What brings us to coaching is often intensely personal. We may find ourselves in situations that feel more confusing and more daunting than any experiences we can recall. When this happens Growth Edge Coaching can broaden our perspectives and smooth our feathers.
How can introducing elements of adult development theory into coaching help us strike a constructive tension? By navigating the turbulence of our present moment while recognizing that the challenges we face follow contours of a shared human experience.
Let’s look at three people who sought out coaching because the upheaval of their lives seemed to offer no clear path forward.
- A policy maven started a high-profile new job. The decades-long habit she so desperately wanted to break? Conforming by default to the dominant culture of any organization she joined and exceeding its expectations. New values were inexplicably bubbling up inside her. These values would not allow themselves to be swept aside. She struggled to articulate the unfamiliar behaviors that her new values asked her to adopt.
- The head of a professional services firm felt trapped. So much was on the line when he had started his company: Providing for his family, showing his parents he could do better in life than they had, and proving to his that peers he could make it on his own. Now his marriage was over, his parents were deceased, and the thought of proving himself to anyone seemed to pale beside the drudgery of running a cash cow company that brought him no joy. But if he didn’t work himself to the bone for other people, what else could he possibly do?
- A political consultant had met every goal he’d set for himself and won every race he’d supported. A libel ended his career. As he scanned the horizon in search of a new goal to set, nothing held his attention. He was confident he could do whatever he set his mind on, but he could not set his mind on anything. The question bugging him: Where should he look to find his purpose?
These people were all accomplished before they started coaching. However, each one found it increasingly difficult to make sense of why they were doing what they were doing.
When people can’t see a path forward, it might seem natural to coach them to come up with next steps. However, being able to frame these deeply personal struggles in terms of constructive-developmental theory offers something richer.
Not only do we get to feel the high-speed headwinds of the turmoil-du-jour; we also glimpse the underlying blueprints of our lives. Seeing these blueprints brings two things into focus:
1) Our struggles are not unique. Aside from the idiosyncratic content, our struggles are shaped a lot like everybody else’s.
2) Our struggles are a feature of our growth.
With our eye on the blueprints of our lives, we can roughly anticipate where we’re headed and purposely aid our own growth. We may not enjoy slogging our way through, but equipping ourselves with lights all the way to the end of the tunnel can provide a sense of reassurance.
The coaching clients above were all quite used to living life through the socialized form of mind. As their circumstances were changing, their minds began to slough. For them it just felt like really bad stress.
Introducing these clients to the idea that our minds are capable of evolution, and that they were growing out of the habit of taking cues from external authority and into the habit of fashioning their own self-authored moral compass, normalized their experiences. It gave them room to breathe and get curious about how to respond. How did it play out?
- The policy maven examined her emerging values and named them. She identified the external drivers that had ensured she would get straight A’s at anything she had ever tried her hand at. Then she started to sketch out the kind of life that would be possible if the drivers she heeded were these still-unfamiliar, but definitely more attractive, values. This move meant a sea change for the climate she created at work.
- The professional services firm owner was incredulous. There were actually other people who had undergone transitions similar to the one he was going through? He slowly warmed up to the idea that, with no wife or parents to cater to, he might as well consider what he wanted. An exit strategy from his business came into view. So did the beginnings of a new business that centered on a hobby he had never before dared to think of making money from.
- The political consultant gave up looking for a purpose. Instead he cultivated the habit of imagining an older version of himself. His brazen life of self-serving conquest gave way to a very different kind of self-service: Humbly serving the older man he wanted to become. The budding love he felt for himself prompted him to instantly drop habits he’d spent years struggling to quit. A consequence of this change was an earnest desire to learn how to love other people.
Some of these clients were eager to familiarize themselves with the details of constructive-developmental theory. Others took comfort in learning its broadest brushstrokes in a single conversation. All of them saw ways forward that they previously could not have imagined.
Growth Edge Coaching can offer a different constructive tension, more deeply grounded in choice, to people who already used to living from a self-authoring mind. To illustrate this, we’ll turn next to an L&D professional whose Growth Edge Interview showed strong evidence of self-authorship.
Presented with the choice to either adopt a set of habits that would more firmly anchor his sense of self-authorship or a different set of habits that would begin laying the foundation for self-transformation, he asked a few pointed questions.
In his professional role, he was on an explicit mission to improve life for everybody within the company. He regarded this mission with utmost gravity. He had overcome tremendous obstacles to arrive at this station in his career. There still remained many years of work to do. He didn’t want to do anything that would get in its way.
Viewing the issues that came across his desk each day through paradoxical lenses? Going out of his way to add additional shades of grey to an already perfectly complicated role? None of this held any appeal for him.
The choice to lean more fully into self-authorship was a no-brainer. For now. The L&D professional made his choice to continue down the road of self-authorship fully aware that things might change. One day the single-minded purpose he brought to his work might no longer make sense, at which point new habits might be required. But even as he confidently chose the path of self-authorship to the exclusion of self-transformation, the seed that he might one day choose to pursue a radically different path had been planted.