Part 2 of our 3-part series on coaching as transformational paradigm and practice
Coaching as facilitated mindfulness
by Toral Livingston-Jha
Can you imagine a world where managers lead by serving as a partner to their team members or constituents? Can you imagine them empowering others to connect with their own wisdom to find answers and a path forward?
In many cultures, leaders are conditioned to serve as talking heads — to direct others’ actions and intellectualize their way through challenges and issues. What if we connected with our hearts and bodies as well as our minds to inform the most skillful path forward? What if we did the work of connecting and transforming our conditioned habits and created the space for others to do the same?
I not only can imagine this world but am deeply honored to be a part of helping to create it — serving as a coach for those who are leaders of self and leaders of others in their home, community, business and life.
Since I was a young child I have been committed to serving others and advocating on their behalf. As a person of color raised by immigrants, I have lived a life seeped in multiple languages, cultures, and ways of being – learning to translate, assimilate, collaborate, find common ground and help identify the shared purpose that brings us together. That has translated into how I partner with individuals and organizations to explore the sum of their parts, their relationships, and the influences that are affecting or governing their actions. This builds resiliency and possibility.
It is my deep commitment to leave my world better than I found it. As a coach I support truly inspirational people in connecting with their felt experience, understanding how to more skillfully relate and respond to the conditions of their lives, and envisioning their purpose and passion.
I often say that coaching is ultimately a facilitated insight/mindfulness practice – drawing from cognitive therapy modalities, adult development theories, as well as ancient wisdom traditions. I hold space, and offer compassionate presence filled with curiosity and acceptance. I inquire, witness, and honor. Ultimately, the person I am supporting is able to adopt the “the coach approach” for themselves and those around them.
As a brief example of how I weave these practices into my coaching style, I will share the story of Richard. Richard had sought coaching to improve his emotional intelligence and enhance his management style. He had noticed that conversations with his employees ended in frustration and/or miscommunication. While he defaulted to blaming his employees for being apathetic, he was also self aware enough to note that this pattern had spanned most of his career. He was the common denominator.
In both mindfulness and coaching we are both the scientist and the experiment. As such, we must be willing to closely observe our embodied experience and learn to recognize all of the data in the present moment — through our bodies, emotions, and thinking. I first asked Richard to close his eyes, recall a difficult conversation with an employee and notice the sensations in his body — sweaty palms, heart racing, etc. Next, I invited him to note the emotions that were arising as those physical sensations were present — anger, ambivalence, etc. I then inquired about what stories or thought patterns were present — “the employee is inept,” “I am an ineffective manager,” etc. And lastly, I invited him to notice what behavior was the consequence of all of those stimuli in his experience — yelling, storming out of the room, shutting down, etc.
Through that mindfulness-based activity as well as other skills that we practiced over 6 months, Richard learned to notice these points of data in real time and create space between his felt experience and his response. He learned to more consciously respond rather than react out of triggers and habits. He became a more skillful and resilient leader — of himself and of others. Thriving leaders can transform their world.
I feel encouraged as more communities, businesses and leaders are adopting the coaching paradigm. They recognize that we are all fundamentally capable, competent, resourceful and whole just as we are and we can achieve progress and cultivate resiliency by skillfully bearing witness, honoring one another’s truth, and creating the space to step into new perspectives. They are creating social change one nervous system at a time.