Coaching from the Heart – Not the Head

As a new coach, I spent a lot of time in my head, reading about coaching models, focusing on and thinking about the words the person was using in the engagement and most of all, spinning my mental wheels trying to figure out the best next question to ask that would lead to profound insight and transformation. I feel exhausted just typing that sentence and have compassion on my former self that was working so hard to be a good coach.

I was working hard to have impact but missing so much information available to me that was right in front of my eyes, or even closer, within my own being. One of my favorite maxims I’ve come across in my coach training is Martin Buber’s saying “I and Thou, Here and Now” which can be used to describe the dance inside a coaching conversation. It wasn’t until several years ago, during my formal coach training that I began to make the journey from my head into my heart and body. Since then, I’ve realized that everything we need for powerful, transformational coaching is available to us in each moment – not something we need to figure out but something we need to attend to.

Instead of searching the past for answers, talking about what is happening in the client’s life outside the coaching engagement or planning for the future, the most powerful thing we can do is attending to what is happening in that very moment through AWARENESS, within myself, awareness of what is going on with the other person and of the relational dynamic between the two of us. For example, awareness can help me attune to:

  • Incongruence between a client’s words and body language
  • Subtle shifts in my own emotional state (as related to what my coachee is sharing)
  • Metaphors that surface in my mind (as related to what my coachee is sharing)
  • Energetic shifts in the conversation or relational dynamic between myself and the coachee
  • The presence or lack of energy in the coachee

This journey from head to heart and to attending to the moment will be a lifelong one, and one that I have to fight hard against our modern, distracted society to maintain. But, it’s one that is worth the fight – both for myself personally and for the clients I’m serving through my attunement. As coaches, we are serving as guides and we can only lead others towards the all-important self-awareness if we ourselves are awake, aware and attuned to all of the information available to us in any given moment.


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The Long-Arc of History Has Sped Up, Can We Adapt?


by: Eric VanDerSluis

The world as we know it is changing, in massive, transformational ways. There are 4 major transformations (globalization, climate change, demographic change, and automation) that are altering the ways in which we need to organize our society, institutions, and organizations. The fact that all 4 are occurring at the same time have created an urgency and ambiguity that has left many individuals and organizations unsettled. The world as we know it is changing, and in big ways.

These transformations have forced us to look at the ways in which we organize and learn in fundamentally different ways. We need to create organizational structures and supports that pay respect to the past while simultaneously being ready to rewrite our understanding of what works. This inevitably creates tensions in the workplace. It’s not a generational challenge, it’s much larger than that, and it’s quickly becoming a knowledge management issue. Billions of dollars in intellectual property and knowledge are about to walk out of organizations in the coming years. How we manage that transition is important.

The old way of doing things and the organizational contexts that we have created are important, and to be valued. But they’re no longer sacred cows. That said, the next generation of leaders need to understand and learn about how that experience brought us into this new epoch. There are important lessons in the history of every organization and many of those lessons reside within individuals. We need ways to better tell these stories and better approaches to transmit them. BUT, and it’s a big but, we need the transitioning generation to understand that our context is now drastically different. What worked in the past may not work in the future, and this is the challenge. This creates a fundamental tension between the transitioning generation and the next generation.

The skillset required to lead in this new epoch is fundamentally different. Just look at what’s happening in Major League Baseball. “Old-school” managers have been cast as out of touch and outdated with the “new” ways of operating, using advanced analytics, and relating in different ways to the younger players. These managers have been around the game for years, they know it in ways that very few of us will ever comprehend, and yet, we’re moving on from them, perhaps too quickly. We see the same trend happening in the organizations where we work. Take for example, this quote from an employee of an industrial manufacturing company:

“Guys in shop have been there for a long time and we’re throwing new things at them and it’s tough for some of the guys. Some only have 3rd grade educations. They’re apprehensive, they’re not really bought in. How do you change that behavior? We need to get them to change. How do we do this without losing their experience? Give them a job that’s meaningful and get someone new in.”

The “new things” referred to in this context are about business systems, processes, and automation that are shaking up the industry. We’re asking people to fundamentally rewire the ways they think and operate, and in some instances, we’re not properly preparing people for the transformation, or we’re facing massive resistance.  And that, is the problem. We have to deal with this dynamic.

Organizations can’t move on from the transitioning generation too quickly, we need their knowledge, skills, and leadership. However, we need them to see the ways in which transformation is shaping the world and to recognize that the ways in which they worked, may not be the solution for how things should move forward. We also need a commitment from them to make the necessary adaptations to stay relevant themselves, are they willing to rewire and relearn in this new age? My generation needs to listen, respect, and learn, while crafting new solutions to meet unmet and unseen needs. The transitioning generation needs to teach and learn.

There is great experience and wisdom leaving organizations daily, and we do very little systematically to capture the knowledge. However, this story is more complicated than implementing a knowledge management strategy. The world is changing. The long arc of history has accelerated and we don’t really know what will work in the new era. So how do we pay respect to the past while preparing for an unknown future? It’s not a question of will we meet the challenges ahead, it’s a question of how should we…together

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Pederson, Passion and Players

Image result for doug pederson

Pederson, Passion, and Players

 It’s been over a week since the Eagles defeated the Patriots in the Super Bowl and the city of Philadelphia is still buzzing, with many people reflecting over the past season and how the underdog Eagles came to be the best team in the country. One of the reasons for the team’s rise to greatness can be summed up in the message Eagles coach Doug Pederson shared with his players after their epic Super Bowl win last week, “An individual can make a difference but a team can make a miracle.” This statement reflects the team climate Pederson has worked to create since becoming the head coach of the team two years ago, a climate that has taken the team to unprecedented success.

In 2016 Pederson was hired as the Eagles head coach for his leadership style, or more specifically his Emotional Intelligence (EI). Despite the evidence that Chip Kelly – the anti-relational leader’s – style didn’t work, many people gave Jeffery Lurie a hard time for thinking that EI was what was needed to lead an NFL team to success.  One of the reasons for this is that emotional intelligence is often misunderstood and used to describe leaders in terms like “touchy-feely” or “open-hearted”. We hate these terms – it dismisses and belittles what EI is really about. It lets strong men off the hook from looking at themselves, their leadership and their relationships. Really strong men are not afraid to add emotional intelligence to their quiver of approaches, they recognize its inherent value.

Leading a professional football team is as complex as any leadership situation we have worked with, and made harder for sports’ insistence on maintaining a culture that acts as if feelings don’t exist or matter, or are in fact, a sign of weakness. This is a self-delusion since we know that sports’ and sports people – fans, leaders, players, sports writers love the idea and experience of competition, confidence, and loyalty to name a few feelings. So, let’s admit it – feelings matter, and let’s broaden our emotional literacy. How about friendship, trust, disappointment, transcendence, joy?

The reality is that emotional intelligence is a critical skill set for leaders and team members that research continually shows differentiates good leaders and team members from great ones.

EI small

What is this thing, EI? In a nutshell, emotional intelligence is the ability for a leader to be self-aware, to manage their emotional responses, to be in tune with the emotions of others and skillfully manage relationships. Whether leaders are in the boardroom or the locker room, the ones with high EI are defined by their authenticity, strong relationships, care for others and ability to inspire and influence those they lead. Contrast this with leaders who are emotionally explosive, unaware of and/or unconcerned about their impact on others and even verbally abusive and you can see why the former inspire loyalty and get the most out of their teams while the latter demoralize their teams, create fear and often hemorrhage top talent (see Chip Kelly). In football, we envision the prototypical leader as having a military style top-down, dictatorial approach. Ugh, that is so old school, worn out and simplistic. Players and staff are not robots.  Pederson’s success proves that facilitative leadership, characterized by listening and inquiring; and changing course based on what you hear, is extremely effective even in professional sports. It is not a sign of weakness to adapt your approach and style, to change based on the person or situation you are facing. Arguably, that is what Pedersen and the team had to do when Wentz got hurt, and they did so because Pederson had consistently demonstrated that he and they could do this long before that fateful day.

A leader has immense power by the function of his role and his personality, in setting the team climate, which in turn impacts how people work together, especially in a high-pressure environment like the NFL, college basketball or on a stock trading floor. We see this time and again with the leaders and teams, we work with whether Fortune 500 executives, D1 basketball coaches or local non-profit leaders. On the field, professional football players need to constantly communicate with their teammates and hold each other accountable for missed assignments or poor execution, often in the seconds before the next play is called.  An emotionally intelligent leader like Coach Pederson creates team ties strong enough to withstand this conflict, allowing players to internalize feedback, forgive themselves and each other and improve on the fly. When they do this, they win, when they win, we experience joy!

Jeffrey Lurie’s insight into these leadership qualities when he hired Doug Pederson has served the Eagles well and is undoubtedly a major contributing factor to their first Super Bowl win in 52 years.

By Fran Johnston and Lindsey Bingaman

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Goodbye MBTI – Hello DISC




At the heart of all we do at Teleos is self-awareness. Without self-awareness, it is difficult to self-manage, understand the emotions of others and skillfully manage relationships. Self-awareness is also important because it gives us choice – choice about how we “do” ourselves in different environments. Tasha Eurich, a leading researcher on self-awareness, outlines the seven pillars of self-awareness in her book, Insight, which is based on her extensive research. One of the key pillars that she asserts is essential to knowing oneself is what she dubs, “patterns” – that is habits of thinking, feeling and behaving that typify our internal processes and how we show up with others. Frameworks that identify our specific temperament or personality can help us to identify our particular patterns. And, one of my very favorite constructs for self-reflection on personal “patterns” is the DISC behavior styles framework which is increasingly being used in organizations today.

The DISC framework is essentially a way of understanding temperament or innate behavior style and disposition. It helps us understand, why, in the exact same situation, two people have two very different behavioral instincts. For example, in a conflict situation, why does one person gear up for battle and another retreat into hiding? DISC helps us to understand different inborn temperaments that impact our “go-to” behaviors. This four temperaments theory has roots in ancient Greece (sanguine, melancholy, choleric, phlegmatic) and was even used in Hippocrates’ medical theories. But, the theory we know and use today was developed by a Harvard Psychologist, William Marston, who was, interestingly, also the creator of the character Wonder Woman.

4 Temperaments (002)

The DISC theory plots people along two axes, their tendency to orient more towards tasks or towards people and their inclination to be more outgoing or more reserved. From these two axes, the four temperaments or behavior styles emerge, providing a framework that is increasingly being used to promote self-awareness and interpersonal understanding in organizations. Though Myers-Briggs and the Big 5 personality trait model dominate the scholarly research, DISC is quickly taking precedence over these tools in the workplace which I attribute to the following reasons:

  1. Simplicity – As a temperament/personality assessment aficionado, I have studied Myers-Briggs (MBTI) backwards and forwards and have been in many conversations asking someone about their experience with the MBTI. And, the conversations generally have gone something like this…”I think I’m an ERNZ…I can’t really remember?”, including letters that are definitely NOT in the MBTI! Conversely, those same conversations I’ve had with people who participated in the DISC workshop have gone very differently. People often remember the DISC tool, their preferred temperament and how it helped them very clearly, sometimes years after the original workshop. A big part of this is due to the fact that it has four basic styles instead of 16 personalities and therefore is easy to understand, remember and apply back in their workplace or social environment.
  1. Temperament not Personality – Secondly, DISC is a framework for understanding temperament, which is a foundational disposition and way of behaving in the world as opposed to a tool for assessing personality. Personality is what is built on top of temperament by our family system, environment and other very influential shaping forces in our lives. Understanding one’s personality can be very helpful and interesting in certain contexts but the four temperament theory is more foundational and therefore, people tend to identify with their “style” more so than with the MBTI or Big 5 whose many scales leave more room for variability.
  1. It’s about Behavior Not Internal Processes – Finally, DISC is gaining ground over other workplace assessments because it is based on behavior styles, which are observable, and not on internal processes. Conversely, the MBTI’s Sensing-Intuition or Thinking-Feeling scales gauge one’s preference for taking in information and making decisions two fairly abstract concepts. Those scales are definitely interesting but not always super helpful in the context of the modern workplace. Being able to observe a person’s behavior and apply techniques to work with them more easily based on that observed behavior, however, is much more helpful to getting work done.

Now that I have made the case for DISC as the tool of choice for the modern workforce, stay tuned for my DISC blog series where I will typify each of the styles and provide tips for effectively relating to each one.

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On Service and Participatory Democracy

I sit with 400 other Philadelphians in the Jury empaneling room. 400 people a day leave their everyday lives to come and sit in service of our democracy. I love jury duty. I love being reminded by my physical action of coming downtown to the court house, and by the welcoming judge who tells us again, that the United States’ system of judgement by a panel of your peers is unique in the world. And it doesn’t work without people showing up. Flawed and beautiful, one and the same. Together we sit, a true microcosm of our beautiful city. Young and old, black, white, Asian, Latino, and others. From our clothes, handbags, and backpacks, you can see we come from all socioeconomic brackets. We all have cellphones and social networks we are connected to – relationships and causes that matter to us.

Today is also the first day of school. I am thinking of the service it is to society to be a teacher devoted to educating other people’s children. Where would we be without our teachers and school administrators? I, for one, was happy to hand over The Darlings to other adults. Let them learn from other people – absorb their points of view, follow their rules, find role models, debate beliefs.

In the court room is a judge, a bailiff, court reporters, a public defender and a prosecutor. The Judge reminds us that we are not to judge based on the fact that a charge has been made or by the color of the uniform a person wears. We are to listen to the facts, and work together to sort out what happened. Police officers and detectives cycle through reporting what they saw. The crackerjack young lawyers make their arguments of the facts. Our jury sits in deliberations. Through each of our life experiences we listen. And then we debate. In every jury that I have been a part of I am impressed by the care these citizens give. The quality of the listening and inquiring surpasses that of many corporate meetings I have been a part of. A person’s life is on the line. The stakes are high and the citizens know it. We are stronger and humbler by our diverse life experiences. We do our best.

Teachers and Principals instill a love of country and awareness of what a working society demands of its citizenry. I participated in my high school’s student government and in my state’s Model United Nations conventions a million years ago when I was my kids’ age. These days I participate in society as best I can from voting to jury duty; protesting and counter protesting, making donations and generally “representing” for the underlying values of liberty and freedom, self-government, equality, individualism, diversity and unity. There are inherent tensions in our pursuit of living out these values. Yet we do it. My peers in the jury room somehow have absorbed these values and are rising to the challenge using what their teachers taught them ever so long ago as we lean in and decide.


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Running Ourselves Ragged

I’ve been here at Teleos now for almost a full year and through that experience I’ve been exposed to a lot of organizations across a number of industries. Part of what I love about being a consultant is entering into different systems and working with different people on a number of different initiatives, from coaching to leadership development to organizational development and change management. To say it’s been a blast and an eye-opening experience for me is an understatement.

I love my job for a number of reasons, but what I appreciate most is that I’ve been given a new lens to see the world through, and I get to share this knowledge with clients. I’ve taken to the metaphor that our boss, Fran Johnston, uses when describing us- we’re pollinators. We’re little bees that get to spread information from one system to the next and help people and organizations navigate the complexity that we’re all up against. Interestingly, what I’ve taken away most from my interactions, is that we’re all up against the same challenges… people and organizations moving at breakneck speed, with little information to help serve them when making decisions, despite the abundance of information now at our fingertips.

Leaders everywhere are overwhelmed, stressed, tired and taxed. The more enlightened organizations are starting to understand that they need to provide help, guidance and care, but it’s few and far between. People are running in and out of meetings, coming in late, because they don’t even have time to stop for food or go to the bathroom during the course of their day. We’re literally running ourselves ragged, pushing for what’s next, trying to one up the competition, which sometimes happens to be our own colleagues. We work in organizational structures that aren’t agile enough for what we’re up against.

We see organizations that continually ask for more from their employees, but give them less to get the job done. The expectations are raised, but the commitment to the employee’s ability to get the job done has diminished. We see organizations that ask leaders to leave emotions out of their work. They want results not relationships. But it’s all short-sighted. Most organizations will tell you that their competitive differentiator is their people, and yet, when we ask how they support their people, they look at us askew, or tell us that financial pressures have forced budget cuts.

The systems and structures in place today are becoming ancient relics. They aren’t agile enough, they don’t provide enough space for the organization or the individual to breath. They’re built to point out deficiencies and imperfections. They’re constructed to tell us what’s wrong in the world. There’s a place for this, at times, but what if we imagined a different way to support and grow our people? What if we were able to share with you the movements that are starting to build across organizations to free themselves of outdated models and start to pollinate the promising ideas across organizations?

In every organization that I’ve stepped foot in over the past year, there’s a lot of great things happening. New ideas for how to manage performance, new initiatives to spurn growth and development. The seeds are being planted for the evolution, but we need to help spread the word before it’s too late. There are more enlightened ways to approach business. There are ways for leaders to inspire to drive results, there are ways for organizations to design themselves to engage their people and there are ways to give your people a much-needed break, to allow them to reset and refresh. We can help…



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Leading Without Formal Authority

In today’s complex and often matrixed organizations, many leaders find themselves in a now all-too-common predicament: having accountability for an outcome with no authority over those responsible to help bring it to completion.

Figuring out which levers to pull to influence teammates that are not direct reports can be frustrating. In these situations, using emotional intelligence and relationship skills is more important than ever. Leaders in these positions have to take a “pull”, rather than a “push” approach to leadership, relying on evocative influence ability more than formal power. The following tactics can be helpful in getting results without formal power.

Create a Compelling Vision – When leading without formal power, it is all about leaning into an evocative, not provocative approach to influence. Essentially, inviting others to join you in your endeavor. One way to do this is by using a visioning influence style, one that relies on inspiration and not force to influence others’ behavior. In these times, being able to articulate your envisioned outcome, link it to your and the organization’s vales and noble purpose and clearly express why it’s important is key to getting their buy-in.

Build Strong Relationships – Another key means of tapping into your influence ability in an informal leadership situation is by strengthening your relationship with the people on your team. This doesn’t mean taking a transactional approach to relationships but instead tapping into your care and concern for others, inquiring about their lives and work reality and genuinely enjoying connecting with them. This is social capital 101. If you have strong relationships with people on your team they will be much more inclined to be cooperative and to get on board with your initiatives.

Create a Positive Environment – To the extent that it is within your control, do what you can to create a positive workplace and team climate. One of the leading psychologists in the positive psychology field, Barbara Frederickson, has developed the broaden-and-build theory based on her extensive research in the field. Her theory states that when individuals are in a positive mood, their range of perception opens up and they become more open-minded and able to see possibilities not available to them when they are in a neutral or negative state of emotion. The bottom line: when people are in a good mood, they are more likely to be open and amenable to your ideas

Find Like Minds – Finally, in challenging influence situations without formal power, it can be helpful to look to your right and left and see who supports the initiative you are leading. Aligned and helpful partners can help move things forward and get buy-in. The key is to do this with utmost care to not create divisions within the group.

Fredrickson, B. (2012). Positivity: groundbreaking research reveals how to embrace the hidden strength of positive emotions, overcome negativity, and thrive. New York, NY: MJF Books.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., McKee A. (2013). Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.

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Be Intentional

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life in and around learning and development. I’ve seen it from a variety of angles: as a high school teacher, as a university administrator, in fortune 50 organizations and as a consultant. I’ve learned a lot from each of these experiences (too much to detail here), but the one observation that sticks with me most, from the high school classroom all the way through to the corporate boardroom, is that intentionality matters. Benign neglect doesn’t work, especially when it comes to learning, development and personal change.

We don’t learn and grow without being intentional…thus we don’t change without intention, and yet, despite this, so many of us walk throughout this world without consideration of how to reach our idealized self. There’s no plan, we leave it to luck. We look to organizations and others to help us grow and we get disgruntled when we don’t see progress, or when that next opportunity passes us by. The world is changing rapidly, it’s moving at an unprecedented clip. You can’t afford to be neutral. You must be intentional.

In his intentional change model, Richard Boyatzis lays out a strategy for how we can use intention to grow and change, ultimately moving toward our idealized self. This model, starting from an idealized view of who you want to be (5-7 years out) then moving through a realistic inventory of where you are today, provides you with deep insights into how to be intentional in your efforts to grow, develop and change. It is exceptional for individuals who have the desire to grow and change, it activates us both emotionally and physiologically to move toward our idealized self.  It helps us create a deliberate learning plan and makes the space for experimentation and course correction.

The challenge of the model for many is moving from self to system. As organizations have come to be our primary association for adult development and growth, they hold a role in helping people work toward intentional development and change. Creating a system that supports growth and development doesn’t have to be overly complicated, or even more importantly, overly costly. With the right intentionality, you can build out a truly developmental organization framework that aligns self to system. Boyatzis’ model is a good place for learning and development leaders to start.

The Boyatzis framework ladders up to the organizational level, and with a little additional support, learning and development leaders can create an organization that promotes a model for growth that aligns the idealized version of the organization to what’s really happening on the ground. The challenge for organizations is in re-conceptualizing its role in the development framework.

In the new frame, there are three pillars of accountability for organizational growth and development- not new in and of-itself, but the emphasis of where ultimate accountability lies, shifts from the organization to the individual.

3 Pillars

  1. The organization- needs to provide the framework and processes in support of learning and development.
  2. The manager- needs to provide candid, honest and timely feedback to the individual, while also organizing work in support of both the organizational needs and the individual’s development.
  3. The employee- most importantly to the triad, it is the individual who needs to take deliberate and intentional action to learn, grow and develop.


Development doesn’t just happen in a classroom, it happens across 4 dimensions (Bersin helped develop a frame for our reference):

  1. Environment- the culture, systems and tools you work with and within
  2. Exposure- learning from others and being exposed to new ideas
  3. Education- the formal learning that takes place in classrooms or on-line
  4. Experience- this is where the vast majority of our development occurs- and yet, it’s the one that is most left to chance

When we frame development as a broader set of activities, it shifts the emphasis from the organization owning the full spectrum of development to the employee working on how to grow and develop through a number of frames. We open up the aperture for development and growth and make it more relevant to what’s happening on the job and in the moment. We create a new understanding alongside a new set of capabilities. When done with intention, we can learn to change and grow, both individually and organizationally. The world is moving rapidly, you can be swept up and taken by the current, or you can learn to chart your path and your future. In the end, the choice is yours, just be intentional about it.

Eric Bio Pic

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A Case for In-Person Coaching

The reality of our modern and connected world is that many coaching sessions happen virtually these days, either by phone or by using extremely effective and affordable technology like Skype and Facetime. Overall, the use of technology in coaching is fantastic – it allows us to connect with more clients, more often and more affordably. However, there is still something to be said for maintaining the human connection with clients when possible, especially at the outset of an engagement while the relationship is being established. This is intuitive for many of us though we often struggle to articulate the difference between coaching virtually versus in-person.

Author and positive psychologist, Barbara Frederickson, in her book Love 2.0, does a great job of explaining the physiology behind interpersonal connection, something that can help us more clearly understand the difference between in-person and virtual interactions. The physiological dance of connection between two humans is possible in virtual settings but can be more difficult and happen more slowly. To understand why, let’s take a look at the three major things going on physically whenever we are interacting and truly connecting with another individual.

• Brain Coupling – First of all, in conversations with other people, mirror neurons and the insula, a region of the brain involved with emotion and sensation, enable us to empathize with each other and share an emotional state. This sharing of an emotional state with another person is often called “limbic resonance”.

• Oxytocin – Additionally, during positive connection with others, the hormone oxytocin surges enhancing our feelings of trust and cooperation and making us more attuned to positive social behavior, like eye expression and smiling and less attuned to threatening behavior.

• Vagus Nerve – Finally, during connection with others our Vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that connects the brain to the heart, enhances our connectivity with others. It does this by moderating our facial muscles so that we are better able to make eye contact and mirror facial expressions and better able to track the vocal tones of the person we are connecting with. Overall, it helps increase the odds of our resonant connectivity with others.

This physiological connectivity can happen via the use of phones and technology like Skype and Facetime. However, it is still somewhat restricted as screens provide a limited or blurred view of our facial expressions, body language and tone, all of which are vital to producing positive emotions and enhancing connection during conversation. Faceless communication like email, instant messaging and text are even more limited. As coaches, understanding this is particularly important because so much of our work relies on the strong and trusting relationship we form with our clients. It is this relationship that serves as the foundation for effective and true change.

So, while we have all used phone and web technology for coaching and will continue to do so, it’s worth a second thought as to whether our coachees might benefit from more of the original face time.


Lindsey is a consultant and coach at Teleos Leadership Institute. Teleos Leadership Institute is a leadership development and organizational transformation firm that believes leaders are at the center of change. To support leadership capacity, we have developed a research-based approaches that sparks and supports transformational change. We are industry experts, executive coaches, executive coach trainers that consult and support organizations as they build internal capacity. Beyond consulting and coaching, Teleos has extensive experience delivering leadership trainings, conducting organizational research, and facilitating culture change.

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A Coach’s Greatest Contribution

Executive coaches bring many skills with them into a coaching engagement: an ability to facilitate adult development and change, a knowledge of systems, keen observation and powerful questioning are among a few. But, one of the most impactful capabilities of a coach is also one that is often  overlooked in the shadow of more tangible skills. This skill is the ability to create a safe environment in which the coachee can take a clear look at him or herself and begin the process of true, deep and sustainable change. The place where true change happens is often scary and hidden so it is only in relationship and in a psychologically safe environment that individuals have the courage to take a glimpse at their true selves and begin to address deep-seated barriers to change they are working to make.

Perhaps no one understood the importance of this skill better than Carl Rogers, a psychologist and creator of the person-centered approach to therapy. The three tenets of his approach are:

  1. Authenticity – Acting and speaking in a way that is genuine
  2. Empathy – Imagining what the experience of the client is like
  3. Unconditional positive regard – Withholding judgement and appreciating the client for who they are in that moment  

His approach is based on the belief that personal growth is most likely to occur in a non-judgmental, supportive environment where the individual enhances their self-awareness and thus finds their true positive potential. When Carl Rogers created this approach in the 1940’s, it was an unorthodox contrast to the traditional “therapist know best” directive approach used in counseling at that time

Rogers’ belief in the importance of unconditional positive regard is the most instrumental in creating a safe environment for the coaching engagement.  Unconditional positive regard is the optimistic, non-judgmental view that a person is valuable, worthy of respect, and has the ability to figure out how to overcome their obstacles in order to fulfill their potential. When therapists and coaches practice unconditional positive regard, it creates a safe, trusting and non-judgmental environment where a person is able to lower their defenses in order to see issues that might be inhibiting them from making their desired changes. In essence, unconditional positive regard means entering the coaching engagement with the intention of change but affirming the individual’s value and personhood as they are that day.

As coaches, it is important to reflect on the environment we create for clients. Spending time getting grounded in these assumptions prior to a coaching session is a great place to start. Additionally, reflecting on our tone and non-verbal signals in a client session can be helpful in assessing the type of relational and emotional environment we are creating for our clients, whether we mean to or not. This is also one of the reasons it is important for coaches to “do our own work” as part of coach training so we know the issues or personalities that trigger us and make it more difficult to create a non-judgmental environment. After all, all the change theory and skill in the world, won’t bring about true change if clients are not affirmed, supported and appreciated for who they are today.

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