Given this law, I propose that all of us would benefit from asking our coaching clients probing questions about past history. What really influences my client’s decisions? What really influences my client’s behavior? What really influences the ways in which my client reacts to important people in her life? This does not require five years of psychoanalysis, but it does require that we invite our clients to reflect back on or do research about their early life experiences. I recently talked with my sister and brother about our parent’s differing social-economic backgrounds. As mature adults, the three of us realized for the first time that our parents came from quite different backgrounds (my mother coming from old wealth and my father being raised by immigrant parents from Scandinavia). This led us to explore our own attitudes about wealth and social class. We realized that we still hold both the fear of our father about not having economic security and our mother’s confidence that sufficient funds would always be available.
I also propose that it is valuable for each of us as coaches to assist our clients in preparing a life narrative in which key events are examined and broad, repeating themes are identified. This narrative can be completed independently through use of a life-planning manual (they are readily available) or through attendance at a life planning workshop. I personally find the journaling process of Ira Progoff (1992) to be of great value and much of his process is described (and can be followed independently) in his book, The Journal Workshop. Even more direct is an analysis by our clients of their fundamental assumptions about interpersonal relationships. This can be conducted through in-depth examination of surprising events in our client’s life. Why has my client’s usual way of operating in the world not worked—in particular, my client’s ways of engaging in interpersonal relationships? Perhaps some of my client’s assumptions (that are often self-fulfilled) have been found wanting in this particular relationship. This is a wonderful time to uncover and explore the nature of these assumptions. This can be a “blessing in disguise.” I would encourage you to make use of the left and right column exercises of Chris Argyris and Don Schön (1974) when exploring the surprising events in your client’s life.
Step Two: Acceptance
Erik Erikson (Erikson, Erikson and Kivnick, 1986) suggests that one of the major developmental tasks during our mature years is an appreciation and final acceptance of our parents and the way in which they parented us. We come to appreciate the social context within which they lived, their own hopes and fears, and the often-conflicting priorities in their lives. As we come to accept our parents, Erikson proposes, then perhaps we can finally even come to terms with ourselves—we can come to appreciate and accept our own decisions and actions in life. We come to this appreciation by recognizing that our own decisions and action occurred within a specific context and in relation to a myriad of conflicting priorities that we, like our parents, have faced in our life.
We must come to accept our parents and ourselves because of the impact which initial conditions have had on our parents’ lives and our own lives. We are not totally victims of our past, but we certainly have been influenced by our early life experiences and often are unaware (Quad Four) of the nature and source of these influences. Thus, a second step in addressing the content of Quad Four must always be some form of acceptance. We must forgive our parents (and ourselves)—and this is a big task. As coaches, we can help our clients come to this acceptance by exploring ways in which their own parents continue to influence their decisions and actions: “What would your father/mother say at this point?” “What was your father’s/mother’s favorite saying, motto or words of advice regarding leadership, money, responsibility, ethics (or some other dimension of organizational life)?”1K Club