Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

Reflections on a recent visit to Boston


Coaching in Medicine and Leadership” was the title of this year’s conference in Boston. I headed over - spurred on my memories of my last visit two years ago when I came away fired up with new ideas and learning. To be honest, I wasn’t sure that my last experience could be topped but I was about to be surprised.

After an informal catch up with the Wellcoaches fraternity I settled in for two days of intense listening and I wasn’t disappointed with the new insights the sessions gave me. Not only does the conference attract some of the best minds in  the fields of both coaching and leadership, but also the interesting thing was the way each session seemed to link into the others. 

You would think that by their very nature/definition, information on “leadership” might be somewhat different to information on “coaching.”  There is a long held belief that leaders are in charge and play a different role form an empowering, collaborative coach. Yet it was clear that times are changing and leadership in today’s world is different from what it was ten years ago.

The main reason for this seems to be the degree of uncertainty surrounding us all – not only in the economic climate but in the speed with which things are changing and developing across all industries. “The rules of the game are changing while the game is still being played” was one memorable comment made. 

So although I hope to draw on many of the wonderful sessions I attended and pass on some concepts – or my interpretation of them – in future newsletters, I will summarise what I feel were the main points presented at the conference.

  1. The models for leadership have undergone major re-modeling to take into account the business world of today. The four keystones of sense making, visioning relating and inventing, as presented by  Dr. Deborah Ancona  were strongly aligned to coaching terminology and indeed, principles.

  1. The importance of emotional intelligence in both coaching and in leadership were emphasized by Daniel Goleman (until now a name that I was familiar with from literature on EQ and whose ground-breaking ideas have long been respected by anyone working with people in coaching and counselling). He presented research that showed that EQ (emotional intelligence – put simply the ability to relate to people) rated far above “skills and knowledge” in making a good leader, an exceptional leader.

  1. The need for, and growing body of, research in health and wellness coaching is central to its growth yet the outcome measures of reduced morbidity will come after a long process of measuring things like confidence level, new behaviours, attainment of individual goals and life satisfaction.

  1. The frightening yet eloquent presentation by David Katz on just how bad the health of the US (and globe  brought the room to silence and then to its feet.  He brought it home to everyone that there was no such thing as “public”, just you and I and the other individuals affected by the lifestyle illnesses that abound.  He gave us hope that we could “sandbag the flood” and eventually turn the tide but it would take enormous and collective effort in changing culture. His speech should have been given for a presidential election campaign.  He would have won.  The issue he spoke of was one of the biggest problems the USA (and Australia) face.

  2. Neuroscience was a hot topic - not for its own sake but for the information it is giving us about the human brain.  The fact that our thinking brain and our feeling brain are so closely intertwined came up time  and again as did the notion that we are “wired for empathy” as our motor neurons fire in synch with the people we connect with.  And again, those many reminders that the body and how we fuel it, are inextricably linked with better brain power.

  1. The coaching “dance” is now being measured by comparing arousal of the sympathetic nervous system between coach and client as the session takes place. The clients that had the most parallel response to their coach, in physiological response, reported feelings of greater rapport.

  2. So many other great topics and speakers.  I came away,  if not feeling wiser and more effective by my attendance, with a feeling that I am so very lucky to work in a field that is gradually infiltrating many of the key professional areas.  Let’s face it,  if the key people in Leadership and Medicine are listening, who else could be?

Attending this conference also concreted my belief and understanding of  why the area of wellness coaching is suddenly getting greater attention from the corporate world.  In today’s environment, you simply cannot be a good leader without a) learning to coach,  and  b) taking a long, hard  look at your own personal wellness.  Gone are the days when the top people managed to ignore growing stress levels and enlarging girth measures; where work ruled and relationships came second.   We are all finally speaking the same language.

Open ears, Open hearts Open minds


We speak a lot about the future opportunity that Wellness Coaching has to offer Australians. In September, I was given the opportunity of speaking at the Australian Integrative Medicine (AIM) Conference last Saturday and it was an opportunity to take a close look at how tangible this opportunity really is.

The theme of the conference was “Bridging the Gap” and the aim of the AIM Association is to recognize and bring together health practitioners who use varied disciplines and methodologies to treat their patients. 

I have to admit I was expecting a fairly cool and possibly hostile reception - after all, wellness coaching is a new and unaccredited profession and the medical fraternity can have strong views on who is qualified to “help”.  Instead, I met a lot of people who really did have open hearts and open minds.

 

The very strong message that came across was that a change in public health would come by taking a united approach. Rather than working in silos we could (and should) work as a team to help people in a variety of ways– whether it was to manage pain, to end their lives with dignity, to stay well or simply to enjoy what they had. The shift is in the belief that there has to be a better way of doing these things than the old, cold professional approach that was more about control and delivering “prescriptions”.  Instead, creating rapport, showing empathy and focusing on the relationship as much as the outcomes were as important as the techniques and advice we were trained to give.

These are key principles that underpin wellness coaching and I felt very at home and thoroughly enjoyed my presentation to a room full of people who perhaps knew little about what we did but took only minutes to “get it”.

I spent the limited time I had there listening to people referring to naturopathy, acupuncture, Chinese medicine and many other “alternative” therapies  (known as CAM – Complementary Alternative Medicine) as being legitimate treatment methods.

Far from downplaying the need for evidenced based research and the need for continued growth in this area, the focus was on not so much fixing illness, but perhaps preventing it. As Dr Tim Sharp put it, “If we could cure the population of sickness in the world, would that be enough?”  I think not.   Yes we need to cure illness, but simultaneously we need to promote wellbeing.  Once again, there was recognition that the physical and mental dimensions are inextricably linked.

So how do we do this?  First, we start with an open heart.

To lay aside our professional status and expert knowledge that sometimes defines us takes courage.  Accepting that we don’t really have all the answers take humility.  I have worked with a lot of people now in wellness coaching workshops and love my work so much as the training predominantly attracts people with open hearts and open minds.  And who are humble.  I talk to a lot of very clever people. Clever in different ways. But the ones who embrace the coaching model have without exception a degree of emotional intelligence.

Now our training is accredited with ESSA, we will be seeing more AEPs (Accredited Exercise Physiologists). I look forward to working with this group of people and to helping them help others make positive changes in their lifestyle by using a collaborative, coaching approach. And when I am back in Melbourne in October, I also look forward to having other attendees of the conference in our workshop who wishes to learn more about what we do.  The ball is rolling and we momentum growing and together we are building a tribe.   I love to think that Wellness Coaching is part of the movement that will change the world by breaking down our barriers and helping us support each other through caring, better communication and above all, relationship.

If we can all open our hearts, open our minds and open our ears and take a similar approach to AIMA we would make a bigger difference in healthcare. 

If we can listen to the ideas of others and accept that there is much to learn, we would gain power in using the strength of many. 

If we could empower our clients to take responsibility for change by working with them as coaches, instead of doling out advice, we would truly help them.

If I could provide my trainees with a T shirt it would say, “I don’t have all the answers but I have some really good questions.” 

And above all, we can learn to listen to the answers. 



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