Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alchemy as Metaphor for Great Coaching

Alchemy may seem a bit grandiose as a metaphor for everyday coaching, but many coaches stop short of what is possible. Alchemists believe everything will become something more advanced given time. The "Great Work" is to speed up that process. Why not imagine our deepest work can parallel transmuting base elements into gold?

As coaches we have the privilege of witnessing another human being's awakening, and clients who come to us for obvious "fixes" may not yet realize how extraordinary their changes could be.

During my first few years as a coach, working with senior executives, I gave clients what they asked for. They were awarded their promotions, managed their teams better, or in worst cases reinstated themselves instead of being fired.

With some, however, my simply being present and mirroring encouraged much more, so I began to push all my clients to heighten their awareness, to look at the motives and drives behind their observable goals.

In Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology, Marie-Louise von Franz suggests we not program our work, but rather "observe what comes up without drawing hasty speculative conclusions." When we accept what we do as "Great Work" there's also a kind of mystical union, a shared mystery, a felt experience difficult to put into words, unique to that particular relationship through which we both grow.

Some coaches I've mentored have asked "Do we have the right to encourage deeper change when clients have asked only for help with their leadership or communication skills, or similar behavioral goals?" This is a legitimate concern, because deep change work can be disorienting, discomfiting, and for some even frightening.

I believe we need to be forceful and courageous enough to challenge clients to go as far as they can go. It is, of course, their choice. But all of us thirst to find greater meaning and to realize our full potential - not just in worldly terms but congruent with our highest values. As coaches we can help our clients satisfy that thirst.

Not everyone can or wants to make the leap Great Coaching demands, but those who do find far more rewards than they anticipated when seeking only to resolve an immediate problem.

(See Calcinatio, Solutio, Solificatio, Nigredo, Separatio, Mortificatio, Sublimatio, Coagulatio)

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