“As leadership development coaches, we’re trying to bring humanity back to the workplace.”
As one of the world’s first coaches trained by the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI), Lori Shook is a trailblazer in the world of coaching and leadership development. What started over 25 years ago as a personal journey to develop herself and others – and to do good in the world – has grown into an international career as a coach, trainer and course designer. Lori has helped thousands of aspiring coaches acquire the skills and tools they need to develop their own practices. In addition to her experience and expertise in Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) and Co-Active Coaching, her teaching draws on her extensive training in neuroscience.
I first heard about this new thing called “coaching” in 1996 at a time when it wasn’t on many people’s radars yet. At the time, I was a mechanical engineer, working for the US Navy in the field of underwater acoustics, helping locate enemy submarines. It was a fascinating job, but what I really wanted was to work in a field where I could help myself and others to grow – and to do something good for the world. When I discovered CTI and what later grew to become Co-Active Coaching, I knew that coaching was the work I’d been looking for.
Co-Active Coaching teaches skills that are fundamental to any kind of work with people. That includes the ability to be curious, to manage yourself, to listen in different ways, to ask powerful questions and to use your intuition. If you want to work with groups or systems, you’ll likely be a better systems worker if you start with Co-Active Coaching, because it gives you the foundational skills of working with people and their emotional reactions. Co-Active Coaching has taught me so much about emotional and energetic awareness that I use it constantly in my work, probably without even being aware of it anymore.
ORSC helps you approach groups as living systems in their own right – instead of trying to manage all the individual relationships between each group member and yourself, as the coach or facilitator. So, when you apply ORSC, you’re not working with individuals, you’re working with the whole system. It’s a whole new entity. This is true for when you’re a trainer or facilitator. If you learn to work with that entity of participants instead of only focusing on people on the individual level, the training experience becomes richer for the group as a whole. You’re no longer answering an individual’s questions, for example, but providing information that the entire group benefits from.
We’ve come a long way since the 1990s and early 2000s when authors like Candace Pert and Joseph Dispenza started drawing awareness to concepts from neuroscience. Today, I would say that neuroscience is one of the biggest trends I see in coaching. It’s essentially about teaching people how emotions work in their brains, in physical, chemical terms.
When you look at all the uncertainty we’re facing in the world right now, it’s easy to see why neuroscience is so helpful. We’re all in a near-constant state of stress, from work, to relationships, to global politics, to the environment. Those stresses cause our nervous systems to deal with levels of cortisol and adrenaline that we’re not designed for. Those chemicals are designed for getting yourself out of a tough spot fast. We’re not supposed to be in fight-or-flight mode nonstop.
Here’s another example of where I think neuroscience can help: In team coaching, we often talk about four “team toxins” that undermine teamwork: blame, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. When I introduce a topic like that, talking about the neuroscience behind it often helps people understand that these behaviors are part of a natural response that we’re usually not even aware of. Above all, our brains are focused on survival. When we perceive any kind of threat, it triggers a chemical response in our nervous system that blurs our judgement or causes us to react in ways that are disproportionate to the actual situation. And when we understand that’s what’s happening, it helps us calm ourselves more easily, so we return to a clearer, more productive state.
I got into the business of coaching because I wanted to help make the world a better place. That takes leadership. Leadership development is personal development. When we coach leaders, we’re working with human beings and helping them be better versions of themselves. We’re trying to bring humanity back to the workplace. And that means helping people to calm their nervous systems, manage their stress and improve their mental wellbeing, so they make better decisions and they can be in better relationships with the people they lead.
I’ve also learned that leadership development is a group activity. If you want to develop leadership within an organization, it takes more than just singling out one person for coaching. Get everyone together and give them the tools and a common language that they need to understand each other as a system. That’s what Co-Active Coaching and ORSC help you to achieve.