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Loss of PassionAugust 13, 2018

 

I am coaching a fair number of coaches in my work today and one of the themes that keeps surfacing is a loss of personal passion. After years of coaching, interest wanes. Aliveness and creativity seem to fade. While a narrative of “I enjoy coaching” continues to circulate, for my clients the living experiences of joy, love and heartbreaking fulfillment are things of the past. Boredom feels right around the corner. For some coaches even a professional malaise or depression is on the rise.

Ironically, in the absence of motivation, creative insight and innovation, we often repeat the same kind of coaching we’ve always done again and again…leading to the same kinds of experiences. Even though we aren’t getting the result we intend for ourselves, we persist. And more disturbing is the reality that a disengaged coach is often an ineffective coach. A coach going through the motions often results in clients wondering what they are investing in.

Many different challenges can result in the loss of personal passion however, the one I often see most clearly is that of the expert coach who’s developmentally ready to step out on their own, but hasn’t quite clarified what that means or how to do it.

In the coaching profession today, many coaches get their training wheels and sense of professional readiness by certifying through a training program. Although only some types of coaching require certification, many coaches I know have been drawn to certification programs because they want to orient themselves to the field, receive mentorship, and legitimate their already existing skills in the professional marketplace.

For all of these reasons, coach training programs and their methodologies are important building blocks for the profession. Yet they can and often do become life-draining obstacles, and this isn’t widely understood by most coaches I know.

Why?

Mastering someone else’s coaching methodology — regardless how comprehensive, masterful and effective it may be — always employs some form of imitation. It has to, and at least initially, it should. Yet imitation, no matter how sophisticated, by necessity backgrounds your own novel and sincere innovations that express your greater authenticity, expertise and uniqueness.

When we become trained in any field, we are willingly being molded by expertise and learning to adopt it—to wield it as a reliable, skilfull tool for the benefit of others. In the process of being molded by expertise, we are submitting our own private, novel and creative impulses to the discipline of a well-worn path.

Now don’t get me wrong: in the mostly unregulated field of coaching we certainly want trained coaches who are held to standards of practice. Certification programs serve this important function today.

Yet it is also true that at some point—in any field or craft—after successfully embodying the expertise we have been taught, we become developmentally ready to stop coloring inside the lines. When this happens, it means we are on the brink of our own developmental shift from a kind of methodological conventionality into a post-methodology or post-conventional phase of our vocation.

And this applies to coaches, too. At some point in professional competency, usually after years of coaching post-certification, we become ready to stop imitating and implementing someone else’s fashioning of what coaching is. And if we don’t enact this generative creativity, we’ll likely feel stuck in rote methods. Personal passion becomes that thing of the past. Boredom starts to creep in.

When this happens, your more naked and direct engagement with your clients is what is most needed — for them, and for you.

But we struggle nonetheless. Even if we know we need to grow, it’s all too easy to follow the prescriptions from the authorities we trust. In the face of the anxiety of not knowing what to do and how to be with our clients differently, we back away from the risks of experimenting with novelty. Maybe we’re fearing failures. Maybe we just prefer security and predictability. Regardless, we back down.

And the price of this backing down is our professional passion, aliveness, joy, and creativity.

So, for those of you who feel the dogs of boredom nipping at your heels, here are some suggestions to help you take some leaps into the unknown and liberate your coaching from the forms, structures and methods of the past:

Become the value you provide. That’s right, who you are, how you live, what you’ve accomplished, how you love, what you engage today and where you’re headed are more important than any coaching methodology. It’s on you my friend. How are you an instrument of greatest value to your clients?

Take a deep breath, open your heart and invite people into who you are more intimately. The risk may just be well worth it for both you and your client.

Your coaching methods are still welcome. Post-conventionality isn’t about rejecting your lineage, it’s about building in novel ways upon it. Use your frameworks when they’re useful. Ditch them when they aren’t. And… sometimes ditch them even when they are of use just to see what else can emerge.

Your passion and pleasure are important. Spend time with clients who light you up and creatively synergize with where you’re headed. Don’t withdraw yourself from the coaching relationship. Don’t become a blank open slate who’s openly available to anyone interested in coaching. Bringing more of you in may look like saying “no” more than you say “yes.” Your passion and pleasure are needed, and they are a trustable guide.

Your growth edges are likely interwoven with those of your clients. Don’t worry about being the expert who’s done and accomplished it all. Let your clients teach and grow you as a coach and as a human being. Cultivate radical humility and curiosity. When it’s your turn to admit your limitations and receive feedback, model how to do it well. Set boundaries where appropriate. Grow with your client. You’ll both yield far more value for each others’ lives.

Last but not least, spend time privately exploring your own mission and purpose. The reason for your existence is one of your greatest coaching assets. It is the north star that enables you to become the value. The more intimate and curious you are about these facets of yourself, the greater your expression of coach-as-instrument.

My fellow coaches, take risks, stretch beyond your known orbits and explore. You just might find yourself filled with passion, purpose and pleasure all in the midst of coaching people you might just love.

Rob McNamara is a faculty member of the Integral Facilitator Certificate program, co-founder of Delta Developmental,  and author of The Elegant Self. A leading expert on adult development and human performance, his coaching services help individuals increase their scope of influence where it matters most personally and professionally. You can learn more at RobMcNamara.com

Join Rob for a 10-week online Developmental Coaching Program starting October 1st, which offers coaches a deep dive into the application of developmental theory to coaching. 

One comment

Paula Downey

Rob… I’m writing as a Ten Directions alumni. I appreciate the central point your article makes: that at some stage in our professional development we must strike out and chart our own course. Indeed, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I’ve taken some of those risks.

However, I’d also like to respectfully challenge what you’ve written.
It’s part of a pattern of writing about human development that I really feel a responsibility to address.

Your article makes a connection between the loss of passion among coaches and their cookie-cutter professional practice. I chose to read it because of the title: Loss of Passion. Personally, I believe loss of professional passion is a hugely important topic right now. But I don’t believe you’re even scratching the surface of what this is really about.

Indeed - and this is why I’m writing - I believe the piece you’ve written is part of a much wider pattern of avoidance of an urgent issue. Until now I’ve chosen to stay quiet about this but I really believe it’s time to speak out. To break my own professional silence.

Personally, I see loss of passion as a symptom of a deeper loss: a loss of meaning. And I think loss of meaning among professionals is now of epidemic proportions.

I believe many of us have an emotional problem with our professional lives because, with the exception of those whose work is devoted to either mitigating the worst effects of our economic model or building an entirely new one, most of us spend our working lives keeping a failed system on the road.

Through our work, we are intrinsically woven into the radical inequality and ecological decline that is the net result of that failed system. Through our work, we are inadvertently destroying the ecological and social basis for life.
And deep down, I think we know it.

So, it’s not surprising that we have an emotional problem. Because we cannot be honest about the facts of the matter. Instead, we lie to ourselves. We pretend that a little fix here and a little fix there will solve it. A little coaching. A little change management. A little leadership development. A little retreat.

None of this can possibly solve the actual problem. Like a glass or two of wine at the end of a long day, it may take the edge off. But it doesn’t come even remotely close to addressing the actual problem. In many ways, strategies like these simply help us to avoid dealing with it.

There’s little point in talking about coaching or leadership development or change management or advanced facilitation (or indeed, work of any kind - education and healthcare, architecture and construction, banking and finance, government and public service, farming and food - the spectrum of organisations that leaders lead and coaches coach and facilitators facilitate) until we deal with the thing all this professional activity sits inside.

And the thing we’re all inside is an economic model that is destined to fail. Indeed, it is in failure mode as I write. We have a model that creates death. It is actually dealing a deathly blow to our planet, its climate system, it chemistry, its nutrients cycle… and turning out refugees by the boatload. In every part of the world, from the coldest to the warmest, new temperature records for July were set: Lapland: 33.4°C. Sweden’s polar circle: 32.5°C. United Arab Emirates: 51.4°C. Africa and Algeria: 51.3°C. All with headlines to match: ‘Fifty dead in Greece wildfires’. Arctic circle ablaze’. ‘Japan heatwave, flooding and landslides kill hundreds’.

Relative to the Himalayan hike in temperatures that lies ahead, we’re in the foothills. And no one is speaking about why. We are are cannibalising the biosphere, reversing the evolutionary process and returning our planet home to an earlier, more primitive state. All in the name of maintaining the value of our abstract human creations - money, stocks, shares, portfolios, balance sheets. All in the name of growth. And all in an evolutionary nanosecond.

And until we turn that around, so that one hundred per cent of our professional effort is creating health and life, all the remedial work people like you and me do, is a waste of time.

At best we’re buying time. At worst, we’re stalling for time. Avoiding the truth by not being honest about the situation we’re in. And contributing to the long cycle of decline.

I don’t have any simple answer to the large questions I’m raising here, Rob. Perhaps there are no answers. Perhaps we can only find them together. But we cannot find answers to questions we’re not even asking. And we cannot pose those questions until we break our professional silence.

As I see it, the question we have to ask is not, why have I lost my passion? The question is, in what ways am I part of the problem? In light of the starkness and urgency of our situation, what work would be really meaningful right now? And, how can I work passionately to help put right what we have all put so terribly wrong?

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