I propose that both bottom and sea anchors operate in the maintenance of patterns in our personal lives and in the lives of our organizations. The diverse ways in which patterns are established, reinforced and provide energy in our lives and organizations tend to organize around several anchors. Some of these anchors are unyielding. They operate as bottom anchors and are firmly implanted in some personal, organizational (or even societal) sea floor. These bottom anchors may be based in a set of values, beliefs, hopes, fears, or even personal or collective myths. Any disruption of this bottom anchor can be profoundly disturbing and can be a source of sheer panic (not the balance to be found in the “flow” experience). Other anchors operate like sea anchors. They can be moved in direction or orientation, and they may shift gradually with the tide or the wind. These are the organizational variations. We are challenged, but not profoundly threatened when invited to reflect on and consider changing the direction or orientation of these organizational sea anchors.
One of the critical roles to be played by a professional coach is that of discernment on behalf of the client: in this case, discerning the difference between bottom and sea anchors. It is rarely advisable to encourage one’s coaching client to shift personal or organizational patterns that operate as bottom anchors without first identifying and working with those patterns that operate as sea anchors. I find that many coaches do not fully appreciate the difficulties inherent in the shift of patterns in the life of their client or their client’s organization. For the coach, these patterns may seem to be arbitrary, outdated or even contradictory. The world is changing and the patterns must change along with this world. Patterns for the coach may all seem to be modifiable sea anchors. However, at the heart of the matter—and at the heart of this essay—is a full appreciation of the bottom anchors that play such an important role in the personal and organizational lives of our coaching clients (and ourselves). Without bottom anchors, our ships (personal lives and organizational lives) are adrift and always in danger of crashing on the rocks or being pulled out to sea without any hope of returning to a safe port. The art of coaching is all about assisting our clients to be successful captains of their own vessels in the midst of a stormy sea.
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Copyright: William Bergquist
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