As a coach, is your head spinning? Mine is. It’s hard to keep track of everything going on in the world right now. Mesmerized by geopolitical changes, how do we find the time to pay attention to other remarkable events, such as the Internet of Things or micro-learning? And what about our beloved clients? How are these leaders coping in their dynamic and overwhelming world?
Many clients are experiencing their personal version of VUCA — volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity — but that’s only a portion of the truth out there. Rapidly evolving technological and social trends, along with disruption and the pace of change, surround us all.
And if that doesn’t make us pause, how about this: The rate of change right now is likely the slowest we will experience in the rest of our lifetime. As we hold our clients as naturally creative, resourceful and whole, how fearful are we about their ability to survive, let alone thrive? The complex and accelerating changes happening everywhere are dramatic, but they don’t only impact our leaders.
What about VUCA in the coaching world? Are we evolving at the same pace? In asking this, I’m not speaking about the changes in the external world (such as technology in coaching). I’m speaking about the internal world — the “inner game” of coaches and leaders. There are mind-blowing (and heart-blowing) developments in so many areas of human research that it’s hard to know where to start, let alone piece things together in a coherent way. How do we need to evolve in order to best serve our clients?
The depth of discovery in so many fields and the far-reaching implications have a direct influence on the coaching industry. Are we knowledgeable about adult (vertical) development and levels of consciousness? Or neuroscience and neuroplasticity? How about relationship systems intelligence and the “ecosystems” of teams, or even quantum physics and spirituality? The range of breakthroughs and coaching-related topics is far and wide and are even starting to converge.
The Depth Of Discovery
Let’s take a look at how different research can work together to inform how we coach. For example, Robert Kegan published “The Evolving Self” over 30 years ago. He described how our meaning-making systems evolve through a series of stages all through our lives. This concept of adult development was reinforced by Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s 2009 book, “Immunity to Change.”
Now, our understanding of the levels or stages of human consciousness is critical to understanding leadership development. In “Mastering Leadership,” Robert Anderson and William Adams described the five levels of leadership as a path of development: egocentric, reactive, creative, integral and unitive. (Full disclosure: I am a certified practitioner in Anderson’s organization.) Unitive is a spiritual state, but how does this connect to leadership development?
Some might listen to Mary Beth O’Neill, author of “Coaching with Backbone and Heart,” who is now discussing neuroscience and mysticism in the same breath. Let’s add mindfulness to this spiritual and scientific mix, and we can learn the effects of alpha and theta waves in our brains when we meditate, which can benefit your mood and help you connect to your most essential self (where I believe our deepest wisdom lies). Or, you might consider Michael Singer’s discussion surrounding metacognition in his book “The Untethered Soul”, which is, quite simply, knowing what we know. It is the ability to be the witness to our thoughts and emotions.
How powerful is this for the development of leaders? I believe leadership and human development are not just about the left brain and right brain anymore. From my perspective, it’s about your heart-brain and gut-brain, quantum physics, the universe and the interconnectedness of everything. As well-intentioned coaches, how are we to adapt to these types of revelations and translate them into impactful coaching for our leaders?
Translating Research Into Impactful Coaching
For our clients, “business as usual” simply doesn’t exist anymore. As coaches, the same is true. But there is so much to learn and apply that is fascinating and requires us to grow as coaches. Let us step up to our own development so we can more effectively support the transformation of our clients.
Here are four suggestions to help:
1. Keep a learner’s mindset and be open to being disrupted. Read and reflect on how you might be coaching or expanding the same old way to ensure you’re opening up to and learning about new waves of research that affect coaching.
2. Make space for your own development. Are you just adding tools, or are you advancing yourself in these remarkable new areas of human development? Look ahead and block off time in your calendar to try something new or take a course. Or, find a two-hour slot in your calendar once a week for reading. We have to keep up with changes or we risk falling behind and having our skills become less relevant.
3. Engage a mentor. Seek guidance from someone who has experience adapting to change. Access your humility and vulnerability as you seek a mentor, and remember to set goals or outcomes for your engagement.
4. Be in community with other coaches. Seek out other coaches who are not like-minded, and use that collective wisdom. In some cities, you might find groups of senior coaches or chapters of the International Coach Federation. (Many coaches, myself included, have been accredited and are members of the ICF.) Some organizations are also forming communities of practitioners, or you can start your own with a colleague or two.
These are exciting times for the coaching profession. They are also times of change, expansion of human understanding and also convergence of new ideas. It’s time to step up and change with these times in order to serve our clients in the best way possible.