Coaching Narratives And Leadership Experiences From A Global Coaching Guru

Coaching Narratives And Leadership Experiences From A Global Coaching Guru

You’ve been in the space of leadership development and coaching for three decades. What is that one story or narrative that motivated and inspired you to keep developing leaders?

What struck me three decades ago is the fact that in organisations, the human potential was often underutilised. People had become alienated and disengaged at work and there was such a loss of talent. I realised that this could be different, and you could have people flourishing. You could have people fully engaged and doing meaningful work. So, I was wondering how to help with that transformation. How do I help organisations make better use of people’s potential so they can thrive, flourish, and also be a benefit to society and the world at large? How can I modestly at my level make that difference of eliminating a lot of suffering and replace that with flourishing and fulfilment?

Can you narrate some examples or transformative experiences that fulfils you even today?

I did a Masters at Stanford University in Electrical Engineering. Even back then, I took all my elective classes in humanities, sociology, philosophy and history. After that, I went to work as an Engineer in Silicon Valley. I returned to Belgium and worked as an Engineer and as a Manager, but I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in this role that I was playing. And I was seeing some people, including my girlfriend at the time, who was really loving her job. She was thriving in her job and here I was having studied at Stanford, finding myself in this situation and wondering – What am I doing here? What is the purpose of all this? How could I have more joy in my work, and also more meaning? And so that was the start of a journey that eventually led me to go for a complete change of career, and become a leadership development trainer, consultant, and coach.

There have been certain life experiences that propelled you to come up with Global Coaching as an integrated and interconnected perspective to leadership development. I’d love to hear about that experience.

I’ve had different experiences where I see the need for more integration. I see over and over a difficulty with people working in silos being just experts in their one domain, when in fact, reality is much more complex. You need to be able to look at things from multiple angles and address that complexity.

I had a personal experience many years ago, that involved a strange medical condition. I had pain in my groin, and I couldn’t sit or stand up. I could work a little bit, but I was lying down often. I went to see so many specialists and each thought it was a different problem and this went on for a year. Finally salvation came when I met a multi-disciplinary team, led by a sports physician. He knew more about neurology, than most neurologists I’d seen. The difference was made by having a collection of individuals looking at the situation from multiple angles. And this physician listened closely to what happened to me, where it happened and so on. He analysed  the different medical examinations that I’d had, instead of rushing to a conclusion. And he was somebody who was also curious to continuously learn beyond his own discipline. And when he met with me, he took his time to have an idea of what could be the problem. He did not want to give a diagnosis without meeting his colleagues. And so I met his colleagues, and they all came together to discuss the case.

Most physicians will immediately form a diagnosis. There is no depth of reflection or depth of analysis. They form quick judgements. They know a lot of about their own field but not enough about other perspectives. I have done some work about coaching from multiple perspectives for over two decades. But this personal experience reinforced the necessity to look at different disciplines. And even in my own life, I continue to learn not just more of the same, but I’m curious to learn from a variety of fields and a variety of disciplines. That’s how I think we can push the envelope.

Organisations need to do something meaningful for the people who are working. And for something to be meaningful it needs to be associated with a larger purpose that involves improving the world. We must not only take care of human beings but other species as well. And preserving our planet is very important too.

You’ve influenced the world of coaching and coaches with a number of game changing books. What would you say is the message from each one of your books that can make a difference to leaders today?

I’ve written two books, which are Coaching Across Cultures and Global Coaching. And I’ve also been invited by different people to contribute chapters in over 15 books. Coaching Across Cultures is about celebrating differences in the broader sense. It’s about leveraging different cultural perspectives, not just to promote diversity and inclusion, but to promote creativity. We can learn from many different cultural perspectives. We can enrich and expand our worldview and have more options available to us. We can have new ways of communicating, new ways of thinking, new ways of managing , and new ways of organising ourselves. We do not have to be stuck with a certain worldview, but continuously learn from other worldviews and enrich our perspectives.

The second book – Global Coaching, is about going one step further and learning not only from different cultures, but from different disciplines. And I look at six perspectives, which are the Physical, Managerial, Psychological, Social, Political, and Spiritual perspectives. These perspectives can inform our coaching and our leadership. At a physical level, if we want to be good leaders, we need to be in good health – that is the foundation, that is the basis – how do we maintain our energy? How do we maintain our stamina? At the other end of the spectrum, with the spiritual perspective, we have the question of meaning and purpose. What is it that we are doing as leaders? Is it just more profit? Is there something that can contribute to enhancing society and humanity? For example, can we promote environmental progress, societal progress, social progress, in addition to economic success?

We can look at different perspectives and that’s what Global Coaching is about. It is considering the complexity of different challenges and being able to approach them from different angles.

Would you have some examples or stories to share where you’ve made a significant difference to a coachee and reframed their perspective?     

Sometimes there can be one moment of insight that makes a big difference and at other times it can a series of insights gained along the way. In my first example, I’m going to talk about Peter Leyland. I can name this individual as he has given me permission to share his story.  He was somebody I coached in the 90s. He had received some difficult 360 degree feedback as part of a leadership development program. And the wakeup call for him was that, despite his best intentions, there was a difference between the leader he wanted to be and the image he currently had. It came as a shock to him.

But to his credit, he took it on board and engaged in a leadership and personal development journey so that he could become in the eyes of his people, the leader he really wanted to be. I also had the chance to work with his team for several years, and that also made a big difference. Eventually, he was seen as a fantastic exemplary leader, because he had built high performing teams with a wonderful spirit and a lot of trust. People were thriving in these teams. He told me a few years ago that the coaching we did together made the greatest difference in his career. He is now the CEO of a firm in the UK. I played my part, but he deserves most of the credit. And I think that is true for all coaching situations where I can play a role, but the coachee gets most of the credit.

I can think of another example, which is more recent. I don’t have permission to share her name, so let’s call her Annie. In her case, she was a senior leader in a company in Europe. She was a hardworking smart person but was seen by other people as someone who was too demanding. She was an American living here in Belgium. There were difficulties adjusting to this cultural context and it was a lot of stress for her. So we embarked on a journey, and we worked for a year together and again for a few months afterwards. The learning took place at different times, and we took the Global Coaching approach.

One was at a physical level to take better care of herself, where she gave herself permission to sleep more and get back to some sport routine. In her case this was bicycling. This got her in better shape, and she was less stressed. From a managerial perspective, she learnt how to delegate work gradually and therefore established trust. From a political standpoint, she was able to build alliances and relationships in this organisation in order to gain some influence and to make an impact on her project. From a cultural perspective, she became aware of some of our cultural inclinations, so that she wouldn’t fall prey to that. For example, learning to let go as opposed to wanting to be in control all the time, learning to slow down, learning to be a bit more indirect in her communication, and be more flexible as well. The spiritual perspective was not part of the conversation initially but questions on meaning and purpose came to the fore as we had more and more conversations. Also, she was lacking in self-confidence, so she built confidence and was more accepting of herself. There was a psychological developmental journey, and some emotional intelligence was built into it as well.

So you see, it’s not one moment of insight but a whole journey. A gradual process where you learn along the way.

Although we say we are a coach, we wear multiple hats like the mentoring hat or advisory hat. How do you avoid the advice trap in coaching?

One thing is to be convinced that the coachee has a lot of wisdom, and that they have their own answers. I may give advice, but that will not necessarily be relevant for that person. So, my reflex over the years has been to get in the mode of being present, listen and asking questions. However, if a leader asks me for advice, I will not systematically say that I’m not here to give them advice and refuse to respond to them. I need to be very careful though. I think about whether it is going to be detrimental, and if it is going to prevent the coachee from thinking for themselves. But with senior executives, in particular, they might want my view on a topic. And if I refuse to answer, then there is a risk that I will damage the relationship. That’s why I say coaching is an art. I rarely give advice, but I will not go as far as saying that I will never do that.

From mid-level managers to senior leaders all the way to the C-Suite, you must have coached people across different layers of the organisation. How does your approach to coaching differ across these various layers?

Each coaching is different. So, the challenges are also different. At the top level, these challenges are multi-faceted and more complex and that may be a difference. Whereas at a more junior level, there may be more questions or skills they would like to learn. For example, they may say things like – I need to learn how to delegate better, I need to learn how to build constructive relationships with my colleagues, or I need to gain more confidence.

What is nice about the Global Coaching approach is that it is applicable at all levels. It doesn’t mean that I have to call upon all six perspectives all the time if it’s not necessary, but I can do it if required.

There are internal coaches in organisations and external coaches like us. We also have opportunities to engage in one to one coaching and team coaching. What do you think is a good mix for talent development and leadership development?

I don’t have just one answer to that. Typically, the approach when I work with an organisation would be to get to know them through a number of interviews. Because we are not starting from scratch but starting with what is there, I try to understand what is currently happening and what are their challenges. The approach then will depend on what I find out after this phase of analysis and interviews. It is likely that there will be some form of mix of all the modalities that you have mentioned. For example, in one organisation, I was working with senior leaders, and it was a combination of leadership development training followed by coaching. These leaders had to weave coaching into their leadership approach and become leader coaches themselves. So, it started with a one week program followed by coaching for one year. At other levels, there were shorter training programs with some coaching.

We can always use our creativity to propose solutions. For example, you and I have collaborated recently on creating a series of videos on Global Coaching and that is less expensive than organising a seminar, which also we did together. It would be difficult for an organisation to send all leaders for a three day retreat like the one we had, but they can pay a small amount of money to access the videos. Based on that, some peer coaching can be arranged using internal coaches, who build upon the learning from those videos. So, there is no one answer to your question, but there are more possibilities these days.

There is a lot of focus on diversity, inclusion and sustainability and organisations are including them in their agendas. How does Global Coaching and some of the approaches that you suggest fit into these agendas and yearly metrics that organisations want to drive?

Sustainability is very much at the heart of Global Coaching. I didn’t wait for it to become fashionable to start writing about it. I’ve written about sustainability in my book and suggest metrics to ensure that this is taken into account. Even in Coaching Across Cultures, which is another book, I have developed a global scorecard that looks at success and sustainability. So all these variables are at the heart of the integrated coaching approach that I’ve developed and am promoting.

Sustainability is very much related to the question of meaning and purpose. What is the purpose of an organisation? Is it only to make a profit? I don’t think so as that is a very limited objective and certainly not one that can promote real engagement. Organisations need to do something meaningful for the people who are working. And for something to be meaningful it needs to be associated with a larger purpose that involves improving the world. We must not only take care of human beings but other species as well. And preserving our planet is very important too. I’ve had the chance to work with a number of organisations for which this is part of their agenda. I see the sense of purpose and meaning for people working there that they realise that they are doing something essential.

Diversity and inclusion is also at the heart of Coaching Across Cultures. I wrote an article recently – Diversity and Inclusion 3.0 that looks at diversity beyond the traditional approach. It’s beyond just demographics. It’s also about making the most of different cultural perspectives – whether we are aware of it, or it is hidden in us. So if diversity is within us, how can we deploy that?

What is going to be your contribution to the future of coaching?

For me, it is to continue to promote more integration at multiple levels. To continue to learn and to try and push the envelope. I was recently asked to write a book chapter on coaching ethics. And I realised that I need to first learn more about the topic. So I took a course on Philosophical Ethics, and to establish links between philosophical ethics, interculturalism, and coaching. So that’s what the chapter is about. This is just one example. But I continue to look for ways to try to push the envelope so leaders and coaches can use more of their multifaceted potential to contribute more to humanity. And beyond humanity, to all living species and to the planet.

Prof. Philippe Rosinski Prof. Philippe Rosinski
Managing Director – Rosinski & Company | Global Leadership Developer | Bestselling Author

Philippe Rosinski is a world authority in executive coaching, team coaching, and global leadership development. He is considered the pioneer of intercultural and global coaching, and is the author of two seminal books, Coaching Across Cultures and Global Coaching. Harvard Business Review chose his book Coaching Across Cultures (which is available in 10 languages) as its featured book recommendation in the category of business leadership. He has also co-authored numerous books and is a professor at Kenichi Ohmae Graduate School of Business in Tokyo, Japan. He is the first European to have been designated Master Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation.

Here’s the key to becoming smarter, faster & better.
Grab the latest insights!

Research Lab


Are you ready to explore the Sacred Corridor of Leadership?

A powerful three-step framework that helps women leaders deeply reflect and practically devise strategies across Portals of Entry, Rituals of Passages and the Sanctum of Possibilities.

Growth Lab


Try our new course on Personal Branding for Leaders

Is it possible to mindfully and intentionally build a persona that impresses, achieves and inspires? The answer is yes. And this course is your How-to guide.