Community, Power and Old Stories; How Coaching Supported my Transformation

People ask me all the time; What makes Coaching for Transformation different from other coaching schools?  There are some obvious answers such as; we focus on the role institutional oppression plays in personal transformation, we have a diverse and seasoned faculty in both Coaching Competencies and Social Change work, and we offer coaching programs around the globe from New York to the Bay; from India to LA and in community organizations, corporations, and even prisons.  But you probably already know all that.  I’d like to share some of what personally moved me about my experience as an emerging coach in training in 2011, prior to becoming faculty. 

One of the first areas of inquiry I embarked on as a student of coaching, was needs and values.  (All the “skills” of coaching are taught through immediate application to one’s own life).   While reflecting on my needs and values, I realized how much I missed my kids during my long hours working and commuting. Even the notion that I had “needs” at the time felt revolutionary.  But I did have unmet needs.  My kids were young, my marriage strained, and my income limited.  I had unmet needs for stability, rest, and presence.  I learned that it was OK not to know how to meet these needs, but that I could recognize my needs and honor them, even if they were not fully met.  This patient approach was essential to eventually accessing the strength and creativity to (eventually) get more of my needs met. 

By participating in a supportive community of other change agents, I also was able to take a courageous look at my relationship to my activism.  I realized my social change work had stymied.  While I was consulting non-profits and training in multi-culturalism and diversity, I was disconnected.  I had become so focused on “getting it right” that I had lost track of the love and the joy of doing the work.  There wasn’t a place in my mental model of a strong white ally for vulnerability.  I learned that my feelings are the path to my authentic voice.  While analysis and courage are important in social justice work, I learned that by being vulnerable, I can access my heart.  My heart; including all her questions, doubts, fears, and longings, allows me to connect with and build bridges across difference.  As a faculty member at Leadership that Works, I have continued to uncover my unconscious bias – be in conversation with it – as well as use a coaching mindset to address the effects of systemic racism within myself, on organizations I am a part of, and that affect all the relationships that are important to me.

Another poignant memory for me is having a peer coach challenge me around a tough consulting negotiation I was going through.  When she said to me; “what if you earned this client’s respect instead of getting her to like you?” something landed inside of me.  Because I had also been practicing listening to my body in the program, I was able to track more readily my internal response.  My body told me – YES, this is EXACTLY what you need to hear right now - welcome this challenge and do something about it. PLEASE.   (And I did, and it felt GREAT!)  In coaching, we call this; “Calling out the Power.”  My peer coach was able to hold up a mirror and say; “hey, trust your intuition and your experience - you know what you need to make this project work – Ask for it!”  That was a game changer for me. 

Another game changer occurred during the individual mentoring. In CFT, each student is matched with an individual mentor coach who listens to a 30-minute recording of one of your coaching sessions and gives you feedback.  I sent off a recording of a coaching session I was pretty proud of, and waited for “the good student” story of my childhood to play out.  This “story” is the pattern of working hard and getting my teachers to like me and praise me in school. I got so good at it, I had come to expect it. And then my mentor didn’t give me praise! He didn’t criticize me, but he simply stated the facts of where I had exhibited coaching competencies and where I had not.  He reflected back my strengths and pointed me towards where the coaching could have more of an impact on my client.  It was SO WEIRD!  And, it changed the way I think about feedback and learning forever.  I no longer work for praise or depend on it to feel good about myself.  I can step into things as a beginner (not a pretend beginner but an actual beginner) and have faith that I can practice and get better at something.  While part of me always believed that with effort and hard work, one can improve, a less confident and more insecure part of me believed “you either have it, or you don’t.”  I realized, again through coaching, that this belief is false and not serving me.  We all have “it” within us to support our own and others’ transformation.  Coaching is a practice, an orientation, a self-discipline, and a set of skills, that with support - anyone can master. 

If you are longing for a change in the pace of your life, seeking community to explore your unique contribution to positive social change, wanting to stop giving away your power, and willing to let go of whatever old stories are holding you back; then join us in June for Coaching for Transformation in Oakland, CA; there is a place for you.