Herb Stevenson
Developing Your Natural Talent
To Lead

Read the article about training with Herb Stevenson in ALN Magazine.
See the article...

An Interview with
Herb Stevenson

by Michelle Vanderlip, 8/13/2002

So for me, it all depends what my intention is – what was the contract. Example: Most of my coaching is unusual, I have people fly in and meet with me for a day. That’s very unusual, most people won’t coach that way. But, I’m pretty adamant about it and I also make the price to their advantage because I can do in one day what usually takes people 6-8 months in coaching – they can do it over a period of time. So, by the time they pay for me to fly out to them and do all the other things, there’s no comparison. Where they can come in and in one concentrated period do a lot of work. So, most of my coaching work is that way and usually those who fly in are mostly consultants. Professionals in the field either internal or external, who are in a jam, they know they’re getting in their own way and they don’t know what to do about it. So, what I do is, I just sit and we work until we really get clear about what is happening and we build the ground. And, what ends up happening in those cases is that it is an awareness building process and so once they are aware what the problem is – what’s getting in their own way – they already know what to do to solve it. Now that’s generally what I do, that’s contracted in the work. If they, in the contractual part, want more than that, then instead of a compelling clarity, or compelling picture, they want more than that such as, I’ve had some come in saying they want to make a transition in their work, then we would build in an action plan after we got clarity of what’s getting in the way for them to move to where they want to go. Example: I have one who is an external that flew in quite a bit – or flew in for one day – and her process was to get clarity about her work because it was like killing her. She was beating herself to death. No matter what she did nothing was good enough, so we just unraveled all those pieces until she got clear about what the problem was. Actually it wasn’t the work, it was that she was doing work she didn’t like but she happened to be very good at it. And when she could acknowledge that, then we had to set up other things to support her to make transitions. She basically worked it out to switch to do only contract work – subcontract work – didn’t have to worry about marketing any more because she didn’t enjoy it. She made enough money to do what she really wants to do, which is what she’s doing now – she’s taking a year off. She was an exceptionally good fictional writer and she’s going to write a book. So, she’s actually made her dream come true and knows that if she needs to, at the end of the year, because she’s maintaining enough contact with her working relationships, that she can go back to doing it if she needs to. So, it depends on what was contracted up front.

MCV – Can you talk with me about the contracting process that you go through and how Gestalt informs that work?

I do mostly pure Gestalt, I just simply say “what do you want, what is your intention, what’s it feel like that’s driven you to contact me or to ask me to work with you. What is driving this, something is driving it.” And out of that is where I build the ground just for the contract. So, I am literally right there in the moment working with them. I am in the contracting process now with an IT consultant from Chicago and he wants me to tell him what to do and I said I can’t do that, you have to tell me why you want to come see me. What is it that you want from me? So, I really do push that because that forces them to get into that place where we can make change. But if they’re not willing to go there and I can see that, then I simply tell them you’re not ready to come visit me.

MCV – So, in the initial stages for you developing the work, whether you want to do the work, whether you’re the right person to do the work, can you give me another example that you take that demonstrates the steps that you take to know for sure that they are ready to do the work and that you’re ready to take them on.

Sure, well there are two processes going on, one, I’m monitoring my own internal process constantly as I go through the situation. So, if I’m feeling like something doesn’t feel in sync with what I’m hearing, I’m paying attention to that. If that doesn’t leave by end of it, and I name it as I go, that would be one way I would (MCV—Internally you name it-or you name it out loud?) (Both, I name it to myself but then I also name it to them most of the time – that’s what really is shocking to a lot of people because I’m willing to do that. But in doing it what happens is I can also test something else out which is parallel processes and Gestalt would call parallel processes, but in psycho analysis, they would call it projective identification and that is am I duplicating or replicating something that’s happening inside them or have they projected something on to or in to me that they want me to carry and that’s why I constantly monitor my internal process because if I feel like something is out of sync, I need to find out if it’s me that’s out of sync or if I just got zapped and I’m out of sync because they’re wanting me to carry a piece of work for them. I’ll give you an example; this last class I was working with had a very strong black woman as the consultant and a very strong white woman actually as the client. Both of them are national consultants and in the presence of strong black women the white woman would basically go into the stage of admiring the strength and power of the black woman and then you would watch her and she fold down. She would give up all of her power and become very subserving and some of the black women took that and it would fill them up and they’d get all puffy and say “oh yeah, here let me tell you how it and what you need to do to take care of yourself.” Well, on one level of Gestalt it’s a good piece of work because the black woman did a tremendous piece of work with the other lady, according to what was contracted. She wanted to work this issue about power and so they did and she got some insights. But, what was going on at the system level, which is parallel process, is the white woman projected her power that she couldn’t control ‘cause she had never been able to do it in her life, in to the black woman. The black woman who feels most of the time very disempowered because of society pressures and stuff, wanted to take on that role and role that she hated was to feel totally disempowered and projected it to the white woman. It was a subconscious or an unconscious exchange and so they both got to play out the roles they wanted to play. Okay, that’s a parallel process. That to me is the most important part of Gestalt. If I don’t pay attention to what’s going inside me, I can’t tell whether I’m doing someone else’s work or I’m doing my own. An example of that is on the one side on the black woman, if you feel real good about what somebody’s telling you – (laugh), they’ve just projected that piece into your ego that you really want and so if you’re really feeling puffy and boy, let me really show you how it is, then basically you took in a projection of somebody else. It just so happens to be one you want, so you get real puffy. And the other person, if they take one, then it has to be deflationary thing – you’ll see their body just go pheeew, and they’ll assume the other role. So, what you’ve had is just a reversal. But you can’t tell that, you can one, visually watch it, but it’s not necessarily – so you have to check it out at a two-person system level. But when it’s just you and I, I have to monitor what am I doing internally to myself. And so, I do that throughout the entire thing, rather it be contracting the actual work or the closing. And, it’s so important to me; I just finished an article on it.

MCV – What is your internal process. I mean are you just kind of continually scanning, (response: “constantly”)

Whether I can feel my body, whether I can feel my toes, whether I can feel butt. People that go through classes that I teach will tell you that I’m notorious for getting them into their bodies. So, to let me know if their grounded they’ll say “I can feel my feet and I can feel my butt.” But that’s important because I need to know that because the fastest way to find out if I’ve gone into a different place that then allows me to be fully present, is if I can’t feel my body, or I’m not aware of it. Because my body is a receptor that has a reaction to everything that’s going on with me. So I can either live with as a head that’s dragging a body along, Or, I can live fully in my body. So, that’s the thing that I really push and get people aware of, especially the people that come to the Institute because we all tend to be intellectuals.

MCV – That is primarily where I function – in the head and that was one of the – although I know it’s all there –great gifts from OSD experience and individual coaching work with JDC to just open, open me back up to acknowledge things as whole, a whole rather than just simply a head. Once you have made a decision to engage, what does orientation and the initial building of ground look like in your coaching process?

A lot of it depends, but mostly, I ask them to tell me their story. That’s the fastest way to get people to talk. So, if they’re Gestalt trained, I may simply say “it’s okay, I want to hear some background and what are your wants – what do you want from this session – what do you want from me – what do you need and what do we need and for you to get that” and so I do it at makeshift place. They’re using ground building as an hour of phase two.

MCV - In your day long session?

Yes. And, you’d be surprised when somebody is getting a receptive audience, somebody who is really listening, paying attention and giving feedback, saying “hey, I’m having this kind of reaction – would you clarify that – I’m wondering this.” They can talk for hours and be totally shocked they did. But out of that then comes the entire ground building, which allows a compelling picture to emerge about why they ended up coming to me. Because 9 out of 10 times whoever shows up, unless they’ve really done a tremendous amount of work, what shows up has nothing to do with what they expected.

They suddenly realize how they get in their own way and it surprises them, it’s kind of like, well I’ve always done that and I always thought it served me and now I’m realizing it’s really not – that kind of thing. It’s usually, what’s massive about it to me is (MCV – “massive”)(yes, “massive” or exciting/awesome) is their whole body shifts when it happens. You can watch them go ???????? almost like its wave energy went through, and they’ve changed. And their whole way of orienting just shifted right in front of you. That to me is extremely powerful. It’s so powerful, it’s led me to new areas of research that I would have never done and the closest thing that is out there that tries to describe that process is called Transformation of Learning Theory. And, it goes through, basically, what happens when you break down a projection or introjection from your past and how you get in to disorientation at first and then it is almost like your whole system changes. Because what happens is, when you do that, all the core assumptions of what you’ve built most of your life on, once that changed, everything about how you’ve lived your life just got changed. So, that’s a shift and that’s all of a sudden the driving consultant who is out making the money suddenly has an epiphany, which is “I have children” – gets up and walks out on the client. And suddenly realizes, I’m not a talking head, I’m not this automaton, I’m not this person that I’ve been told I should be. I am this woman who is a damn good consultant and I’m also this woman who has children, so, therefore, I’m a mother, a wife, a woman, and I’m going to be with my kids.

Shift, just like you had.

MCV – Huge. I’m curious about how you know when you’re ready to make that shift. When you’re at the, you know, in the ground building stage. When you know two hours is enough or four hours is enough and are ready to make the shift.

Part of it is intuitive. It’s a real strange thing – I’ve always been extremely intuitive my whole life, spooky to some people. Because I can get into it fairy clearly and very in depth. And, I can also, in doing it, just by my presence, people will share things about me that they have thought about would never have done. So, I can help them get vulnerable, and especially when they find out that I am not going to do anything to harm them. So even at their most vulnerable place I will not harm them.

MCV – how do you do that – how do you know, how do you help people to know that?

Partly it’s I don’t judge. They also watch my eyes – and my eyes basically invite people to be whoever they are. My presence if very non-judgmental. And, I’m clear, I don’t have talking voices in my head when I with a client. They’re clear, so I’m not thinking this or thinking that or where I should go – I’m literally with that person only and they sense that. So, it allows them to reveal more than they would. John Carter says I have this gift, it’s spooky, because he says, “it’s like I sit there and listen until all of a sudden I have a clear idea of what it takes to get on the other side of the veil and I walk through and get it.” And, that simultaneously is absolutely ecstatic and terrifying.

MCV – For you?

Well, for them. Because for them it’s like somebody finally saw me for who I really am and they are afraid of what I might do with it. When they realize I’m not going to do anything bad and I’m not going to do anything to embarrass them. Then we are able to just sit with that a little bit and see what happens and out of that is when the epiphany or whatever it is – the insight that they need generally permits – I call it insight – it’s just simply a part of you waiting to come out as far as I’m concerned. So, that’s what I do, most of the intuitive part comes from the fact that I can be fully present. If I’m not sitting conjuring up the way I used to when I was consulting, what next to be done, what strategic move I need to make, I don’t have to worry about that any more. I can do it, but what mostly is I’ve found it is the power of Gestalt is literally in the ability to fully present in all parts of who you are. So, when I’m present with you, you know I’m present with you, you know I’m watching, you know I’m listening to you, you actually experience me as seeing you, as literally hearing you. And, most people never experience that fully. So, it’s like, and that’s really what I would say is the gift, and most of that comes out of is part of the training I do which is Gestalt’s part of it. But, I see Gestalt as a spiritual practice, because staying present is the only way, regardless of what spiritual practice or religious practice you can talk about, that you can be non-judgmental. Because it is, when you are fully present, your brain is not chattering, you have none of these things going on – so to me it is a spiritual practice. The other thing is, I’ve done a tremendous amount of personal work by twelve years.

MCV – What’s been most instrumental do you think, in addition, but I don’t know whether Gestalt (??????) said, but in support of, your practice as a coach, as the personal work that you’ve done? What would you identify as most significant?

I don’t know who to answer that, because my personal work is one of those things that – I don’t know, I don’t have an answer for that. The reason I say that is, is that I could say the most instrumental thing is that I was lucky that I went to a Gestalt therapist when I crashed. I mean because I started seeing Gestalt first hand in a way that I didn’t understand and I didn’t know how this strange person was – he wasn’t directive, he was listening, he was attentive and I couldn’t let him in all the way, but he was patient. I mean he was patient. I was in dire straights, I mean I was an absolute friggin’ mess and I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was because I was a workaholic, which that was only systematic, and knew that I had a bad marriage – and that was symptomatic. The issue was is that I had been traumatized and really abused as a child. I was actually abused – raped – violently. I had blocked those memories out and they came out – but they didn’t come out right away. It took twelve months of thinking I was crazy, feeling like I was crazy and this therapist didn’t see that at all, he just stayed with me an hour and a half twice a week for 12-18 months and one day – boom – the memory came out – it just popped out. But he specialized in that, and I didn’t know that. He specialized in trauma, especially child abuse trauma and understood flashbacks and he knew something was surfacing and he just had to be patient. So, on one side it was a gift, but then the other side was three years of hell because the memories were coming out. During this period was I would have a physical release, so actually I was being raped and I was standing in the middle of an office building and then I would have an emotional response and it was like – it was very disorienting. But through all of that I continued to work on “okay, what is, what do I need to do, how do I need to take of myself” and I learned how to basically be fully present with myself, which I’ve never known how to do. And, how to work and how to be focused and how to make money, keep clients happy, how to make present of myself. So, I guess that would be it – therapy taught me how to be present with myself.

MCV – When you think about the work that you’re doing as a coach and you come a traditional (????) background like me, where what we pay for is the action plan, the next step, the strategic, not the expectation. How much of your work actually evolves to the next step up – action planning?

Well it does both. I can give some examples. I was working with an individual, who you are familiar with, on a succession plan – and he was having a tremendous amount of trouble with it. So we worked the two levels, one is – you have to action plan for success, the who, what, where, why, and all that. But the other part that we were paying a tremendous amount of attention to – which at least 50% we (????), was the other issue, which was – why was he not able to write a plan? He came up with more excuses than Carter has liver pills. This is not a man who does that. This is a man who runs a social service agency, has a national program for children, world program – I mean he’d done a tremendous number of things and this is something he doesn’t do. He butted up against his own fear about getting old – it just terrified him. He had perceptions – self-perceptions – which means, if I acknowledge that then my next step is dying and I ain’t ready to die. So then we unraveled it – he hated the word “elderly” and the program with that is that it is a social construction that was created by those in power who decided that those who were elders should not have the amount of power they had. So you deprecate them, so that people begin to see them as “less than” and so now we have elderly. It used to be we went to them for the wisdom, it also was the ones entrusted to raise the children because they were the ones that knew how to do it the best. Because they had already lived life. When we unraveled that – then he began to get in touch with – that this also tied to the fact that his mother died and that he was being asked to step into that role that his father had. Which was basically the sovereign of the family – and that’s the last role eventually took. Now, they don’t as much and so, we were doing both. It was commencement of the Gestalt inside work and action planning.

MCV – So multiple levels of systems.

Absolutely. I’m meeting with him tomorrow, and his wife. He’s really to go to the next level. Now this is three years later, it’s taken us three years to get the point that he asked for me to come meet with him to develop the plan to allow him to plan the next 20 years of his life. We had a tremendous amount of processing. So, it’s both. Almost all my clients get the additional part from me and that’s the thing that they decide what they want to do. There is an individual that I’m going to be meeting that want appreciative inquiry – and I’ll do that. But, in doing that I require that we meet for an hour. So in that they’ll be insights provided to him about his own process and then out of that determine if this is appreciative inquiry what you need for your firm to support what you are wanting. Excuse me, my assessment would be not from my point of view – not from the point of view that I should do it, but from the point of view of what I know of him that he needs. He would be better off to take the next six months and get some personal coaching to make the transition from his perception because his firm grew from zero to 80 million in billable sales in ten years. He still has part of him that is living back at day zero, where the idealism is what drove him. But, he’s failing to remember, he’s a major corporation now and that idealism is not pertinent to what is applied here unless he is willing to enact it directly with his employees. So, that’s an insight he needs. So, that’s how I approach things and I’m a little different than a lot people – I don’t go out and hustle a tremendous amount in terms of getting clients. Word of mouth is usually how I end up getting them – it is a slower process and I know it. But, even when I was doing more technical consulting, I did it that way. And, it is the strongest form of marketing because people will trust you.

MCV – That’s the only way I’ve gotten clients thus far, word of mouth, and it’s been – I’ve really been amazed at how it works.

Well, if you trust the process and do your work and stay present with yourself – it will happen.

MCV – I have specific question, and ran out trusting the process and staying present and being aware. One of the things that I’m very knowledgeable from working in a corporate environment is the ability to say, “here is the end target – I need to get there.” And, whether I’m nervous about it, feel skittish, or whatever, I get there. If I have to go through walls, I’ll get there. And, I find now that being trained in Gestalt, I’m much more in tuned to my body – not all the time. But I’m getting it – learning it and having it become a more natural part of my process. There have been times in my work where I have been approached to do a piece of work and have become very aware that I’m nervous about it, that I’m physically nauseous, it goes right to my gut. I’ve still done the kind of corporate model of “okay, that’s there but I’ll bust through it, I’ll work through it”. I’m curious about that, because in Gestalt work, paying attention to that and saying that – I use the term “red flag” – there’s a red flag here, something’s not right, something’s amiss, something’s not in alignment with me with this piece of work. Becoming aware of what it is that’s not in alignment, do you – I don’t know if any of this resonates with you – (no, I know what you are saying) – do you pay attention to that and say “this is not the work for me because it’s too anxiety producing or…

Okay, anxiety just means “lack of air – breath” and “lack of breath” means, “I’m holding my breath.” So, what I examine is “what makes me nervous about this project – is it something that I’m not comfortable with in myself, because it’s going to make me stretch my edge. Or, is it something that I’m not comfortable with the client because I’m concerned about it’s not really what they need. I mean in other words, am I going to end up doing a good piece of work but it’s not going to solve anything for them and there’s a (door slam) on doing it. So, what I pay attention to is what is going on for me in that respect. And, then if I get a sense of something – and this is where I really try to be honest with myself – in my younger days I was full of more than pee and vinegar – ‘cause a 100 hours a week for 10 straight years, I got on an airplane everyday and I didn’t care what it was – especially in the banking industry – we could do it. So, it didn’t matter how much it took me to become an expert, I would become an expert before I walked in to the door of the client’s office. And I find that that’s okay, but looking back on it, there was times that that was very wise…


Side B


So, what I end up finding out or discovering for myself is that I pay more attention – let’s wait until the phone’s done - so what I pay attention to now is, it’s not that I don’t want to push my edge but I pay attention to how I push my edge and when I push my edge and most the important difference for me, as an individual or as a human being, which is where I’m really focusing from, not as an employee, not as a consultant, but as a human being. Is this consistent with the type of work I want to do? So, I’ve become pretty clear I’ll do appreciative inquiry, it’s the kind of work I do, it’s consistent with the way I see life. I’ll do open space technology. I’ll do some of the large-scale change systems that are out there. I’m pursuing Native American visiting processes, as a corporate intervention, I’m writing article on that. Because that is who I am as a human being – all of me. And that’s not saying I won’t use the other technical skills I have, or won'’ use the 25 years I’ve got, the reason I understand this example that I used a minute ago of the individual wants appreciative inquiry, that I know what’s happened to him between zero and ten years in his growth, because I did it. I went through the same thing and I call it the slinky effect. The slinky gets caught in a piece of rug the day one you start the corporation and you stretch as far as you can and in the 10 years you don’t stop to reflect, to bring the dream forward once day it breaks lose and when it does it hauls ass and when it smacks you, you have an identity crisis. That’s where he’s at, he’s suddenly sitting in a tower city, beautiful office, he’s made it, and the only thing he can think about is how much he has to work so that he can perpetuate this, what he thinks, is success, and he’s not gone back and measured it and saying, “is this what I want success to mean.” What about my kids, what about my family, what about these other things? What about my employees? And, so that’s what is different in me and Gestalt serves me in that way, I’m able to stay more present with myself. Is this the type of work I want to do? I mean a lot of people will sell their souls real fast, okay I’ll give you 20 grand, 5 days work, 4 days work and this is what I want you to do and a person cranks it out and they get paid and the only they’ve got for satisfaction is a check. But, they just gave up 4, 5 or 10 days of their life, whatever it was, of something the absolutely don’t enjoy anymore. They are very good at it, but the absolutely don’t enjoy anymore, they’re very good at it, but they don’t enjoy it. I’ll use myself, I was once one of the top banking law experts in the country, I taught it to bankers, but I’m not an attorney. I drove attorneys nuts – I wrote 26 books on banking and most of it was on bank law and how to convert it into language that was simple and how to apply it into banks. I could have rode that out the rest of my life, I had already established myself and my credibility, I taught at the highest levels and I absolutely despised it. It didn’t suit my soul; it didn’t feed me in a way that was nurturing and I suddenly realized, you know, this is crazy, I could sit here and make money and do this and live this thing that everybody says is success. But that isn’t what butters my bread – people do, so I left, closed up shop, sold my interest in the corporation and went back to school and started learning to do things different -- that’s why I went to the institute, and got a Masters Degree in Diversity/Psychology.

MCV – that was very helpful at a very helpful at a personal level and I think I can weave it into the writing that I am going to do. And I want to shift into the action planning piece of the work. How specifically Gestalt informs doing that kind of work, that action oriented (charts, timetables, etc.)

Well, it’s depending which frame you want to use, it fits. I mean the action planning and the structural part; this leaves a cycle of experience. The action planning and all that is done in the first two where we have sensation, which we begin to awareness of something’s wrong and as we build more energy and mobilize energy and mobilize energy around that, we’re actually beginning to come to ideas of what it is we want to do and how we want to go about doing it, and if you follow the charts of the cycle it talks about each of those stages and where it fits in. So, I use those things, I mean when it’s appropriate for whatever the job is. Example: I do this appreciative inquiry I’m going to be very present, very focused, making sure it really applies and simultaneously saying we are going to need these many days to establish the interview question process and how we’re going to those and then after that we’re going to have to have people figuring out times to do the interviews. Then we are going to have to have two solid days together to take all that data and do the final three phases of the appreciative inquiry. That's a very specific action planning. That’s managing the process, but staying present. Now, what does that do for me? Well, the way I do both is this, during that process I’ll continue to monitor myself, I’ll continue to monitor others and somebody will say something and I’ll say “you know, I hear what you’re saying and I want to make sure I’m on target with that and so, here’s what hearing, is that correct?” And, it may or may not be, but it’s constantly bringing the process back to the present, otherwise the appreciative inquiry gets off, just like everybody else and we miss the target. I like a picture of a character that was given to me once where it shows a picture of a bull with an arrow in its butt and right beside it is a bulls-eye where the target I was supposed to hit. It was a reminder that you have to pay attention to what it is you’re shooting at. So Gestalt helps me in that frame of reference. I constantly check am I still aiming at what it was I was trying to shoot at, or have I gotten lost in the process so far that I’m not even sure what I’m shooting at now, I’m only in process of getting an appreciative inquiry done so I could leave.

MCV – So, always clarifying your intentions.

Constantly, always, and theirs (the clients). Constantly clarifying what’s going on with them, you know I’m seeing this happening where are you at with this. That forces everybody continually into their body. Every time I do that it breaks their trance and brings them right back to their body. Because the other thing that I’ve study at lot is trance. There is a psychological theory out there that says that we all walk around in a variety of trances every day. The trance can be as I drive home and don’t remember a dam thing about the drive – I got home safely, I don’t know what I did, I must have drove well and, I’ve solved all these other problems that I was having today. So the other way its looked at is that every time you get into argument with somebody, some trance was kicked in that you had learned from someplace along the way as a way of surviving and so you play that trance out. Some people call them stories, it doesn’t really matter. What Gestalt does for me is breaks those trances over and over and over by making you come back to the present. I see a glaze in a person’s eyes, I see somebody drifting off, I see somebody looking away – they’re in trance, they are not here. So, that’s the other things I pay attention to. Part of the advantage I have over a lot of other people is that a person who has been abused as a child is taught hyper vigilence – we track everything. So actually is normal to just pay attention to so many things all the time; and what became different in what Gestalt gave us is it gave me a frame to use that so that I can track so many things but do it in a way so that serves me and serves my way of being in the world. And that helps.

MCV – When you’re working with a client after they’ve identified kind of the next steps in the process of where they want to go from an action planning standpoint, how do you as a coach monitor implementation – do you?

That’s what we’re doing. If the contract was that my job is to help them with the plan, and I’m done, I don’t. If I felt an on-going relationship, then I do, either by telephone or we set up quarterly visits – whatever’s needed. My job as a coach is a little different that a lot of people’s, I don’t usually use the phrase “coach” actually. I want management retainer and I’m a management consultant, which basically, I’m only there for the purpose of supporting that CEO or whoever I’m working with, and that’s all my function is and I don’t get real crazy about that. So, some people think that a coach is that a coach is supposed to lead the way and have the answers and all this stuff. I don’t do that – I’m very Gestalt. My presumption is that they have the answer and my job is to support them to bring that answer to the surface and to implement it if that’s what they’ve hired me to do. And there’s a whole different range and I’ve done that for 25 years, because I’ve been doing what they call “coaching” but we call it a management retainer. I’ve had clients, well the longest one I’ve had was for 15 years and I took it from when his bank was failing and we turned it around, supported him in all the decisions he had to make about it; and when we talk about action plan – the action plan was 200 pages. That’s how much detail, because that was what had to be done – the whole bank had to be rebuilt. When he was hired, it was failing and he was given one year to show enough results or the government was going close it and so he hired me and we worked and built all his action plans. But through this time we always had 2 hours every session where he and I were always together and it was deal with whatever. And in that 15 years, I support him when he went through a divorce that caught him off guard and dam near destroyed him and to the point that he has now retired and his 25% ownership has been converted into personal wealth of cash and so he is clear of the bank and he is completed the whole cycle. So this was almost in a way, from the point of that bank, from cradle to grave of walking him through and supporting him, and he contacts me every once in a while saying he misses it because he had never had that kind of support in his whole life and now he is beginning to understand just how valuable that was. So it can be, if implementation is part of it, then I’m there. And, in his case, when I was originally at the beginning when it was crisis, I lived at the bank and then it became once every week, once every two weeks, once a month, once every three months, whatever it was that he was going need. So I provided that kind of support and I would listen to his decisions before he would do things, what did he need to do and where was he going to get into problems. So I supported him in all those ways as a coach.

MCV – Moving to the last part of what I see as the coaching consultation – whatever name it is – it is a similar process in my mind. The integration and closure part – what does, or can you give me some examples and stories of what integration closure, using the Gestalt frame, looks like.

Well, integration and closure – I’ll give you an example and I’ll start there. In that situation with the bank president, our closure basically and integration was that we continually reviewed the situation – what was going on and especially toward the end. We got into conversations that some people would say that they were a little bit maudlin, but it was like reflecting on what all had happened so that he could take it with him. It wasn’t just an experience; it was like slowing down enough for the slinky to catch up so that he could say what’s happened in his life. So, in that case, a lot of things were my input for him was reflected. I was constantly asking him to reflect on different things and I would phrase it differently, but it was for him to integrate where he was in his life. Because he was preparing to back to battle with a Board who was now totally hostile (it had changed sufficiently), it didn’t see him as needed, because he was the turnaround specialist. So the question was, did he need to slay any more dragons; and it never occurred to him that he wouldn’t do it his whole life. And, finally, he did, he looked at it and he suddenly understood what I was saying and he said “I don’t need to do this, I’ve done more in my career than most people. I saved a bank, I’ve worked for all these different organizations, I have my retirement built, my kids are all married and I have a wife who loves me and would like to see me more.” He retired – he’s happy, doing what he wants to do and plays and he supports the soccer leagues in that area. So a lot of it is to help reflect. Now that’s a long-term relationship. Short term relationship, I do the same thing we do at the institute, which is we’re there for a day, we go through a process of, okay, what are you taking home with you today, what what’s happening right now. And that’s important because naming it and reflecting on that long enough to just simply grasp the piece that they’re taking is critical. And so, I always do that, it just depends on how long, is how long the relationship had to be. 15-year relationship, the closure is going to take a year and it did. It took a year and in his case because closure was so important to me I did the last six months without pay. Because the board didn’t want me there and didn’t want me to receive the money because they knew I was supporting him – that’s hostile they had become. I wasn’t interested in what they wanted, what I was interested in what they wanted, but I was interested in - he had become the client and I was going to finish closure there, and so I did. That’s how I approach it, I do consciously pay attention to it. The other thing is I start planning my departure the day I get the contract to insure that I close. Because if I don’t pay attention to that, then I try to – and I pointed this out in one of the articles that I wrote on coaching – is I call them evergreens – evergreen consultants. An evergreen consultant is a potted plant who is trying to convince the client to plant them inside the organization so that they can stay forever and grow into a big tree. Which just happens to mean that their cash flows forever and I’m keenly aware that a consultant’s job is supposed to be temporary, so I hold that up strongly and I finish job to job. So, I don’t care if they want to hire me on multiple jobs but I want a break in between – and clearly because I lose objectivity and so do they. So that’s the other thing that is usually a very unique about me and I tell people up front, if I’m still here at the end of this contract and doing a whole bunch of other things; that’s fine in one sense but I’m probably not doing my job. And I’ve managed other clients that told me I’ve never heard another consultant say that. I said you know that consultant wants to be an employee and so if that’s the case, hire them, because it is cheaper.

MCV – My experience thus far has been that the piece of work that we are originally engaged to do comes to a close but the client want hang, but ad hoc. So it’s not a regular – and I find that difficult because re-engaging on an ad hoc, a month, two, three could go by and we have a discussion. So there’s all this ground that they have experienced but they haven’t shared and I find it difficult to – just as I said that, what I’m aware of is that I want know and I want to know the past. One of the things I’m finding challenging right now is that if I’m working with a client who is younger, I’m finding I’m doing more work in that relationship and it’s because I’m buying into – it came to me yesterday – as I was filling this out with a coaching client – was that I’m buying into the notion that I’m an expert.

Oh that’s the key thing that I constantly refuse and reject that role. I’m keenly aware of what I’m good at, but when they put me on the pedestal, that’s why we were talking about parallel process, they project that their own need to be an expert onto me to take care of them and solve their problems. When that happens, I immediately stop because I feel good and everybody wants to be the expert – I’ll save the day, thank you, I’m glad you recognize it. As soon as I get that sense in myself that I’m getting puffy about this and I realize that I basically took on a projection from them, I’m not going to help them in any way. What I’m going to end up doing is suppressing or pressing their own empowerment. So, I’m keening aware, especially from my own work and my own racial identity, is anytime something like that happens, I can feel it. So, that’s dangerous ground for me, the thing you always have to remember is that they always end up having to kill that person. So then I setting myself up to be shoved out in a very poor way in this organization, because a resentment will rise that okay I’m the expert but I have to constantly remember that I’ve got to support them and that part of them that transferred it to me. And that a narcissistic would which has the potential to be rageful and resentful, so what I do is – I don’t buy into it, I don’t take that role. Yes, I have the same problem, even at the institute, the number of people that have done that, laid that on me, and I will sit there and unravel it right there with them; and I’ve done it right there in sessions that shocked the rest of the class, because they had the same projection, they wanted me to walk on water. I intentionally show them that I don’t walk on water, but I’ll walk beside the creek with you if you want to go on a nice journey and it helps them suddenly realize “oh my God, I do this a lot, I want somebody else to be the expert. Somebody else to solve the problem; or somebody else to be my dad or mom or whatever” and that’s what I’m keenly aware of. Most CEO’s, younger ones, have that potential. Because when I do come in, I also aware that my presence is very strong and very powerful. I’ve been through a whole lot of things and there is not too much that I haven’t seen. Good and bad of all business and so a younger guy will look at me and all of a sudden they want to, you know, project out. So what I point out to them is that I can’t pull you along, but what I can do is I can support you in your process so that you can get where you want to go and you have the power that you need to do it. Now if you want that, I’m your person, if you don’t want that, then here are some people who will make you feel good and do what you want.

MCV – Is there anything else that you think about before we were going to get together, knowing the topic of stages and phases of the coaching of the coaching experience through a Gestalt plan that you’d want to share that you think would be helpful.

Well only on the stages and phases is what I usually find is that if I take on a projection that I’m not aware of – that’s when conflict arises. I will go into a conflict stage. If I have paid attention to the projections and on arrival of an honest point, I usually end up not having a conflict. I don’t go through a conflict stage. I think the conflict. I think the conflict stage is where we unravel all the projects or the niceties that we’ve interjected, so I’m going project onto you all my good parts and so during orientation we’re sweet and we’re nice and we do all these things and then when I’m done with that I have to unravel all those – that’s when I push back and get into it. So, I don’t go into the – generally, I don’t have that as a problem. And, I’m tested, so some people will do the one thing and if their orientation is such that they’re only good at throwing the projection out and I’m right behind it and come back with a conflict, then I sit with them and I say “obviously you’re upset and you’ve got a problem, so I’d like to hear what it is.” As it unravels, then they suddenly realize their own projection is what got thrown out there. I could give you an example: I have a men’s group that I have the same process, it’s a personal growth group, and I had a guy come in and join the group and the first thing he did was to say that he was so happy to be here and he was getting nervous fidgeting and all that stuff and we were trying to do a little bit of our check-in; we got grounded a little bit. But, he threw out this thing that he wanted to do that he thought was his gratuitous way of being nice. Then he right followed it up with a piece of work, was that he had problem with me. When does the project have to – I mean the guy had never really met me to know me – and what he was projecting was that I was an authority figure and I happened to be to him, his father. So I just simply sat with him and he just blew off and did all this stuff and I listened to him and told him what I heard and what I understood and the next thing I know he just basically fell apart and he suddenly understood that – and he was apologetic – and I said “don’t be apologetic, that’s what this is for.” I’m here to help you to support this and that’s all I’m doing, is supporting you to do what you need to do, which is being who you are; and it sort of changed his life. So he understood at a deeper level how he has always fought authority figures and it does relate to his father and how much he actually is a replica of it. He is a very strong willed individual, he isn’t afraid to get in your face and I said “so, if you own both of these parts, what your basically understand is how it’s served you and how it has not served you and how to be with people in a different way where you can be strong and gentle as well as gentle and strong. He’s now in Australia, he sold all of his business, found a woman in Australia, moved down there; he’s very successful and very happy. That’s the difference that I pay attention to, I have a lot of discussion with the different faculty, because I teach both on the clinical and organization side. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that in the years past, most people coming through have advanced degrees in psychology and we don’t have that as much and my question is “are these people grounded enough in other theories that are actually supporting Gestalt to help them?” and I don’t have an answer.

MCV – Well I can answer that for you, because I don’t have a, my undergraduate, I have three degrees, economics, personnel, administration and psychology, but I don’t have a Masters Degree in psychology. My Masters is in business emphasis in finance. It had been so long since I’d had any exposure to the psychology, as you were talking about parallel processes, I was thinking “Oh God, I used to know this stuff.” One of my challenges in doing this work in larger levels of systems than one is being able to hold all the space open, for everything that’s going on. And the whole notion of parallel processing, the whole notion of effective stages and phases of group development. From a psychological perspective, there are things that I feel pretty funny about and felt like a babe in the woods in the program and today I said to my husband, yesterday, that I feel like I’m not always one step ahead of my client and that scares the hell out of me. Now is that my action orientation that I feel like I have to be the expert and have the plan or is it real that I feel that I need more grounding?

It’s both – that would be my take. If you were asking me that question I would say it’s both. One, you do have a need to be ahead of your client because that’s the way you oriented and two, having more ground in the actual psychological process gives us more comfort to know what’s going on so its result is what ends up happening is – and I’ll have to speak for me, not for anybody else – is what I find is that the more grounded I get in some of these processes, the more comfortable I am to just simply be at that moment knowing it’s not that I need to be a step ahead of them in terms of the next step we need to go, it’s that I’m fully aware of what’s going on right this moment. That’s why I’ve pursued so many side readings and theories and I teach in a group track and yet I share you same thing – it’s fuzzy to me because I’m not deeply steeped in that theory as far as group development, yet I understand Gestalt enough that I can do it here. But, I don’t know that we ever do that, I think that part of the issue I struggle with and I think that this is what I would suggest to you. I don’t think we’ll ever get totally comfortable, I think part of the reason is that most of us in our age group were raised that we’ll never be good enough because our educational system taught us that. So, you’ll always have this drive for more, to be better, to be good enough, so I don’t know that some of us will ever get rid of that. Because when I get caught up in that, I get real crazy myself.

MCV – Well, the work is, I’ve always taken my work very seriously, and I said somebody, I’ve finally figured out that I am achievement oriented. I though I could totally back away from that and I can’t, and that’s okay. But, the work that I’m doing now feels more awesome – it just feels more awesome. I’m being held in trust with a person’s growth and development. Held in trust – trusting that their organization will grow and develop – they team will grow and develop. Being privy to being part of that process – it’s awesome work and I don’t want to screw up.

Well, I understand that and I guess what I’m going to back and tie to it is this…I’m more curious about why you frame it that “you’re going to screw up”, because that puts the frame on you that you have a burden that isn’t yours to carry. Know what I’m saying?

MCV – Sure.

And so, that’s why it ties back to what I said…we are never good enough, and it’s our job to save the world.

We Appreciate Your Feedback

Please let us know if you found this article interesting or useful. We will not submit this information to any third parties.

To Top

Share |


Sign Up For Our Newsletter!

Email:

Visit Our Media Page for audio interviews and videos by Herb Stevenson and affiliates.