Psychological safety has become a buzzword in corporations and conversation-based professions. It is a misunderstood concept because it’s not something you say to or do for people that eases their minds. With no shared understanding about how to establish psychological safety, there is a risk the two words will become superficial jargon, like empowerment, business acumen, and authentic self.

We know when people feel psychologically safe, they are more willing to listen and see value in what you offer.  Even if they feel uncomfortable, they are more likely to share their views, fears, desires, and regrets.

When they don’t feel safe, their brains revert to fight or flight mode to ward off threats.  Even if you had a good connection at the start of your conversation, when safety vanishes, people disengage to protect themselves.

How then do you create psychological safety? And what sabotages the safety you create, breaking the connection you carefully formed? This post tells you how you can quickly make others feel psychologically safe throughout a conversation with you.

The essential element for establishing psychological safety

The skill for creating psychological safety is not verbal or behavioral. Impacting someone’s mental state depends on the energetic exchange. You generate safety with your emotions. The emotions you experience throughout your conversation facilitate or diminish the safety others feel. Emotions that reflect how much you care and respect someone impact their willingness to have a genuine dialogue with you. They share what they won’t say to others because with you, they don’t fear being judged or labelled.

The founder of the coaching school I attended, Thomas Leonard, taught my first coaching class in 1995. He said the only way to learn how to coach was to coach. We would get better as we learned and practiced the skills.

We protested, wondering how we could coach if we didn’t know what we were doing. He said, “Just love them.” You provide value when they feel cared for and respected.

Looking at the testimonials from my first clients, I realized how valuable it was to them to safely talk about their dilemmas. It might have been the only time in their days they could fearlessly show up fully as themselves.

This may make sense but it is easier said than done. Anytime you feel fear, confusion, or impatience, your emotions could puncture the “safety bubble” you created. Suppressing your emotions doesn’t stop this interchange. Suppressing only controls your expressions, not the existence of emotions. The energy disseminated from emotions, even ones you try to suppress, can be measured.1

However, if you can quickly notice you are having an emotional reaction and choose to breathe in and feel something else, you can maintain the safe connection. Being aware of emotional reactions in your body and  shifting back to feeling curious, appreciative, and caring is a critical skill to practice.

What breaks the “safety bubble?”

Your brain also wants to feel safe. When it perceives a threat, it rises to the occasion. You have deeply embedded patterns of reactions, causing you to defensively explain yourself, express frustration in your subtle or obvious gestures, or you tighten up as you fear losing control. Your reactions decrease and possibly extinguish the safety you established.

Don’t be embarrassed or angry about your impulse to defend yourself, convince others, or shut down. No matter how emotionally mature you think you are, your brain will prompt reactions before your “higher self” has a chance to intervene.

Don’t try to stop yourself from reacting. You’ll only get frustrated when you fail. Instead, start by noticing tension in your body and changes in breathing . What muscles tighten when you feel irritated, afraid, or frustrated? Can you recognize when your heart beats speed up or you hold your breath? Stop yourself at least three times a day to check in with your body to develop your emotional self-awareness.2 Then practice choosing how you want to feel instead.

Emotional intelligence means you have the ability to choose your emotions following a reaction.

Three steps for maintaining psychological safety

Noticing reactions is the first step.  Your power lies in deliberately shifting to feel emotions that establish trust.

Viktor Frankl said in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Here are three steps you can quickly and continuously take to maintain psychological safety:

1. Tune in to your body. Do you hold irritation in your stomach, shoulders, or neck? When you are anxious, do you breathe more quickly or hold your breath? Does your face heat up? Do you clench your jaw? Quickly noticing these reactions keeps you in control.

2. Fill your body with your chosen emotion or two. Consciously remind yourself you want to feel caring and calm, or curious and kind. Sit up or stand straight. Tilt your shoulders back so your chest is open. Inhale the emotions you want to feel, letting them sink into your body.

3. Acknowledge what you did well at the end of the day. Your brain needs evidence of success to support the changes you want to make. Instead of beating yourself up for what you didn’t do, thank yourself for what you attempted to do better. You’ll soon create the habit of tuning in and shifting in your conversations.

You have an amazing ability to observe your brain at work. You can even laugh at your brain, and then choose to feel, think, and act differently so people not only feel safe, but enjoy having deep conversations with you.

1  Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. The Energetic Heart: Biolectromagnetic Interactions Within and Between People. Chapter published in: Clinical Applications of Bioelectromagnetic Medicine, edited
by P. J. Rosch; M. S. Markov. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2004: 541-562.
2  Marcia Reynolds, Outsmart Your Brain: How to manage your mind when emotions take the wheel, 2nd edition. Covisioning, 2012: pg 137.

Perhaps the first to describe a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) were Bennis and Nanus (1985). Present day, Covid-19 has been a catalyst which sees many businesses starting to take note and accept the truth around the global phenomenon of a VUCA World. We are living in extraordinary times which means it’s essential to change the way we do things. We cannot continue to create a better world by doing what we have always done. These exceptional times require exceptional leaders to stand up and be counted. 

It’s worth asking yourself a few questions: 

Here’s just some of the questions that should ignite that fire inside to lead differently for the world we live in. Even those with extensive experience may be surprised to hear that this doesn’t guarantee they will have the right skills or strategies in place when leading through disruption. We are continually evolving just like the times we live in.

How to transform VUCA

A great way to help transform VUCA is to turn it on its head. You will be surprised to see what solutions can arise as a consequence. At TNM we use the following to help turn chaos into clarity. 

Time to get your hands dirty

Jon Mertz (2014) highlighted the DURT model. He explains through VUCA times leaders should be Direct, Understandable, Reliable and Trustworthy.  

He goes on to explain why leaders cannot match VUCA with VUCA charactisterists. That we actively need to build on these and transform them into something new that can inspire our teams.

The 8 Leadership Strategies

At TNM we believe that even through the most difficult, chaotic times we can create opportunities. These situations are often the lifeline that take you to true business success. We’ve put together our 8 core strategies to help you maximise these opportunities. Taking you from not only surviving but also thriving through VUCA times.

 1. Developing Cognitive Flexibility

Developing cognitive flexibility enables you to envision multiple scenarios, develop different solutions simultaneously and pull the plug and move on when an approach isn’t working - (Colvin, 2020).

The pandemic has taught us to evolve and adapt quickly. There has never been a period of time where we have had to adapt, stop and start strategies as quickly as we have done throughout the pandemic. Cognitive Flexibility supports being able to think of different strategies without getting too attached to any one of them for a particular time. Staying on your toes and being fully aware of all the opportunities is paramount when they arise. 

 2. Strong System Focus

Most organizations do not rise to the level of their goals. They fall to the level of their systems - (Grier, 2021). 

It’s great  having a goal but you can set yourself to fail without having strong systems and processes in place to get you there. As well as thinking about the end goal, determine the strategic steps and infrastructure you need to get you there. Work on the small steps and milestones that help you achieve that end goal. Systems and processes are an ever changing beast, so the sooner you get started with them the more flexible and responsive you can be in the future.

3. People First

This has become a widespread trend in the last decade. Organisations putting their people first, whether that’s their customer, staff or stakeholders. When we focus on creating the right culture that is authentic, accepts vulnerability and promotes open conversations, teams collaborate better. Focusing on this collaboration means you can celebrate the successes of every single person and work on supporting one another which naturally results in success.

4. Problem Solving 

I’ve got 99 problems but VUCA ain’t one - (TNM, 2022)

When we have problems it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The danger arises when we do not have the right culture in place to solve them. Create a coaching culture, this helps you to face problems head on and ask the right questions so you can solve them. This also allows leaders to find out who needs support and identify priorities. Creating this type of culture helps support everyone as a leader and makes them responsible for finding the opportunities that are ahead, and thrive during times of disruption. 

5. Learn to love Change

Businesses run on schedules, meetings and forecasts. We have been indoctrinated to know that intentional planning creates purposeful implementation. However, in these volatile times, we need to take a step away from the rigid restrictions and move towards flexibility. Move and adapt with the change and use systems and processes to support this action. 

6. Stay Curious 

Egon Zehndeaving conducted an analysis of executives’ performance over a 30-year period wherein they reported curiosity was the only one of four traits (the others being insight, engagement and determination) to be correlated with all eight leadership competencies the firm deemed critical to a leader’s success. - (Dr. Alison Horstmeyer, 2020)

Curiosity can be overlooked when it comes to leadership strategies and skills. However it is fundamental for being a catalyst for creating innovation, managing change and successful problem solving. Through curiosity we learn to ask the right questions, form a natural desire to dig deeper into situations and this results in clarity during VUCA times. 

7. Keep things Simple

Execution thrives with simplicity and transparency. Execution doesn’t like complexity. As complexity increases it becomes more difficult to maintain focus. - (McChesney, 2020)

Don’t be a VUCA leader and create more ambiguity and complexity. It can be easy to panic and want to throw your energy into lots of ideas at the same time. The best thing you can do for yourself and your team is to focus on doing one thing well. Keeping it simple will allow your team to manage focus during VUCA times. 

8. Just do it 

Do rapid prototyping that allows you to fail early, fail often and fail cheaply — while learning along the way - (Johansen, 2018)

Yes we may be borrowing Nike’s strapline here, but it helps to demonstrate one very important point. In VUCA climates the key is to ‘Just do it’. As a leader, promote rapid prototyping and proof of concept.  Don’t heavily invest in creating perfect prototypes without knowing whether your audience is going to actually connect with it. Instead you should work on innovations by creating a solid proof of concept, that allows you to adjust and move forward towards success.

Are you ready to lead through VUCA times?

There are many strategies you can adopt during VUCA times. These are extraordinary times we are currently in. Our leaders of today can create a better world for tomorrow. However it won’t be solely about the leaders in place, but if they can develop and inspire the next generation of leaders. Will they instill the wisdom required to adapt and create clarity during VUCA times? What role will you play, what leader will you become and are you prepared to step up to the responsibility required to take us collectively forward?

If you would like to explore how TNM can support your organisation in developing leaders to rise to the challenge of VUCA times, book a no-commitment discovery call with one of our consultants.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

This quote by motivational speaker Jim Rohn, refers to the law of averages; any given situation will be the average of all outcomes. Life is often dictated by nurture or nature and nature is our environment; this includes who we choose to spend time with. Those in our direct circle have the ability to influence us beyond what we can ever imagine. It’s important to seek out those who help us better ourselves, and also encourage us to do the same for others. 

First find yourself

Being a part of a community will require you to bring forth your authentic and true self. There is no room for pretending or holding back. Feel confident about who you are and be open about sharing your vulnerabilities. This is where true authentic connections happen; when we fully accept who we are - we naturally attract more experiences which align with our needs. Celebrate your uniqueness, the moment you start accepting yourself is when others will do the same.  By being true to yourself, you will become a magnet for those authentic relationships that benefit you on a soul level. 

What does your current circle look like? Does it meet your needs?

Take stock of who your friends are, how they make you feel, what they spend time doing and what their future aspirations are. Do they align with your level of thinking? Does spending time with them excite you and make you feel good? Our friendships should uplift us, challenge us and inspire us. Life is simply too short for anything else. If you aren’t getting this from your circle it’s time to explore uncharted territory and seek those that set your world ablaze in the best possible way. 

The benefits of belonging to a community

We all have an intrinsic need to belong. This is a deep rooted instinct which once existed solely to keep us alive, still has real implications on our emotional wellbeing. It allows us to have a better sense of self identity and validates important feelings we have about ourselves. When others judge us, we lean on our inner circle as a reminder of who we are, rather than accepting what others may project at us. Support from those who understand us is invaluable. When offered advice from those we trust, we feel cared for and guided. The wisdom that our tribe imparts on us is so important to our growth and journey in life. Our friends can also be a link to wonderful resources and inspiration. Our life blooms in fabulous ways when we are with the right people. 

Find a leader you can look up to and which resonates with you

It’s so important to find a community with a leader who holds similar values and morals which you aspire to. Someone who is warm, supportive and inspiring. A leader's behaviour sets the tone for its following and how everyone works together. If something doesn’t feel right then don’t be afraid to look elsewhere. Your leader should be someone who you really look up to and who sets a wonderful example. Go where you are inspired! 

Meet new people 

The only way you are going to be able to integrate with a new community is if you get in on the action. Meeting new people and seeing where you feel most connected is crucial. Explore your interests and be open to meeting new friends and other like-minded people. It can be quite scary stepping outside of your comfort zone and feeling like the new kid on the block, but the only way to experience something different is to step into the ‘new’. The best things almost always happen outside of your comfort zone. So don’t be afraid to get out there and try new experiences and people. You could be one conversation away from a magical new chapter. 


A key component of someone who truly belongs in a community is someone who takes an active role in helping things run smoothly. Communities by nature revolve around all of us doing our bit and each of us being a cog in the wheel to ensure everything is in good order. When we come together; magic happens. Utilise your strengths and put your hand up for roles which shine a light on your natural abilities. Making yourself invaluable helps you feel like you belong somewhere and you are able to express your talents in a beautiful way- by helping your community and those who are a part of it.

Know when it’s not right

Don't get so caught up in finding a community that you settle for something which doesn’t feel right for you. Hold out for the right tribe, they will come. You won’t always come across the right people for you, first thing. Ask yourself how they make you feel and whether they are on the path which you also want to follow. By honouring what you seek, you will eventually attract what is right for you. 

if you are interested in finding out more about life coaching and if it is right for you
contact us

Throughout the last 10 years, I have witnessed the positive impact of coaching in building an inclusive culture in private sector organizations. By facilitating women’s leadership coaching programs designed to strengthen the female talent pipeline, I became increasingly aware of coaching’s power to impact and change relationships. I also learned that relying solely on individual coaching may not be sufficient to maintain sustainable positive outcomes. For these reasons, I began to implement three-way coaching (between a coach, client and client’s line manager) and found it to be highly effective in supporting transformational change.

Coaching broader stakeholder groups brings more value due to the systemic challenges clients face.

This three-way style of coaching helped clients explore the quality of their existing relationships, which had many benefits. Women identified things they were dissatisfied with in their existing relationships and worked on behaviors they wanted to change while opening a new level of dialogue with their line manager. For others, coaching offered a place to explore what they valued and found helpful within the already established relationship with their line managers and broader stakeholder group, which appeared to impact the clients’ influence on desired career outcomes.

Additionally, this coaching style helped clients to:

Strengthen existing relationships with stakeholders. Three-way coaching provided both client and their line managers an additional opportunity to open up a conversation about aligning personal and professional aspirations and deepen mutual trust.

Improve strategic stakeholder management. The new level of communication achieved through three-way coaching created opportunities for involving the broader stakeholder group, including mentors and sponsors which is critical for achieving client’s career aspirations.

Gain exposure for desired career development. Coaching supported women in identifying critical experiences they wanted to have on their career development journey, aligning expectations and gaining line managers’ ongoing support.

How can coaches set themselves up for success in a three-way coaching process?

The coach has a critical role in preparing the agenda for the contracting conversation. Clarifying the purpose of three-way coaching in advance is essential to ensure everyone involved is engaged in the discussion.

The initial three-way conversation is an opportunity for a coach, client and client’s line manager to:

Therefore, having a contracting conversation with all the key players together is the best way to ensure openness and alignment of expectations.

By encouraging everyone involved in the three-way coaching program to take a broader perspective and engage in ongoing dialogue about expected outcomes, there is greater potential to realize positive changes for both the individuals and organization. The combination of individual, group and three-way coaching promotes transparency in day-to-day communication and decision making, necessary for reaching gender-balanced leadership aspiration.

In conclusion, three-way coaching is an important part of the coaching process, particularly in addressing systemic challenges such as a gender-balanced workforce, diversity, and inclusion. Coaching the client’s system prepares everyone to think about the individual, organizational and relational issues in more complex and systemic ways.

This blog was originally published on the ICF website.

“Uh oh, here comes trouble! That’s NOT what he is supposed to be doing!”

I am passionate about the practice of Conscious Leadership, I think it is essential in these times, we are surrounded by so much chaos and pain and simultaneously so much opportunity to make a real difference for the greater good by bringing great leadership to the systems we are part of. The chaos and uncertainty we face easily triggers our brains to react defensively, to react for survival, in those moments we go unconscious and we cannot access our wisdom, creativity and sense of connection to other human beings. We cannot lead effectively.

This is a personal and true leadership experience that reveals the kind of trouble we create in our relationship systems when we get triggered out of presence and 3 sneaky sources of those triggers. At the end of the story I will share 3 great tools to bring ourselves back to presence and how vulnerability is a leadership superpower.

As you read see if you can recognise any of these elements at play in your own experience.

It’s a 50 degree C on an August day in the Sahara Desert and I am leading a conversation with 55 senior project leaders from 7 different organisations and at least 4 very different cultures. We are here to set a strong foundation of commitment to what seems, for many, like an unachievably ambitious vision for the project; to keep every person safe for every day of the project and to have it be on time.  History making. It’s day two of the workshop and the atmosphere is buzzing; people are bouncing in their seats and eager to share their ideas. I am about to take them through a series of carefully crafted questions that have a VERY particular design and flow and a big transformational reveal at the end, the biggest moment of the whole two-day workshop. I set the first question and invite each group to start a discussion at their tables working with a flipchart to capture their answers.  As expected, given the already high energy in the room, it looks and sounds like all the groups are working hard on the topic of the question (I can’t follow all of what is being said as many are speaking in Arabic). Although am feeling pretty good about how it’s going, in the back of my mind I have the niggling concern that I absolutely HAVE to get to the big reveal before sending everyone off for lunch.

The pressure builds

I call time on the discussion and ask each table to give a quick debrief of what they have on their flipchart and to share about how their conversation went. Table after table do this, they take a little longer than I had anticipated and I feel my chest getting a bit tight and my breathing shallower, and I am thinking “argh!  I am starting to run late”. There is one more table left, a very enthusiastic guy jumps up with his flipchart and says, “ well….we started to answer the question you asked but in the end I wanted to share with the table my solution to this whole problem (he points to a very detailed flip chart)”.  I think to myself “Uh oh, here comes trouble! That’s NOT what he is supposed to be doing, we are nowhere near ready for problem solving and solutions conversation – it’s total chaos.” My chest and head feel really tight.  I have gone unconscious; I have lost presence. In that moment it is my survival based perception was that I had only two options; a) let him speak and delay whole group going to break, allowing the conversation to go in an unplanned direction or b) find a way to ‘gracefully and nicely’ stop him from sharing.

I went with what felt like the easier path – I stopped him, asking if he could hold on to his solution until a later part of the session. He nodded and smiled I could see that many in the room also nodded and smiled in agreement.  It looked like it was handled.

Coming off the rails

We come back from the break and get to work on the next critical question in the flow. Come the debrief it all goes smoothly until the same guy stands up again and says, “We didn’t answer the question, we preferred to continue discussing my plan”. In that moment a huge smile broke out on my face and I chuckled. I just loved his determination to be heard and I recognised the resilience of his voice in the system. With this connection to him as human being rather than ‘trouble’ I woke up and came back to presence and conscious leadership. I recognised that this was the price tag for my listening to the little stressed voice in my head and not doing the more uncomfortable thing of giving space and surrendering to listen to this particular voice of the system when it first emerged. The suppressed voice will always find a way to have an impact and it usually won’t the one you are looking for as a leader - it’s a recipe for trouble in your relationship system.

Trouble into gold

From presence I am able to see a great opportunity to take the trouble and disruption and turn it into an opportunity to work with the system as it is right now. I take a deep breath and apologise to the guy for not having allowed him the space to share the first time he asked to. I then reveal to the 55 leaders with maximum vulnerability, exactly where I had made my mistakes during the session and what had led me to making them. I also pointed to the damage; one whole table in the workshop didn’t get to have the full experience and impact of the two conversations as designed. The whole group is sitting up in their chairs with their eyes wide open, looking at each other nodding and it feels like something has popped. I give them a few minutes to discuss how this very situation shows up day to day on the project. I then offer the group the opportunity to negotiate between themselves within the following parameter; having the full hour for lunch or taking some time out of their lunch to listen to our friends’ solution.  The group chose to have their full lunch and got the true alignment to put their full attention on and listen to our friends’ solution in the afternoon planning session. 

The whole process of noticing revealing to  the  group the inner workings of the disruption, provided new and shockingly vivid information into their relationship system, showing them exactly what was already happening every day on the project, both in big obvious ways and smaller under the radar ways, all the ways that not listening deeply to people and really giving space to ideas and points of view causes resistance and delay. In their table discussions they shared many stories where they could see the big impact on performance and what they could now see was possible.

The day worked out in the end and we still got to the big transformational reveal, just a little later in the session than I had planned. A year later and that project had become the highest performing globally for the client, with a phenomenal culture for leadership, communication and alignment, a project famous for the quality of their listening. I like to think that that that moment of alchemy which came from working with going in and out of presence, in and out of conscious leadership was one of the moments that contributed to their success.

Sneaky Sources of Trouble

The common theme of the following sources and how they played in my story is that they all took me out of being present. I call them sneaky as they operate covertly in our blind spots. Presence is the foundation for conscious leadership performance and can be especially challenging to cultivate in in a relationship system. See if you can spot where in my story each of these show up and then notice where these tend to sneak up on you.

1. Ignoring the signals of trouble from my body
Our body is a brilliant resource for information. Our emotions show up in their purest form as body sensations without story or drama (it is our mind that loves to add that)– our body signals that there is an emotion to pay attention to whether it be joy or fear, they each have a message to share, a message that invites action. The level of sensation in our bodies can be very uncomfortable and so we often seek to either, ignore and dissipate it or stoke the intensity with stories and interpretations to try and wrangle it into sense. Both strategies leave the emotions to fester and grow in the shadows, leaving them to hijack you and take you out of control as the pressure builds. We are taken out of presence.

2: Running Assumptions
Our brains interpret, make judgements and generate stories that we assume are accurate and true, these are our assumptions and they often sound like, if (I or they) …… (do, say, feel) then……..(xyz thing will happen).  These tend to be triggered by past painful experiences and often don’t have anything to do with what is happening in this moment in this context. This is how our assumptions create interference, invisible barriers to us taking effective action in the now. We are taken out of presence.

3. Listening to the inner dialogue
Have you noticed the loquacious voice in your head? It has a lot to say, a running commentary on all that is happening or might happen, full of ifs and buts and that’s right or wrong. It can be a useful source of information, as we have seen, it’s where our assumptions are revealed.  However, it’s our level of relationship to it that defines our ability to be present. Do we have it or does it have us? When someone else is speaking, to what extent is our attention on them or is it on little voice in our head? How much are we missing out on? Imagine how much gold has passed us by and the cost of our disconnection. We are not in presence.

Presencing Tools:

The following tools have two elements that I suggest to come from in using them.

  1. They all start with taking a breath. Why? A consciously taken breath creates space. For a reset, for a moment in which to choose how to respond rather than being in reaction. It creates a space of response – ability.
  2. Seeing vulnerability as a leadership superpower. My personal philosophy is that whoever is vulnerable first wins. Wins what? Well, it’s actually a win-win of connection, trust and belonging and all that comes from those. In a relationship system such as teams and organisations my experience tells me that it is vulnerable leadership that opens doors for all the brilliance and wisdom of the system to feel safe enough to express itself.

So, with breath and vulnerability as places to come from, the following tools will support you.

1. Notice your body sensations
Take a breath

a. Scan your body and notice what you can sense: pressure, temperature, movement, speed, texture
b. Describe to yourself what you can sense using words in those categories e.g.; compression, hot, downward, slow swirling
c. Take a deep breath
d. Ask yourself; “what is this sensation signalling to me?”, “what do I need to take care of?”

Follow those steps and you will feel more present and grounded and then able to use the following tools more easily.

2. Notice and challenge your assumptions
Take a breath

a. What are your fears about what might happen?
b. What is your perception of the group and of yourself?
c. What is your interpretation of the situation?
d. What is the cost of keeping this assumption?
e. Could the assumptions be inaccurate?  How can you test them?
f. What can you let go of?

3. Listening
Take a breath

a. Acknowledge where your attention is
b. Choose to put it out and with focus on what others are saying and not saying
c. Listen to their choice of words
d. Listen to their body language and tone of voice
e. Listen to what your intuitions tells you about their emotions
f. Listen to what clues they are giving you about what they really care about
g. Ask simple, open, curious questions that give you the opportunity to listen even more

In this article I have mentioned relationship systems several times. A foundation for this is an approach to seeing any group of people, whether your whole organisation or simply one of your teams as a relationship system and is based on ORSC TM methodology called RSI TM. If you would like to know more about how working with these principals and developing teams with relationship systems intelligence for increased sustainable high performance and how this would work in your context, we would be delighted to start a conversation.

Last year, I worked on a coaching program designed for private sector leaders committed to innovate for social impact. Being curious about their reasons for voluntarily stepping into this area, I began informally interviewing them. What I discovered was a clear and common theme in their stories. Each one of them described a drive to do purposeful work beyond what was written in their job description. They all shared a personal commitment to do good and inspire the future generation of leaders. They shared in the realization that with personal commitment, anything can change. One of the leaders shared a very personal story about their journey and said, “I had asked myself time and again who my work served, and I couldn’t answer the question. Now that I know the answer, I have become unstoppable. With this work I am creating a legacy.”

The question those leaders considered about who their work was serving seeped into my mind and began to take root as a driving question for my future work as a coach.

For years I have seen the transformational power of coaching while facilitating leadership programs across many sectors, and I am grateful to have the privilege to act as a thinking partner with my clients as I witness their amazing journeys. Despite the success and transformation of these leaders, however, I always believed we could do much more as coaches. It was and still is evident to me that we need to disrupt how we currently coach and find a different way of developing leaders. The debate is not a new one. Most people would agree that we need a different kind of leader to take us into a sustainable future; leaders who are innovative and fundamentally understand this is a shared responsibility. How do we adapt our coaching to foster a new way of leading for tomorrow?

How suitable is today’s coaching practice for developing tomorrow’s leaders?

There is no doubt that the coaching profession achieved a lot in the last few decades. But hold on. If we want purpose-driven leadership that prevents further environmental destruction and creates value for all stakeholders, what is the role of coaching in supporting that shift?

We cannot afford to keep comfortably coaching individual leaders, often already privileged individuals who are typically only focused on their “front-of-mind” issues. It is time to partner with our clients and co-create coaching relationships that will help them recognize all interconnected issues, systems complexities and patterns, as well as their unique individual power in becoming part of the solutions to global challenges.

Most leadership development and coaching are accessible to a selected group of leaders whose ultimate objective is to boost organizational profitability. I am convinced that it is possible for organizations to do good, to consider the planet and people, and to still make profit. It’s possible for leaders to consider the interests of broader stakeholders when making decisions, and there are many powerful examples of organizations and leaders who have found a way to balance profit-making while also considering future generations and environmental impact. This should be the norm for measuring leadership success and measuring success of our coaching work. As coaches, how are we supporting this transition?

I would argue that we don’t need heroic individuals, but we do need inclusive visionary leaders, collaboratively working on systemic issues. Leaders who are focused on long-term outcomes see themselves as part of the planetary ecosystem and assess long-term consequences of their actions—or inaction.

We know that organizations cannot tackle environmental and global challenges alone, so coaching needs to support leaders to consider their role in a much broader stakeholder network. It’s time to stop ignoring an environmental agenda that belongs to all of us. With moving from self-awareness to systems-awareness, coaching can deepen client relationships with inner-self, communities, nature and the ecosystem. This new mindset will result in new behaviors that are more sustainable, purposeful and focused on improving human conditions.

What are some immediate actions to support coaches and leaders to do what the world needs?

Provide an opportunity to consider connectedness, patterns and impact.

Co-create a coaching relationship that explores the relational space. Move away from coaching the problem and begin to focus on learning. Try asking questions that expand the client’s ability to see patterns, interconnectedness and hopefully create an awakening. Ask, “Who does your work serve?” as a jumping off point.

Bring current and future stakeholders into the process.

Coaching can make a difference when clients bring different stakeholders, including future generations and the planetary ecosystem, into their decision-making process. With this approach, coaches continue to support their client’s agenda and create space for insight-based learning around issues that belong to everyone and should not be ignored. One of the ways to convert these new insights into commitment is to inspire and encourage clients to imagine what the future could look like for diverse stakeholders and how even an incremental change in their choices could engage many people in a powerful movement toward a higher purpose.

Everything is interconnected and one with nature.

It is paramount for organizations to consider the environment while driving their business forward. If we fail in doing this, we are jeopardizing our future. To achieve this goal, we desperately need leaders who are innovative and aware of this connection and ready to take on the challenge. In order to be true to the belief that we are all part of a complex system and not living and working in a microcosm, we need to take on a new role as coaches for those leaders who are ready.

We need to not only raise awareness, but also elevate human consciousness.

Ask leaders to consider what they are doing that is good for them, what they are doing that is good for the company and what they are doing that is good for the world. Only with these three questions aligned, and serving a higher purpose, will we feel we are truly making a difference. It is time to make a shift from striving to be “the best in the world” to becoming the “best for the world.”

This article was originally published on the ICF website

One of the most common complaints I get when I'm coaching leaders is how they are so stretched for time. Often this is an early port of call for us as we begin our coaching journey together. Having the 'excuse' of insufficient time can easily be used as an external reason to avoid the challenges we face together, in developing their performance.

Time is finite. So, despite my eye-catching headline, no-one can make more of it. What you can do is make more discretionary time where you can deliver the leadership role you are meant to. Sometimes, crying off new challenges and sticking with what you have keeps you within your comfort zone. Sort of. Comfort zone aka more of the same can also have unappealing and unpleasant qualities. Like stress. Like pressure. Like a lack of fulfillment. Like not getting home to dinner with your family.

So the best leaders assimilate a few skills which determine not only their own performance, it determines that of their team. And getting a better life too. Everywhere.

Work. Home. Family. Me time. etc.

Here are 5 ways the best leaders make the most of their time.

They Do Their Own Job

The best leaders step away from hands-on to as much hands-off as they can manage. They have good people around them they have nurtured (they made time to do this) into a capable team of individuals. This is their job; their volition; their passion. Letting go of hands-on moves them away from their comfort zone into truly leading - and a lot less doing the things others can–or have the capacity–to do.

They Say Yes More Often

When support is offered, most leaders' inclination will be driven by their ego telling them 'You're the boss, you don't need help' and they will respectfully decline. Yet accepting help from others builds relationships; helps their development and confidence-building; can do most of the heavy lifting and more, lets you do your own job, not theirs. Saying yes, to selected and carefully considered things, makes any leader so much more appealing, developing collaboration into a valuable commodity.

They Push Back

The best leaders are also strong enough to push back when they are being asked to add to the workload of their team unjustifiably. Too much work increases strain, anxiety and in the end pushes people to the brink. Which often is elsewhere, in the forlorn belief that the grass is greener. Which sadly, so often, it isn't. Saying no - or at least questioning hard - work that is out of scope is a powerful time-creator. Not working to others demands is a skill that takes time to develop and ultimately they will understand you more; be more disciplined in themselves and be trained to your needs. And you will make more time for what really is important.

They Say No to Stuff

There is a lot of stuff people do in their work that doesn’t need to be done. Really! The most effective leaders understand this and work on it. Questioning what their people don't need to do is one very productive area. Equally effective is what they become aware of in themselves. 'What can I stop doing?' We fall into habits that, over time, become out-of-date and often unproductive. Checking what those habits and actions are is an invaluable way to free up more time.

They Are Effective Delegators

Delegation is a powerful development tool and needs careful appreciation. It is not a dumping ground for all the jobs no-one else wants. When used well, it takes the 'monkeys' (see Stephen Covey) off your desk and allows others to explore–with your support–new activities; new challenges and more importantly, opens an Alladin's Cave to discover what they really have within themselves. Delegation is the win-win where the leader gains time; develops others, builds morale and the organisation raises the bar of its complement of capable and motivated people.

And what do you do with these new tranches of time? Use them well. Use them in those activities that the leader in you wants to explore more. Start small and acknowledge to yourself what you did to get that time back. Make dedicated (I call it 'Red Circle') time in your calendar. These are the immovable slots that are for you to explore your own potential. Time to reflect; create challenge; work closely building relationships, give feedback and so much more of the Important, yet Not Urgent. Even finding a bit more time to hang around the coffee-machine and chat with people, using informal coaching skills in every conversation.

Your time is valuable, make the most of the leader within you by using it constructively and in a calculated way.

Martin Haworth is a coach, trainer and writer (of ideas that just pop-up from time to time). As a leader, he recognises the value to himself and those in his team, of letting them get on with their own jobs and letting him lead. He lives in Gloucester, England, travels extensively as a Leadership Trainer and coaches virtually with people all over the world.

I remember when I heard for the first time about the catastrophic event at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. I was a child, trying to find a connection between the explosion somewhere far in the Soviet Union and my parents’ debate whether my elder sisters should join the school trip. I only later understood my parents worry and the impact this accident had on the planet and human lives.

Now, many years later, the story and its meaning has been brought back to my life through the HBO miniseries Chernobyl. No one can be prepared to see the stressful scenes of death caused by radiation in this horrific tragedy. But what I found darkest in this story is the harsh truth about human nature – insidious manipulation and fear, toxic leadership covering up the truth even when it was clear that accepting responsibility and opening up communication would save lives.

There are lessons for all leaders when we read about or watch stories of heroic difference makers, but there also are lessons in the warnings we can see in those leaders who were tested by history and flat-out failed. The Chernobyl miniseries provides us with both.

Is Chernobyl something that happened once, somewhere far away? Or is it the story of a leadership dynamic that continues to live?

Power. How much are we really immune to a tendency to try to earn more, even if someone else is going to lose? How many organizational leaders would try to reduce spending without looking at the consequences of their decisions? Putting profit ahead of people.

Fear. An intense and unpleasant feeling, pushing us to become part of something we don't want to become part of. We are often pressured by ‘what must be done, must be done’ whatever the price, because we feel that we are in danger. Even if the danger is just perceived, it is equally powerful and affects our judgment and decision making.

How many leaders today, here, everywhere, rely on a culture of fear they consciously create? I'm sure we've all met them, in our career and in life. We meet and recognize them all too often. So, when we recognize them, the question we should ask is how much do we feed their power, even by deciding to mind our own business? If we “mind our own business” and decide to avoid conflict and not take a stand because we don’t feel directly endangered, what are the consequences? Are we complicit in perpetuating this fear culture? By avoiding taking a risk, we may be jeopardizing more than we can imagine.

Fortunately, most of us do not manage a nuclear power plant, but the lessons from this story are profound and applicable in today’s volatile world. To support a culture of toxicity, based in fear and manipulation will only lead to mistrust and ineffective leadership.

On a brighter note, there are courageous change-makers, leaders with stronger integrity than ego, who don’t give in to personal fears and insecurities even when the stakes are at their highest. We have them in the Chernobyl series, and in our reality. What are they teaching us? One lesson is that if we aren’t creating a culture of trust and transparency during stable times, people won’t act with trust and transparency when things get tough.

Uncertainty is the new normal. Enthusiasm has dwindled. Teams, and even friends, spend more time pulling each other down with negative speculation than lifting each other up with creative ideas. You might think these times call for you to be a strong leader when actually, this is the perfect time for you to coach.

Yes, people that look up to you need you to be open, honest, and more communicative than usual. They need you to paint a possible vision of the future that gives them hope. They need to see you as strong and confident, acting as a lighthouse shining through the dark.

You can be the beacon of light for others, but when they leave you, they will be bombarded with alarming media posts, fearful messages from family members and friends, and irritating comments by those who laugh at their optimism. No matter how inspiring your vision is, the world around them will put a pin in your vision bubble. Emotions shape our reality more than facts.

You can’t just tell people to focus on the bright side and have them stay there. Without a sense of certainty about the future, real or not, the dark side prevails. You must shift the stories they are living by in order to change their minds.

The power of coaching

Coaching is most effective when people must shift their beliefs and release their fears to stay hopeful and productive. They need to be coached so the changes in their brains are real and permanent, lasting long after your conversation with them.

The role of the leader in times of uncertainty is to coach people to think differently, not tell them what to do.

Most humans react to uncertainty by imagining the worse case scenario and believing it exists. They need you to be their thinking partner to discover what new work they are being called to do, which will help lift their spirits above the noise.

Besides, when the future is uncertain, there is no clear way forward for you to share. The best you can do is to coach them to examine their perspective so they find the opportunities in the challenges presented and the courage to be a light for others. If you start conversations with coaching, you give them the space and energy to join you in co-creating a meaningful present that could pave the way for a significant future.

Leader as coach

I’ve been teaching leaders to use a coaching approach in their conversations for 25 years. The story never changes. They love the idea of coaching but they think it saves time to just tell people what to do.

I disagree. I think it saves time to coach people to think more broadly for themselves. They become agile thinkers who don’t have to go to their bosses for answers. I often ask my coaching clients, “What will you do with the time you gain when you don’t have to put out every fire for your employees?” You don’t need to be a certified coach to engage others in ways that will expand how they see their capabilities and circumstances.

The International Coach Federation definition of coaching is:

Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

The key word that differentiates coaching from other interactions is partnering. Coaches act as thinking partners, helping people solve their problems through conversations where they see beyond their blocks. The results are empowering.

4 practices to make your coaching easy and effective

Add these four steps to your conversations to quickly change minds and behavior:

  1. Create safety by receiving what they offer. People need to feel safe with you to speak what is on their mind and express their feelings without being judged. Start by asking if they have a particular need they want to address. They will probably tell you about a problem they can’t solve. Then let them tell you the story that is triggering their emotions. Accept their perspective as how they see the situation right now. Once they trust you won’t make them wrong, they will be open to explore how they might change their story with you.
  2. Activate their observer mind by sharing what you hear and notice. Use reflective statements like summarizing and noticing shifts in tone of voice and facial gestures so people can think about the truth of what they are saying and what is bothering them most. Say things like, “So you are telling me…” “It sounds like you think no one will support your ideas. Is that true?” and “You got quiet and looked away when you mentioned that. Can you tell me what you were thinking?” Clarify what they believe is true about the present situation and the assumptions they are making about the future.
  3. Unearth what they really want. Once they agree to or clarify your reflections, ask them what they really want. They may hesitate because they doubt they can have what they want, or they might not know what’s possible now. At least you can agree on a destination they can move toward. It’s possible they just need to feel supported as they face surprising challenges that keep emerging. Eventually, there will be something they identify that is in their control to change in their inner if not outer world.
  4. Nudge them to agree to take at least one step. When they start to see new possibilities, ask them to explain what they are seeing or beginning to understand. Then ask them what they might do now that they see something new or different. Even if they say they need to think about it, ask what thinking about it looks like. Get them to declare a next step to take within a specific time frame. This ensures progress and growth.

Manage your mind when you coach

To coach well, you must

President John F. Kennedy said, “After the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for our victories or defeats…but for our contribution to the human spirit.” In times of uncertainty, they need you to lead with coaching.

Ideas in this post constructed from excerpts in Marcia’s new book, Coach the Person, Not the Problem: A Guide to Using Reflective Inquiry available for pre-order now. I have bonus content for you if you fill out this form with your purchase information.

These days we hear a lot about motivation, productivity, anxiety. We receive so many top tips and best practices to follow. Could all these friendly suggestions, to make the most of a global pandemic ’free time’, potentially negatively affect both motivation and productivity, or even make us more anxious about not achieving enough?

In my first week of quarantine I read somewhere that William Shakespeare worked on ‘King Lear’ during quarantine. Although I had no intention to compete in this space (at least not consciously) this and many other suggestions to use my time wisely, gave me additional motivation to jump on my delayed to-do list, start each day with creating new tasks, aiming to execute as many as possible. But then... the more friendly reminders I kept receiving to create my routine and track progress, the less inspired I felt to achieve more.

What does ‘more’ mean? As a coach I would love to ask my clients this question. Now trying to answer it myself... How to know if I am being productive enough?

Let’s start with the obvious.

Some people may increasingly feel anxious about what the future holds, while others may not be anxious at all – and both reactions are normal. Some people may increase their productivity while others may not be motivated at all as they are finding their own ways to cope with the unknown – and both reactions are normal.

Well, again, how can we measure our productivity? We have to find a framework or some measure of success, right?

I am sure you don’t need any extra advice, so I will use remaining space to share my simple ‘routine’ to find my own measure of success, in the absence of the ‘right’ way or best practice to follow.

Answer: What helps me feel good in my life? And how can I orient myself towards that path? Are my decisions aligned with it? How to keep my daily actions consistent?

Celebrate simple achievements, as well as goals I decide to ignore. Why celebrate those I ditched? As I am making more time for finding what might be more meaningful and give me a sense of purpose in the long run.

Remember the basics. Productivity does not necessarily mean sweating harder of making ‘bigger sacrifices’. Separate the merely busy from the genuinely productive. Maybe simply having that feeling of making progress in chosen area is enough.

Finally, it's time for less advice giving and more coaching, in all areas of our life and different roles we play - as a leader, a parent, a friend...

Acknowledge the whole person, along with their conglomerate feelings. With personal life and work life overlapping, now is the time to demonstrate empathy, listen deeply, connect without jumping immediately to productivity measures. That's why I love coaching!

What has already inevitably changed is the way we communicate, work together, and accomplish our goals.

There is no way back, only forward. Our different insights are already posing powerful questions and raising our level of awareness. This sounds productive enough to me.