Archive for Coaching

Starry Skies, Diversity, and Vision

Hi Carman,
A beautiful Sunday morning to you! I agree that Partnership does not need to answer to Paul, Plato or Shakespeare, although I do enjoy dialoging with them from time to time.

Thank you for sharing your deeply thought through and fresh thoughts on Paul. One observation I would add is that whatever was or was not the intention of people at the time, Christianity and Judaism  –or rather, as different streams of thought converge, a variety of Christianities and Judaisms  — exist today.

Because we are exploring emerging ground, we have the opportunity to consider some interesting questions, that I think have some broader applicability.  One relates to focus.

Alfred North Whitehead describes how every fact “drags around with it” a universe of assumptions in which that observation or fact is both comprehensible and true. Essentially agreeing with Whitehead on this point, feminist philosphers have long observed that the practice of using fixed and firm categories — such as the often very firm boundaries between academic disciplines — to describe reality reifies a particular worldview by obscuring other potentially useful categories and the way that categories interconnect to form the “sacred canopy” of our worldview. 

On the other hand, when changes do occur in a particular field, the process of cross-fertilization of ideas is slowed. (This is one reason, as you know, that trans-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary studies are presently such a wellspring of new thought and innovation).   Also,  being too fixed with regard to category implies a world in which all things can truly be separate and static — described by one category or model without reference to others. For example, years ago, when I was in a leadership role in organizations (before I became a coach and consultant), I was  unable to immediately see the connection between emerging ideas in scie nce and emerging ideas in leadership. I thought that it was academically interesting but had nothing to do with the “real” world. Obviously, I’ve come to change my views!

The categories we use illuminate some aspects of reality and hide others.  With left-brained thought and language, it’s often the connections amongst things that are hidden.

Because the paradigm we are discussing is holistic, we can’t assume that the whole universe of assumptions is known to the reader, or even to ourselves.  Rather Partnership recognizes that different perspectives will “see” different patterns, and that, with a conducive social dynamic, multiple perspectives can, reflect more light on a given subject. Further, a holistic perspective suggests that reality is holographic in that nothing stands alone but is shaped by its context or world.

Because this blog seeks to explore a new paradigm of leadership and organization, it consciously oversteps conventional categories in order to describe both this paradigm we call Partnership and also the views of the cosmos, including the patterns of the stars, we each see from where we sit (both physically and on the basis of our life experience).

So, in discussing a Partnership approach to leadership and organizations, we talk about the literatures of leadership, organization, sociology, psychology (so far so good), and continue on to philosophy and theology which have been held, until relatively recently, to be separate and distinct subjects. Religion in particular has been considered a separate realm best avoided because it can raise passionate differences. “Sensible” people avoid it. By virtue of where I sit under that starry expanse, I am unable to be “sensible” in this respect because ideas in all these fields shape our view of the world. Certainly, as you have pointed out, the experience of a religious conversion or mystical insight is an example of a personal transformation which yields a sometimes radically different worldview. (My sister also described motherhood this way).

On the other hand, I appreciate that some who visit here may be put off when we venture “off topic” sharing our views of the patterns we see in that sky.  In a sense, this is a microcosm of a Partnership organization. Different members sitting on the grass, looking up and being able to share what they see. And also with respect to our collective endeavors, focusing on the shared values and vision that pull us together.

As you have probably noticed, I see the coaching approach as enacting Partnership, supporting the emergence of trust, collaboration and creativity in organizations. I am very excited to mention a new project that I am becoming involved with, to bring coaching training to leaders and teams, and coaching the development of a coaching culture. I’ll write more about it in this blog, but as this is also a kind of a letter, I wanted to share it with you here.

My best,


P.S. We are having a break in the rain today. It’s cold and overcast, with the holiday lights making a nice contrast as it grows dark in the evening.

Creating healthy organizations

In re-reading your post, I continue to notice new levels of richness and meaning.

Freire describes some of the core insights of Partnership: “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p.66).

Yes, as Freire describes, domination is system of relations, including our relation to self. We are divided beings in as much as we internalize the voice(s) of dominant, controlling others. As young children, we tend to absorb parental and cultural moods, attitudes, and perspectives. It is, therefore, so often true that children of dominating parents (or of a hostile culture) struggle with self-criticism and self-doubt. In the Dominator paradigm, this is the position of feeling “less than” others. In this psychological literature, this is sometimes called “shame.”

Psychology also describes “projection” as a psychological defense mechanism. One way of copying with our “disowned […] feeling, wishes, needs and drives […] is to attribute them to others” (Bradsahw, 109). We may also gain some temporary relief from the pain of internalized oppression through identification with the oppressor (Bradshaw 106). When we identify with dominator (our externalized notions of power, prestige), we may experience ourselves as feeling “better than.” In this state, we may project undesireable characteristics onto others and “do unto others as has been done unto us.” It is, therefore, a truism that, in the absence of healing, people who have been abused, often become abusers themselves.

In a dominator system (such as is predominant in our culture), there is a tendency to either feel less than or greater than others, and whether one feels inferior or inferior can vary depending on time and circumstance.

Judgement appears to be the mechanism by which this occurs. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is common to fear the judgement of others — particularly those we perceive to have some level of power over our lives.

One dynamic for maintaining the “upper hand” in a dominator relationship is silencing, in which one does not permit others the privilege of speaking their truths. This dynamic may be internalized as self-silencing.

Codependency has been defined in a variety of ways. One pertinent definition is, “A pattern of coping which develops because of prolonged exposure to and practice of dysfunctional family rules that make difficult the open expression of thought” (

This same dynamic has been described in organizations. In the 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Stephen R. Covey describes the dynamics of codependency in organizations and how its negative effect on organizational effectiveness (17). For an excerpt, see:

Author John Gardner writes, “Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.” The perspective of each individuals and organization (which is ultimately shaped by its members) seems natural and normal; therefore, real alternatives may not be readily seen, or when seen, may seem counter-intuitive. Seeing alternatives, including personal and organizational health, is an imaginative act.

If we can label a core problem of contemporary organizations to be co-dependence, then, what might the literature of psychology and recovery have to teach us with respect to creating healthier, more flexible, collaborative, and creative environments?

Also, what is the relationship between a Partnership relationship and perspective (based on mutual thriving), coaching and the psychological-social paradigm of recovery?

Leadership vs. Control by Guilt and Fear

In a recent post, Carman de Voer noted the distinction between leadership and management. These two different functions often converge within a particular role, but tend to draw upon different kinds of power. Management is associated with control, which is a highly reputable value and principle in most organizations. The process of management itself has been described as a feedback loop: managers “plan, organize and control” the work of the organization.

We have come to learn that the only relatively simple systems are subject to control in this sense; the interactions between the elements of more complex systems result in unpredictable outcomes. For this reason, particularly where the intelligence, creativity and committed contributions of organizational members are important to organizational outcomes, we have seen a shift from an emphasis on management to an emphasis on leadership.

Whereas management tends to rely on external rewards and punishments, leadership, particularly transformative leadership, seeks to align the self-actualization of organizational members with the self-actualization of the organization (the achievement of the organization’s mission and vision).

However, because leaders and managers, are still accountable for the contributions of their people, and their own jobs and careers are at stake, they usually feel some urgency around results.

The word “urgency” points to both importance and fear or anxiety. Another common term, which is used in conjunction with urgency is “edge.” (It might be useful to notice that intense focus and forward motion driven by vision and purpose, absent fear, has a very different tone).

Leaders then, very often experience some level of fear or anxiety — conscious or unacknowledged — and, the most common reaction to fear is to try to control others.

It’s useful to pause for a moment to consider: how do we, ourselves, attempt to exert control? What are the options? I once attended a workshop on power dynamics in which participants paired up on either side of a line. Each side was given the instruction that to win, they needed to get the other person to come over to their side of the line. Participants utilized a variety of strategies — including pleading, promising, guilting and dragging each other across.

In Spiritual Selling, sales and marketing expert, Joe Nunziata, describes the often unconscious strategies that people use to control others, and how these strategies are often employed in the workplace:

“Guilt [and shame] is the weapon of choice used by parents to control their children. […] In most cases, parents are not using guilt on a conscious level. They have absorbed guilt […] for generations and passed it on to their children. Innately parents know they can use this guilt to manipulate and control their children. Once the power of guilt is realized, it is then used in all areas of life. People begin to recognize the power of guilt in other situations. It can be applied to relationships, employees, coworkers, friends, and family. […]

“The desire to control and manipulate is driven by fear. The ego believes it will be safe if it can control people and the environment. This is why so-called control freaks are always micromanaging all aspects of work and the people involved with a project. There is an inherent fear that losing complete control of the situation will have disastrous results. […]”

“These same guilt and manipulation techniques are used in the business world. A sales manager may use the exact same process to motivate his or her people. Making salespeople feel they are not doing a good job can trigger similar feelings of guilt and shame. The intent is that they will start to feel bad and then have the desire to work harder. [Those who have read this blog for some time will recognize this dynamic as “The Wheel of Fear.”] The effectiveness of this approach depends on the makeup of the indiviudal. If similar techniques were used effectively by our parents they will transfer into the business world as well. You will be susceptible to the feelings of guilt you experienced as a child. […] Guilt and fear have long been viewed as the only way to motivate performance. Although the world has changed and some organizations are embracing more postiive techniques, a large majority are still trapped in this model. It is important to realize how powerful these unconscious traits are and how difficult they are to break…” (46-49).

Of course, external rewards, such as salary increases, bonuses, promotion, political capital, etc. are the “carrot” of this “carrot-and-stick” approach.

Hence, the organization tends to take on the characteristics of the family — too often, a dysfunctional one.

Transformational leadership, on the other hand, taps into a substantially different power dynamic in which the leader speaks to team members’ intrinsic motivations, to align the self-actualization of each team member with the self-actualization of the team or organization. In my opinion, coaching is a key component of transformational leadership. It cultivates the intelligent, creative energy of team members towards the achievement of overarching, meaningful goals. While recognizing distinctions in roles, it respects all organizational members, and builds the health and capability of the system…

What is the difference between healthy and unhealthy organizations?
How can we cultivate ever more healthy organizations?

Christie, L. “Getting Off Your Wheel of Fear”

Ibid. “Leaping Off the Hampster Wheel of Fear”

De Voer, C. “Promethius and Transformative Leadership.”

Nunziata, J. Spiritual Selling. Hoboken, N.J., Wiley, 2007.

The Unconscious in Organizational Transformation

Readers and writers who visit this blog are engaging with facinating and powerful questions and ideas.

One recent search term that brought someone to this blog was, “the role of the unconscious in organizational transformation.” It raises the topic of the unconscious in both personal, organizational and cultural dynamics and transformation.

What do we mean by unconscious? We’ve learned that unconscious patients perceive and process information — they hear what is said and what they hear can positively or negatively affect their recovery. So the unconscious is part of our experience, but it is unexamined experience. The unconscious also contains the connections between experiences. If you touch a hot surface and are burned, that information is there; and such connections are the raw components of belief. We also develop attitudes and orientations towards our experience: life is an adventure; life is an ordeal; people will help you or hurt you, etc. The connections we make are influenced by the events themselves, our orientation/attitudes — or interpretative lenses, pre-existing clusters of associations, and our received cultural beliefs — both explicit and implied. We look for evidence to support our existing beliefs; and receive biological rewards when we find them.

However, like the proverbial iceburg, most of our beliefs, including our interpretative lenses, are below our conscious awareness. And many of the foundations for these beliefs were set at in our earliest experiences, a time when we lacked our present insight and experience. Yet it’s these beliefs, orientations, lenses that are the locomotives of our lives. Hence, Carl G. Jung’s assertion that until we make the unconscious conscious, it will rule our lives and we will call it fate. This also resonates with Socrates’ “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Although I think Socrates overstates his case a bit, as a coach, I can testify that the examined life can become a great adventure, because when we examine many of our limiting beiefs, we find that they are actually not true.

The same principles apply with respect to organizations. It’s interesting to think in terms of a personal unconscious and a collective unconscious, the interaction amongst our unconscious beliefs, shaped by our personal and organizational histories. This is potentially a very fruitful area for organizational transformation. Thank you to our visitor for raising the topic.

Perspective & transformation

Carman, Your example of the transformation of Scrooge in the Christmas Carol, illustrates how third parties can stimulate transformation by helping a leader see the current situation and dynamic more clearly, and consider new perspectives and possiblities.

This whole area of the process of transformation is intriguing. By definition, it involves some kind of diversity — an encounter with a different perspective through dialogue or “cognitive diversity.” For me, cognitive diversity, in practice, means accessing our holistic, creative, “right brain” as well as our analytical, sequential “left brain.”  Transformative spiritual experience, creativity, imagination and vision, seem to strongly involve “right brain” processes. (A neuropsychologist would, no doubt, point out that this is a gross oversimplification).  

The process of coaching involves both aspects — the holding of the mirror, to help a person see more clearly what is otherwise too close to see — to see lens with which we see the world, so to speak,  and the facilitation of imagination, to experience a new perspective.  

When we are able to see the lens with which we see the world, we have already experienced a cognitive shift in that we have separated who we are (the observer) from a particular perspective, and we have freed ourselves to more readily explore perspectives that are healthier, more effective, etc.

The act of imagination, envisioning other possiblities, is extraordinarily powerful and taps a vast intelligence. Because in the West, we so strongly identify with our rational egos and our analytical, sequential thought processes, that we overlook the genius within each of us — that intelligence that creates entire worlds in our dreams, for example. It’s not always completely rational, but it contains all the connections that are not always visible to our sequential thought processes.  

In discussing spiritual transformation, William James makes the point that when we’ve exhausted our usual resources, when our rational-analytical processes fail us, we then, often in despair, throw ourselves open to other possibilities, and experience a shift and illumination. And Zen koans operate on a similar principle: the left brain lets go and there is a shift in perspective. 

Transformative leadership need not, in my opinion, involve complete illumination, but I think the inherent humility of recognizing that “we are not our thoughts and perspectives” and our consequential ability to imagine new possibilities — to dip into our own creative potentials, is key to personal and organizational transformation. 

Carman, I enjoy your notes about the environment, there. It sounds beautiful. It’s been raining heavily here; we need it!  Best wishes, Lisa

On the nature of transformation

More gems from Carman de voer. I hope to respond to these excellent posts this weekend…

Hi Lisa,  How do we define “transformation”? Dictionary definitions are nebulous at best. Here is one example from the Free Dictionary:

transform – change or alter in form, appearance, or nature; “This experience transformed her completely”; “She transformed the clay into a beautiful sculpture”; “transubstantiate one element into another”–

Among adult educators, however, there seems to be a consensus that “information” changes “what” we know, whereas “transformation” changes “how” we know. Change thus appears to involve the re-perception of reality.

Tennant and Pogson suggest that transformation involves the “deconstruction of a given world-view and its replacement by a new world view” (p.114).

I believe it is superfluous to talk about collective (organizational) transformation without first clarifying individual transformation. Lisa, how would you define transformation?

Bye for now!


Learning and Change in the Adult Years, A Developmental Perspective

From Ways of thinking about learning and change (from Carman), 2009/01/20 at 6:15 AM

Power of Authenticity

Recently, I completed a course in Spirited Facilitation, which applies leading-edge principles and practices to group facilitation. Spirited Facilitation was developed by coach and trainer, Karen Capello, based on the inspired learning model (see I look forward to sharing more of this model with you in the future entries.

One of the key elements of the spirited facilitation model is learning to connect at will to the feeling of being fully alive, which is also when we are most fully our selves. Ms. Capello calls this state of being, our “essence energy.” Coach Rhonda Britten calls it, “our essential nature.” It is our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual state of being, when we are being self-actualizing, when we are living according to our highest purpose. It feels pretty good!

Each of us would describe this state of being differently. For example, for me, it would be something like, “inspired, insightful, co-creativity.” I am happiest and most inspired when I am finding new perspectives and making useful connections — especially in interesting conversations with others, and creating something new that adds to the quaity of our experience. For others, this peak experience may be “calm radiance” or something very different.

Whatever it may be, Ms. Britten points out that claiming (or reclaiming) our essential nature is key to to jumping off our “wheel of fear.” In an earlier post, I shared a story about witnessing a demonstration by hypnotherapist Monica Justice, in which she demonstrated that speaking the truth makes us physically stronger  (

Could it be that we gain strength — perhaps connect to our personal power — by being and expressing our authentic selves? For me, these are provocative questions which raise some big issues, which, of course, we will discuss here 🙂

What blocks our fulfilling success?

Earlier in this blog we talked about the hamster “wheel of fear,” that self-perpetuating spiral of fear and reaction that tends to lead us precisely where we don’t want to go.  We’ve been discussing some concepts and tools to help us live and work more consciously, proactively, and creatively, towards the goals we really want — our visions.

However, it is very common for people to feel blocked or stuck with repect to achieving their goals. It’s not that they don’t want them, it’s just that they don’t quite seem to ever move forward or achieve them. As the field of coaching has arisen to help people achieve their goals (whether it is to win a baseball game or lead a successful change initiative), it has developed some tools for helping people achieve them.

There are four basic reasons that people become blocked with respect to achieving goals (or in the process-oriented language that I prefer, “in living towards their goals and enjoying the moment — which is really all that we have”):

1. They aren’t motivated enough. They don’t really want the goal or are out of touch with the reasons they want it.  Perhaps the goal is a “should” for them.  For example, “I should exercise more.”  Or, they may want the goal but not be tuned into their motivation, their reasons and compelling emotions around the outcome.

2. They don’t know how to move forward. On a related note, they may lack the structures (situational cues) to support the actions they need to take.

3.  Circumstances are such that the goals could never be achieved.  Although this explanation is very common, it is very rarely true.  Rather, like the lab rats that, having repeatedly received a shock when they approached their food, later avoided it, even after the shocks were removed, many of our barriers are the result of our own, faulty beliefs (See #4).

4. They have conflicting beliefs and commitments — often below the level of conscious awarneness — that generate resistance and sabotage their progress. (See my upcoming post: “Why rational people do seemingly irrational things…”)

How do we determine the reason we are stuck? Sometimes it’s clear to us that we are missing needed information, for example, or we may be able to rule out some possibilities. For example, “there are no clear barriers, and I know what to do, I just can’t get started…” 

A nice tool for dealing with a lack of clarity on how to move forward is the “plan for a plan” — what do I need to know and how can I get the information. (Sometimes, when we are being truly creative, the project might entail multiple cycles of learning and doing — sometimes called the spiral model).

In contrast, “shoulds” and conflicting beliefs and commitments often have their roots in the subconscious. For me, one of the most juicy and interesting parts of coaching is surfacing these beliefs and holding them up to the light of day, as it is a very liberating process …

Success is a verb

In Western culture, we tend to be inclined to believe in and aim towards static and desireable future. In myths and fairy tailes, our heroes’ and heroines’ journies end in a static, experientially eternal state of bliss or pain. This is also a theme of monotheistic religions, which have shaped our worldview over the past several thousand years: life is often viewed as a journey to an eternity which is often painted as either homogenously wonderful or awful.

Such stories often shape our deepest and oldest beliefs and expectations of life. For example, I’ve known never-married women and men who believe that, if they find and marry the right person, that their lives will be happy and fulfilled ever after. Similarly, many Americans dream of a good retirement in which we will be passed all of the travails of our lives, and live our golden years in health, safety and fulfillment. Heaven is a place where we can lean back, wipe our brow, and finally exclaim, “We made it!”

As a result, we may be tempted to live for and in the future — for “someday.”

Intellectually, however, we know that it is never “someday”; it is always today. When we reach the top of the mountain, there is a new vista, and from that vista we set new goals. Life, in other words, is an ongoing process.  Myths and fairy tales are only able to maintain the illusion of future permanence by drawing a curtain at the end of the tale. If they continued to follow the characters through the remainder of their lives, we would find that life is characterized by change. When a biological organism stops changing, we can be sure that it is dead. Similarly, in the bigger picture, our cosmos also continues to change and evolve.

Along the same lines, we might observe that life isn’t composed of two parts, non-eternity and eternity: Logically, infinity plus 100 years (a nice, long human lifespan) still equals infinity. Therefore, to the degree that we acknowledge eternity, we might notice that eternity doesn’t start “later”; rather, here we are ….

It is human nature (and no doubt the nature of life in general) to move towards greater fulfillment. Studies have shown that the happiest people are those who feel they are making progress towards a goal. Imagining and living in the present, towards a desireable future is a necessary and fulfilling part of life.

However, our old, deep rooted belief in “ever after” can lead us, instead, to live “for the future,” effectively postponing our lives and preventing us from living fully in the present.

One manifestation of living for the future is an over-reliance on “left-brain” intellectual busyness and/or will power. Aside from draining the joy and vitality from life, this posture makes us less effective in the present. For example, we may become less aware of opportunities in the here and now, and also less creative.

Therefore, I submit that it would be a lot more fruitful if we began to think of success as a verb. Certainly there are goals to achieve, but if we think of success as a process, we open up more possibilities for effectiveness, creativity and enjoyment in the now. And, if as leaders, we can create environments in which success is a verb, we will increase intrinsic motivation (which we know is far superior than extrinsic motivation) for  ourselves and others.

Our cultural belief in “ever after” is an example of a subterranean belief — a belief that tends to exist and operate below that level of our conscious awareness. These beliefs can either support us in living towards our desireable future or they may block us. Because, as a coach, I’m interested in helping people achieve their fulfilling success, we will talk in much greater depth in this blog about these subterranian beliefs and how they shape our present (including how they can keep us on our “wheel of fear”).

For today, we might ask consider the question, what is our idea of success? Is it a static place defined by certain accomplishments or acquisitions, at which we hope to someday arrive (only to notice that that line and place keeps moving)? Or is it an attitude of living fully in the present, while continually moving in the direction of our heart’s desire?


* Imagine success as a destination in the future. What emotions does that concept bring up for you? How present do you feel in your body? How present are you to your immediate surroundings and possibilities?

* Now imagine success as an orientation, a way of being in the present towards fulfilling goals. How would you live differently? How would your quality of life differ?

To your fulfilling success

One of my mentor-coaches, Lou D’Alo signs his emails with the phrase, “To your fulfilling success.” I really appreciate this phrase, because it expresses a Partnership approach to success that encompasses both our qualititative experience — happiness and fulfillment  — and our quantitiative results. It feels richer and more complete.

An activity or state of being is especially fulfilling when we are living according to our inspired purpose, which encompasses our special gifts — those activities that give us joy. 

Whereas the term success has come to mean a kind of material and social status, a kind of cultural goal, or “should,” the expression “your fulfilling success” involves thriving in your own particular way — living the life and making the contribution that only you can make. When this becomes our way of life, and when we support others in living their own fulfilling success, we are living in Partnership.

In this blog, we will be continuing to explore concepts and ideas that support your fulfilling success.

Questions for Exploration
* What does the term “success” feel like to you?  How do you envision it?
* How does the term “fulfilling success” feel like to you?  What does it look like for you?
* What are the differences between the two for you?
* What possibilities or concerns arise for you as you contemplate the difference?