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Bridging Polarities for the Joy of Coaching
Agata lives in Norway and works globally, dividing her time and passion for coaching between her corporate job and private practice. Together with her husband, 3 kids, and dog, they live their lives anchored in simplicity, nature, respect and gratitude. Agata’s restorative practices include yoga, hiking in the nearby forests, and reading. Her interests revolve around holistic health with its many shapes and forms.
My life’s professional purpose is to empower everyone to be the change they want to see in their organization, to give them inspiration and support, as well as specific tools and challenges. No matter our current role, position, range of authority, education, or experience, we can all be leaders and act as change agents on behalf of the values we stand for.
Integral Coaching® training with ICC gave me the confidence and competence to live my purpose, to embody and manifest it, and to create tangible results in my workplace in powerful and nuanced ways. Moreover, it brought me the joy of working in alignment with my values, integrating everything I have learnt throughout the years: from the discipline of operational excellence, through to conscious leadership, to presence, to love and compassion for myself and others.
My professional journey started in the year 2000, with 10 years in a production plant in Poland, owned by a North American aerospace giant. We lived and worked by the company’s values: 100% quality, every time, with unrelenting improvement in all areas of the business. My work as an interpreter required multiple approaches to getting things done, so that I could ensure effective internal communications, as well as communicating with customers and suppliers.
As an interpreter translating between my post-communist Polish plant, the North American entrepreneurial culture of our parent company, as well as Western Europe and Asia, I quickly understood that the key to effective translation was not only language mastery (even if this was important). Instead, the key was perceiving and responding to the context, cultural expectations, personal differences, and more. These nuances, on top of relatively straightforward office tasks, made my job fascinating and mysterious for me. How could we achieve growth and efficiency using the continuous improvement tools and techniques in an organization, so that our old ways seem like a dream from some distant past, sharing no common language, culture, or history?
After 10 years of supporting the organization on the road to operational excellence, with many continuous improvement certifications under my belt and growing responsibility, including managerial and leadership roles, my life took a turn – I fell in love and decided to follow my husband on his international assignments, leaving my flourishing career behind. I left behind everything that it meant: a list of accomplishments, success, and a sense of value and power. Before I knew it, I was asking myself, “Who am I, with no office and team of my own; with three kids and dinner to make instead?”
It was a challenging period in my life: the excitement of the big cities of Paris and Brussels, the history, cuisine, culture, new language… It should have been fun! Yet, the quiet of an empty home while my kids were at the daycare, the chaos and noise in the evenings as we all gathered around for an improvised dinner. I had time, yet I didn’t feel motivated to show up as a housemaker, I looked down on cooking and taking care of my young kids, considering these tasks as too mundane to be given my full attention. I just wanted this to be over. I could not wait to return to my professional life to find myself again.
In the meantime, being a curious and restless person, I tried to find something to distract myself with. Inspired by one of the other expatriate moms I befriended at that time, I took a course in meditation and yoga, – both as my own embodied practice and guiding others as mindfulness instructor.
When the time finally came to return to my corporate career, it ended up being painful and disappointing. I was working in another country: Norway, a new language, new culture… Again, it should have been exciting! I guess I took the return to corporate work for granted, constantly re-living my past exciting and rich experiences as a corporate professional, remembering and idealizing the best of it. I expected joining the biggest fertilizer supplier in the world as a Project Manager and then Change Manager to be my dream come true again. But upon my return, my values, my goals, and my definition of success had all shifted. While they were not yet fully shaped, something new was emerging in me. Something deeper, more heartfelt, softer. Everything that had excited me back in the early years – the operational excellence, the well-trending results, the measurable achievements—seemed colorless, dry, and just barely effective, not to mention lacking fun and a creative spark. The growth that I experienced on my mindfulness journey was with me every day at work as I delivered another project, implemented another change, ticked “done” on another initiative on the “to do” list. There was an ever-present longing for deeper, more meaningful, and more creative ways of contributing to the organization I was a part of.
Again, inspiration for my next step came from another person – this time a fellow agile coach. Over time, during our regular catch-ups, I noticed a change in her. More presence, more groundedness, a capacity to have more impact. I asked: “What is it that you are doing? I’ll have the same!” She told me about the course she was taking with Integral Coaching Canada (ICC). Even without quite knowing the details, I immediately knew it was my next step.
Awaiting the kick-off of my ICC program, I found an Integral Master Coach™ in Norway, Agathe Daae-Qvale, and engaged in a coaching program with her. Agathe’s coaching gave me the courage to make yet another professional transition – a bold step to join one of Norway’s largest employers and biggest retail, wholesale, and consumer goods companies. All my professional experience to that point was international. Now I wanted to challenge myself to work, train, coach and mentor in the local language, immerse myself in the culture, and fully experience the country that became my new home.
ICC’s coach training program further empowered me to turn the weakness of my gaps in the local language and cultural fluency into a strength – they became ways for me to slow down the pace of my conversations for the sake of clarity. Furthermore, I gradually practiced marrying the rigor of the continuous improvement with the subjectivity of mindfulness techniques, and felt more and more equipped with a number of tools and techniques to bridge any polarity with an impact.
Here’s what I mean by bridging a polarity: Up until this time, I always felt stuck having to choose between my hard and soft skills, objective and subjective assessment, and specific versus inspiring goals. Upon joining one of the biggest Norwegian businesses, my main focus was the measurable progress on delivering new digital solutions through of agile projects. However, fostering an agile mindset in employees was a prerequisite for these deliverables, and “mindsets” are very difficult to “implement” and measure. Not surprisingly, this was overlooked in the organization’s agile journey. Me summoning the courage to shed the light on this gap, standing strong in my beliefs, and creating opportunities to encourage conversations about the gap slowly began to bring results, resonating with more and more people within the company.
In the two years since the launch of my “mindset campaign,” nearly 200 leaders have participated in the “Agile Mindset Workshop,”. Beyond these tangible numbers, my subjective sense is that I have greatly contributed to the growth of the conscious, agile, and servant leadership in my workplace; and my contributions continue. I see my training with ICC and all the tools that it gave me as a main contributor to my current professional achievements. Achievements that are not about choosing either/or, choosing between measurable deliverables or intangible mindsets, but rather achievements which encompass all of who we are as leaders, and humans – the measurable and unmeasurable results we are creating through the way we show up to the next task at hand. And the journey continues. Another wave of workshops has just been launched, encompassing the whole of the IT Department, and requests for support in fostering the agile mindset, the servant leadership and the collaborative culture are coming in from all the corners of the organization.
Chris Alder, one of my ICC Teachers and Phone Coach is an embodiment of what I had longed to become professionally. Love and discipline – both qualities that so many organizations need. I knew I could build this bridge; I had living proof of it in my Teacher and Coach.
The biggest gift I have received (and allowed myself to receive) is the gift of freedom from feeling like it’s necessary to choose between two opposites. Should I live my corporate life or follow an alternative path? Is it better to be SMART about your goals or follow your heart? Is silence in meetings a waste of time or an important tool in meeting our ambitions and each other? Work-life balance? Success versus peace of mind? Me this or me that? Who am I, really, and how do I want to contribute to this world? The world, and my life, is far richer and more nuanced than these simple binaries, and my training with ICC has allowed me to embrace that richness and complexity in how I live and work.
There is no way to know whether I would still be stuck in conflicting professional choices by now, and how much energy would remain untapped had it not been for my journey with ICC. It does not matter, because I took the leap, embarked on my coach training journey with ICC and gradually began the process of freeing myself from ever-present riddles, those of the choice between discipline and love, career or health, results or patience. And the biggest riddle of them all – am I good enough for this or should I just forget it? Instead of trying to answer these questions, I decided to ask instead: “How about I just show up?” (Thanks, Cathy, my Study Group “Sister”, for this insight). I am both: Integral Master Coach™ and baby wannabe coach at the same time, coherent and wobbly, stepping forward and stumbling. And I embrace this state. It no longer stops me from showing up fully, with everything I have to offer. It is not either-or, it is both – and beyond.
My gratitude to Michael Lamberti for helping me focus on what matters the most in creating this article.
This practice is one I use a lot these days, and it seems like the practice my clients enjoy the most. I encourage you to give it a try and share it with your circles as well. It is simple, visually stimulating, and connects us back to Nature: http://quitesimple.no/balancing-practice/
I can still feel my heart pounding as I summoned the courage to incorporate this kind of mindfulness tool in the early days of my corporate coaching. Mindfulness practices are now a standard, natural, effortless part of my coaching offerings.