Integrating Mind/Heart/Body/Spirit

By Carol MacKinnon, TCP Associate

I’d like to talk about a fundamental form of integration – a quaternity or four-part harmony, one that is essential for Leader Coaches to integrate in coaching, in leading, in living. That is the quaternity of Mind, Heart, Body and Spirit. I bought a little bracelet in Lima, a simple string on which were four little wooden beads on each side of a carved X and I’ve worn it on my right wrist to remind myself of the importance of this quaternity in my coaching and living.
How does the integration of this quaternity express itself in our Leader Coaching? Let’s look at how an increased awareness of and facility in harmonizing these four elements can influence our coaching. And as we do so, let’s remember that this quaternity is at play for both the Leader Coach and the coachee, simultaneously and diversely, in any coaching conversation and in the ongoing coaching relationship. It’s at play in all of us, all the time, though we are often not completely present to that reality.

Perhaps the most commonly understood and most frequently accessed aspect of the quaternity is the mind. We use language which reflects our mental models to describe where we are now, where we’d like to be, what might be getting in our way and causing our resistance. Our minds have frequently been the key driver in our success in the early years of our career as we’ve developed our technical competencies. Most leaders are highly skilled in problem solving, priority setting, process planning, and have more than enough intellectual capacity for the job.[i] There comes a time in your development as a leader, however, where the Mind alone is not enough. We realize we are not accessing all of who we are and could be, in our coaching conversations. So what else do we include?

In training Leader Coaches, we often find some degree of discomfort with including a second aspect of the quaternity, the Heart, the emotional centre, the place of feelings. Some would claim that feelings have no role in the workplace or that true leaders needs to harness or ignore their feelings in service of personal and organizational goals. We know now about the harmonizing power of the Heart, the capacity of the heart to hold paradox, ambiguity, and the very things that seem to overwhelm and paralyze us when we try to grow and learn in the Mind alone. As we reference in our book, Leadership Alchemy: The Magic of the Leader Coach[ii], Cynthia Bourgeault reminds us: “when properly attuned, the emotional center’s most striking capacity, lacking in the mind alone, is the ability to comprehend the language of paradox.  Logical inconsistencies which the mind must reduce into a simple ‘either/or’ can be held by the heart in ‘both/and’ – and more importantly – felt that way, without the need to resolve, to close down, or protect oneself from the pain that ambiguity always brings.[iii]

John Kotter’s research into organizational change reflects the same Heart perspective: he found after studying hundreds of cases of organizational change, “people change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.[iv]
Thus it is essential that Leader Coaches master their own emotional language to be in best service to their clients and colleagues in helping them grapple with the intensely complex changes that are continually required of all of us. We might have been encouraged to believe that we should leave our emotions “at the door” when we come to work but we know in fact that’s impossible, and trying to pretend none of us has emotions will only make them more difficult to work with and potentially distracting and possibly even destructive. Getting comfortable with the truth of our feelings, being able to access them and name or identify them, may be the first step in our personal change process. If you or your coachee is having trouble identifying what feeling is present, remember the simple list: at its most basic, a feeling is likely one of ‘sad, mad, glad, or scared’.  And that when we find ourselves saying “I feel that –” we know we’ve actually moved out of our heart and back into our minds. We’re really saying “I think that –” It can take significant discipline to stay with our feelings if this is unfamiliar territory. And the payoff can be enormous.

The Heart may be uncommon ground for Leader Coaches in their conversations; so too are the remaining two aspects of the quaternity we’re exploring here, the Body and the Spirit. I have lots of personal experience and my experience resonates with many other leaders, that as we grew in our careers we grew more and more separated from our bodies. Our bodies tell us what is healthy, what is necessary for vitality, what is endangering our abilities to stay centered and nurture these precious vessels we’ve been given. If we ignore our bodies’ whispers, they shout!

Richard Strozzi Heckler talks of the importance of “embodied or somatic leadership”[v], meaning that leaders must not merely espouse values, they must live them, they must embody them. We’ve begun to see a fundamental shift with the increased presence of new generations in the workforce, to challenge the stereotypical workaholic norms of the Baby Boomers. They can be great mentors to those of us who need a new model for how to live and work. The Body can be a great guide and help in a coaching conversation. Sometimes, it’s as simple as shifting the environment for the conversation from an office to a walk in the park. Sometimes the body can be, as Martha Beck[vi]  suggests, a compass needle helping us to tap into our intuition. Where does that tension about that change express itself in my body? What is my body telling me when I get sore shoulders or a tight stomach or sore legs? What can I learn if I truly listen to my body’s wisdom? Learning to listen to our own body’s messages may well be another important role that Leader Coaches can play in guiding the members of their teams and their organizations to do the same.


As Leader Coaches, we’ve moved out from the safe territory of the Mind to the more controversial venues of the Heart and Body. But perhaps the most challenging of the four aspects of the quaternity is Spirit. The sceptics might react, “what business is it of yours to inquire into the terrain of my spirit, my sense of wonder, my connection to all things?” And yet, to bring ALL of who we are to what we do, to how we lead, we need to include our connection to the Divine, however we define it.

Our difficulties around Spirit may have to do with our experiences with organized religion. Or it may be that we see through human history the tragedies and traumas that have been wrought on the world in the name of religion. It might be tempting to duck out of the conversation rather than move into it. As you might have guessed, however, we’d suggest you DO move into it with courage and compassion. So what is this notion of Spirit and how does it manifest itself in our coaching conversation? Why should we care about it? My sense is that just as embodied leadership requires that we LIVE our values, BE our values, so spirit-filled leadership requires that we embrace and celebrate the mystery, the presence of that aspect of ourselves not found in Mind, Heart or Body – that ineffable ember that is found deep within that shines through all we are, all we do, all we say. It is our deepest essence, our connection to all things.

It may be helpful to listen, here, to two writers coming from quite different traditions: Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast and Ken Wilber who is a practicing Buddhist. They suggest that while we might struggle with definitions and role models of spirituality, “it nonetheless shows up in everyone’s life – in every act of kindness, compassion, and empathy, in every quiet feeling of gratitude, in every heartfelt ‘thank you’ and in every intimate connection we have ever felt with each other and with the world. {These}feelings of gratitude and thankfulness are universal – so universal, in fact, that they form the living bedrock of all the world’s great spiritual traditions, from the beginning of the world until the end of time. As Martin Buber reminds us once again, in the ‘I-Thou’ relationship, God is not some sort of ultimate ‘Thou’ at the end of the universe, but the hyphen that connects you with everyone and everything in creation.” [vii] And how might this express itself in our coaching conversations? Perhaps the most tangible way is to be constantly vigilant, to ensure that we are coaching and being coached, embedded in the principle of Unconditional Positive Regard, the embodiment of Namaste: the divine in me salutes, recognizes, and embraces the divine in you.

I suppose the ultimate integration would be to be continuously aware of the interplay and interdependence of these four aspects of our self, which I’ve described separately here. They are interconnected and their interaction can be alchemic and transformative in our lives. When we engage our entire quaternity in coaching another, we are bringing our whole selves in service to that other person’s whole self and the riches that connection will engender are without limit! So I wear my little bracelet as a visual reminder. It catches my eye and that catches my awareness, to include all aspects of the quaternity whenever I can. It’s working! I’m sure that both my coaching and my living are more complete now, with its reminder.  
[i] See Lominger Inc. research on which leadership competencies occur most frequently across a large body of surveyed, successful leaders. for more information.
[ii] Wright, Susan and MacKinnon Carol, Leadership Alchemy: The Magic of the Leader Coach. West Group Publishing, Egan, MN. 2003.  
[iii] Bourgeault, Cynthia, Telephone, Texas. A Short Course on Wisdom, Praxis, 2002.
[iv] Kotter, John: The Heart of Change.  p. 1. HBS Press, 2002.
[v] See for more information.
[vi] Beck, Martha: Finding your own North Star: Claiming the life you were meant to live, p. 106. Three Rivers Press, New York, 2001.
[vii] Integral Naked newsletter, August 18, 2008.