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18 July 2011

Embodied coaching for leaders on a developmental journey

Written by
Carolyn Coughlin

2010 was the year of my body. When I say “my body,” I don’t mean in the way I had previously thought about my body—I’ve been focused on maintaining the fitness and health of my body for most of my life through nutrition and exercise. Prior to last year, I would have said that, relatively speaking, I was more or less in touch with my body and what it had to say to me. But I now know that it is possible to spend years building and maintaining a body that is physically fit and still wind up with a body that is suited mostly just for carting around my oh-so-important mind! After all, what really defines me is how I think and what I know, isn’t it? Of course it isn’t, and though most of us would admit that it isn’t, we tend to act as if (and our societal systems support the notion that) it were true. We act as if we believe that in order to build our capacity as people (professionals, spouses, friends, parents, fill in the blank), we only need to develop more effective insights and ways of thinking about things.

But let me back up. During the last 12 years, I have been a leadership development professional and leadership coach. While most of my training has been informal and on-the-job, I’ve been extremely lucky to have the chance to learn from many seriously accomplished people. From Barry Jentz and Joan Wofford, I learned how mindsets affect our thinking, which affect our behavior. A mindset that says people are “sense makers” as opposed to “problems to be solved” creates the possibility for human interactions that are focused on learning and changing ourselves rather than on unilaterally trying to change or fix situations that make no sense to us. What a relief!

From my partner, Jennifer Garvey Berger, I was introduced to and trained in Robert Kegan’s theory of Adult Development. Together with other colleagues, we have developed the Growth Edge Interview to get insight into a client’s developmental trajectory, his way of making meaning of his world, and therefore his capacity to see and make various choices. This knowledge offers a framework for thinking about which coaching approaches might be most helpful for different clients. It has also been, by the way, an indispensable support to my own personal developmental journey.

And from my other colleagues and mentors, I’ve been introduced to many incredibly useful ways of thinking about helping leaders grow. All of them useful, and all of them are cognitive! So what about the other 80% of ourselves that resides below the neck? Finally an answer.

Last year I had the good fortune to get acquainted with the wisdom of my own body. Through participation in the Strozzi Institute’s Somatic Coaching certification program, I saw my own developmental journey go into overdrive. Now, in addition to continuing on my own journey, I’m wondering how I can integrate embodied approaches into my coaching practice in ways that build on what I already know is helpful to my clients.

In these monthly blogs, I will explore the possibilities for combining cognitive and embodied approaches to coaching in a way that can better support people on their developmental journeys. We’ll explore the way I’m using these practices with clients and the way you can use them in your own practice—whether you’re a leader, a leadership development professional, or just someone who wants to use your whole body to become better at whatever it is you care about doing. So until next time, don’t just think about where your body can take you–think about what it can tell you.

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