Thoughts From the Coaches’ Corner
By Gordon Silcox
Medieval maps are popularly thought of as marking dangerous, unexplored territories at the edge of the known world with such phrases as, “Here There Be Dragons” or even, “Here also are huge men having horns four feet long, and there are serpents also of such magnitude that they can eat an ox whole” (quotations from Wikipedia).
Today, now that technology has pretty well put to rest the notion of serpents lurking in remote watery regions of the Earth, interest in the concept of “dangerous, unexplored territories” is still very much alive – among our Hand & Associates leadership coaches. Our coaches frequently venture with their clients into the unknown, to observe the processes that influence the complicated functioning of their minds and emotions. This is where the modern-day ox-eating serpents lurk. We’ll call them “gremlins,” who whisper and sweet-talk and trick clients into perpetuating—to mention a few of gremlins’ ghastly gadgets—blind spots, denial, and fear of loss of “something,” such as prestige in the eyes of others.
We all rely on habits we have formed, as we strive to sustain order and meaning in each of our lives. But some mental habits can prevent us from facing up to those pesky gremlins, and can prevent clients—even among excellent-performing leaders—from energizing their untapped potential and reaching yet higher levels of achievement. We all know the terminology: “I need to get out of my comfort zone,” or, “I know I’ve got to think outside the box.” But oh, so difficult to achieve on one’s own! It often takes a skilled coach, working in partnership with the executive client, to unlock that potential and co-create the kind of results that coaches refer to as “transformational.”
Scholar-consultant Susanne Cook-Greuter and others use the term, the “growing edge” to refer to that place within each of us where dwells the potential for self-improvement and fulfillment—which can only be achieved by doing the difficult, on-purpose work of pushing limits, stretching the boundaries of so-called comfort zones. In coach-speak, we like to call this, “starting by facilitating the client’s self-awareness, then assisting her/him to modify habits and behaviors in such a way as to more closely align words and actions with his/her own (and others’) meaning-making and mental processing preferences.” This is not psychotherapy. This approach is pure coaching: Helping the client to become self-generating at a higher level of performance by developing and strengthening his/her portfolio of competencies. The alignment of words and actions with key stakeholders’ own ongoing quest for life-meaning, in turn, creates the more integrated and fertile environment in which the client can positively influence the real-time circumstances s/he faces—or, in other words—create an environment in which the client can be a true leader.
As a coach, these are the activities that I engage in daily and which enable me to regard the arc of my own career as having brought me to the point where I feel (as has been said of real estate development) I am engaging in my “highest and best use.” And this is said with humility, since coaches know absolutely that they themselves must be persistent in their continuous willingness to make the journey, just as they assist their clients to do, into dangerous unexplored territories to observe their own “growing edge.” At least we know that there is less risk today of encountering “huge men having horns four feet long.”
And so . . . .
Set sail at high tide.
Lade low cargo and victuals,
Secure for rough seas,
Chart the course, set the first watch—
Primed, prepared, push on with faith.