In Over our Heads?

TCP is currently working with a Canadian university to design a coach training program accredited by the International Coach Federation. Developing the curriculum for this 17-day program has been a wonderful challenge, particularly because it has caused me to revisit coaching from the ground up-the essential principles and processes involved and how they are learned.

One of the themes is, of course, change. Change at the personal, team and organizational levels. Coaching has emerged over the last 15 years or so in response to the constant change we face daily and the limits of our capacity to adapt quickly enough to keep pace. This applies to coaches as well so the field is quite radically different today than when it began, despite some sustaining core principles. As we work through these differences and how to incorporate them into the coach training program, it has occurred to me that I know much more about developing teams and organizations than I do about developing individuals.

As a scholar-practitioner, I have been part of a huge wave of development of concepts of team and organization change; there are mountains of intelligence available. Since the post-war period of the last century, the focus has been on changing systems, gaining greater efficiencies through teamwork and building organization cultures where employees are engaged with others in their work. I remember in a graduate seminar in the ’70s, my professor claiming the team was the basic unit of organization. He reflected the popularity of quality circles, self-regulating teams, communities of practice and many other collective approaches to coping with change and getting results.

Somewhere in the midst of this groupiness, though, it seems to me the individual got lost-and then downsized, outplaced, transitioned and reengineered. One of the contributions of coaches and coaching has been to re-emphasize the individual, the unique person with unique needs and aspirations who requires support for managing the complexity of everyday life. Robert Kegan claims that most of us are “in over our heads” at home, at work and in our communities. The level of development demanded by our surroundings outstrips our capacity to respond. And that is not a place from which to accomplish a change of thinking, acting or being in the world. It is a place of fear, of self-protection, of contraction.

I don’t believe I am alone in coming late to this focus on the individual and understanding its incredible importance in change. I have spent the last several years in a deep dive to catch up, both in my own self-development as a coach and leader as well as in how I bring myself to others. It is exciting stuff! So as this new year begins, I encourage you to take stock of your own capacity for change as an individual, where your unique strengths lie and where you are perhaps in over your head. This is a perfect time of year for reflection and making plans. What is the change you could make that would change everything?