Widening Coaching Perspectives

I myself am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me. Issac Newton

Earlier this month I said goodbye to my son who is off on the next leg of his ‘gap’ travels before starting university in the autumn. It’s time for him to step out into the world, widen horizons and explore who he becomes as he encounters different places and people.  A few days later I said goodbye to our first London cohort, it’s been a rich and enjoyable year with an enthusiastic and engaged group. They are stepping out now and their perspective on coaching will change as they encounter new situations and new clients. 

During the groups final weekend we explored widening perspectives, being present to the ‘micro-level’ of the individual and what’s unfolding in a coaching session, as well as being present to the wider ‘meso & macro-level’ of networks and systems. Here’s how we did it…

Thinking systemically

To help shift perspective, we visited the British Museum, using the incredible space there to remind us that we’re a part of something larger than ourselves.  Sometimes we live our lives as if we’re at the centre of our own universe, fixated on personal concerns without much regard for others. Being in a museum, art gallery or being out in nature can jolt us out of this self-focused mindset, awakening a wider sense of identity, as part of a larger human family or to our place in the cosmos.  At the museum we used coaching to explore what might be done differently personally and professionally given a wider perspective.

The next day was spent learning to use network mapping and bringing an organisations context and wider stakeholders into coaching conversations. We explored global challenges and coaching futures – asking the big questions about who and what coaching serves, what the role of coaching in challenging times might be and how each of us might play a role in shaping the future of  coaching.

Our last day ended with a trip organised by the group down the river to Greenwich Observatory – an amazing journey through space and time! We stood on the Greenwich Meridian where East meets West, shared tea and cake and were awestruck by images of the cosmos from aurora light shows, eclipses and meteors, to star clusters, nebulae and distant galaxies.  These words from Plato, written on a wall in one of the rooms seemed to sum up our experience as we gazed at a breathtaking display of astrophotography;

Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.  Plato 428BC-348BC

In the scientific literature awe is defined as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast and greater than the self, that exceeds current knowledge structures”. In other words the experience of awe or wonder asks us to adjust our understanding of the world, and our place within it. When organising the trip the group hadn’t known much about the theme of the weekend, they hadn’t planned for an experience of awe but awe found us – and it had everything to do with connecting with a wider world.

What makes this kind of learning experience possible?  Not a museum visit, not the coaching models and techniques, or the hours of practise and sometimes wonderful, sometimes painful feedback, not the design of the programme, the theory, or Greenwich and, though it would be nice to take the credit, not the ‘leader’.  All are part of a deeper and wider collaborative, participative process that was a function of a fairly healthy open system.

These elements, and more, contributed to the work of co-creating a space where awe and wonder could enter. It begins, perhaps with developing the patience to listen, to see each other and be seen, to be human beings first and coaches second. A space where we could take relational risks, inspire each other to explore and experiment with being bold and bringing forth more of our ‘better’ selves.