The Coaching Project is Transitioning

After a long absence, I am writing with the purpose of providing some context for the changes in me and the world around me that have led to this gap. The Coaching Project has transitioned to new interests and priorities over the past couple of years, reflecting my own transitions in life.

Just as TCP was a pioneer in the field of Leaders Coaching Leaders, we are setting out again to explore the role of leadership and coaching in the final stages of life. Some of the questions I have been pondering that have led to this shift in direction are: How can we share our gifts of wisdom and experience after we leave the workplace? How can we contribute to our imperiled world as elders? How can our own living and dying lead the way for others?

I hope to share some of my own story and a few of the exciting new directions emanating from these changes. This newsletter will now become a blog on an updated website and will focus on these new adventures as they unfold.

I would like to thank the many, many people who have contributed to our success over the last 15 years – clients, colleagues, leaders and managers, students, associates, friends. I am tremendously grateful to all who have supported, mentored, and travelled this path along with me. A deep bow to you all.

A New Beginning

In our coaching and training we have consistently used our three-stage process as shown in the model below. Each stage answers a question: What’s So? So What? What’s Next? I have used these questions to reflect on my recent experience and to give a sense of completion to this chapter in The Coaching Project’s history.

What’s So?

I often say retirement is harder than it looks. I have been working on it for half a dozen years. I began by moving across the country to Vancouver to be close to my son and his family, to step back from the intensity of work and travel. However, I was soon designing a new leader coach certificate program for Simon Fraser University, chairing the board of a nonprofit, and co-leading a community dedicated to the evolution of consciousness. I quickly realized I hadn’t really changed at all.

I then became deeply engaged in my own inner journey for the first time in my life, meditating, reading, being silent, confronting my own transition to a new stage of life and wondering, as Otto Scharmer says, Who am I and What is my work? I began to study, write and present on the concept of home, being at home in myself, with others and in the wider world.

At this time, I lost a number of loved ones to illness and old age. Friends, colleagues, relatives, they seemed to be falling like dominoes. This led me even deeper inside my own skin. I attended retreats, spent longer periods in silence and solitude, read about death and dying voraciously, and began to reflect on how I too was dying to my old self. When my long term relationship also ended, it seemed death was everywhere – in me, those I loved, and in our dying world. I began to think of this period as a proverbial dark night, full of sadness, depression and isolation, with no escape.

So What?

I have gained a number of valuable insights from this prolonged dark period. One is that having emerged on the other side into a buoyant lightness, I find it imperative to carry forward the time for stillness and introspection that has been so critical throughout the transition. Although I have never been religious, I feel this inward path is a spiritual one, a spacious surrender to the moment, letting go of expectations, judgements and past conditioning. I also realize the tremendous gift in the darkness. Having allowed myself the time and space to experience it, to be challenged by it, I feel transformed, reborn into a new self I can get to know, to learn to feel at home as this new me. The darkness holds the light within itself.

Another insight is that using myself as the instrument of my own learning and experience, I arrive at a place where I can share some of this dark night with others. It may be simply creating some circles of interest in the topics I am drawn to – that would be more than enough. Or it may, like The Coaching Project, expand to fill a need that is larger than my own. One advantage of being on the thin edge of the wedge of the baby boom as I enter my 70th year, is that there are 80 million (LINK) others coming along behind, I suspect with many of the same questions and concerns I am wrestling with.

Coming from an integral perspective, I can also see that nothing has been lost in this transition. Leading and coaching are vitally important in the later stages of life. The Coaching Project has an important role to play in this pioneering work. For example, there are coaches calling themselves ‘death doulas’ now emerging to support those who are dying and their families. There is a huge need to assist elders with their end of life planning; coaches and innovative organizations are emerging to address this need. And there are many opportunities for leadership within our own circles as well as in shaping and contributing to the institutions that will support us as we face our own end.

What’s Next?

I have retired from my previous focus; I have died to my old self. But having been reborn, I am beginning again, again. Called to adventure by my own experience and incorporating my own history, I am focusing on end of life issues, including dying. I have designed a course with a workbook called The Art of Dying.

Over the six weeks, we look at the philosophical and practical issues associated with end of life, and express individual perspectives and wishes in an art form like poetry, drawing, collage, improv, or journaling. I have run this program for groups of 5 to 15 four times now, and I’m beginning to train facilitators to deliver the program so that the impact spreads more quickly. The purpose is simply to provoke conversations about dying, a taboo subject in our culture.

I am also beginning to develop a circle devoted to end of life spirituality, that natural turning inward that occurs in maturity, and how sharing our views and concerns might contribute to a healthier, happier elderhood. I continue to be a member and leader of several other circles with interest in the development of our consciousness as individuals, how who we are has implications for our communities and our wider world. Please be in touch by email if any of these topics are of interest to you. The Coaching Project will continue to offer coaching and programs beginning in the fall of this year.

In the meantime, I am traveling and experiencing new people and places, all informing my global sensitivities. And I am writing, beginning with this closing of a finished chapter and opening of a new one.  I am home.

The Importance of Coach Education

I recently interviewed Arden Henley, Principal of Canadian Programs at City University, about CityU’s decision to partner with The Coaching Project on coach education. His insights mirror and expand on the results of the ICF study.

Why does CityU see a coaching program as an important addition to its roster of programs?

We see our role as building leadership capacity in the community. Coaching plays an increasingly important role in leadership and we want to respond to that need. Just one example is a leadership survey conducted by a mentor of mine at Jackson Leadership Systems. He asked gifted leaders about the most important elements in the education of leadership for change. The first theme was the cultivation of self-awareness, a surprising outcome with a high level of agreement, highlighting the shift from performance efficiency to personal capacity. “The field of leadership development is moving on: ticking off a list of leadership competencies is no longer enough. They are too static. Self-awareness really means being yourself with more skill.” The fourth of the seven themes was coaching itself, including the importance of honest feedback to build self-awareness. These results are not unique; they are indicative of an evolution in the leadership role.

How does coaching for leaders fit with CityU’s broader mission?

Our mission in Canada is the transformation of society through relevant and accessible post-secondary and continuing education. We are responsible for creating a robust intellectual and practice-based commons for the professions, including giving a voice to coaching in this interdisciplinary dialogue. Coaching is part of enabling individuals, teams and corporations to change, to reach their dreams. We take a positive approach, ‘exemplifying the alternative’, by seeing change as exciting, inspiring, attracting excellence, rather than something we are dragged into.

What might a leader expect to get out of this program?

Well, you can answer that better than I can! But I would say we are committed to a relational vision of leadership. We take responsibility for creative positive change-enhancing relationships through our communities of practice. We provide the forum for ongoing resources, information, encouragement and support. By joining the CityU family, leaders are incorporated into this ongoing learning network. We want to pass along to the next generation of leaders what the previous generation has learned about learning and change.

Who would you expect to attend? What roles/functions might be suited to the program?

The one-day Leader Coach program coming up in January 2015 is an introductory course aimed at leaders at every level who want a taste of what coaching is about or a refresher on their coaching skills. Ultimately, this program may become part of our Executive Leadership Program. This program has been focused mostly on CEOs, Senior Program Directors and Board Chairs of nonprofits and is very highly rated by participants. As we move forward, we are building bridges to corporations to provide a broader multi-sector program dialogue.

Any other comments you would like to make?

We at CityU are taking responsibility for making a better world. We believe the capacity of educational settings to support growth and development is critical, especially at this point in our history where we face unprecedented challenges such as climate change.

We are presently opening a school of management with our first approved management degree program, the Bachelor of Management, in 2015. We are just finalizing the curriculum and will be using these concepts to underpin the program.



Coaching: The State of the Art

Reading the International Coach Federation (ICF) research study entitled Building a Coaching Culture*, I am naturally inclined to reflect on the past 17 years of growing The Coaching Project Inc. We began in 1998 to work with organizations who were interested in building coaching cultures in order to develop their leaders and improve performance and engagement in their employees. We had very little to go on in terms of precedent but coming from our organizational development backgrounds, it seemed clear that a variety of elements were required.

First, we needed to have some support for our initiatives in terms of business need and available resources. This led us to marketing and sales organizations and financial service firms, both of which were in highly competitive environments and already had histories of supporting leadership development. We coached individual executives and executive teams, providing coach training so that Leader Coaches, as we called them, not only got coaching on their own leadership development but also coached their team members for performance and development as well.

As part of our training programs, we paired participants up so that after the workshops, they would have a ‘buddy’ to reinforce the learning and sustain the new skills over time. We tried to train at least 2 to 3 levels in the organization’s leadership population in addition to the internal coach practitioners, most from Human Resources, who would support them once we had left the scene. And we offered an online program for new leaders entering the organization or those wanting a refresher or to dig into some aspect of coaching in which they felt they needed additional practice.

All of these initiatives were necessary in our experience to create a culture of coaching in an organization. This new research report confirms our experience with data from 544 organizations across all sectors of the economy and around the world. 65% of employees from companies with strong coaching cultures rated themselves as highly engaged. 60% of respondents from organizations with strong coaching cultures report their 2013 revenue to be above average, compared to their peer group. And coaching is now an intrinsic part of progressive organizations everywhere.

“Once a luxury strictly for executives, coaching is now being extended to employees at all levels of the organization for developmental purposes. In fact, 43% of organizations report employing internal coaches to work with all employees, and 60% say coaching is available to their high-potential employees.” This internal coaching is often provided by Human Resources professionals in the role of business partners to their line leaders.
The challenge for managers is often getting the training necessary to feel comfortable taking on the coaching role. For many managers, becoming leader coaches requires not only new skills but a new frame of mind. The report states, “Managers’ training requirements now have shifted to include a coaching skills component that was not required in the past. Now, there is a stronger emphasis on managers using soft skills such as empathy to develop an employee as an individual, focusing on building employee strengths through a collaborative, problem-solving style of leadership. Organizations now see coaching as a way to transform the top-down management approach into a more interactive, team-based mentality.”

The companies in the study report they will increase the scope and offerings of their coaching programs in the next five years to increase engagement, teamwork, on-boarding and employee retention.
These studies provide a good punctuation point to assess how your organization is doing. Here are some questions to consider:

• How does your coaching program shape up?
• Do your leader coaches need a refresher?
• Do new leaders need training to catch up?
• Are your internal coaches trained to support leaders in their coaching?

If you have a need, read on to see how City University in Vancouver is planning to integrate coaching into their leadership development programming.

*Building a Coaching Culture, ICF Research Report, 2014

Business is Changing!

Wisdom 2.0 tells us there is a revolution occurring in how we view and relate to work.

This new movement is questioning all our assumptions about what it means to develop and operate a business. Elements like mindfulness, wisdom, and compassion are no longer seen as superfluous or useless, but as integral qualities to include in any for- or non-profit endeavor. People are increasingly seeking work that is meaningful, engaged, and where their deeper life purpose is aligned.

Read what Daniel Goleman has to say about mindfulness – what it is and isn’t – in this Huffington Post blog.

Mindfulness: At Home with the Mind at Work

Mindfulness seems to have emerged out of nowhere to become the latest buzzword in organizational and leadership development. What is going on? Why has this idea gained so much power so quickly? Companies like Google, Twitter, PayPal, LinkedIn, Cisco, and Ford are training managers and executives in mindfulness and meditation techniques. Wisdom 2.0, a gathering where the technology and contemplative communities hash out the best ways to integrate these tools into our lives, had 1700 people attend last year’s conference, many from executive levels of well-known corporations. Cover articles have appeared in Time, Newsweek, Wired and  HBR over the past year, all extolling the virtues of mindfulness.

Is this just an extension of the emotional intelligence fad or is something fundamentally new happening here? Well to begin, mindfulness is certainly not new, although perhaps new to modern corporate life. It’s at least 2500 years old and has been practiced in most traditions and cultures throughout history. The growth in our scientific worldview has diminished the value of contemplation – if you’re not doing something, you’re not efficient. This has begun to change over the past few years as we recognize that efficiency in the short term is not always effective over the long haul.

More recently, researchers have pointed to the increasing levels of stress in the workplace and the health costs of employees suffering from depression, anxiety, anger and other stress-related emotional responses related to the pace of change and the expectations of more with less. Along with these findings, brain research now shows us what is happening inside our heads and how we can enhance our brain functioning through turning down the volume on our monkey minds. It turns out that mindfulness produces buoyancy, optimism, and confidence. It creates a stronger immune system, more focused attention to tasks, better working relationships and faster learning.

This quote appeared in the March edition of Harvard Business Review:  “At the very highest levels of any field – Fortune 50 CEOs, the most impressive artists and musicians, the top athletes, the best teachers and mechanics – you’ll find mindful people, because that’s the only way to get there.”

So it seems we must come back home to ourselves in this latest evolutionary phase, to know ourselves, to spend time with ourselves, to be at home with ourselves. We are required to develop a new level of consciousness, a new sense of being at home, to adapt to the turbulence and chaos of the world around us.

If we look back at this evolutionary development, we can easily see that when work is machine-driven, humans are expected to be mindless automatons on the assembly line. As service industries grow and become more interconnected, employees need to be service-oriented, reacting to the demands of customers. In the high-tech sector, where innovation is the key to success, young minds create new toys. And in the global workplace where the pace of change and its impact shape our lives, many of us find we are stretched (and stressed) to adapt.

Evolutionary Phase


Home as Company Town

Work as Drudgery

Home as Urban Campus

Work as Problem-solving

Reactive mind
Home as Hi-tech Incubator

Work as Play

Innovative mind
Home as Workplace

Work as Life

Anxious mind
Home and Work as Self Mindfulness


When work and home become intermeshed with our very selves, we must increase our awareness of the present moment and dwell in that, lest we be swept up in the whirlwind of constant change. Mindfulness provides this opportunity for present-moment awareness. And although the discipline can be challenging, the process is quite simple. Being aware of breath, repeating a phrase or counting, listening to guided meditations, emptying the mind of its chatter, these are all easy techniques for entering stillness, calm and quiet.

There are many supports for mindfulness. Books by Richard Moss, Peter Senge and Michael Brown are examples. If you’re more into the science, many books now detail brain functioning and plasticity, such as Rita Carter and Norman Dodge. John Kabat-Zin and  Eckhart Tolle offer CD series of guided meditations. Just 15 minutes a couple of times a day will bring you home to yourself with new strength and resilience. I highly recommend it.






How Then Do We Live?

The invitation to live mindfully sounds great…and then sounds hard!!! How do we live mindfully? While weeding, while shopping, while doing the dishes? How do we invite a sense of the sacred into the everyday moments of our lives? Here are a few things I’ve found helpful, and I’d love to hear from you about what you find helpful.

WHEN I’M DRIVING: at red lights, I breathe deeply, close my eyes for a few seconds, and check in with where I am, what I am, who I am…and breathe out gratitude for all that I am.

WHEN I’M INSOMNIAC: I breathe deeply, count backwards in French from 100, and find at least five things I am truly grateful for, in the day that has passed.

WHEN I’M STUCK, in work, in play, in relationship: I try to remind myself that I am truly NOT stuck…that this is an opportunity for growth (a FOG, if you will)… and try to find the growth edge that terrifies me…and step off it. I have an image of standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon…and then stepping off…my foot sinks slightly as it adjusts to a new reality, and then I quite easily and calmly walk across the Grand Canyon…which I think is more than a mile wide! So STUCK becomes a new starting place, a place to reassess where I am, and where I want to go.

WHEN I’M IN A BORING MEETING: I really try to figure out how I can shift the energy, how I can contribute in a way that means I’m not bored, and perhaps some others aren’t bored. SO I might ask if we can all BOUNCE for three minutes, to stir up our blood and adrenalin, or can we SING a round that’s a bit tricky, so we have to concentrate on THAT, and not on whatever is on our agenda… and then, because I’m a bit of an agenda fanatic, I try to figure out how to help make the agenda dance, how to make all our contributions valid and helpful… and if not, I try to help make the meeting end as quickly as possible! :-}

Here’s a beautiful reminder from Hafiz, the Persian poet of the fourteenth century,…so I guess these concerns for living a mindful life have been around for awhile!!

Now is the time
Now is the time to know
That all that you do is sacred.
Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God?
Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
with veracity and love.
Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.
That this is the time
For you to compute the impossibility
That there is anything
But Grace.
Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is Sacred.

Contributed by Carol MacKinnon, TCP Associate


The Evolution of Work as Home

Evolutionary perspectives are all the rage at the moment. Carter Phipps in The Evolutionaries says “we are moving” – we can connect the dots from our prehistory through to our present and know that every certainty is about to change. I have been thinking about this evolutionary perspective in relation to work and home. I have a renewed interest in home these days, as I work at home more and combine work life with home life. I have been wondering how work and home have evolved over the past century or two. I see three themes: globalization, miniaturization and isolation.

Looking back several hundred years, communities were smaller and work and home life were interconnected. The store was at the front of the house, the blacksmith’s shop was adjacent, and the barn was in the yard. As industrialization grew, company towns became a feature of mines, mills and factories, separating men from their families during long workdays. The company provided the homes, schools, stores and recreation for their employees, using a portion of the men’s wages to pay off their expenses and frequently creating an indebtedness that bound them to the work and to the local community.

Fast forward to the last century where we see the rapid growth of urban centres and service industries. Employees now become harder to attract and organizations must create effective supports for both men and women in the workforce. Large corporations create campuses, often designed with multiple buildings to simulate collegial settings where services such as a cafeteria, drugstore, gym, cleaners, sundry shop and day care centre encourage commuters to leave the suburbs early and return home late. Many workers now have computers on their desks and many organizations now have a multi-national presence. Homes, however, have become isolated from work as a place to relax on weekends.

The next stage of evolution comes from the hi-tech sector where young innovative techies are enticed to bring their home to work, to team up in creative incubators for novel designs. Tech savvy companies foster a family environment at work, providing home cooked meals, gathering places, basketball courts and even cots or tents for sleeping between idea sessions. The workplace is now home – this is where your friends are, where you spend your time, where you get to create games and programs for fun. Often, these organizations are catering to a global audience of software users looking for games, puzzles and simulations. It is a young innovative playground, isolated from many of the realities of the adult world outside.

While we marveled at these evolutionary advances a few years ago, we now find ourselves carrying our work with us wherever we go. Work is the person, not the place. We are in constant communication with others through text and email and with the world through satellite programs, internet calling and online access to anything anywhere. Fewer of us are working inside organizations and many more are independent consultants, advisors and coaches. We are not geographically bound – we work around the world in global teams across borders and cultures. However, we may feel isolated from the physical community of colleagues of yesteryear as we sit in our homes and hotels alone.

And because we are moving, we know not long from now we will have our communications technology embedded in us, tiny and powerful – we will be the technology, allowing us access to continuous information, advice and direction for our lives. The challenge will not be hardware or software but the capacity to interpret it to our advantage – the work of the future. As Jason de Silva says, “We are already cyborgs.” Of course, these are just examples, all of which still exist in some parts of the globe and none of this forecasting is certain. The benefit of evolution is that we get to participate in setting our future course with our every thought and action. It’s a grave responsibility and a lofty freedom.

Evolutionary Phase Globalization Miniaturization Isolation
Home as Company Town Localized Big machinery From outside the boundary
Home as Urban Campus Multi-national Personal Computers From home in the suburbs
Home as Hi-tech Incubator Global audience Online software & interaction From the adult world
Home as Workplace Global travel Handheld communications technology From work colleagues
Home as Self Global and beyond Embedded technology From true self and others

So it seems we have come full circle – home and work becoming one again. This time, though, they center within the person. We are becoming globalized, miniaturized and isolated. We are developing a planetary consciousness rather than a local geographic one. We will soon have embedded technology that we carry everywhere rather than having to live and work where the technology is housed. And we will no longer need each other to create products and services; we will be able to do it on our own but may find we have lost something of our true selves as a result.

I would be very interested in how you see home and work as connected – you can leave your comments on our blog at If you’re interested in contributing to my research, I would appreciate you completing the brief 10-question survey to participate in understanding this complex relationship better in the future.

What Wants to Happen?

Our 14th What Wants to Happen? retreat will be held in Nashville TN in the Spring of 2017.  Stay tuned for upcoming information on dates and themes.

Our two 2015 retreats in Phoenix AZ and Vancouver BC with the theme of Coming Home to Spirit provided participants with 5 days of co-created connection, reflection, dialogue and action planning for living into our highest evolutionary consciousness.

The New Edges Learning Community is a member-directed group of practitioners dedicated to an experiential process of reframing our current worldviews and claiming our place in the forefront of the integral age. We hold annual retreats and offer ongoing support to each other through group calls and local learning circles.

To see the brochure for our recent retreat, click NELC retreat invitation 2016.

The New Face of Corporate Philanthropy

The Governor General recently framed philanthropy as “time, talent and treasure”, noting that two-thirds of the meaning had nothing to do with money. Wait a minute… isn’t philanthropy all about the money? Well, not any more if it ever was. A growing consciousness about global disparities and what is required for our collective wellbeing is altering our worldview. This consciousness is emerging out of a number of social forces shifting the philanthropic plates and creating a new face of giving. You may want to ask whether you and your organization are part of this emerging landscape.

One of the social shifts is our now digital world – we are indeed McLuhan’s global village. In this networked village, diverse stakeholders connect to create partnerships across language, culture and geographic boundaries as well as business, social and government sectors, young and old, haves and have-nots. A new generation of leaders has grown up in this new digital age. They are more aware, more concerned, more engaged in social issues both locally and internationally. They are learning languages, participating in cultures and experiencing diversities that prepare them for global governance. Corporations who want to connect to these new leaders as employees and consumers are adding social innovation and development criteria to their ethical policies.

For example, giving staff time off to volunteer, developing leaders through participation in international development efforts like building homes and schools or donating technical expertise, and creating partnerships with other corporations, governments, social agencies and donors to build broad alliances and heighten impacts. One such partnership is Encore, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting midlife boomers in finding second careers with “purpose, passion and a paycheque”, funded by a variety of foundations and corporations as varied as HP, Cargill and UPS.

This brings me to the second shift: the search for innovation that combines business with contribution, doing well financially while doing good socially. Many corporations have set up private foundations to support their social interests, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, dedicated to bringing innovations in health, development, and learning to the global community. And closer to home, many Community Foundations support innovation in meeting the social, environmental and economic needs of our communities.

On a much smaller organizational scale, there are a growing number of passionate young entrepreneurs who have a vision of a better world and dedicate themselves to achieving it. These ‘social entrepreneurs’ are the pathfinders who are approaching local and global development with this new worldview and demonstrating with their innovative approaches how much can be done with less ‘treasure’ and more ‘time and talent’. Ashoka describes the social entrepreneur as “a mass recruiter of local changemakers – a role model proving that citizens who channel their passion into action can do almost anything”.

These entrepreneurs highlight the third shift in philanthropy – a change of focus in our ways of thinking about not only what we give but how we give it. The nonprofits they establish represent a movement toward solutions from within local communities that are culturally appropriate and economically sustainable and away from more traditional forms of aid from without. They arise from listening and learning rather than telling and assuming. They celebrate what local people have already accomplished and support its dissemination. They empower local groups with the confidence to actively seek a different future.

How does this all add up? I see in these examples a significant shift in perspective toward more private, more engaged, more self-directed ways of giving at every level of society. We not only want to know where our money is going, and how much is being spent on getting it there, but we also want to go right along with it. We want to understand the problems we are addressing and lend a hand where we can. We want to see the impact we are having on the lives we touch through increased transparency and accountability from social sector organizations. This shift in no ways discounts the value of financial assistance. Rather, it adds immeasurably to the possibilities for addressing our social needs and the chances of their sustainable success. How might you be part of the (r)evolution?

Meet a Social Entrepreneur

Daphne Nederhorst is the Founder of Sawa World, a nonprofit based in Vancouver and dedicated to eliminating extreme poverty with a new approach. Sawa (meaning ‘equal’ in Swahili) is about to celebrate its fifth anniversary so I asked Daphne to reflect on her experience.

What does Sawa World do that is different from traditional nonprofits?

Sawa looks beyond traditional charity and foreign aid to local leaders who have found their own innovative solutions to alleviating extreme poverty in their communities. We disseminate these solutions to others living in extreme poverty to create impacts at a wider scale. We train vulnerable local youth as community reporters in video production and presentation skills. They document and share local successes, supporting their replication to other communities in need. For example, one Sawa Leader developed a method of simple sustainable agriculture for local income development. John Mutamba has now improved the lives of over 17,000 people, mainly single mothers with AIDS, living in dire poverty in Uganda. His efforts have been shared through local gatherings, as short videos in kibandas, in the local press, and on radio and television across the country.

To what do you attribute your success over the past five years?

I think the most important factor is that we have a clear bold vision of the results we want to see in the world. We are exploring ways to create a global change in mindset about “international development” in governments, corporations, academic and social-sector systems. People in the poorest countries have much to teach the world – they already have many solutions to their own challenges. What we can do is learn from their successes and promote their achievements more broadly for increased impact.

How is Sawa World working toward this big vision?

I am an Ashoka Fellow and have benefited from being part of their global network of changemakers, giving me opportunities to meet world leaders and learn from other innovators. We are also connecting to build strategic partnerships all around the world and across sectors. We are for example partnered with universities here in Canada and in our target countries. One of the ways they are investing in Sawa World is through internship programs. Two MBA students from Simon Fraser University will travel to Uganda this year to learn about our approach and participate in local successes.

We are also linked with a wide range of global corporations such as Western Union, who hire our trained youth reporters for video assignments and support our efforts with in-kind donations. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has recently hired us to develop videos for their Join Our Core Competition campaign. And we are part of a wide network of social enterprises where ideas, strategies, challenges and successes are shared.

What about the Sawa organization?

Sawa is made up of a very committed and empowered team both paid and volunteer, both in Canada and abroad. In our young vibrant culture, we are continuously testing and innovating, trying new things on a daily basis to learn from our experiences and refine our approach. One example was our difficult decision to scale down to only one country so we could assess how our model was truly making an impact. With this focus, in six months we had reached almost five million people in extreme poverty with solutions from within Uganda and we are now ready to expand to other surrounding countries.

How do you see the future of Sawa World and organizations like yours?

We are part of a major transformation in society where social entrepreneurs and their organizations, like Sawa World, are taking action to change the world and to change our minds about how that happens. We are calling on individuals, businesses, governments, and other nonprofits to join with us in support of local leadership and solutions from within. With that in mind, I invite your readers to a unique offer: sign up for a free two hour consultation with me to learn the ins and outs of being a successful social entrepreneur and/or how to engage your organization in meaningful local or global impact. We also have an upcoming Innovation Tour in Uganda where you can learn from Sawa World’s innovative model first hand. Or you can can support a Sawa Leader and spread local solutions. The main thing is to engage! Call Daphne at 778-888-7292 to find out more about social business.

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?

Life is Full of a Number of Things

‘Life is full of a number of things…’ That was a saying my mother used to quote quite often. Many of us just finished a year that contained ‘a number of things’: unexpected events, circumstances, obstacles, and other interesting life artifacts.

And for some of us, it has resulted in a good deal of change, some completions, and even some truncations. We find we can’t or aren’t going in the same direction anymore. We can’t do… or be… ‘that’ anymore.

Every so often, what we take as routine …falls apart, no longer works, or just ends. Sometimes it is a relationship or a career. Sometimes it is something we have taken for granted around finances, work, health, even tried and true ways of relating to each other. Sometimes it is the clear and definitive end of an embedded illusion or even a long held dream about how things will turn out or how things are supposed to be. Some of these ‘sometimes’ are currently mine.

When the end of something seems pretty clear but the ‘what next’ isn’t yet fully known, it can be rather uncomfortable for a while. If I am not what I was and I am not what I will be, what and who am I in this moment? And how do I be and what do I do when I don’t know where I am going to end up? In other words, what do I do in the mean time?

I think the answer is….something. Be something; do something – see what sticks and what doesn’t. What that requires from me is at least a little flexibility for a little while, a little willingness to explore, a little courage to try a few things, despite a strong urge to impose stability and structure now for comfort. It means I have to be prepared to fail a few times and learn from it (my favorite definition of experience), to miss the mark and take aim again, to gather the fragments and reconstruct, to scan for other options (firstly, to have faith that there are other options), to start again… and even again. Thank goodness, I don’t expect perfection from myself or others.

So, my challenge to myself is to give myself the space, to be okay with not knowing …again, to be kind to myself when I blow it, to get up, dust myself off, and look around for those other options. And certainly to laugh. Or cry. Or even to laugh and cry at the same time – something at which I happen to be quite talented. FYI, gentle reader, if you ever need a trick to get control of your tears, it is a proven fact that it is physically impossible to cry while drinking a glass of water.

And through all of this, I want to see things straight – as they really are – not the way I wish they were. And I want to remember that the future holds as many possibilities as the past, maybe not in the way that I thought I wanted, but possibilities are there – if I am willing to exchange my current telescopic view…and my rearview mirror, for the vistas in front of me.

Branding: Who Am I?

I have recently updated The Coaching Project website.  I’ve put it off for a long while as I anticipated it would be an onerous task.  The difficulty is that to change the website, I had to ask myself: Who am I now as TCP’s leader?  And how can I best tell TCP’s story?  These are never easy questions.  Although we are in the business of change, none of us is immune to the resistance that inevitably accompanies it.

When I looked at the existing content, I realized that over the past few years I have expanded my concern to include both global and personal leadership perspectives along with our current Leader Coach focus.  For example, from a global perspective, I am engaged with the leaders of several small nonprofits working in the poorest countries of the world.  On the personal side, I am involved with a colleague facilitating individual leadership development using story to explore limiting beliefs.

This broader vision has unfolded gradually as these things often do, in my case through becoming inspired at a conference, attending a university program, writing, speaking, and now practicing from this new worldview.  TCP’s current work in coaching and developing leaders is ongoing and exciting.  However, it doesn’t include the larger context of my own emerging direction.   As the leader of the organization, I want to include our evolution and present offerings but embed them within a more expansive framework of opportunities.

It was not until I began working with the web designer that the extent of this shift became clear.  He asked some powerful coaching questions about who I was and how I wanted TCP to be portrayed publicly, not only on the website but linked to other social media.  He asked for the headings that would shape the main pages of the site.   What were the main themes of our story and how would they be represented and arranged to reflect who we are now?  I pondered these questions for several days while I worked with a collection of about 25 post-it notes each titled with an aspect of our current and emerging work.  I found the process a very challenging inquiry and invite every leader to try it, something akin to writing a corporate job description.

One of the hallmarks of leadership is the ability to authentically express who we are to others, whether it is a website, a blog, a speech, or a simple email.  Kevin Cashman actually defines leadership as “authentic self-expression that adds value”.   Clear and consistent communication generates trust and loyalty.  How often do we consider who we are as leaders and how we can best communicate about ourselves and our organizations in a way that adds value?   It was certainly time for me to take stock – you can judge the results at  It’s a work in progress and I continue to ask the questions:  Is this mirror a true reflection of who we are now?  Does it portray clearly how we want to be perceived in the world?

An Invitation to a Question

If you haven’t reflected on the question, “Who Am I?” lately, here’s an invitation to do so.  I know this sounds a little like existential navel-gazing but it is in fact a very practical process of aligning who you are with what you do and say, so your communication is powerful and clear.  You are your brand.  You shape it every day in every conversation and decision.  Walking the talk has long been a leadership injunction because it is a critical competency that most of us could do well to improve.

The first step is a backward one, to reflect on the elements that make up your life and decide what to hold onto or let go of and what new dimensions you would add.  It becomes a bit of a personal strategic plan for your best life.  Although you can purchase card decks that are either professional or personal in focus, you can also just sit down with a pad of sticky notes as I did and create your own so they represent you exactly as you are and wish to be.

Here are the instructions:

1.  Sit in a quiet place with a pad of post-it notes and a pen.  Be still for a few moments as you think about your life right now.  When you are ready, write down all the aspects of your life you can think of, each one on a separate note.

2.  Don’t forget the non-work aspects of your life – your friends and family, sports and recreation, fitness and health, travel, reading and hobbies you enjoy, even though you may not spend a lot of time on them.  Include everything that is part of your life.

3.  Spread your notes out on a large table or the floor so you can see them all at once, preferably in a place you can leave them for a few days.  Take a good look at what you’ve got.  You may want to add a few or change the headings as you look at the total picture.

4.  Begin to look for themes in the headlines you’ve written.  Your family might be a theme category, for example.  Arrange the notes into piles under no more than 5 or 6 themes.  The title of each theme may be one of your notes or a category you create to capture a set of activities.  The categories don’t need to be an activity – Meaning in Life may be one of your categories for example, and under it you might put the notes you created around volunteer work, spending time with elders, or travel abroad.

5.  Work on your themes over a period of days.  It’s best to arrange them to suit you and then leave them for a few hours or a day and come back to them to see what you feel about them.  As you work, consider eliminating the activities that don’t fit your values or purpose at the moment, and add any you feel are missing from your picture.  Play with the titles of your categories until you feel they express the person you want to be now.

6.  It’s a good idea to review your categories with a partner or close friend to give you an opportunity to talk about your choices and get feedback from someone who knows you.  Depending on the degree of change you anticipate from your current roles and activities, you may also want to test your choices for feasibility and timing.  If you’re going to do more reading, you can build that into your day.  If you’re renovating your home or changing jobs, that may take more discussion.

7.  Finally, look at the plans or activities that are different than who you are and what you do now.  For each new or changed commitment, make a “what by when” statement.  For example, “I will get to the gym 3 times a week for a 30 minute workout.”  You may have more than one activity (or perhaps passivity if one of your categories is Stress Reduction) associated with a new direction; just be sure they are SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely).

As adults, we continue to develop through life, very often without noticing the changes taking place.  Every few years, it is important to revisit who we have become and to make any changes necessary to living our best life.  Whether you are updating your website, writing your resume, or considering a change in some aspect of your life, this exercise will be of great benefit.

Spanish Edition Now Available

Leadership Alchemy in Spanish has just been published by UPC in Lima! See Carol and I talking about the book and its history. Thanks to our Lima Associate Oscar Osorio for making it happen.


Online Leadership Development

Susan Wright, TCP President

Sometimes revolutionary changes take place without us really paying attention. For me, this has happened with online education. A major transition has taken place over the past few years away from traditional classroom and face-to-face leadership training and development. The reasons are easy to see: lowered budgets for attending leadership development programs, fewer in-house resources to deliver the content, and generally less time and capacity to fit into the fixed schedules face-to-face learning requires. Enter online education, which has seen exponential growth over the last decade with insiders predicting the trend will continue and expand over the next. SRI International just completed a 12 year study from 1996 to 2008 and found participants engaged in some or all of their education online actually outperformed those using traditional classroom instruction. “The study’s major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing – it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction,” said Barbara Means, the study’s lead author and an educational psychologist at SRI International.

Traditional universities are now clamoring to add online curriculum to their degree and non-degree programs, and online universities including doctoral programs have experienced tremendous growth. Private firms offering leadership development are moving to webinars, audio and video programming, and coach-supported learning modules as part of their services, and TCP is one of them. Social networking contributes to the viral marketing of interesting new offerings that are then evaluated by program participants in public domains for others to see. Education is becoming transparent, cheap and accessible, at least in the developed world. Google for example has decided they need no additional content – it’s all there and growing continuously.

Wow, that’s a revolution! Which begs the question, how do leaders and their organizations now choose from the wide array of development alternatives, and what makes online learning most effective? In my experience and from what I’ve researched, here are some of the benefits and best practices so far:

  • Asynchronous Access: One of the primary benefits to leaders of online education is that it can be accessed on their own time and with their favourite technology. Some listen to podcasts while working out, others access audio/video material through their mobile devices while on the go, still others spend a couple of hours in the evenings after the kids are in bed. The best practice here is to be creative in finding your own grooves, the way you work most effectively and flexibly to take advantage of the material. Most learning programs require reading, reflecting and posting responses within a limited timeframe. This structure can be helpful in keeping on track and preparing for the interactive aspects like a call or coaching session.
  • Learning by Doing: Most online education is designed to incorporate the new awareness or skills into your daily life and work. There are often assignments where you apply the content and share your learning with others. You can of course ‘fudge’ this aspect and probably no one will know or care, but you will be shortchanging yourself and your outcomes if you do. When time is short and you must choose where to put your energy, step into the friction. In other words, do what seems the most difficult rather than the least – that’s where you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck.
  • Technical Innovation: If you’re going to take the time to learn something new, be sure you get the most variety, complexity, challenge and support possible. Some online programs are simply reading and listening on your own, and perhaps asking a question or making a comment in a distance format – hard to see the transformative potential in that. Rather, look for a learning platform that includes audiovisual content, workbook support for making sense of it, a chat room to share your views with other learners, and a clearly structured process that moves you along within a given timeframe so you can see your accomplishment. Best practice is to have a coach guide the learning process and provide challenge and support as needed through routine calls and online contributions.
  • Built-in Discipline: A more sophisticated platform has other benefits for the learner and the organization as well. Using a structured agenda over a series of weeks means your individual contributions to the learning community are time and date stamped – each time you log on, or don’t, your coach and fellow learners know it. You can’t just sit at the back of the room, work on your blackberry and get credit for attending. Not only your level of participation but the quality of your reflection is evaluated by the group in your posts. For the organization sponsoring the program, this ongoing assessment provides an immediate ROI on investment. For the learner, it provides a structured discipline to motivate performance.
  • Learning in Community: There are times when being face-to-face is the best way to learn, particularly when personal behaviour is the subject matter. We need to practice in front of fellow learners and get feedback about how we show up and how we might be more effective. Online communities have many advantages and can become very strong teams. However, best practice here is to have some ability to connect in person from time to time. The combination of online and onsite learning is most powerful. Even a learning partner makes a significant difference, someone in your area with whom you can periodically share experience. Peer learning groups are also influential in sustaining commitment and embedding the learning into your organizational context and culture. It also just makes learning more fun. The truth about traditional classroom education, that it’s all about what happens after the event, is also true of online learning – we need a variety of communities to make it stick.

TCP’s Becoming a Leader Coach Online Program

TCP’s Becoming a Leader Coach Online Program (Apr 24, 2011)

David Gibson, TCP Associate

We are very excited about our new online program which takes our two-day workshop and translates it into online content with expanded support and coaching. For those who have attended a workshop and want a refresher, or those who are new to a group who have already attended the workshop, the online program is ideal. And for busy managers and executives who are looking for improved coaching skills, the program provides a way to upgrade leadership capacity in a “learning by doing” format without the necessity of being away from the office.

The uniqueness of our offering is that it combines video, guided workbook, and professional coach support in an integrated online format that facilitates learning and practice. The coaching program and its underlying approach have been successfully implemented in a wide variety of organizations for over a decade. The philosophy and research is contained in Leadership Alchemy: The Magic of the Leader Coach. We believe this level of credibility and experience is not available elsewhere. See for yourself by clicking on this link: You will be able to view the site as a guest and watch introductory videos.

Our sophisticated online platform applies the best practices in distance education including:

  • Access to the learning modules on your own time
  • A complete workbook guide to aid understanding and application
  • A series of videos discussing the content and demonstrating practice, also available as audio for loading onto mobile devices
  • A coach-facilitated series of teleconferences with a learning group supported by an online forum for posting questions and comments.

Learning groups participate in 6 bi-weekly calls over 3 months, structured around the Leader Coach® framework of Building Trust, Building Awareness, and Building the Future. Time required is roughly the same as attending a 2-day program, with time between calls and assignments to practice in your own work setting and with a learning partner. You will be asked to create a learning plan at the beginning of the program and to update it when you are finished based on your new skills. A Becoming a Leader Coach® certificate is awarded for successful completion of the program.

The program pricing is designed to be scalable to large populations so that a consistent coaching culture is created in your work group and/or organization. Prices range from $300 to $500 per person for groups of 6 to 12 participants. Arrangements can also be made for individual access and for licensing at the organizational level. Please call for more details.

What’s Your Story?

By Susan Wright, TCP President

This is the time of year when most people reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re headed.  It’s a time to ask, What’s My Story?  Stories have always been central to our lives but they seem to be enjoying a particular popularity these days.  For example, Fortune recently reported that there were an estimated 728 corporate storytellers in 2010.  These are experts who make their living by helping leaders create stories that are compelling visions for their organizations.  There are many books and workshops on story, what accounts for a good story, how it is structured to hold our interest and deliver a strong message.

From a personal point of view, our story is our current understanding of who we are, what we value, and how we see the world.  It is the authentic expression of our experience.  Our stories develop through fairly predictable stages just as we do.  When we are starting out, our stories are about establishing a career, a home, partnering and children, a mortgage.  As we mature, our stories change to reflect our degree of success at work and in relationships, our achievements and disappointments, our interests and causes.  As we age, we begin to tell stories about health and fitness, leisure and travel, grandchildren, a condo in the sun.  Have you noticed that conversations with friends center around these topics at different stages of life?  Robert McKee, a famous Hollywood screenwriter says, “Stories are a metaphor for life.” Story is how we make meaning out of life.  It is how we choose to see ourselves in our unfolding journeys.

The fact there are universal themes to our stories doesn’t mean we are passive participants in them.  We create our own stories, each a unique pattern within the whole cloth of society and culture.  We write our stories moment by moment through life, sometimes consciously enacting them but often just allowing them to drift by.  Think about New Year’s resolutions – they are often things of memory soon after they are voiced, stories lacking the passion and commitment required for change.  Which brings us back to the original question: What is your current story?  Is it one that excites you?  Are others interested in it?  Is it a familiar, same-old story or a new and vital expression of who you are now?  What wants to happen in your story right now?  What change, if you made it, would be a turning point in your life story?

  • What one story about you would reveal your essence as a leader right now?
  • What story would you tell about a major change you made and helped others make with you?
  • What story would reflect a turning point in your career and what you learned from it?
  • What story would you tell about a major challenge you are facing and how you intend to overcome it?
  • What themes would you say recur in your stories and what do they tell about you?

If these questions, or your answers to them, interest you in further exploration, I encourage you to consider a workshop on your story, how to tell it and how to change it if you wish.  Leader Coaches tell compelling stories to build trust with those around them, to build awareness of key values and experiences, and to build an engaging vision of the future.  As McKee says, “Stories are equipment for living.”

The Business of Story

An Interview with Dan Petersen, Life and Story Coach

How did you become interested in story?

I first got interested when I read Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, where he lists story as one of the three forces nudging us into what he calls ‘the conceptual age’. He describes how organizations like NASA, 3M, Xerox and the World Bank are using story to help understand and manage change for this coming age. He mentions another book by Robert McKee called Story. I was fascinated by what he said.  He confirms what I know through coaching which is that the most effective teacher or teaching always creates the conditions for people to learn rather than be taught. Stories are a powerful tool to boost this self-learning dynamic.

How do you see story as a catalyst for change?

I am an admirer of Robert Kegan’s Immunity to Change process. He proposes that we have a psychological immune system that is designed to protect us, a kind of committee in our heads that resists change. The problem is that it was created around fears in early life that no longer exist, such as the fear of being rejected by our peers. That can be a problem in adulthood since all creative leading edge thinking invites rejection. Through stories, we can help people bypass their limiting beliefs and interpret new ideas more objectively. This can make a huge difference in life and in organizations where new ideas are what keep us at the top of our game. With a psychological immune system as mature as we are, our new learning is optimized. I like the adage that says, “We see the world as we are, not as it is.” We see the world through the stories we tell about ourselves, so it is important to get our stories straight and up to date.

How have you used story in your own life to understand and make change?

I find using the principles of story I am able to make better choices in the moment because I am aware of my immunity, or resistance, to change in some areas of my life. Understanding my addictive tendencies, for example, allows me to choose how to act to generate the kind of story I want to be able to tell about myself. And beyond the personal, I am also applying the principles of story in the workshops we are doing together, creating the environment I spoke about where participants can accomplish sustainable change by freeing up their capacity to learn. One of my favorite philosophers, Eric Hoffer, sums it up pretty well when he says, “In times of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. Those who have finished learning find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”

How might leaders use story to be more effective?

We know leadership is a practice, one of acting and reflecting at the same time as we go along, both generating our story and learning from it every day. Story is a tool leaders use to reveal hidden assumptions, both to themselves and to others. Telling stories engenders trust, expresses wisdom, and builds resonance among those we lead. By telling stories about ourselves, we also encourage others to reflect on their own stories and share them. So storytelling is a key leadership skill.