Nancy Glynn's picture Submitted by Nancy Glynn October 12, 2016 - 12:00am

“Do not try to call them… to where you are, as beautiful as that place may seem to you. You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have been before.”

This quote from Vincent Donovan for me sums up the 2016 Annual Conference for Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare. The quote was shared by David Drake, PhD in his profound workshop on “Creating Moments of Meeting in Coaching”. The conference was rich and varied as always, and this year a central theme for me was the extraordinary beauty and impact of being human, and our essential role as coaches in connecting our clients and ourselves to our own humanity.

In her keynote speech on Emotional Agility, the title of her new book, Susan David, PhD, reached participants in ways that were moving and inspiring. She explained the importance of learning to accept difficult emotions so that we can meet them and understand the information and value they hold. Applying the tenants of positive psychology does not require being ‘happy’ all the time, and as Susan says “Life’s beauty is inseparable from its fragility”. Keeping clients and ourselves from the realities of life prevents us from becoming more thoughtful and resilient. She defines Emotional Agility as the ability to be with the fullness of the human experience: our thoughts, emotions and self-stories. It is being courageous, curious and compassionate to ourselves and others. Her talk brought me back to the internal shift within me that came about as I practiced Mindfulness and attended Mindfulness teacher training and retreats. When I cultivated the ability to meet emotions such as disappointment, fear or anger and to work with them consciously, the sense of befriending myself and of feeling both grounded and liberated was astounding.

A workshop by Carlos Davidovich, MD, on “Neuroscience Research and the Process of Change” deepened my knowledge and brought practical and applicable insights on how coaching can unlock a person’s resources and bring them to places neither they nor you have been before. He reviewed the five brains – the Sperry split theory of Left and Right Brain; the MacLean Triune Brain of the reptilian complex, the limbic system and the neocortex; the Armour Cardiac Brain that contains 40,000 neurons; and the Gut Brain, which contains 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system. Carlos concludes that of all of these brains, only one is rational – the neocortex – which means that 80% of our brain power lies outside the rational. He says it is important to realize that emotion leads to action, reason leads to conclusions. The implications for coaching are significant. We must create a healthy alliance between the rational brain and emotional brain, taking enough time for emotions to be present and accounted for. As a coach, we know that trust is the foundation of everything, so how do we establish trust? Oxytocin – an endorphin – is key: as levels increase, fear goes down and empathy increases. Through touch, oxytocin increases and when this is not possible due to cultural norms or distance such as over video or phone, the physical closeness to the person (without entering into the personal space), tone and warmth of voice and asking how they are feeling can all raise oxytocin levels and increase feelings of trust. Oxytocin decreases fear and increases empathy and is also essential to personal change.

In perfect tune with Carlos’s workshop, David Drake brought his warm and strong presence to the experience of connecting to ourselves and to one another, resulting in real-time shifts as we coached each other in the workshop. David underlined that our presence is the biggest factor in coaching and through a few minutes of mindful breathing we can at any moment be more present. According to David the point of Mindfulness is to become more skillful in relationships. He provided insights and experiences for a coaching model that includes creating a safe haven for clients; connecting to them in the moment and asking the difficult questions so that they and you can understand what is the underlying narrative that is driving the behavior; providing clients with new experiences, not more information; and trusting that everything the client and coach need is already present. In coaching he is more concerned if a client has moved to a higher level of being, making him or her more capable.  As David offered tools for working in the moment he encourages us to : “Let go of any compulsion to solve a problem, be clever, be powerful or be omniscient. You are only a steward and a witness for a process that is already underway ”.

The Conference ended with a a key note speech by Mikko Nissinen, the Finnish-born Artistic Director of the Boston Ballet, who has built the ballet into a world class company and leading them through many trials and tribulations. He inspired us with his dedication to creating excellence and his approach to building an environment where artistry thrives just, as he said, that if you want to grow orchids you need to create an environment where these magnificent flowers can flourish. Having been a ballet soloist in my first career, I was particularly touched to see an Artistic Director with the deep humanity he embodies and with the vision to connect ballet with the community and to millennials. He strives to ”curate to be relevant”, bringing people ‘me time’ where they can recharge: “We don't create reality, we talk with the language of illusion, and that illusion can transport you.” When we watch dance, the same parts of our brain light up as those who are dancing and we have the magical experience of leaping and pirouetting ourselves from the comfort of our chairs.

Through the presence of their humanity, the speakers and participants at the Conference transported me and left a lasting impression. I was enriched by the dance.