less cost but more time and effort?  Should he try to find someone to travel to his current marina to fix the leak — which turned out not to be feasible? Did he actually have the skills necessary to repair this leak? You get the picture). There were many nuances and layers between the boat’s objective needs, the potential costs involved (monetary and time), and my husband’s personal history of “do it yourself” mindset.

Recognizing Changing Tides

I began to see underneath these surface issues into a beautiful metaphor for what I, and perhaps many of you, might be going through right now. There are so many current forces at work in this country and in the world unfolding at once, it seems hard to catch my breath before the next news item is surfaced. And each event has its impact on each of us, often at deep and personal levels.

As Sun Spur is still sitting in the parking lot of the second-choice marina at this moment (and that’s another story in itself!), what’s becoming clear is that I, too, am needing some maintenance. I, myself, have some unattended to minor leaks of my own. For example, I seemed to have lost my north star in the fog of rapidly changing seas that have impacted how Presence Based ® Coaching  (PBC) training is delivered.  I’ve gotten caught up in the urgency of making tough decisions and pivoting quickly to create virtual versions of this work.

Looking Beneath the Surface

So, what’s below the water line for me? It looks like my disorganized office space with papers and piles spread everywhere. It shows up in feeling blindsided by deadlines that I had forgotten about in the fray and details of doing. It shows up in my reactivity to others when I’m tired from having pushed myself too hard at work. Or when I skip some of my regular practices (like yoga and meditation), rationalizing I really don’t need them today.

What’s leaking is my energy, and my Presence. When I was training many years ago in the Toltec work (from Don Miquel Ruiz, author of “The Four Agreements”), I learned that we as humans have some insidious and subtle habits around leaking our own energy. We do this by gossiping or complaining, by becoming buried in social media, by dismissing our needs for rest or connection or quiet time in nature as we get pulled into the ever-changing external context. By ignoring our Being.

Lifting Out of the Water

I have learned to operate on fumes pretty well…for a time. And then, I suddenly wake up to discover that I am off course. I realize need to attend to myself, to re-commit to the self-care practices that I know reliably feed me. And, my hull needs painting! What I mean is: my office needs organizing, cleaning, and the disposal of no longer needed papers. What I mean is: I am longing for connection with myself – space to be with my inner world in an unstructured way.  See the view from a bigger perspective.  I need to put myself “on the hard” for a bit.

This act of pulling myself out of the water invites paying attention to what’s calling me now and discerning what are the few priorities toward which I really want to invest my energy. I want time to re-gather myself as I notice what’s true for me, and for my heart. To stop the energy drains from those familiar things that draw my attention in reactivity and habit. I want to organize myself around my commitments and purpose. To take the rudder of my own ship again. I’m taking a deeper breath and sensing the ground of my own anchoring into Presence just writing this!

Have You Sprung a Leak?

Perhaps you have your own version of a leak, or your own hull needs some fresh paint. Perhaps it’s an inner knowing that you need to take a Presence Pause in your life or work. To re-evaluate, re-assess or re-imagine what’s truly needed now, in the midst of this stressful time period in history, and within this precious moment of your life’s trajectory. I encourage you to sense in and name what may be arising for you as you read this blog, and to capture it somewhere for your own reflection. And to give yourself permission to put yourself “on the hard” if needed.

Now, Adjust Your Sails

  • What might you see for yourself within these metaphors?
  • What’s underneath your own or your client’s water line that might need some attention or maintenance?
  • How can you create some space to lift yourself out of the water or onto the hard, or encourage your clients to do the same, in order to consider what course correction may most be needed in this moment?

Click here to learn more about  Coaching for Presence-Based® Leadership offered this fall at Georgetown. 

A Vertical Development Lens for Health & Wellness Coaching

This article originally appeared on the Georgetown SCS News & Events page.

Imagine you’re a health and wellness coach, advising clients in a company’s wellness program or through your own private practice. What kind of things should you be telling them?

For starters: get at least eight hours of sleep a night and plenty of exercise. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and try to limit your use of alcohol and caffeine. On the mental health side, maintain strong relationships with those closest to you—your family and friends—but also reach out to others. And don’t forget about the power of meditation.

Why was that not helpful? It’s not that these suggestions aren’t valid—they are. But most of us pretty much know this already. What we might lack is not health information, said Christine Wahl, a Master Certified Coach (MCC) and instructor in Georgetown University’s certificate program in Health & Wellness Coaching. It’s the capacity to take that information and use it for our own mental, physical, and even spiritual well-being.

“What we’re trying to do at Georgetown is create educated coaches who understand the trajectory of adult development and see how health and wellness fits into that,” Wahl said. “How do you, as a coach, meet someone where they are, and not where you think they should be? How do you learn to deeply understand how your client is perceiving their issue, and not jump into a ‘fix it’ mode, but engage in learning that shifts mindsets and helps them move forward?”

Letting Go of “the Right Way”

Twenty-one years ago, Wahl founded Georgetown’s Executive Certificate in Leadership Coaching program, which, like the Health & Wellness certificate, is part of the University’s Institute for Transformational Leadership. Rather than focusing on what leaders need to know, the coaches’ program encourages would-be coaches to think critically about what they may have believed were the “right ways” to address an issue. Instead, Wahl said, the coaches learn to let go of their “right ways” and examine their own values, perspectives, and decision-making processes.

Interrupting one’s automatic reactions in ways like this is one key to self-knowledge. This means that coaching is not about “fixing” a problem: It’s about helping clients achieve a measure of awareness of their own that can help them address the issue themselves.

The Leadership Coaching and Health & Wellness Coaching programs both believe that the theory of Vertical Development is essential for anyone in the helping professions to understand. The theory posits that adults move “vertically” through several stages of development, moving from being dependent, to independent, to interdependent.

Not that everyone gets to the later stages. Moving through stages is a journey of identity, with self-knowledge increasing as you go. The coach’s job is to draw on the self-knowledge they acquired through the program to help discern where a client is on this spectrum and adjust their coaching accordingly.

“So, when you’re coaching somebody who is at one of the earlier stages, you need to know that hitting them with complex theories and complicated ways to manage their lives will never work,” Wahl said. “They need concrete suggestions and actions, and they need you to be the expert. Whereas somebody at a later stage might know exactly what they need to do and might need you to be more of a sounding board or thought partner, someone who could say, ‘You know, here’s the place you might be missing, based on what you just said.’”

Drawing on Georgetown’s Values

The 10th cohort of the Health & Wellness Coaching program begins this fall and continues with eight classes spread over six months. The program is the first to bring adult development tenets into its curriculum, which integrates with the primary focus of understanding chronic disease and how coaches can best guide their clients toward optimal health. During the program, students conduct multiple one-on-one and group health coaching sessions and receive feedback from faculty coaching advisors through a supervised practicum.

The program also draws from Georgetown’s core value of cura personalis, or “care for the whole person,” which calls on health practitioners to address the mind, body, and spirit of their clients. That directive has become even more relevant in the past few months as the COVID-19 virus has swept across the country. The program seeks to develop coaches who have the self-awareness, empathy, and resilience to navigate such a world—and help their clients navigate it as well.

“We want coaches to meet clients ‘where they are,’” Wahl said, “which is one of the most compassionate approaches a coach can manifest.”

Read more here from program director Petra Platzer, PhD NBC-HWC PCC, on Adult Development in Health & Wellness Coaching. 

To learn more about ITL’s Health & Wellness Coaching program, click here.

In Solidarity with our Black Community

A version of this message was originally shared with the ITL community via graduate email listserves on June 2, 2020.

On behalf of the Institute for Transformational Leadership in Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, we find ourselves in a time of great uncertainty, loss, heartache, and persistent racial injustice.  The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks and many more have ignited deep sadness, frustration, and intolerance for systems that continue to create results that are contrary to our values and beliefs. We are in solidarity with the Black community, and we unequivocally affirm that #BlackLivesMatter. 

In a message to the Georgetown community, Georgetown’s President John DeGioia asks each of us to confront racism by looking inside ourselves to examine how we individually might be perpetuating injustice and sustaining racist structures.  As you know, this type of deep reflective work is at the heart of what we do in the Institute for Transformational Leadership. Once we are able to see and feel where this resides in ourselves, we can compassionately begin the work of entering into the hard conversations and doing the work that so desperately needs to be done. 

While this is life-long work, never has it been more important to use ourselves as an instrument of change in this world.  As a community, we are leaders: coaches, facilitators, and consultants supporting leaders in all of their humanity as we work to create a more sustainable, just, and compassionate future. 

It is up to us to not only to expand our knowledge on these issues but also to take meaningful action within our families, communities and organizations to promote racial justice. Learn and then act.  We invite you to share your stories, your resources, your challenges, your inspirations, and your leadership with our community as the road ahead has yet to be paved! @GeorgetownITL


The Power of Vision in Turbulent Times

This post was shared by Marcia Feola, MCC – Director of the Executive Certificate in Organizational Consulting & Change Leadership program and Bill Pullen, MCC – Director of the  Executive Certificate in Leadership Coaching Program .  Both Marcia and Bill are faculty in Principles of Transformation. 

Today’s business and institutional environments are characterized by rapidly evolving challenges on multiple fronts that require leaders to be able to respond correctly in a variety of areas.

Truly great leaders, however, do more than simply engage in crisis management. Instead, every decision they make is in service to a broader picture – a vision – towards which they guide their organization.

A clearly articulated vision of the future is crucial in providing a framework that allows a leader to be able to execute upon their other responsibilities:

  • A compelling vision keeps an organization focused on the future.
  • A vision creates a compass that allows an organization to see various routes – not just one – to get there.
  • A vision ideally needs both structure and flexibility. Leaders should be prepared to make modifications as conditions demand.
  • A vision serves as a useful analytical tool, allowing an organization to compare where it is currently with where it wishes to go.
  • A vision can provide permission to engage in creativity and experimentation, as members of an organization consider various ways to meet their goals.

In addition to its practical benefits, a vision also provides motivational energy to other members of the organization. During chaotic times, leaders play a vital role in maintaining institutional focus and projecting a calm, confident demeanor. This combination is key to supporting the mental and emotional well-being of the organization’s employees. It sends a powerful message to which allows them to remain loyal, steadfast, and productive.

Powerful, compelling visions challenge our current ways of thinking, being, and doing. They challenge us to grow and change. They ask us to step out of our comfort zones and habitual ways of doing things.

In turbulent, uncertain times, it is perhaps natural to feel a compulsion to “keep one’s head down” and focus on immediate challenges. A compelling organizational vision can act as a catalyst to resist this impulse. Leaders who are able to act with purpose during disruptions of the status quo will be best positioned to capitalize on the opportunities that come with major realignments in the institutional environment. Their employees will be better psychologically suited to weather the chaos. They will have a map for navigating through the turbulence that can cause poorly led organization to flounder.

Click here to learn more about Principles of Transformation.