April 6, 2021

A broader vision for leadership coaching from #CoachFest 2021

By Paul Laughlin

Recently I had the pleasure of attending the latest incarnation of the annual Wales Coaching Conference, #CoachFest. As well as being online rather than in person, this year it expanded to become a 3-day festival exploring even more aspects of coaching & our world today.

It was, as ever, a thoroughly enjoyable, challenging & engaging event. Expertly hosted by Dave Tee once more, he really is the face of coaching in Wales and a very friendly one at that. This year’s theme is all about coaching for tomorrow & envisioning a wider role for coaching to serve both leaders and the challenges facing society today.

This took the form of 3 major themes that aligned with the 3 days of this event. So, even though there were some excellent workshops & skills tents run by experts within the community (including the ever generous Mary Hughes encouraging us to get creative with models) in this post I will focus on the ‘headliners’. Like the big stars at music festivals, they often prompted the buzz and topics of conversations that filled each day. Here are my takeaways from the keynotes & workshops run by three leading female coaches & thought leaders.

Coaching & Climate Change – what should coaches do?

Day One was focused on sustainability and particularly the challenge of climate change, including the loss of biodiversity. Linda Aspey was our agent provocateur for this day. She shared her own environmental awakening and her vision for the greater role coaches can play in helping leaders close the gap between awareness & necessary action.

It was an engaging & challenging talk that broke a number of my preconceptions. Firstly, I know of Linda as a Global faculty member at Time to Think (the organization training coaches in the listening skills outlined by Nancy Kline in her brilliant books). So, I thought of Linda as a quiet listener who had the same middle-class calming presence as Nancy. Yet, here I was presented with a woman who is a member of Extinction Rebellion and numerous Climate Change advocacy groups. Her passionate call for coaches to act before the threatened Extinction event usefully shook up my preconceptions, even if I didn’t always agree.

Where I did agree with Linda and found her input really useful was the questions she posed for us. Questions like, given the environmental crisis: What do we want to do as coaches? What do we need to learn or what skills to we need to gain to be able to help our clients? How could we facilitate conversations with leaders about climate change & organizational readiness/responsibilities? Are we psychologically & emotionally ready ourselves? Do we recognize Environmental Stress in our clients? How can we best help them?

Although views on the appropriate role for coaches will differ, it is a helpful challenge to recognize that we are part of the system. What is the responsibility of coaches to help leaders prepare for what may be the biggest risk they and their organizations are facing? Can we ethically ignore the topic? More on Linda’s resources here:

Coaching and Climate Change: How Can We Best Serve? – Aspey Associates

What might climate change and environmental crisis mean for us? We are accustomed to supporting others in expressing their hopes, dreams and concerns, make plans, build cultures, lead authentically, overcome obstacles, and integrate all parts of themselves to achieve their full potential. Yet are we

Coach wellbeing & the presence we bring

Day Two was headlined by Maria Iliffe-Wood. I had already benefited hugely as a coach from reading & using her brilliant book “Coaching Presence” and so was very keen to hear her. Endearingly she shared that when she wrote that book she felt she knew nothing about her presence in coaching. Rather she learned by being curious & spent time reflecting on what she learned through her own coaching sessions. She does a great job of not coming across as an expert but rather someone to prompt us to think more deeply.

Listening to the language Maria used to describe “paying attention to what bubbles up within us“, I was reminded of the Gestalt approach to coaching. Relaxing and letting truths or questions emerge. It was a great way to role model how we need to pay more attention to what is happening in our coaching sessions (beyond or below the words & rational explanations). She was also so honest & open in sharing her own challenging experiences. I heartily recommend her book to help you think through the different forms this can take.

When we go into coaching sessions, are we putting on a presence to perform like a coach? Or are we taking other layers (masks) off & falling into a place of really healthy wellbeing? Can you relax & choose to just be present with a client? Maria helped unpack how taking meditative time to calm our own presence as coaches can help us be “tuning forks” for our clients. Prompting them to settle & hear their own insights. Listening to her I realised how much the ability that I’d learnt from her book (to plan the type of presence that would help my clients in our sessions) is also engaging with wellbeing. Plus, a timely reminder of how much our clients need to focus on their own wellbeing.

Walking her own talk, Maria broke the group up into breakout rooms to share our own insights. You can explore more of Marie’s insightful thinking via her blog:

From Quiet – Greater Yet

I often talk about presence as the key factor that underpins the process and enables transformation in coaching relationships.

Transpersonal coaching – welcoming a spiritual dimension

As with so many aspects of corporate/business life these days, leaders or coaches are often expected to leave any spiritual or faith aspect of their lives out of their work. But this actually runs counter to a rich tradition within psychology that I have touched on previously when reviewing “Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching” by Aubyn Howard. Our headliner for Day 3, focusing on this topic, was the wise & inspiring Hetty Einzig.

Hetty began by sharing the history & vision of Transpersonal Coaching. A model of the human experience which includes (beyond what Freud acknowledged) the importance of imagination, inspiration & spirituality in our lives. She introduced the work of Roberto Assagioli and shared much that I also learn from Aubyn’s book, including the insights to be gained from the famous ‘egg diagram’. She also positioned the work of Maslow & Viktor Frankl in developing this understanding of meaning-making & the human aspiration toward a higher vision of self.

She made a persuasive case for coaches to not ignore the spiritual (which may or may not include any religious faith) in the lives of our clients. Especially in a time of crisis when many leaders are experiencing crises of meaning or crises of performance, coaches need to be able to help their clients engage with both journeys. Hetty eloquently made the case for how a Psychosynthesis or Transpersonal approach to coaching can help. Walking with clients to help them disassociate with their subpersonalities & be able to choose what serves them in different situations. I heartily look forward to reading more of her writing & exploring the training she offers:

What To Do With the Time That Is Given Us – Hetty Einzig

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Gandalf, Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkein Will we take the time – amidst the dread, the fear and the addiction to the latest news update – to reflect on what we might learn from the demand – both..

What is your vision for the future of coaching & mentoring?

Once again, many thanks to the team at USW Professional Development & beyond who work tirelessly behind the scenes to host this excellent event each year. Despite the restrictions of the COVID-19 lockdown, #CoachFest 2021 was once again a fertile learning resource & encouraging experience.

So, what about you? If you are a coach or a client of leadership coaching (or mentoring), what is your vision of what is needed for the future? Would you love to see such help include helping leaders engage with the challenges of climate change & their spiritual quest? Do you see the importance of our presence and personal wellbeing as a critical focus for the future too?

Perhaps, as Hetty suggested, these themes are not separate themes at all. Perhaps they are (as Buddhists would suggest) all parts of one whole, an organic interdependent ecosystem within which we all need to learn to live more wisely & contribute positively to that system. Is that your conviction or do you have a different vision for what leaders & mentors need to be ready for the reality of the future?