A Coaching Model Created by John Holden
(Executive Coach, SINGAPORE)
Business leaders and professionals are often disconnected from nature whilst experiencing excessive stress and anxiety in the workplace. This can lead to burnout, career disruptions, relationship breakdowns, loss of productivity, and even mental health issues. This Nature-Based Leadership Coaching Model (NLC) is based on an extensive research through well-known coaching theories/frameworks/models with psychodynamic theories, looking at the experiences of these professionals when they experience nature connectedness. 6 main themes emerged from the research:
(1) Nature as Living Transitional Space;
(2) Being in the Here and Now;
(3); Feeling Well and Protected;
(4) Embodied Relational Experiences;
(5) Vulnerability, Purpose & Meaning;
(6) Attachment with Nature.
The implications of the findings were analysed, discussed and became the basis of the ‘Nature-Based Leadership Coaching Model’ to foster psychological well-being and transformational change for business leaders and professionals, along with possible areas of future study and investigation.
The Coaching Model:
From the data analysis of an extensive research with 19 participants (‘coachees’) conducted from February-April 2018, one of the most significant finding and insight generated is that the research study had enabled nearly all the participants to form the beginnings of a reciprocal relationship with nature during and after the focus groups, building a human-nature connection as a result. Majority of the participants described their experiences at 3 separate group coaching focus groups conducted in nature filled with a sense of appreciation, and care for the natural
It transpired that some key insights of the coachees may lead to transformational changes to their work and life. More importantly, I had the goal of evaluating the findings, understanding the implications, and transforming the coaching research study into a fully functional clinically informed nature-based leadership coaching program for business leaders and professionals.
The concepts of Attachment theory were applied here. Attachment theory began with the work of John Bowlby, who proposed that infants have a biological proclivity to form attachments and to initiate interaction with the caretaker, making use of the person as a ‘secure base’ for exploration and development (Bowlby, 1958; 1959; 1960). With the secure attachment, the infant learns how to feel and predict self and other’s states of mind, leading to self-regulating and relating in life. Martin Jordan commented that the dominant pattern that industrialised societies have to nature is one of avoidance and ambivalence (Jordan, 2015), whilst Harold Searles made a similar point that human beings’ ambivalence towards nature, the ignorance of the importance of nature, is a source of issues that are related to psychological wellbeing (Searles, 1960). Jordan further proposed that if we can put forward nature as a maternal and paternal presence into people’s lives, with nature representing as the ‘secure base’, being “an aspect of both our internal and external relational world that can provide great comfort” (Jordan, 2015). Such concepts related to Attachment theory are most useful in thinking about continuity and sustainability for the participants, and the formulating of the clinically informed nature-based leadership group coaching program.
Besides conventional well-known coaching theories/frameworks/models, the design of the NLC is further influenced by gestalt psychology and gestalt therapy. Wolfgang Kohler described learning as perceptual reorganisation and argued that animals showed ‘insight learning’. He proposed that learning is not a consequence of associated responses built up over time, but rather it is a consequence of perceptual reorganization, abruptly seeing relationship and connection between isolate elements (Kohler, 1947/1975). Laura and Fritz Perls developed Gestalt therapy (Perls, 1969; 1971; 1978) which distinguish itself from Freudian approach by stressing the senses and their function in the present moment. By examining the present, ‘contact’ which are sensory experiences such as seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and moving with awareness are heightened, enabling deeper connection with the world. The approach is grounded in the notion of having Discovery being the most powerful form of learning, with awareness being the driver for change and growth. Gestalt is in essence an experiential and experimental approach, which involves participants to be experiencing themselves and their world differently, whilst engaging in experiential activities that are designed to facilitate growth. One of the key points of the gestalt approach lies in providing methods for exploring and enhancing awareness.
The NLC connects busy business leaders, professionals, and teams with nature, to promote psychological wellbeing. Nature also provides an effective transitional space, creating a conducive experimentation and learning environment. Potential clients for NLC would be companies and business leaders or professionals looking for solutions to improve performance in the areas of: Communication, Resilience, Conflict Resolution, Creativity, Innovation, Team Work, Leadership, Organizational Change.
There are 3 stages in the NLC.
In Stage 1, the coach/facilitator would be specifically looking at the work and life stressors of the participants and the group as a whole, linking back to any other specific leadership coaching objectives that were discussed and agreed with the client company ahead of the coaching intervention.
In Stage 2, the coach/facilitator would be creating, inviting and holding participants in ‘The Nature Living Transitional Space’. They will be guided through a series of experiential activities which allows the participants to experience and discuss their feelings, emotions of
(1) Being in the Here and Now;
(2) Feeling Safe and Well;
(3) Embodied Relational Experiences;
(4) Vulnerability, Rediscovering Purpose & Meaning;
(5) Attachment with nature.
During these experiences, the coach/facilitator will be interacting and holding the space for the participants, at the same time interacting together with the natural environment that is alive, filled with vitalism.
In Stage 3, participants are gathered together for an in-depth group coaching session where the coach/facilitator would guide them to clarify their new awareness and insights gained, explore and discuss any ‘Above Surface Changes’ noticed, and to explore and discuss any ‘Deeper Level Changes” triggered and uncovered. This part is where personal and group action planning and goal setting would be discussed, and to agree on follow-up and next steps in order to ensure continuity and sustainability for the participants. This is where we clarify and crystalize the transformational change aspects for each of the participants and the group.
The NLC is designed as a full-day coaching program for up to 8 participants per setting in order to ensure the intimate and experiential environment can be held. It can also be modified and conducted as one-on-one coaching sessions divided over 4 to 5 1-hour sessions. In a group coaching setting, the following process steps would be followed:
- The program would be held in a mutually agreed nature park location, with indoor and outdoor facilities as agreed between the coach/facilitator and the client company
- There will be an experienced coach/facilitator for the program, who will also be ensuing and balancing the ‘holding’ throughout in ‘The Nature Living Transitional Space’
- Participants would first start the day in an indoor environment within the nature park, with a group activity looking at their work and life stressors
- Guided by the coach/facilitator, participants would then transition from the indoor space to the outdoor environment through a threshold for a series of experiential activities including: a Nature Objects Box activity, a Rain Tree activity, and a Sit Spot activity
- After breaking for lunch, they would then proceed to a more in-depth group coaching session in the afternoon
- Finally, there will be a mindfulness Fox Walk activity in the nature park, where participants are invited to also identify a founded object from nature (which could be a physical object, recorded sound or image for example) to bring back into their daily lives.
- As a wrap up and closure, there will be an incorporation and integration ritual carried out with the group to symbolize the end of this stage of their nature connectedness journey, and the beginning of longer-term follow-up and sustaining of the journey that were agreed
Diagram 1: Nature-Based Leadership Coaching Model (NLC)