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A Developmental Perspective in Coaching

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A brief walk through the cycle begins in the quadrant labeled “Out of Sync” – familiar territory to all of us. We find ourselves here when we have a vague sense of ennui and as we move further down the arc, our sense of discontent grows in intensity. It might be the team that has accomplished a big goal and the carrot is gone, the glory is over; the leader who finds herself promoted

into a position that suits her pocketbook and status but not her heart, skills and dreams; or the 55 year old who thought the job was secure and lived accordingly only to find it all go up in smoke overnight. In all of these situations we feel discouraged. There is a sense of hopelessness – big or small, a feeling of helplessness, and a languishing in that doldrums place with no wind to help move us in one direction or another.

We have only a handful of choices when we find ourselves in this place. Of course, we can dig in our heels, get angry, and refuse to take action. Non-action typically results in more of the same – and eventually even this stance is impossible to maintain. In order to move out of this quadrant we need to make some changes – either small adjustments (a mini-transition) or deeper changes that result in real developmental shifts of the transformative kind. We tend to make the decision about whether to make a small adjustment and keep moving ahead or take the longer road based on how big the change is with which we are faced. Big endings and beginnings offer (and just as often, force) us to make some major changes in our lives or larger systems.


Beyond the Succession Plan

Let’s consider Steve’s situation – he had been leading a large health care organization with great success for the past fifteen years. He had planned for his succession, and he and the board were in agreement about the timing and the important next steps. Yet, Steve had made no plans for the shift and instead worked at his usual break-neck speed right up through his final day on the job. A month later when he had assumed he would be enjoying his new sense of freedom, he found himself instead in a very lonely and dark place – no more tight schedule and constant demands, no more global travel, no more admin at his side, no more title and identity; and most of all he was completely surprised by his own sense of loss and unexpected reaction to this new place. The change for Steve was enormous – no amount of small adjustments would bring him back to equilibrium. Steve was faced with peeling away an identity, a mask of sorts, and uncovering a new layer of self and identity – ‘repurposing’.

As organizations and individuals we spend very little time in this ”Repurposing” quadrant and it’s likely as individuals we’ll only move into this transformative space a handful of times in our lives. Yet, each time we find ourselves here – whether it’s a loss or a new beginning, we inevitably face parts of ‘self’ that we haven’t known much about. For Steve, he had been a very successful leader, but he had paid the price of single-mindedness and now the one string guitar wasn’t enough. He had to do the hard work of creating a new layer/dimension of self, and this is not a comfortable place. It requires self reflection of significant dimensions, it requires letting go of old identities, it requires some grieving, and it all takes time – more time that we’d like.

When we’ve traveled the quadrant of Repurposing we say goodbye to what we no longer need on the journey ahead. For Steve the work seemed enormous – he was genuinely surprised by how much his role as head of an organization defined who he was, what he did, and how others responded to him. Creating a new sense of Steve without his organization took time, space, self reflection, and he found some solace in writing as well. Finally, after nearly a year of sabbatical-like living, Steve was ready to move forward, to venture into new territory and try on some new ways of being. This is the quadrant we term “Getting Ready” – the territory that requires new thinking, experimenting, and exploring new ways of being. At some points in the journey it’s likely to include forms of learning – maybe an advanced degree or more training. At other times, as in Steve’s case, it’s a time to harvest all of life’s skills and talents and test new ventures with fewer stakes and plenty of pleasure. We are a ‘doer-addicted’ culture and it’s our tendency to jump on the first experiment we try and often miss out on the value of real experimenting at this juncture.

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