The Art and Challenge of Presence in Transformative Work

In our practice as coaches, we are very familiar with the need to be present for our clients and we see this competency as being fundamental to the art and effectiveness of coaching. The quality of one’s presence is, in fact, one of the principles distinguishing characteristics between the ICF credential levels, particularly PCC to MCC.

We are typically skilled at being present for clients in one to one settings and a growth area is often developing the capability to be present for self, in this context, as a potentially useful area of insight in the process. We use parallel process as one way of understanding and exploring this dynamic, i.e. how what’s going on in the system and with our clients is paralleled in their work with us and in us as coaches. In the normal course of our work, we deal with this without too much struggle and regular supervision or other reflective practice keeps us clean, sane and improving professionally.

However, from personal experience, when we are involved in deeply transformative work with client teams and systems, this mirroring ramps up to new levels and the challenge is great indeed. Our ability to embrace this challenge, to deal effectively with the extreme personal struggle and emotions and to stay truly present with our clients, as they equally struggle, is the fundamental difference between success and failure, between everything coming apart at the seams and continuing to progress together on the journey.

When we are about to enter the bottom of the U in ‘Theory U’ with client teams, the ‘you know what’ begins to hit the fan. This is the time of letting go – when elements of the system, individual and collective, which have formed the basis of identity and survival up to this point, need to be shed or changed. It’s a time when what is to emerge and replace them is not yet known and so the unconscious response is typically fraught. Fear, anxiety, anger, confusion, stress, pressure, resistance and blame are all in full flow and the client’s reaction to this can be to get rid of the ‘most obvious cause’ of their pain – the team coach!

You will experience your own version of all of these feelings; your defensive system will be fully activated in parallel to theirs. You will also want to react in a way that blames and judges them and so the inevitable outcome of a breakdown of the process is set up.

So the challenge is also the opportunity – you are called in these circumstances to engage deeply and authentically in your own personal transformation and development, to role model it for your clients, so you can be fully present with them as they use your example as permission to engage fully in their own.

In the transformative work of systemic team coaching this is a fundamental key to success.

Be warned, however: this work is not for the faint-hearted!!

Gerry Ryan, MCC