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Generative Moments in Coaching: Past & Future

Coaching sessions are described as having a warmup, workout, and a cool down. Just as a physical workout leads to small physical improvements in muscle strength or flexibility and strengthening of bones, the generative workout in a coaching session generates self-awareness and occasionally a little transformational change, a leap that shifts our thinking, perspectives, beliefs, or even our identities. In these small, creative moments, coaches are raising consciousness. Oliver Wendell Holmes captured this phenomenon well in the 1800s:

a mind once stretched by a new idea or understanding will never full return to its original dimensions...

Great coaching sessions stretch minds and set people onto a path to change, even transformational change. The skills of navigating generative moments are what distinguishes great coaching from helpful conversations – masterful coaches deliver more generative moments more quickly, accelerating the change process. 

Early in Wellcoaches history (2004), I co-led a team (Drake, Tschannen-Moran, Campone, Kauffman, Moore) focused on identifying a theory of the intuitive dance, the term coaches used frequently in that era to describe the generative process. Back then the term intuition was deemed woo-woo, before we learned about the brain networks involved in nonlinear processing and not under conscious control. The team published and presented a paper for an ICF Coaching Research Symposium titled: Relational Flow: A Theoretical Model for the Intuitive Dance. We explained: 

The intuitive dance is a relational dynamic when coaches and clients enter a zone where they are fully challenged at a high level of skill and awareness. This dynamic, which we call relational flow, may underpin how and when both coaches and their clients make large steps forward in their work.

Relational flow is "intuitive" in that it fosters an awareness of not only what can be observed and discovered empirically but also of what can be directly experienced. It is a "dance" in that it moves through many steps that can be progressively learned and ultimately mastered. This combination uniquely describes a relational process that both deepens the levels of interaction and accelerates the potential for better outcomes. 

Then the team explored the conditions that foster relational flow and mapped them into quadrants:

The first condition is a coach who has developed professional mastery such that intuition is well-informed by experience and expertise. (reflective practitioner)Second, the client needs to be ready to change and able to step into flow with the coach. (readiness to change)Third, both coach and client need to have a good level of emotional intelligence. Fourth, the coach has competence in growth-promoting relationships, able to ignite zest, self-awareness, self-worth, motivation, knowledge, and action. (relational competence)

Expanding here on the second quadrant, client readiness to change, we explained how this supports relational flow:

1.    Raised Consciousness: Client awareness of the good and bad consequences of both the status quo and future possibilities, including change in goals, mental models, behavior, relationships, and self-image. 

2.    Self-Awareness: Conscious recognition of one’s own patterns, strengths, weaknesses, and deepest desires. 

3.    Self-Reevaluation: An attitude of welcoming and enjoying curious and empathic inquiry and reflections on current situations and future potential. 

4.    Emotional Arousal: Access to the emotional energy which sparks motivation and supports resolve. 

The framework for relational flow, aka generative moments, was established early as a mission-critical topic in Wellcoaches skills training and assessment (Chapter 10, Coaching Psychology Manual). To this day, this framework sets Wellcoaches coaches apart in the field:

Generative moments occur when clients are aroused on the path of change and growth. They are the peak experiences of coaching sessions that happen along the path to reaching or getting closer to the client’s vision. In these pivotal moments, client feelings, needs, and desires are investigated around the “topic du jour.” During generative moments, coaches and clients explore the nature of the agreed topic, clarify desired outcomes, brainstorm strategies, and identify next steps. In these moments, coaches and clients co-generate new perspectives and co-construct engaging designs for moving forward. 

Fast forward to 2018, I am exploring the nature and navigation of growth edges, which turn up in our struggles or difficult situations. Growth edges are invitations to generate insights, shifts, and wisdom. I have proposed that transformational leadership starts with self-transforming leaders – we step up to our growth edges, greeting them daily with warmth and humor, and trusting that growth is just around the (blind spot) corner. Growth edges offer generative moments, not just for coaches and clients; they are available to everyone. 

Our future is not getting lost in our worries and overwhelm, but to welcome these uncomfortable moments and use them to generate moments where we stretch our minds so they don’t return to their original dimensions.

Scientific Articles on Intuition

Gore, J, Sadler-Smith, E (2011) Unpacking intuition: A process and outcome framework. Review of General Psychology 15(4): 304–316.

Horr, N. K., Braun, C., Volz, K. G. (2014). Feeling before knowing why: The role of the orbitofrontal cortex in intuitive judgments. An MEG study. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 14, 1271–1285. 

Kuo, W.J., Sjöström, T., Chen, Y.P., Wang, Y.H., & Huang, C.Y. (2009) Intuition and deliberation: two systems for strategizing in the brain. Science, 324, 519–522.

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