The Coaching Habit Podcast

The Coaching Habit Podcast

The best strategies for leading yourself and others by tapping into the wisdom of thinkers, leaders, writers and coaches.

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Dr. Marcia Reynolds on Presence, Coaching Culture & Crossroads

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Dr. Marcia Reynolds on Presence, Coaching Culture & Crossroads20:56

Welcome to the first episode of The Coaching Habit podcast. Today, I’m speaking with Dr. Marcia Reynolds, who was the fifth global president of the ICF, the International Coach Federation, and is currently on the global board as a director. She’s a prolific author, with her latest book, Outsmart Your Brain, was released just this past September

In this conversation with Marcia, we dig deep into:

  • The difference between coaching skills and coaching mastery.
  • The key factors necessary to shift organizational culture.
  • The amazing crossroads moment that changed Marcia’s life forever.

Or bookmark it here to listen to later. And don’t forget to rate it on iTunes.


Full Transcript

Michael: It is Michael Bungay Stanier, this is The Coaching Habit podcast. It’s the podcast where we dig into leaders, to thinkers, to writers, to coaches, to people in the world and get them to share their insights about what’s working for them to live a better, stronger life, how they helped others do exactly the same. And I’m really excited to be talking to my guest today, it’s Marcia Reynolds. Now Marcia has been one of the long time champions for coaching in this world. She was the fifth global president of the ICF, the International Coach Federation, and she’s back on the global board as a director. That already speaks to a life of real service to make coaching a force for good for the world.

She’s a prolific author, three books, Outsmart Your Brain, Wonder Woman for High Achieving Women and the Discomfort Zone, how leaders turn difficult conversations into breakthroughs. And of course she is active as a teacher in the world or coaching. She teaches coaching skills to coaches and leaders worldwide and is on faculty of coaching schools in the US and China and Russia and probably beyond. So brilliant. Marcia it’s nice to have you on the call with us.

Marcia Reynolds: Thank you, thanks for the invitation.

Michael: I love this podcast here. I’m just going to jump right into it. We’ve talked a little bit about your past and where you’ve come from but I’m curious to know, what’s the impact you’re seeking to have in the work you do these days?

Marcia Reynolds: There’s two quick things I want to share. One of them, the better that I get at coaching, and I know you share this in your book that it’s always simpler than we like to think it is ’cause it’s so much more about presence than skills. But what I’m seeing is that as my clients start to discover their own blocks, when they see them on their own, they get to laugh at themselves. So I have a lot more laughter with my clients these days instead of being embarrassed. They go, “Oh look what I was doing,” and they think it’s funny. I love that because laughter makes change easier.

Michael: I love that.

Marcia Reynolds: And other piece is on the bigger scale when I work with organizations is that they’re finally seeing that this isn’t about taking a two hour workshop and thinking that they coach. That they’re really recognizing that there’s this great need to shift their cultures into creating coaching cultures where leaders are really caring about people and being curious. I love this cultural shift that’s going on.

Michael: There’s so much good stuff there. I’m almost struggling to know where to start. Let me pick up with one of the very first things you said which is, a recognition that’s it’s more about presence than it is about skills. That’s such a intriguing sentence. What do you mean by that?

Marcia Reynolds: In fact I always say that, when people ask me, “Well how do become a master certified coach?” And I always say mastery is the deepening of presence not the increased improvement of skill. That the more present I am to the person in front of me and can really hear what they’re saying and what they’re not saying and share that back with them. That the more profound the response can be because then they really get to question themselves and see beyond into this thing that was a blind spot that’s now revealed. And there’s nothing more powerful, I don’t know Michael that you know but, my second masters degrees was in adult learning. So I’ve been researching, how do we learn for years and coaching is the most significant technology we have for behavioral change. And again, as you say, it’s not so much that I have to remember to say this and do this but how present can I be with the person so I can share back with them what they’re saying and what’s getting in the way so they can see for themselves?

Michael: How do you develop your own sense of presence or own ability to be present with somebody? How does that become something that deepens and strengthens?

Marcia Reynolds: I really am grateful that at the same time I found coaching was back in the 1900s.

Michael: I’ve heard of that century. I think it was a good century.

Marcia Reynolds: Right. At the same time I found emotional intelligence which I was one of the first people to design a program and get it out there. For me, that being aware of when I’m not present, of when my judgment, you know judgment is an emotion and I can feel when it’s rising up. The moment that I can catch that emotion that might get in the way, a little discomfort with what they’re expressing, or again my own judgment about it, the quicker I can let it go and come back and be with this incredible human being that’s sitting in front of me.

Michael: I love that. The clue that is judgment arises, it’s probably a distraction from being present with the person.

Marcia Reynolds: Yes.

Michael: I know as I’ve tried to, because I agree with your point that at a certain point there’s only so many more skills there are left to acquire and actually you discover that there’s an elegance of simplicity to coaching beyond a lot of the techniques. I’m sitting here with a similar question which is, how do I try and be more present? Not just when I’m coaching somebody but actually just with people? In my life.

Marcia Reynolds: Isn’t that amazing how we’re moving farther and farther away from that because we’re always on our cellphones and whatever else we’re doing. Just that ability to stop and turn around and look at someone or to shut things down when you get on the phone. It’s a discipline practice that we have to do to remember, what am I doing at this moment and why am I here?

Michael: I’ve tried to get better at noticing, again, this is probably in your lead about what does it look like when I’m not present? What are the physical clues? Because it’s one of those things around the body leads the brain. What’s my body like? What am I physically like when I’m present? What am I physically like when I’m not present? And try and use that as a clue as to what’s actually going around here. ‘Cause I’m a very heady guy, I’m not that connected to the sematic wisdom, the body wisdom but I’m doing my best to try and use that as way into presence, amongst other things.

Marcia Reynolds: Right. It doesn’t have to be specific that I know exactly where my anger shows up. But you have to learn it for yourself. And even if you take any particular emotion like discomfort or anger or fear, it shows up at different in different people. You can’t really learn the specifics of that, you can only pay attention to yourself.

Michael: The other thing you talked about, as you talked about what are you up to these days, where’s your work taking you, one of the things you talked about is in your organizational work, shifting the culture and thinking about a coaching culture. But I think you used an interesting phrase with that which is around, correct me if I got it wrong but, about helping leaders be kinder to the people that they work with that they lead. Was that what you said?

Marcia Reynolds: I said more caring and curious.

Michael: Caring, right.

Marcia Reynolds: But certainly kinder is a part of that. It’s really even, again, just focusing on that I have this human being in front of me who’s struggling with something. To remember that we’re all doing our best with what we know. That’s a hard thing we often judge people negatively before we try to understand where they are right now.

Michael: Right, I always think API. Assume positive intent.

Marcia Reynolds: Yes.

Michael: Boy that’s hard sometimes. Where you’re like, don’t, they’re definitely out to screw me over or get me or deliberately make a mess of it.

Marcia Reynolds: Or they’re just lazy.

Michael: Exactly. What have you learned around shifting cultures because I’ve been involved in change management and organizational development for years and mostly what I’ve learned is how hard it is to shift a culture. I’m wondering if there’s things that are becoming apparent or more obvious to you around to where are the levers, where is the ability to influence a culture.

Marcia Reynolds: As any cultural change you have to start at the top ’cause there has to be not just support for the change but they have to model it. I’m actually putting together this course right now where we’re looking at, they have to have a value for coaching. There is this great book called, The Leadership Pipeline, that says at every leadership level your work values have to shift. And if you don’t shift your work values then you’re not going to take the time to learn the skills needed at that level. In looking at what is the greatest value for these top leaders? Well they have a responsibility of developing other leaders.

It’s not just getting work done but what does it take to develop a leader? Well you have to develop their minds not just their skills and so how best do I help someone else to expand how they see things and to understand there’s different options but to do that through coaching. When we start to look at what’s the benefit and the value for the top leaders to be coaches, it has so much to do with succession planning, building their leadership pipeline, expanding the organization in a positive way if they want to grow. First they have to get it inside that this is something that I value.

Michael: Right.

Marcia Reynolds: And once they do that then they might start doing it and then you’re looking at how can we infuse coaching in the rest of the organization with both external, internal coaches, with sharing of success stories and doing some ROI measurements so people know this is a great thing. It has to be a whole program.

Michael: You can’t just lean into one spot, you gotta be thinking about it holistically because you gotta move a bunch of things forward at the same time to create the shift.

Marcia Reynolds: In fact one company I did some work with, we taught the entire company how to coach so even the factory workers could do some peer coaching and be coached. Because in order to be a good client sometimes you gotta know what’s going on.

Michael: I love that it’s such a great insight. It’s like you’re really helping people be more coachable. Then you’re working on both sides of the equation because otherwise you’re often, I’ve trained this manager to be a coach and I’ve trained the people they’re leading to now resist that coaching. In all cases so I love that insight.

Marcia Reynolds: What happens often is leaders, they learn coaching skills and then they go out and people go, “What are you doing, this is strange.” And then the leader says, “It doesn’t work.” And then they don’t do it.

Michael: Exactly. They’ve been on a training course, if I can just hold off for two weeks maybe they’ll forget it all and we’ll be back to normal again.

Marcia Reynolds: That’s exactly what happens.

Michael: To shift the focus a little bit, I’m curious about your own journey to get where you are today. One of the quotes that I love, I use it all the time, I use it all time in this podcast is, inspiration is when your past suddenly makes sense.

Marcia Reynolds: I love that.

Michael: So I’m curious if there were one or two crossroad moments for you where you’re like, okay, it was the decision to go left instead of right that really changed everything for you?

Marcia Reynolds: Well there’s two quick things I want to share and the first one because it happened 40 years ago I don’t mind sharing it. I as a young adult did something rather stupid, it wasn’t that harmful to other people but it was enough that I ended up in jail. The most amazing thing happened. You get to know your cellmates really well ’cause there’s not much else to do. This one woman, real big woman, she was my cellmate and I was sitting around complaining about my horrible life and how I was such screw up, I couldn’t accomplish anything and she got up and she got in face and said, “You have no idea who are do you? You’re so smart and you’re courageous and you care and you have to get that yourself because once you get that in yourself, in your heart, you’re going to take that out into the world and you’re going to make a difference.”

Michael: Holy minoley.

Marcia Reynolds: I know.

Michael: I got goosebumps listening to that. That is an outstanding crossroads moments. Literally you’re having somebody at that moment saying come on step up.

Marcia Reynolds: Exactly. And I had to do it.

Michael: Right, or else you’re going to be beaten up by this enormous prison woman.

Marcia Reynolds: Right. And so I really felt, just inspired me not only to rebuild my life but to go out and do something that was significant for other people ’cause she did that for me. I did, I went on, I got degrees, I worked for companies and did some good work for corporations for a good 16 years and then decided it was time to go start my own business. I thought I’d do training but I found this article on coaching. And I was thinking, wow, my best work is not in an event, training’s just an event, but in a process. When I talk to people over time. I thought, well maybe I’ll do this, I’m not sure, costs some money. I’m thinking about it.

But then one of the vice presidents, right before I left the company, he came to me and he said, “Well who am I going to talk to if you leave?” I said, “Well, I don’t know but I don’t think I’m going to stay here just to talk to you.” And he said, “I don’t expect you to stay here, I just want to know how we talk in the future and you know I’ll pay you.”

Michael: I love that. It’s like welcome to your business model.

Marcia Reynolds: Right. I said, “Hey, I’m a coach.” That was the day that I was inspired to add coaching.

Michael: That’s fantastic, it’s great to have two people show up going I’m pointing the direction to what needs to happen right now.

Marcia Reynolds: Right. Don’t miss those moments.

Michael: That’s wonderful when we have those moments where we, our future changes because something happens, a stroke of good fortune or a stroke of bad fortune but it takes us onto another journey. One of the things that I’ve learned about myself and I think it’s true about others is most of us have a lesson or two that we have to just keep learning and we learn it in one form and then it comes back in another form and we keep, it’s the patterns that keep us rolling forward. I’m curious if you’re willing to share, what’s the hard lesson that you’ve had to learn along the way? Or you keep having to learn?

Marcia Reynolds: I think I keep having to learn. People aren’t always ready to grow to the level I think they should. And so my expectation or that they really want the information I have, I get so disappointed in recognizing we’re all in a different place on our journey and some people just don’t want move right now or they need just little steps. And sometimes, you know I’ll write a book and it comes around 20 years later. Oh, people find it and say it’s great.

Michael: Right. When the student’s ready the teacher appears sort of piece.

Marcia Reynolds: I have to remember that. Even in classes I’m sure you find that. That some people embrace what you offer and some people it’s just not right time for them.

Michael: Some ways it connects back to what you were saying before about presence. Presence is that piece or so around removing the judgment that you should be adoring what I’m telling you right now because it’s amazing.

Marcia Reynolds: Right, and adore me too.

Michael: Right, exactly. You’re like, you offer it up and you point to a door and you go, I’m going to do all I can to invite you to walk through this door and some of you will and some of you will skip. And some of you will sidle and some of you will sit there and not want to go through the door. But you get to make that choice yourself.

Marcia Reynolds: Right, and it doesn’t mean that something’s wrong with me. Being a trainer for over 30 years it’s that one sad face, that one person in the class hated me and oh I’m awful. Instead of just letting it go because everyone else got something out of it.

Michael: That is an ongoing lesson you need to learn as a speaker or trainer which is when the 2% of people don’t like you, not to go, it’s a disaster. 98% of people liked it so I’m okay. I’m interested to ask you this final question as part of this interview because you are a master coach, you’ve been doing this for years, you’re a keynote speaker, you speak on difficult conversations, on leadership, on emotional intelligence, on personal mastery, I’m wondering if there is a tool or a process or a model that is one of your favorites that you keep coming back to. I know that I’ve got a range of things I know but there are often two or three things that I go, let me show you this ’cause I love it and I think it works really well. Is there one that’s a particular favorite for you?

Marcia Reynolds: The one thing that I’ve come to know that is really powerful in coaching, that we define coaching as reflective inquiry not just inquiry and that people often don’t understand the power of just the reflection. Of just saying, oh I noticed. I noticed that your voice got low there and sound kind of sad or that your spirit really lifted when you started talking about that. Just the noticing and sharing what you noticed is so powerful to hold up that mirror and allow people to hear their own words and see their own expression and then ask the question.

Michael: I love that.

Marcia Reynolds: It’s reflection that I found to be so powerful that we often forget.

Michael: I remember being taught something similar along those lines which is notice that, blurt it out and then ask a question. Because it can be so easy for us to move into analysis and judgment about what does this mean and I’m interpreting it and therefore I’ve come to a conclusion around it.

Marcia Reynolds: Right. And you can be wrong. That’s what I love too. I’ll say, “Wow looks like you’re real sad about that.” Because if they’re not sad, they’re gonna then tell me what they’re really feeling. And which take the conversation deeper so I always teach my coaches, just to share what you think and let them tell you the truth.

Michael: And one of the other things that I’ve learned and this a harder thing to do but I’m trying to get better at it myself, which is, don’t just notice what you see in them but notice what you see in yourself. How do you physically, I notice I got a bit bored with this. I notice I got excited about this. So curious what that might mean. Sometimes there wisdom in your response to what your seeing as well.

Marcia Reynolds: Right. Or when I get out of breath with what they’re telling me.

Michael: Right.

Marcia Reynolds: Very good.

Michael: Marcia it’s been a wonderful conversation. I know people want to learn more about you and the work you do, where would you point them to? Where can people find you?

Marcia Reynolds: My website is

Michael: Perfect.

Marcia Reynolds: That’s the best place.

Michael: Marcia it’s been a real pleasure, thanks for taking the time with us today.

Marcia Reynolds: Yeah, thank you.

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