Second Half Coaching – beyond competencies and tools.

Falling Upward and Exploring Spirituality

In the latter part of 2015, I read a book titled, “Falling Upward”, an exploration of spirituality in the second half of life. Richard Rohr suggests that at some point we move in spirituality from rules and structures and parent-child relationships to simpler and also more complex spiritualty in which individuals’ encounters with the divine become foremost. Engagement and relationship and personal responsibility for growth become paramount. The rules, creeds, structures of the first half are essential to Rohr – they are the foundations on which to grow more mature thinking. But they are not the all-encompassing end point and they may become substitutes for the real encounter.

Parallels to Coaching and – Second Half Coaching

It occurred to me that there is a parallel in the maturation of coaches, indeed of coaching. We must have the competencies, behaviors and skills which anchor coaching and allow us to do the job. But as our clients mature – which we hope happens as a result of coaching – so must we. There is a point in which, like an accomplished musician, when we move beyond the music, beyond the notes, beyond even the musical scales. We are at one with the music. We move, as coaches, beyond what we already know into a place of co-creation uniquely with each of our clients. In a very real sense, we move to a flow state in which we are inventing as we go – we and our clients enter an unexpected place of clarity and insight.

This is second half coaching!

If we are always on familiar ground in our coaching, if we know what to expect or know just what tool to use, I think we are actually advising or mentoring rather than coaching. Both of these are very valuable, but I think it is time to draw clear distinctions between advice giving, mentorship and coaching. A coaching supervisee just said, “I am becoming an “unprofessional” professional. I am feeling so at home in my professional identity that there is no need to “play” any professional role.” Prior to this, he has slipped into using his knowledge about change and his coaching methods that he did not truly collaborate with his client. He let go of that false certainty; his clients are flourishing.

If we really believe each client is unique, our interactions must be fresh and unique as well. The problem is – if we are constantly inventing in the moments of coaching, we invite the risk of not knowing what to do. That requires the coach to accept his or her own vulnerability, his or her very normal humanity. Rohr suggests there is confusion, fear, clarity, discovery and wonder in this space that are not available in first half thinking.

How do we get there? Not by more tools and techniques! There is no guaranteed path – However, learning to observe and reflect on our work can open doors to this new and exciting territory. For Richard Rohr, and others working explicitly in spirituality, the use of a spiritual director is common-place. This person is not a mentor, but one who accompanies the spiritual journeyer, helping him or her to experience and see what is happening in and to them.

In the realm of coaching, the parallel is a coaching supervisor who helps the coach see more clearly what is happening and to assist in processing those experiences.

Maturing coaches (a never ending process) who are ready for second half coaching – might want to explore the benefits of disciplined reflection offered through coaching supervision.

For more information, contact Sam Magill at, and


Seeking mature coaches who want to contribute to the profession

Why are some people drawn to provide coaching supervision?

As I go about recruiting participants for the Coaching Supervision Academy –USA certificate program, I’ve begun to notice a pattern among people who are interested. It makes sense and is revealing about supervision itself.

Age and experience – The people who are interested in providing coaching supervision are not beginners. In fact, they tend to be people who have had great coaching practices and are now taking a look forward – “Where do I want to go from here in my coaching practice?”

In my own case, I had taken a break from my normal routine and slowly unpacked what I most enjoyed about coaching-like work. I learned that I enjoy supporting people who help others. It might be called care for the care-givers. I also learned that I think coaching at its best is a wonderful force in the world. Then this image came to mind – an expanding network of connections and influence. I saw that if I helped a coach perform well and serve clients even better, then I could touch more leaders than if I worked directly with them. (I still enjoy leadership coaching also!) This fit my desire to be of service in the world and my desire to have a significant impact. So, as Sharon Daloz Parks famously framed Fredrick Beuchner’s work – vocation is where the hearts deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger. This is mine.

Supervision is an excellent fit for me as it seems to be for the people I know who offer professional coaching supervision. There is a depth and quality of inquiry in supervision that seems less often available in leadership coaching. There is an opening of heart and mind in service of clients.

To keep this brief – people who are interested in supervision training are typically interested in supporting the quality of coaching, in doing deep, reflective work with already skillful coaches and in taking time to step back from the fast pace of coaching to learn again and again. This seems to occur in the later parts of a coaching career, although especially wise mid-career coaches also make great supervisors.

If you want to contribute to the world of coaching as a mature practitioner who is looking to the future, let’s talk. Now accepting applications for January 2015 programs.

Why all the fuss at ICF about coaching supervision?

Why all the fuss in ICF over coaching supervision?

The most succinct answer is maturation of the profession of coaching.

When enough learning has accumulated in a profession, there is the possibility that some experienced practitioners become “big beginners”. I heard a story once about petroglyphs created by a certain indigenous people that depict stages of human development. There were four stages: baby, adolescent, adult and wise learner or big beginner. As explained to me, the big beginner is one who has a great deal of life experience and who also has the openness and curiosity of the baby – that amazing wide-eyed curiosity and openness to learning.

Coaching is quite well defined, has increasingly precise competencies, has multiple well-grounded theories and methods and has emerging research. What comes next, I believe, is deep wisdom. The work here goes beyond technique into a space of gentle and profound inquiry about ourselves, our relationships and our clients. It cannot be learned through instruction; it can be acquired through observation and reflection in a never ending dance of knowing and not knowing.

That the International Coach Federation has embraced Coaching Supervision for all levels of experience marks an important new phase – those who enter the world of super-vision can anticipate discoveries only available to the big beginner. Want to explore supervision? Contact me!




Essay on an Emerging Shadow in Coaching, Part Three

Waiter holding empty silver tray over gray background

What about the coaching profession’s shadow? My concern is that sometimes we coaches – as a profession – over promise. We all make implied or direct promises – it’s called marketing. But at some point, the promises become bigger than the reality. Some that come to mind are:

“Get new clients this week, or even right now today if you put these 3 tools into action immediately.”

“Provide the finest in life coaching and business coaching through the use of our easy to learn, yet highly effective system of results-driven coaching…in 16 hours.”

“7 steps to ……happiness, success, wealth, better relationships…”

Marketing requires us to make bold statements to differentiate ourselves from each other. Yes, we compete with each other! How do we stay honest about what we can do for our clients? This crucial ethical consideration needs a great deal more attention in our profession.

Another concern for the profession is when our work is reduced to a set of fixed steps, techniques and tools. The problem is that tools are implements used to shape or change objects and the one holding the tool has unequal and greater power. When, through choice of words, attitudes, beliefs or actions, we subtly create a power differential between coach and client, or objectify the client, we have violated the very definition of the profession.

Research reported by Ahn and Wampold (2001) and applied to coaching by Eric de Haan in Relational Coaching (2008) concludes that the most important factors in successful helping relationships are 1) the relationship between coach and client, 2) the character, personality, or person of the coach and 3) the coach having considerable study and knowledge of an approach. Professional associations do a good job on the third point, but less attention is given to the other two. Our relationship and our own character are more important than our tools; coaching is highly dependent on who we are and how we work with our clients.

Enter the shadow, again.

Join me for the conclusion next week.

Essay on an Emerging Shadow in Coaching, Part Two

reflection, coaching

Another personal shadow we must deal with is ego. We work hard to become qualified. We work hard to develop expertise. We work hard to develop a signature presence in the market place of coaching. I don’t know about you, but I’m proud of who and what I have become. Sometimes, however, I slip subtly into knowing what is best for my clients or enjoying my oh-so-clever questions a bit too much. Likewise, when I unconsciously take a position of wise or over-nurturing parent, I am working from a shadowy place.

Of course, this is personal stuff. Human relationships are always ripe for missteps. We like some clients more than we like others. Some clients challenge us or seduce us into their games. “…Coaches, like everyone else, never evolve to the point of being immune to these forces.”, Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart (Mary Beth O’Neill, 2007). Similarly, Scharmer and Senge state in Presence: “The success of an intervention depends on the inner condition of the intervener.” And Edna Murdoch, founder of the Coaching Supervision Academy reminds us, “Who we are is how we coach.”

When we forget to track this inner condition, this effect clients have on us, this beingness of ourselves, we allow ourselves to operate unconsciously – and that is where the shadow dwells.

I’ll explore possible shadows of the coaching profession next.

Essay on an Emerging Shadow in Coaching, Part One

A rural Adelaide Hills landscape

As the bright light of coaching grows, it, like all other things under the sun, will inevitably cast a shadow which undermines quality. That wouldn’t matter if we offered just ad hoc skills, but we have defined ourselves as a profession. It is up to us to maintain standards and, as John Schuster has said, “We must make ourselves worthy of our clients. “Fortunately, the shadow is not something to repress; it is a source of depth and power when properly engaged.

What is a shadow? In the Jungian sense, it is the part of ourselves kept hidden from others and from ourselves and it strikes me that shadows exist for both individual coaches and the profession itself.

One of the more common coach shadows I have encountered in myself and in good coaches whom I supervise is vulnerability. Here I am, a Master Certified Coach, and yet there are moments when I simply don’t know what to do! When I hide that uncertainty, it becomes a shadow. And when I don’t know that the shadow exists, my chances of serving my clients well goes down.

I’m amazed at how many times my coaching supervisees say the most useful thing about a session is when I admit I don’t know what to do! They say that when my vulnerability shows up, they are invited to show up completely as well. Then real learning begins.

I’ll continue exploring this in my blog next week.

Open New Doors

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Did You Know? Coaching can create clarity in the midst of chaos and open doors you may not have known existed. If you are serious about changing the way you work and are willing to undertake the effort to make it happen, I may be the coach for you. I work with clients individually and groups in a number of different areas:

Executive Leadership Coaching

Half of leadership is observation. Half is doing something about what you observe. All of it is about being human. Leaders face challenges that often cannot be discussed with people in their organization. An external coach can help explore challenging and sensitive issues in a neutral environment. Coaching can assist with transition to new leadership roles, completion of roles, recovery from mistakes, working with difficult staff members, planning major changes, dealing with the stress of changes, pacing leadership work at a rate the organization can absorb, and managing personal life balance.

“Dollar-for-dollar, my work with Sam is the highest value professional development I’ve ever done. It’s incredibly useful to me.” – Eric Svaren, Coach and Consultant

Supervising and Mentoring Other Professional Coaches

There is always room for improvement. As coaches, we are regularly immersed in the world of our clients. We are called to be fully present and connected in profound ways so that we can evoke questions in ourselves and in our clients that have previously crouched beneath the surface activities of their/our lives. Yet this essential relational space makes us vulnerable. Whether we are new to coaching or have been at it for a very long time, it is utterly natural to, in a sense, fall asleep to the effects of these connections, to the intentional practice of being present. In the process, we become less aware of our own practice and, while acting instinctively is very often a good thing, over time we develop unconscious patterns that may or may not be right for our current client. As a professionally-trained coaching supervisor, I work with experienced certified coaches to renew their skills, adjust relationships, and help them be the very best they can be for their clients.

“[Sam has the] courage for doing what I would not have considered.” – Boeing division president

Organization Change Management

What do you do if a whole company, organization, or department needs to change? Maybe it’s reorganization, merger, or simply facing a situation that isn’t working anymore. I’ve teamed with management to move large or small organizations forward slowly and surely by using proven coaching techniques and meeting designs to improve communication and buy-in.

Team Building, Group Coaching, Facilitation

We all depend on others to get work done. In every work setting there is some chain or network of relationships that supports or impedes progress. I am regarded as an expert in helping clients understand these connections and in fostering growth among the people involved. This isn’t touchy feely stuff that can be easily dismissed; in fact, it can be the most important and rewarding work of all.

If you or someone you know is interested in coaching, please contact me via email or call (425) 787-0846.

Being Human

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Me and my colleague Gilles Roy in France

I have been consulting and coaching in aerospace, health care, education and government since 1977. I hold an MBA and am a Master Certified Coach (International Coaching Federation). My background and approaches are eclectic, drawing from solid experience in a variety of organizations, a rich educational background and a life long commitment to learning. I have worked as an independent coach and consultant for over 10 years.  I am best used with leaders who want to dive below the surface of quick answers in order to look at patterns, relationships and cultural habits that dampen organization effectiveness. Although I have taught many workshops over the years (and continue to do so), my interest now is sustained coaching relationships in which I and my clients know and trust each other enough to do real work. I am is regarded as skillful, insightful and authentic. My observations through all this experience are as such:

Part of leadership is about observation. I’m amazed at how little leaders know about their own organizations. We must get better at seeing – just as the old naturalists learned to see the world with fresh eyes every time they went walking. A big part of my work focuses on helping people see and hear what is happening. That’s why I’ve included my own works of poetry and photography in this site. I know it might not seem business like, but I can tell you many stories about how listening to the subtle nuance of communication has helped increase effectiveness. Similarly, I have learned to look at situations with my camera in hand and ask, “What wants to be seen here?” In our organizations, I believe people are crying to be seen, to be heard, to be involved in effective ways. That’s what I want to help clients do.”

Part of leadership is about doing something. According to Ronald Heifetz, at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the purpose of leadership is to mobilize people to collectively affect positive change on crucial and often complex issues.

Yet, getting from ideas to action is often a breakdown point for leaders. I’m interested in the chain of relationships among people that allows work to get done. Getting things done requires having the right conversation at the right time, knowing how to make effective requests, knowing how to keep work going once it starts and knowing how to gather in the results of effort – not just the bottom line, but for each person who contributes in their particular way. It also involves letting go of methods and ideas that no longer serve.

All of it is about being human. There are a lot of efforts these days to find some common ground on which communities and organizations can be built and sustained. We spend countless dollars and euros and pesos dealing with the effects of not having common ground, but finding it is really quite simple. The fact is we are all human. What a concept! That is our common ground and once we figure that out, we can get on with addressing the enormous challenges we have in communities and organizations across this tiny globe. This business of being human crosses all the boundaries of communities, countries, and organizations. Doctors, farmers, field workers, teachers, politicians, CEO’s – underneath all our situations and titles, we’re pretty much the same. Let’s get on with important work that honors all human beings.

If you are committed and ready to do something to advance your organization, give me a call at (425) 787-0846 and we can talk about how I can help you achieve your goals.

Polishing the Rock: Refining the Coach Towards Mastery – Forever

Stream flowing over rocks

Sam has the distinguished opportunity to present as a breakout session speaker during the 2014 International Coach Federation (ICF) Midwest Regional and Global Conference in Cleveland, Ohio on June 19-21.  The theme for the conference is “Coaching ROCKS!” 

Rocks take a long time to polish. In fact, when the rock is in nature, the polishing never ceases, but only occurs under the right conditions. This workshop introduces the emerging refinement process for coaches called “Coaching Supervision”.  We will explore what this process is, why it is necessary and sample some of the ways coaches can refine themselves and their practices in service of their clients. A key part of refinement involves “Reflective Practice”, and each participant will practice reflecting on themselves.  Imagine a rock in a river: after thousands of years it knows itself and how it works really well.

Participants will:

  • Understand the nature and purpose of coaching supervision
  • Learn some of the characteristics of well-refined rocks (coaches)
  • Sample a few models of coaching supervision, including reflective practice
  • Reflect upon at least one of their own coaching engagements while using powerful supervision methods
  • Begin their endless journey of coaching refinement, whether they are currently ACC’s, PCC’s or MCC’s

If you are interested in attending the conference and/or Sam’s session, please visit the ICF Conference websiteThis session is 1.5 Core Competency CCE Units.

Considering Coaching

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For some people, the choice to work with a coach is the result of a long process of research, decision and then indecision, and more research.  Some of the indicators that you might be a good candidate for coaching include:

  • You are concerned about your effectiveness.
  • You just entered a new role.
  • You’re about to leave a role.
  • Being a leader isn’t fun any more.
  • You’re feeling out of control.
  • You’re working harder and getting fewer results.
  • The people around you are not responding as you would like them to.

Once you determine that a coach is part of your way forward, you then have to find the “right” person to help you achieve your goals.  Before you schedule a meeting with a potential coach, take some time to ponder the following questions.  The answers will help to lead the discussion when talking with him or her about a possible coaching relationship.

  1. If you only answer three questions, make it these:
    • What keeps you awake at night
    • What needs to be discussed in your organization and yet is never mentioned?
    • Why do you seek coaching now?
  2. If you want to start working now, try these:
    • What is your role: what is it REALLY, regardless of title and job description? There could easily be a difference.
    • Your history in that and previous roles: what has worked, what has been a challenge? Understanding lessons from the past guides current exploration.
    • Your surroundings: what’s going on around you, why it is changing? Your work always exists in a context.
    • Other players: Who is around you? What is your relationship? What do you think of their work? None of us achieves our objectives alone.
    • The future: What do you see? What do you want? How will you get there? We start from where you are, but coaching is about facilitating the future.
    • Balance: What will it take for you to be sound in body, mind and spirit so you can do your best?
  3. And for some serious reflection before the meeting:
    • Where are you finding that stakeholders have to adjust their plans, values, relationships or ways of working to make progress?
    • Where are stresses to quickly solve problems at odds with the problem’s complexity?
    • Where could you hand over work (instead of controlling it directly) to those individuals affected by the problem so they could fully engage the issue?
    • Where might a shift in authority be needed to achieve a goal?
    • What shifts in perspective might YOU need in order to get the job done?
    • Where are there gaps between aspirations and the reality of the situation?
    • Where is strong authority needed to keep the issue from overwhelming the resilience of the group affected?

    If these questions resonate with you and you want to schedule a time to talk with me, please reach out by phone (425) 787-0846 or email me at