Home Concepts Interpersonal Relationships Piercing the Armor: Professional Coaching and Vulnerability

Piercing the Armor: Professional Coaching and Vulnerability

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According to Sennett, this all changed with improvement in the conditions of European cities (as well as the shift in numerous other conditions of European societies). Folks began to dress up when going outside and dressed in a more informal manner when at home. We see this at an extreme during the second half of the twentieth century, with the common attire at home often being sweatpants and the office attire being “gray flannel suits”, ties, pantyhose and finely styled hair. In the twenty first century, this is changing again with “casual Fridays”, working at home, and digital communication.

However, Sennett wants us to remain for a little while in an era when public man became more formal and ceased to be the less protected, hat-wearing citizen of an earlier era. He noted that there was one sector of European society that remained quite open and unprotected: this was the actor in theater (and later movies). This person not only exposed the vulnerability of mankind in the roles he/she played on stage, but also was “victim” of exposes of their real life. They were subject to public scandals as extensively pervades in newspapers and other printed tabloids (and later radio and television). In essence, the actor signed a pact with the devil: I get to be successful in showbusiness, but yield the rights to my personal life. Sennett noted that this led to creation of the “celebrity”.  Furthermore, celebrity-status soon was assigned not only to actors and actresses, but also political figures and even some business leaders. We are fully aware of this Faustian trade-off today: if you want to be successful in many fields, you must become “famous” and a “celebrity” with your personal life (strengths and weaknesses) all available for public display and analysis.

How do we coach a public figure – a “celebrity”—who has lost her/his private self? What do they protect? In exposing their own vulnerability do they teach other people, inspire openness among other people, or simply play into the fantasy worlds and envy of their public? To what extent are the leaders we coach – who do not qualify as “celebrities”—burdened with some of the trade-offs of “celebrity-ship” (without all of the financial remuneration)?

The key issue would seem to be the setting of appropriate boundaries. When does “public man” (and “public woman”) step out of the spotlight? I often help my highly-successful clients to find a sanctuary to which they can retreat. This sanctuary should not only provide strong boundaries, but also be a source of renewal and a place where my client can interact with family, friends and colleagues who are fully trustworthy. For one of my clients this sanctuary is his sail boat; for another client it is her cottage on a lake; yet another client identifies his sanctuary as nothing more than the daily trip by car into work.

There is also the matter of “retirement.” When does the public figure step away from her highly-conscribed and quite public role? What is her next role in life? And can she find gratification in this new role? What about the legacy that this public figure leaves behind? It is important for my client to recognize that she may be stepping “off stage” but her accomplishments (and stumbles) will remain “on stage” for many years to come (only slowly retreating from the spotlight)?

As can be seen from these coaching strategies, I am offering some very old (premodern) and often theatrical notions with regard to the role of public man/woman: (1) finding sanctuary, (2) stepping out of the spotlight on occasion, (3) recognizing the legacy that remains in place. Coaching for these privileged (and often burdened) men and women is often about very primitive and powerful dynamics associated with the emotional cost of becoming a public figure and losing the right to privacy.

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