Category Archives: Leadership Coaching

Hope Leans Forward – Braving Your Way toward Simplicity, Awakening, and Peace

This post was shared by Bill Pullen, MSOD, MCC,  Director – Institute for Transformational Leadership Leadership

Many of us have experienced the feeling in recent years of being unmoored. Even lost at sea. At one time or another, most of us felt some degree of fear and disorientation during the once-in-a-century pandemic – coming at the height of a divisive political season while decades of racial and social tension finally come to a head with the murder of George Floyd.

And that was the world in the daily headlines. Closer to home and out of the spotlight, many of us grappled with our own personal struggles – whether that was personal problems, loss, or setbacks professionally.

In a world that feels continually disruptive, how do we take care of ourselves and keep going? Where do we turn for hope and wisdom?

I was honored to be joined on my podcast by one of the most extraordinary people I have met during my time with Georgetown University, Valerie Brown – author, Buddhist-Quaker Dharma teacher, facilitator, leadership coach, and self-described “professional pilgrim.”

We caught up on her new book Hope Leans Forward – Braving Your Way Towards Simplicity, Awakening, and Peace. In her book – written during a period of great personal loss and the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement – Valerie shares an abundance of Quaker wisdom, practices to stimulate mindfulness, and inspiring stories of ordinary people showing extraordinary bravery.

We caught up on the book, why it’s so important to slow down despite the frenzied pace of the modern workplace, and how to listen to the deep wisdom that comes from within.

Valerie quoted a poem by Mark Nepo that begins, “Brave your way on” – a phrase that encapsulates Valerie’s attitudes on persevering in the face of obstacles. Valerie has written of her own career epiphany and leaving a “high-pressure, high-stress” career as a lawyer-lobbyist. It took a moment of observing the clouds moving in the sky on a hiking vacation for Valerie to realize just how long it had been since she had turned her eyes skyward. She knew in that moment that she needed to make a change and slow down, ultimately leading to her newfound, purpose-driven work that she engages in today – no small task to walk away from a well-established professional brand and embrace the vulnerability of not having every next step perfectly mapped out.

Reading the book and talking with Valerie made me reflect on some of the darkest moments in my own life – personal struggles that I don’t always easily open up about (even when I know it helps to talk). Sinking into the depths of addiction, the loss of a brother to suicide, caring for my elderly mother after an accident. Each of these moments has shaped me indelibly.

In time, I have learned how each these experiences, as hard as they were, contained within them wisdom and the opportunity to grow and learn, deepen relationships, and transform the difficult times into something that could be shared with others -both in my life and in my work as a coach, leader, and teacher.

A few take-aways from our conversation.

Make time for quiet and reflection. As Valerie put it, “being brave is not just plowing through and keeping going.” Many of us operate under this approach and find ourselves burning out. We may venerate stoic behavior in the face of challenges (think of the iconic “Keep calm and carry on” mantra of the British in World War II) but we should also prioritize taking a pause to reflect on whether our day-to-day work still aligns with our values and priorities.

I’m reminded that countless other leaders have fought the temptation to cram every minute of their schedules full; in his memoirs, President Clinton wrote of his time in office, “I worked hard to schedule my time so that I’d have a couple of hours a day alone to think, reflect, plan, or do nothing. Often, I slept less just to get the alone time.”

Bring your whole self to work. Valerie talked about the virtues of what she calls “an undivided life” in which we bring the wholeness of who we are to the workplace. While some push back on the idea of revealing too much of ourselves at work, there’s a toll that is left when we feel like we must leave part of ourselves home each day. Valerie shared with me how she once felt that she couldn’t share the side of her that practiced meditation on the weekends. It wasn’t what was expected of someone with her high-powered legal identity. But over time, Valerie achieved greater equilibrium by bringing the two sides of her life closer together.

Make a deliberate attempt to find joy each day in small things. The last chapter of Valerie’s book is appropriately titled, “Bravely home, boundless joy.” She stresses the importance of finding small sources of joy each day to ensure the journey is rewarding, not just the \finish line. Even when the external circumstances we face are less than joyful – as amid a global pandemic – we can all find sources of rejuvenation, inspiration, and hope if we retrain our brains to actively seek them out – whether it’s a hummingbird in the garden or afternoon of sunshine.


One of my biggest take-aways was our talk was the idea of not waiting for the perfect conditions, “for everything to be joyful.” In our daily lives, we can embrace the seasons of life, accept it’s complications, and learn to find inspiration in each day as it comes.

To check out our full conversation, download the podcast today.

Unleash Your Complexity Genius – Growing Your Inner Capacity to Lead

This post was shared by Bill Pullen, MSOD, MCC,  Director – Institute for Transformational Leadership Leadership

Organizations around the world are undergoing a real time crash course in how profoundly our ways of working have shifted forever over the past several years. Based on my conversations and anecdotal observation, many executives are struggling to balance the competing priorities between the needs of the organizations they lead and the needs of their employees – priorities that can sometimes seem to be at odds with one another.

Shifting to “hybrid work” is one way organization have attempted to address the competing needs and navigate the complexity of the new ways of working. But as we see in any complex system, a change to one part of the system impacts others in often unknown and unpredictable ways. The human tendency in these moments is to seek certainty by trying to go back to the past.

But complexity alone isn’t a reason to call our ongoing experiment with hybrid working a failure and throw in the towel. Instead, it’s increasingly essential that leaders of today’s institutions become more capable of navigating and managing complexity – because it’s certainly not going anywhere. As one leader told me recently, she wanted to find “more ease” in the complexity of her leadership.

That was one of my key take-aways from a recent podcast conversation. I was honored to host Carolyn Coughlin and Jennifer Garvey Berger, partners at Cultivating Leadership and authors of the new book, Unleash Your Complexity Genius – Growing Your Inner Capacity to Lead. Their work offers insights and best practices to not only help readers better understand strategies to manage the complexity of modern society, but also tap into their own nervous system to redefine their emotional experiences and connect more deeply to others, reducing anxiety and exhaustion in the process.

A few insights I left our conversation jotting down for myself:

Complexity isn’t just outside of us. As Jennifer put it, “Complexity is life…the last few years have shown us all that growing ourselves to be able to handle a complex world is like hitting the ‘go’ button. It’s what we need to do in order to begin confronting today’s challenges.” We often can’t do very much to control the external factors causing complexity in the world around us, from inflation to climate change. But what we can do is focus on our internal responses to chaos around us and carve out a sense of calm.

Our bodies have a key role to play in our ability to manage the stress associated with complexity. Our “fight of flight” impulses can kick in when we’re confronted with additional complexity coming at us in our personal lives, in our public discourse, and in the workplace. This can be disastrous in narrowing our focus at the very time that complexity should be pushing us to broaden our aperture and be open to new perspectives. I was reminded that managing complexity isn’t an entirely mental or theoretical exercise; it also requires that we pay attention to exercise, diet, wellness, and taking care of our physical selves.

“Intentional evolution” is a core power skill. Leaders today must cultivate the emotional intelligence to grasp gaps between their capabilities and new challenges. Lifelong learning (and even un-learning) is essential in navigating a seemingly daily paradigm shift across industries and sectors.

Practice “genius behavior.” My guests also shared their insights on what they call “8 geniuses” – ways we can reconstruct our emotional experience toward emotions that are conducive to a “complexity-friendly” mode. These are interconnected behaviors that can regenerate our sense of joy and impact our physical selves as much as our mental gears. They “aren’t rocket science,” but can take time to cultivate into habits:

  • Noticing
  • Grieving
  • Moving
  • Sleeping
  • Laughing
  • Wondering
  • Experimenting
  • Loving

In truth, humans have an incredible capacity for handling complexity The paradox of today’s age is that we feel less able to handle it in the face of today’s organizational, societal, and technological shifts – admittedly all playing out faster than complex forces in the past. As my guests told me, “Tomorrow isn’t going to be like yesterday.” Rather than resisting complexity – as fruitless a task as resisting change itself – consider the new opportunities created by added complexity.

How has your organization encountered new levels of complexity, especially over the past two and a half years? How is your team adjusting? And what new opportunities does this added complexity create for you and your team?

ITL Year in Review – 2021

As we close out 2021, we have much to celebrate in the Institute for Transformational Leadership (ITL). Looking back on the year, we are grateful for our community of transformational leaders: students, graduates, faculty, and staff working to create a more sustainable and compassionate future during these challenging times. 

We have done a lot in ITL this year.  We are so pleased to share these highlights:

ODCCL – The Organization Development Consulting & Change Leadership (ODCCL) program has a new name and has been redesigned to meet the moment – where concepts of work and workplace are being reimagined, where diversity, equity & inclusion and OD have become inextricably intertwined, and where OD learning and practice can be maximized via multiple modalities.

Health & Wellness Coaching – The Health & Wellness Coaching program continues to train pioneers in this emerging field – now accredited by both the International Coach Federation (ICF) & the National Board of Health & Wellness Coaching (NBHWC). We are also launching an important partnership with the Georgetown University School of Medicine using health & wellness coaching to empower unhoused populations in DC to make progress towards better health. 

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) – The ITL DEI program completed cohorts 12 & 13 in 2021. We piloted new content on polarities as a way of offering students another lens through which to view DEI work. This highly sought-after program teaches the leadership skills and insights needed to support a strategic, sustainable approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion management while utilizing knowledge of oneself as an agent of change in the workplace. 

Facilitation – Our Facilitation program is leading us into the complexity and opportunity of facilitating in the hybrid workspace in addition to creatively designing for and facilitating human connection both in person and virtually. 

Leadership coaching – In 2021, we trained 5 cohorts of Leadership Coaches while launching a redesigned curriculum that prepares coaches to support and develop leaders to lead in the complexity of today’s world.  This year we partnered  with multiple organizations as a key part of a strategy to create a culture of coaching from government agencies to nonprofits and foundations.  

Professional Training Programs – We launched six new workshops in 2021:  Culturally Competent CommunicationBody Intelligence in LeadershipFrom CDO to COO: The Business of DEIEntrepreneurial Leadership CapacityCourageous Leadership in Action: No One Said It Would Be EasyBuilding Inclusive Workplaces through the Lens of Women’s Leadership

Faculty Training – We partnered with Georgetown’s Elizabeth Stanley, PhD, author of Widen the Window, to learn about how trauma might show up in our classrooms and how to teach and facilitate in a trauma-sensitive way.

Events- We celebrated the graduation of 760 students representing 31 cohorts across our five certificate programs, and the ITL Network convened our graduate community in a dynamic and moving virtual conference in November.

Partnerships & Training – We showcased our expertise in Leadership, Coaching, DEI and Organization Development through partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs Whole Health, AARP Purpose Prize, Georgetown University School of Medicine, USAID, the U.S. Air Force, and the National Forum for Black Public Administrators. 

As 2021 comes to an end, we wish you much love and peace!

Fall Workshops – Something for Everyone

This fall, we have a fabulous lineup of workshops designed to meet the needs of leaders and practitioners as we navigate the complexities of 2021.

Culturally Competent Communication 

Effective communication is built on one’s willingness, desire, and ability to share information with another individual. Culturally competent communication goes one step further by offering a form of empathetic, unbiased, and respectful communication when interacting with an individual who may be different from oneself.  This program is designed for anyone who seeks to understand how cultural beliefs inform behavior and how to show sensitivity to those beliefs through communication.  Learn more.

Entrepreneurial Leadership Capacity

This workshop captures the skills and mindsets of high performing entrepreneurs and presents them in an easily digestible method and playbook.  It is designed for (1) an early stage aspiring entrepreneur desiring to develop their entrepreneurial mindsets and skills in order to move their project/startup forward and (2) an intrapreneur leader desiring to develop their entrepreneurial mindsets and skills to innovate in their current role within organizations. Learn more.

Courageous Leadership in Action: No One Said It Would Be Easy

This dynamic workshop is designed for individuals who are interested in exploring aspects of courageous leadership in the f­­ace of adversity. The 2-day in person or 4-module virtual workshop explores courageous leadership through the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) lens.  The workshop is designed to be inclusive and encompass new and mid-level managers, leaders, coaches, consultants, and facilitators. Learn more.

From CDO to COO: The Business of DEI

The work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is more than a mindset or focus on people – it is core to how a business operates.  However, nearly all corporate DEI positions reside within Human Resources, executing activities and delivering goals geared towards attracting, growing, and retaining diverse talent.  To drive systemic change as well as disrupt and reinvent systems to eliminate  oppression and bias, organizations need to embed the mental models and best practices of DEI into their business operations.  This program is designed to provide foundational business and DEI knowledge to participants who will then use this knowledge to co-create strategies for integrating DEI into the core business operations of an organization.  Learn more.

Body Intelligence:  Leadership’s Untapped Resource

The body is the most direct and fastest route to change. The vast majority of our behavior is generated on autopilot because it happens outside of our consciousness. Body Intelligence in Leadership is designed for individuals who are looking to develop their natural inner resources to navigate the complexities of today’s world. Based in neuroscience, biology, and physiology, this 6-module highly experiential program explores models and theories related to the intelligence of the body.  Learn more.

Building Inclusive Workplaces through the Lens of Women’s Leadership

While the entire landscape of work is getting an overhaul, how are leaders going to adapt to attract and retain diverse talent? What new tactics are being used to drive diverse and productive teams? How do we create belonging and connection for everyone in virtual, hybrid and in-person workspaces using an intersectional lens? Building Inclusive Workplaces through the Lens of Women’s Leadership will explore these questions and use peer learning to uncover how companies and organizations can tap into the values and potential of all workers and leverage opportunities that help them show up at work as their full self – which research has proven fuels creativity and innovation.  Learn more.

LENS: Creating a New Normal on Race, One Conversation at a Time

No matter where you are on the spectrum of unconscious bias and race awareness, in America you are swimming in it 24/7.  Anchored in facts about our U.S. history that most of us never learned in school, this 2-day intensive workshop is an experiential, personal exploration of race and its impact on our perspectives that is guaranteed to give you an experience of diversity, not just a discussion about it.  Targeted for leaders and professionals who are wrestling with how to embody genuine inclusion in order to respond authentically to the cultural shifts after 2020’s racial protests, this approach, tested over 5 years, unlocks a depth of connection and learning unprecedented in mixed race company. Learn more.

Learn more about all the programs offered in Georgetown’s Institute for Transformational Leadership.


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


Not so long ago, life was an inspiration.

A conversation, a bird’s song, a child’s delightful laugh

Each was a teacher for our souls.

Then the world suddenly stopped

And we lost that joy.

Many of us went inside

And reluctantly got used to our new ways.

We kept going, not knowing

Just how long it might last (and last and last and last).

We felt trapped, lonely, sad and grateful

All at the same time, on occasion

Hitting a metaphorical wall or two (or three or four)

Bouncing back after a while (on the good days)

Retreating and becoming dark (on the not so good).

Outside, life continued, even flourished

The animals once hidden, came out in that new quiet

Mountains were visible again from afar.

Birdsong was amplified.

We were still more, we walked more, we had time to notice.

Ah, now I see it.

Pandemic, you are our soul teacher, too.

You taught us resilience, faith, appreciation, mourning and more.

Like the moon’s slivers of silver light

You keep showing us glimmers of hope in the darkness.

Winter is thawing.

Spring is on its way (I see the red buds on you, trees).

Now, may we each discover renewed inspiration from all our soul teachers.


Read more from Maria van Hekken on her Positive Thinking for Leadership Success blog here.