When ‘exploring potential’ was proposed as the theme for articles to celebrate International Coaching Week, I jumped at the chance to put my experience down on paper.
I’ve been driven to support people in reaching their potential for much of my working life. It led me into leadership development as a career in the early 1990s and into coaching more than 15 years ago. It’s the reason I do what I do.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…”
“…And as we let our own light shine…
…Our presence automatically liberates others”.
I was inspired by Marianne Williamson’s poem ‘Our Deepest Fear’. It formed part of Nelson Mandela’s inaugural address of 1994. The words spoke very strongly to me about our fear of the potential that lies within us, of our responsibility to discover our talents, to allow them to shine through and, in doing so, give permission and encouragement to others to do the same.
I’ve always viewed potential as something organic and beautiful, an inner resource and energy that can be nurtured and tapped into, to blossom and bloom. To me, coaching is a particularly powerful way of helping people do that, through its ability to empower them to explore their inner experiences and resources, leading to greater awareness, growth and change. Providing the safe space through the coaching partnership allows coach and client to step into their potential and power.
I often describe my role of coach as ‘a thinking partner’, but I’m questioning now whether that over-emphasises the cognitive aspects of the relationship, when in fact it’s much broader and deeper. I wonder if my description can be expanded to encompass the sensing, feeling, noticing and relating aspects that are also so important in uncovering potential. When clients have a place of confidentiality, safety and trust and a healthy level of support and challenge, it allows them to explore their potential to the full. As coach I’m in the privileged position to be witness to new realisations, insights, learning and growth, and it’s highly rewarding.
Recently I’ve been exploring the power of embodied transformation in coaching for my own development and for that of my clients. This interest came from two directions. Firstly, ‘I think that…’ was my automatic response to most questions put my way, even if I was asked what I felt. I found it difficult to articulate specific feelings or what I might be noticing in my body. Secondly, as a scientist I had been interested in finding out more about neuroscience and coaching. Having evidence that neural networks are present in the heart and gut as well as the head helped me appreciate that intelligence and wisdom are more widely disseminated in the body. Not only that, we have access to a broad range of channels of experience that we can tune into to expand our awareness and increase our learning. These include external stimuli through our senses, our internal sensations, language and cognition, emotions and relational awareness. Our habits are embodied too, and perhaps that’s why they’re so difficult to change when they’re no longer serving us. However, the good news is that, with practice, we can forge new neural pathways and build new habits.
By accessing all of these centres of intelligence and bringing them into alignment we allow a deeper exploration that might be able to address ‘the knowing-doing gap’ — that tricky point when we often know what we need to do yet can’t seem to make it happen. When it comes to communicating, decision making and bringing about change, we could open up a wider range of awareness, options and choices by paying attention to what our bodies are telling us.
My presence as a coach and coach supervisor has been strengthened by the insights gained in bringing an embodied approach to my work. That starts with centring myself first in my whole body so that I’m grounded, alert and fully present. The practice of centring helps me switch from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ mode. During conversations I can invite my clients to come into the present moment and do the work to overcome any ‘stuckness’ they’re experiencing by exploring what they’re noticing in their body. Where and how they’re experiencing that has brought new awareness and insights that have been different, surprising and very helpful in moving forward.
So embodiment has been another step on the way to realising my potential and the potential of my clients. It shines a different light on possibilities. It’s work in progress, and the learning journey never ends.