‘Sense of being’ in Coaching and Leadership.

Coaching is a trusting relationship, and not exclusive to the coaching journey it is also applicable to leadership relationships between leaders and their followers.

In the midst of own research with learners in formal educational settings and those coached through virtual reality technologies, I discovered what formed the bedrock to my coaching and leadership interactions – Five Levers. The associations between one’s Identity, Presence, Co-Presence, Emotional Intelligence and Immersion produce an effective sense of being in those experiences.

According to Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development ([CIPD] 2017) coaching supports individuals become high-performers in their workplace activities. The coaching relationship is targeted at the specific skills, behaviour and goals identified by the individual and their employer. The duration of the relationship is variable and has no fixed timescale; it is proportional to the individual’s development and Mastery of practice (Pink 2011). From the onset, a coaching relationship has a purpose of aligning human abilities to organisational leadership. The Coachee has a goal to unlock and fulfil their potential; they may wish to become better furnished with know-how in dealing with complex and challenging organisational situations.

A thought-through business or personal goal initiates the first coaching phase inviting employees to participate in coaching sessions. Coaching commences when two individuals come together to identify a sense of purpose in why they are there. A preferred coaching model might underpin the coaching journey: Purpose, Perspectives, Process model (Lane and Corrie 2006; Pink 2011) sit alongside the Nested-level model, and ‘The expert approach,’ providing structure to the experience. Models assist the Coach in supporting individuals make decisions, set and reach goals, or identify ways to influence others. They also encourage reflection and analysis of own thoughts and actions when leading others. Coached individuals maximise on acquired skills to form new outlooks on how those skills might be useful in personal or professional circumstances.

Models are important in the relational engagement between the Coach and Coachee; they also afford both parties to explore other aspects as and when they arise in the coaching sessions. Inherently in the adopted model are tools with the specific aim to support the Coach in achieving the intended outcomes. Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence model (1995) helps to illicit the Coachee’s self-awareness and leadership impact. Self-management (Wilber 2006) and how they engage with others in one-to-one or groups may be discussed. Their on-going thoughtful discourse will draw out thinking patterns, emotional responses, inward emotions and behavioural judgments relating the context they continue to make sense off (Kolb 1984). Kolb’s adult learning cycle raises fundamental questions that we draw upon in the coaching experience; the Coach often invites the Coachee to discuss a new experience (concrete experience) through to the reflective observation of creating new ideas in an organisational setting. While Divergence and Assimilation of knowledge occurs during Kolb’s learning model, the individual’s ontology ‘sense of being’ is awaiting to be discovered.

Why is ontology relevant in coaching or leadership?

Ontology, the sense of being or existing in the situation, is equally important in the coaching process. Active listening to the reflective narrative allows the Coach to tap into the coachee’s cognitive process. The way the Coachee describes their thinking and emotive responses to the encountered situation provide insightful information to how much they felt ‘in the moment’. Language and feelings might provide further background information about the context and how the individual perceived themselves and others in the situation. At the same time as recalling the descriptive narrative, the Coachee will discuss what they have learned from their thinking and where they might adjust their self-management in similar situations.

Coaching is about nurturing others to become highly efficient and effective leaders in their respective organisations. The process encourages cognitive development using knowledge to develop skills, behaviour, and attitudinal attributes – this is learning. Learning takes place in many locations, over time, in different context and through collaboration with others. Arguably, learning only occurs in the individual’s cognitive space (Fauconnier 1994). Festinger (1957) Cognitive dissonance might arise for a Coachee who tries out new behaviours that are divergent to their attitudes. Internal discomfort will arise from disharmony between out of balance attitudes and beliefs, a Coachee will take steps to reduce the dissonance through information analysis. Internal sensing supports a Coachee’s perception and presencing of a situation they might wish to change through specific actions (Scharmer’s U-process Model 2005).

A humanistic view would be the individual navigates through Maslow’s (1954) Hierarchy of Needs from physiological needs to self-actualization to create the change. In any coaching journey, individuals will experience emotions and question their abilities, confidence, and role in the recalled situations. In most reflective situations they will unknowingly examine the association of their Identity, Presence, Co-Presence, Emotional Intelligence and Immersion in the remembered narrative. Coaching is also an ontological event they begin to experience over time. The Coachee might question what is their identity in this unique relationship with their Coach.

Identity is the characteristics of how we subjectively view others and ourselves within the ‘community’ or experience we form. Identity includes how we display self to the outside world in what we wear, our expressions and choice of language.

Presence is viewed as a sensing cognitive belief that one is present in the environment. Presence is about how we exercise our identity to convey information in both virtual and real world locations.

Co-Presence is the association formed between Identity and Presence where connectedness is present with communication flowing back and forth between community members.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is described as being aware of one’s emotions and thoughts. Mayer (et al. 1992) believe this co-presence feedback shapes behaviour and how it is controlled in different situations.

Immersion described by Slater and Wilbur (1997) as “being there” and Witmer and Singer (1998) “the psychological state characterised by perceiving oneself to be enveloped by”.

The Five Levers: helped to promote the Coachee’s identity through acknowledging language, emotions and body language will reinforce and promote equality of adult-to-adult relationship. This alone reflects the Coachee’s intrinsic value of himself or herself.

Presence and Co-Presence are unified characteristics when open channels of communication are congruent. Effective rapport building is critical to demonstrate where individuals should exercise their voice in their leadership actions or behaviour. Coachee-centric communication strengthens the individual’s willingness to speak up and offer their view in the coaching sessions and in workplace leadership. Presence and Co-Presence are easily disconnected when communication becomes fragmented when the messages/feedback is misunderstood or distracted by other agendas or interests.

Emotional Intelligence in coaching is highly effective when a coach helps an individual view their impact on others. Self-Awareness and Self-Management are characteristics that fine-tune and confirm how others view their identity and, Presence and Co-Presence. In coaching and leadership, self-awareness might not necessarily be present for some. How do we encourage others to become aware?

Asking questions, ‘How did the person respond to you?’ will provide a descriptive narrative that could be followed up with, ‘was there anything you liked or disliked about the way they feedback to you?’

A questioning approach will promote critical thinking and the formation of building blocks to Emotional Intelligence. Coachees develop cognitive schemas for themselves as a mechanism to regulate their behavioural responses. An accumulative impact of positive Emotional Intelligence coupled with Identity, Presence and Co-Presence affords the individual influence or impact on the composite outcome. The highly knowledgeable person will use their influencing abilities to shape the coaching journey and application to their leadership style. They are likely to garner numerous recounts of past experiences and play them out in future coaching sessions. Demonstrable evidence of their positive interaction with individuals and organisational performance will be filtered and recorded in their schematic memories.

Motivated behaviour occurs when the Coachee cognitively measures the effect of the coaching experience in tangible leadership movements and achievements. Self-belief, self-motivation, high-order thinking, decision-making and confidence happen when the fifth lever Immersion is the ‘state’ a Coachee reaches when all levers are in balance. Coachees who are supported in a positive, thriving environment will self-invest in themselves to create a more prominent identity and co-presence. Immersion in the Coaching process should be encouraged too by discussing the variety and complexity of leadership activities.

Coaching is a trusting relationship, and not exclusive to the coaching journey it is also applicable to leadership relationships between leaders and their followers. Self-trust occurs when Smith’s Five Levers is applied as a framework to heighten and maintain the Coachee’s sense of being both in the coaching journey and in as a Leader in the learning organisation.

Brian Smith


Website: www.brian-smith.info

Founder of the Online Learning Academy


Further reading.

CIPD (2017) Developing a Coaching Culture Available online: https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/people/development/coaching-mentoring-factsheet#6995

Fauconnier, Gilles (1994). Mental Spaces: Aspects of Meaning Construction in Natural Language. New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 240.

Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence. London: Bloomsbury.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Lane, D. A., & Corrie, S. (2006). The Modern Scientist-Practitioner:  A Guide to Practice in Psychology. Hove: Routledge.

Mayer, J.D, & Salovey, P. (1993). The intelligence of emotional intelligence. Intelligence 17:433–42

Pink, D. (2011) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books.

Slater, M., & Wilbur, S. (1997). A framework for immersive virtual environments (FIVE): Speculations on the role of presence in virtual environments. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 6, 603-616.

Smith, B. (2016) Five Levers: Sense of Being. Available at http://fivelevers.com/Five_Levers_Framework.pdf

Wilber, K. (2000). A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality. Dublin: Gateway.

Witmer, B. G., & Singer, M. J. (1998). Measuring presence in virtual environments: A presence questionnaire. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 7(3), 225–240.

2 thoughts on “‘Sense of being’ in Coaching and Leadership.”

  1. Hi Brian. Congratulations on this – your first article on the Leadership Coach Blog. This is also a milestone for me. It’s the 50th article to be published since I launched the site in May 2016. Trevor

  2. Pingback: homepage

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.