Why Coaches Should Avoid the Black Box of Stuckness

[I’m experimenting with having transcripts of my videos made. Let me know if you like it, are neutral, or hate it. ♥ MLG]

If you have been a regular video follower or watcher, thank you for your flexibility and patience in these last couple of months. For four years or so, I was consistent in producing or creating weekly videos. For the last couple of months, it’s just been really erratic. So there you are.

Part of what’s been going on behind the scenes is that I’ve gotten clearer that I really care—sue me ;-)—I really care about the coaching profession. It looks to me like coaching emerged in the last half of the 20th century in response to an evolving, awakening awareness about the nature of human beings when it comes to learning and potential. Like, coaching woke up in us and in various people and different disciplines as we began to appreciate that human beings are designed to learn, and that human beings are coded to adapt, to develop. And yet that there seemed to be things that got in the way of the full expression of that capacity to learn and develop.

So we got curious about what’s in the way of the flowering of human potential. It seems to me as I sit here right now, and I’m just thinking out loud, that there were two opposing forces from the beginning of coaching. One developmental or evolutionary direction was, “Holy crap, human beings learn and when we show up for each other with a certain kind of listening, a certain kind of presence, attention, open-ended curiosity, that learning is catalyzed, even accelerated!” (Cool, no?)

The opposing force was a preoccupation with what gets in the way of human learning. What is it that keeps us from fulfilling our potential? It seems to me that this is a really good question, and I think that there’s a trick embedded in it.

The trick is that if we get too impressed with what’s in the way, we become complicit with an obstacle created in the mind of the person who is stuck. Like, everyone who has ever been stuck is stuck within the limits of the way they perceive, concoct, and understand their situation and their circumstances. Stuckness cannot occur outside of the box that we’re stuck in.

Stuckness cannot occur outside of the box that we’re stuck in.

It’s innocent, and to the degree that coaching became preoccupied with unpacking what’s in that box, the black box of stuckness, we developed, (this happened in therapy, too) lots of way to unpack, reorder, repack, improve, tweak, manipulate, manage, optimize the contents of the black box of stuckness. But the thing is you don’t have to do that. You can look beyond, look through, look under, around the black box of stuckness.

You don’t have to unpack what’s in the way, if you understand that what’s in the way is always a product of thought in the moment. That may sound facile, but there is a depth and a richness underneath that very simple statement, that stuckness is always the product of thought in the moment, and that unstuckness is the result of insight, which redesigns, restructures, replaces the contents of the black box. Every time.

And so, there are coaching tools, coaching techniques, coaching interventions, lists of coaching questions, all of which appear to improve what’s in the black box such that clients get unstuck. I propose that what’s actually happening is that all of those interventions, one way or another, coincided with the emergence of an insight in the client such that the black box is no longer an issue.

There’s a famous quote attributed (apparently mistakenly) to Einstein to the effect that we cannot solve problems at the same level of consciousness at which they were created. He said something like that, but he didn’t say that. (Sorry, I can be geeky about attribution.)
Well, Einsteinian or not, it looks to me to be very useful. We cannot solve the problems that our clients have or help them solve them if we get preoccupied with what they created at the level of consciousness in which the problem emerged. We and our clients can absolutely re-engage situations, learn, adapt, develop, innovate, create, tweak, when we are no longer preoccupied by or limited to or enchanted or entranced by the problem of the black box in front of us.

One way I talked about this recently on LinkedIn is, “Are you coaching the signal or the noise?” When we coach the signal, we’re trying to help a client get over, past, beyond, free from the noise created by that black box of stuckness. When we coach the signal, when we coach the client to differentiate between signal and noise, we are supporting the client to learn, to have a fresh look, to engage with the potential for a new thought. And that is an insight-based process, not a performance-based process. It has immense implications for performance, but it doesn’t start by tweaking performance.

I don’t know if any of this made sense to you. I would love your pushback, your feedback, your questions. This is what I’m up to in 2018,  articulating the fundamental principles that are the key to client learning, to client transformation. Excuse me, it’s what we’re all up to as coaches, but we don’t all look in the same place for it, and I want us to look deeper at the source code of transformation, and not at the black box that is temporarily in the way of transformation.

So let her rip. I want to hear from you. Thank you.

Share your thoughts in the comments or email me. 

Effective coaching addresses the signal not the noise

I spent three days last week in San Francisco exploring and practicing ways to make coaching more effective in the third 7 Paths Forward workshop with David Goldsmith and David Peterson. This work made me more and more convinced that honing skills is helpful, but only to the extent that coaches also understand the human operating system.

Most efforts to explain how humans work and thus how to optimize or catalyze or unleash (choose your verb) human potential and performance add layers of complication and complexity. New theories and methodologies are developed to address inconsistencies and unintended consequence from earlier theories and methodologies.

The 3 Principles understanding is subtractive rather than additive. It clarifies the principles, or primary constituents, of human experience. This clarity is a game changer. It orients coaches and clients to the signal rather than the noise in life and work. Noise, in this instance, is the mental chatter and insecurity that impede learning, damage relationships, and cloud perception.

Most coaching addresses the noise: reduce it, filter it, change it, or replace it with better noise. That takes time, energy, attention, money, and other resources. It’s expensive, and it never alters the underlying reality that noise is a given in the human experience.

Principles-based coaching produces insights into the phantom nature of insecurity and mental noise. As clients appreciate that the noise is not definitive unless they choose to make it so, they are free to re-orient themselves around signal, around what they want to create, learn, or accomplish. Noise continues, and it matters less and less and less.

If you are a coach, a client, or responsible for coaching in your organization, check out the replay of the Wholeness Hangout in which I and my guest panelists explore coaching from a Three Principles perspective. Each of my guests have been trained in the International Coach Federation (ICF) tradition of coaching in a variety of programs. Each of us has encountered the Three Principles after this training and found that the Principles provide the robust basis or source code for what our coaching tradition has attempted to codify.

Click here for the replays and resources from A New/Old Story: Considering ICF Coaching from a 3P Perspective.


ICF and 3P: the time has come

Here’s my “impossible project” for Michael Neill’s Creating the Impossible 2018 program.

In the next 90 days I will make the Three Principles the explicit foundation for coaching in the International Coach Federation (ICF) tradition. It will be obvious that this has been accomplished when the Principles are incorporated into International Coach Federation (ICF) Core Coaching Competencies and standards for accredited coach training programs.


The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the most widely recognized and respected global professional organization for the coaching industry. The ethics, values, and knowledge encoded in ICF policies and standards have been invaluable in my own professional development. As a trainer and mentor of coaches, I’ve seen that coaches who can demonstrate the ICF Core Coaching Competencies are more effective by far than those who cannot.

Seven years ago I encountered the teachings of Sydney Banks, now popularly known as the Three Principles. Almost immediately I saw the Principles as the “source code” for coaching. Syd shared profound realizations about the nature of human experience and the truth of our connectedness and access to wisdom and insight moment to moment. These realizations are the principles that ground the values and standards ICF has developed.

Here’s one example of the impact that understanding the Principles has on coaching. The opening paragraph of the ICF definition of coaching states:

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.

According to ICF, coaches “believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole.” According to the Three Principles, this is a truth of human nature, not a belief or framework.The shift from adhering to a belief about client creativity, resourcefulness, and wholeness to seeing it as an actuality has profound implications for how coaches work.

Dr. Judith Sedgeman points eloquently to how understanding the Three Principles transforms our understanding of human potential in this post, The Infinity of Possibility. Without a 3P understanding, professional coaching remains a game played on a finite board. Coaches already understand the notion of limiting beliefs, but too often miss the fact that those beliefs are made up. What is made up does not need to be deconstructed; it can be seen through.

If you are a coach and interested in knowing more about the Three Principles, or a Three Principles practitioner interested in learning from the rich base of skills encoded in the ICF Core Coaching Competencies, let’s talk!

Dancing with impossiblityy

chalkboard heart impossibleMy current definition of coaching is “meeting clients at the interface between formlessness and form for the sake of creating something marvelous.”  Michael Neill is especially skilled at pointing to and working at this interface, which is why he’ll be my guest next week for the Wholeness Hangout to talk about his latest book, Creating the Impossible. 

My own relationship with the idea of creating the impossible has been bumpy. As an artist and a coach–heck, as a human being–I have had myriad thrilling experiences and insights into the mystery and actuality of creating at and beyond the edge of possibility. I’ve also seen (and indulged in) a good deal of BS around the topic. I get prickly about magical thinking and the suggestion that we get to boss the Universe around.

What Michael is up to is grounded, deep, funny, and fun. I find his perspective on creating the impossible thrilling, challenging, and immensely worthwhile.

I hope you’ll join us with your questions, insights, and dreams via Zoom on Thursday, February 1, 2018, at 10 AM Pacific time. Wholeness Hangouts are always free, you don’t even have to sign up. Click here to join us. 

Michael Neill bestselling author of The Inside Out Revolution

Resilience: Riding the Roller Coaster of Life with Ease

Western Lecture SeriesResilience: Riding the Roller Coaster of Life with Ease

I’m delighted to announce that next month I’m teaching an affordable, local, in-person course in the principles that give rise to resilience in all aspects of life and work.
This is not another stress management or mindfulness course. My co-instructor, Dan Webster, and I will share fundamental principles that make up innate human resilience. Understanding these principles enables you to respond resourcefully and wisely to even the most unexpected twists and turns in life. Results include increased calm and lightheartedness, reduced stress and emotional reactiveness, higher quality relationships, higher levels of creativity and insights and access to our “groove” or “mojo.”
Dan and I are offering this course through the Academy of Lifelong Learning at Western Washington University. Here’s the quick scoop:
  • 4 Sessions: Tuesday, Feb. 6, 13, 20, 27
  • Time: 6:30-8 p.m.
  • Location: Village Green Community Center, Kingston, Washington
  • Cost: $69
  • Suggested reading: The Missing Link by Sydney Banks.
REGISTER for this course and other Academy for Lifelong Learning Courses at  wwu.edu/allpeninsulas

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