Jump to content

26 November 2019

Developmental Coaching – A sacred pathway to being seen and loved

Written by

She felt that no one understood her. Yet, she reluctantly invited me into her world. “Tell me what you understand about where I am,” she challenged me. So, I closed my eyes and immediately found myself in darkness. Groundless. I was falling. There was nothing to hold onto. I felt utterly alone. I was the only inhabitant of a world that had been demolished. I saw no way of rebuilding this world. I had very little hope that it could be rebuilt. I trusted no one. All was lost. I could only live one day at a time. One conversation at a time. I could not see beyond now.

I described all of this to her. She said nothing. She covered her face and cried. I stopped talking. I could hear her sobbing. After a few minutes, with some surprise, she said, “You understand me. You see me. You really understand me.” I noticed something strange happening then. As she kept repeating that I could see her, I experienced some light entering her world and ground materializing beneath my feet. And then it was my time to weep. More moments of silence passed between us. Then, I apologized for all the times when I suggested or otherwise hinted that she could move on from the woundedness she had experienced. A few months ago, I did not understand that what I was suggesting felt impossible to her.  I did not see her. She did not feel seen. It seemed that her ability to move on was inextricably linked to her being seen. How was it that I could see her? How is it that I was able to enter her interior world so fully?

I had this encounter with someone recently. I have a story about the encounter and the questions I was left with. The story is linked to my experience and bias about developmental assessments and coaching. A developmental coaching conversation is unlike any other conversation I have ever been in. I have experienced these conversations as first the willingness and then the practice of extending one’s awareness into the inner landscape of another so as to genuinely discover what it’s like to be them, to see the world as they see it, and to meet them with a nurturing and growth-oriented heart and mind. Developmental coaching conversations are like spiritual gatherings where souls meet and witness each other. Where souls meet is a sacred place.

Some of my colleagues are exploring the connection between adult development and spiritual development. I think the two are mutually supportive and often co-occurring. Being willing to see others and to be seen by others is spiritual work. It is love in action without action. During our dark, lonely, disturbing, and unstable moments, being seen by others materializes some ground for us to stand on. I have these experiences when reviewing developmental assessments and engaging in developmental coaching conversations – either as the coach or as the client.

Three years ago I thought I was going crazy. My entire world was turned upside down. My beliefs, truths, assumptions, stories, desires, identities, and goals had become like woolen clothes after a cycle in the dryer. They no longer fit and I felt suffocated and exposed. On top of that, there was a man sitting inside my consciousness that only I could see and hear. I was sure I was mad. Fortunately for me, I was working with a developmental coach at the time. I mustered up the courage to share this discovery with her in an email. I expected her to confirm my insanity, but what she did instead was to open up her heart to me. She immediately responded to my email with “A true spiritual teacher can be far away or right within your soul” and ended her brief response with “Your well-being is my deepest wish.” At seeing those words, I bawled like a baby. Those seven words shed some light into my dark world and reified some ground for me to stand on. I felt less mad and alone.

I often hear leaders and those who serve them talk about how lonely it can be as a leader. Many of the university graduate students I work with in the Caribbean say something similar. They feel that they are changing. They feel unstable and alone. Even when they perform well, many of them do not feel seen. The same can be said of leaders. And it’s not that they are hiding, although some might have concerns about being too vulnerable with their people. They are not seen beyond their role, their performance and competence, their ideas, or their power. This is usually where developmental coaches make a unique difference. Developmental coaches are more concerned with clients developing their meaning-making capacity so as to meet the increasing demands and complexities of their professional and personal worlds than on them solving problems or achieving some fixed outcome. By so being, they invite leaders to be seen and known. Feeling seen and known can facilitate deep change and growth for leaders and for the organization. It would seem to me that when a leader feels seen they in turn see others.

Despite my confidence in developmental coaching, I am not suggesting that it is the only discipline for seeing people and supporting leaders. It is quite effective though. I am also clear that leaders who already feel seen and grounded can also benefit from developmental coaching.  Leaders go through change and transitions. They also make developmental moves that impact the meaning they make of themselves, others, and the world without some of the psychological disturbances I described earlier. Developmental coaches have insights about these experiences and can support leaders with making sense of and growing through them.

Supporting people’s development is one of the great demands of our time. Many of us want to grow, to thrive, and to be seen. Developmental work is the practice of seeing others with a nurturing and loving orientation. It also allows room for intimacy and the opportunity to draw from a well of radical empathy and infinite compassion. Irrespective of the context – individual or organizational – developmental coaching is sacred work. It is also courageous work for both the coach and the client. Together, coach and client journey deeper inside their interior worlds and are exposed to both the joys and perils of a shared humanity. This can make the inner landscape precarious and at the same time an opportunity for healing, for self and collective liberation, for growth, and for love. Supporting others as they journey through and make meaning from this inner space is the privileged path developmental coaches get to walk. And I bow to everyone who allows us to walk this path with them.

13 thoughts on “Developmental Coaching – A sacred pathway to being seen and loved”

  1. Akasha, this is a beautiful expose – I see you!
    Developmental coaching, especially for me, with a client at the self-questioning stage, is deep work that is nurtured by the radical empathy and infinite compassion of which you write.
    Thanks for sharing this,
    Your well-being is my deepest wish,

    1. Akasha Saunders says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ellen. And thanks for the developmental work you are doing.

      Love and blessings,

  2. Akasha,

    Your words touched me so they brought tears to my eyes. I then had to look you up on the Cultivating Leadership website so that in addition to seeing and feeling your words, I could see you too.

    Thank you for inspiring me to keep doing my work in this developmental space. It is indeed so deep, so rich and so meaningful – not only to the client but to us too as coaches as we learn and grow with our clients.

    With much love and deep respect for the gift of you,

    1. Akasha Saunders says:

      Hello Barbara,
      Thank you so much for your kind words, tears, and the developmental support you provide to others. I am feeling hopeful right now, knowing that you are out there.

      Love and blessings,

  3. Hi Akasha. This is beautiful. I see and “hear” the skill an resonant compassion you shared in your work. I am reminded of the work of Virginia Satir, a family systems therapist who I believe worked at the spiritual level. One foundation in her work was to create a safe-enough space with clients so they can restore their sense of being seen, heard and embraced as exactly as they are – not how he should be or should feel.

    Thank you for sharing this piece.

    1. Akasha Saunders says:

      Thank you, Tom. Your comments mean a lot. Thanks, too, for exposing me to Virginia Satir’s work. I’m grateful for the work you are also doing to help others restore their sense of wholeness from being seen, heard, and embraced as they are.

      Love and blessings,

  4. Sheila Holder says:

    Hi Akasha, this piece is such a beautiful expose’. It touched me in deep places . The words and sentiments expressed in the introductory paragraphs are powerful beyond measure. I was comforted, challenged and fearful all at the same time. I am questioning why I experienced some fear. Perhaps I want to be seen but am somewhat fearful of just what is seen. If the magic of being seen happens how does one walk away from that “light” back to the darkness?

    1. Akasha Saunders says:

      Oh, Sheila. Thanks for sharing your reflections.

      i think you may be onto something magical by questioning your fear (of being seen). You certainly have control over who sees you and how much you reveal. And one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is to see ourselves. Can we see ourselves and be okay with what we see?
      And, what if the light and the darkness are always with us wherever we walk to or walk from?

      Love and blessings to you,

  5. Donna Clark says:

    Thank-you so much for this wonderful description of developmental coaching. Your courage to be with others in the depths of their pain without judgment and hold space for them to breathe again is a gift. This powerful story illustrates for me the critical necessity of learning to hold space as a coach and be open to the tremendous resourcefulness of our clients. This is sacred work that is desperately needed in our world. May your work continue to be blessed, Donna

    1. Akasha Saunders says:

      Thank you for your comment, Donna. i love that imagery – holding space for us all to breathe again…to come alive in a kind of newness of life.

      Thank you!

      Love and blessings,

  6. YW says:

    Hi, Akasha. What a lovely and thoughtfully thought-provoking piece. It got me thinking about how my developmental path may have mirrored yours…ah, so that’s why you’ve been able to guide me so well. 🙂

    I’m just some steps behind you, and glad for your clearing the path – or, more appropriately, guiding me with the trust that I can clear the path on my own. Thank you for seeing me even when I couldn’t see myself so clearly, and for continuing to do so even now after many years. I’m glad that I’ve gotten a chance to walk with you and see where you’ve gone as well. I’m curious to hear more about your path and continue to learn about my own.

    1. Akasha Saunders says:

      What a gift you are, YW! We are always guiding each other, even when we don’t realize it. Thanks for being a guide.

      And thanks for stopping by Cultivating Leadership. We love visitors. So, come back anytime. A word of caution, though. We have a track record of visitors becoming friends and family.

      Love and blessings,

  7. Peter Ransom says:


    This is a beautiful piece, thank you for sharing!

    It really captures the depth and significance of developmental work, and it captures a little of the magic of sharing humanity with you in person!

    I especially appreciate your idea that developmental work allows ” for intimacy and the opportunity to draw from a well of radical empathy and infinite compassion.” Individually and globally we desperately need to access this space and tap into this infinite well of empathy and compassion.

    I also love the part about developmental work being about jointly exploring the joys and perils of a shared humanity. So much of our lives are spent trying to make it about us – as an individual – to make our own mark, our own fortune, our own path. But it’s in these moments of experiencing one another’s worlds where we really glimpse the depth and possibility of meaning.

    In seeing others, we can see ourselves, and in being able to see ourselves, we can see others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.