Friday, November 30, 2007

Protecting the Heart at Work

Blessings of being Awake: There was a period of time several years ago when I began asking the people I was working with in coaching ‘how do you protect your heart at work?’ Of the many I worked with only two responded ‘why would I do that?’ The rest were willing to make me a picture.

Blessings of Spiritual Challenge: I have been known to spontaneously self disclose that my heart’s default is ‘closed’. This awareness arose when in my early forties during a therapy session I realized that I protected my heart with a wall of China and that this wall had one ladder to get out and a few gates that only swung out and each gate had bells to alert me when someone tried to get in. I even drew my heart in various poses of protection. I am making light about a very serious matter. I believe that when the heart is protected my productivity is decreased. I am using too much energy to keep me emotionally safe and to function at my highest level of good. The Chinese herbalist said I was controlling my passion.

As a rabbi I also know that the heart is assumed to have a cover over it. Why else would there be two times when the phrase 'circumcise the heart' is referred to in the Torah? We are also asked to walk before G!D with a pure heart, one that is uncovered.

The pictures that were drawn during coaching sessions ranged from boxes that you could not see into, to barbed wire and one builder gave me the name of the specific cement blocks he used. One person placed their heart on a hill far away from everyone they worked with. What was in the heart that needed protecting I asked and often people could not tell me. Others had elaborate stories.

The work of Heartmath confirmed my deepest concerns. The heart is connected to the brain and when the heart is full of emotion the brain is confused and cannot make clear decisions.

Blessings of Spiritual Practice: The first person I asked to make me a picture in a coaching session is my most memorable. He was a young man, born in Vietnam. He and his family were ‘boat people’, having survived their escape over water. His first love was architecture and took to the making of the picture with ease. First he drew a heart with a black pen. Then with a yellow felt tip pen he made long strokes, making what looked like rays of light from the heart, all the way around. He was a happy person and so grateful for his gifts and through the week of training had been a participant that the trainers and coordinators were pleased was in the group. At the end of our time he looked back at his picture and noticed that at the end of the yellow rays were silhouettes of people around his heart. 'This is how I protect my heart with all the people who have helped my family and me', he said. As we left the room he gave me his business card that he had hand written after his name 'human being.'

As I prepared to begin my training to become a rabbi I saw my self as circumcising my heart in order to enter into a covenental relationship with my G!D. Recently I read the writings of Alan Morinis in Everyday Holiness, The Spiritual Path to Mussar who said that ‘circumcision of the heart is a metaphor for spiritual initiation, having an open, sensitive inner life’. I am beginning to see that when I noticed that I protected my heart I was simultaneously beginning to remove the covering deepening my relationship with the Divine within me.

A good teacher is one who models what she teaches. I notice when I lie, withhold information and am shy. This noticing is to help me stay awake, conscious and not let old patterns keep me living the illusion that I am not safe, cannot take care of myself or that I am not connected to everything else. I also notice when I laugh out loud, let tears fall and move slowly into a difficult conversation. Paying attention and then accepting what is without judging is helping me feel a bit more emotionally safe in the world and to be a human being. I remember when my spiritual director once said being in relationship meant sometimes I would be hurt how angry I was. I had learned to live a life of protection so I did not get hurt. Protecting my heart may have made me safe and I also missed out of experiencing lots of emotions. So slowly I am removing the coverings of my heart and making mistakes and making no excuses only learning what it means to be a leader. Thank G!D for the vav; all of my life expereinces matter and make me who I am today, as my client who drew the heart with rays coming from it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Mystery of the Cards

Who would imagine that the images would evoke such emotional responses that they would bring tears, conversations never dreamed in a coaching session and clarity and validation of goals? I usually use the Visual Explorer cards at the end of the session as I feel if they connect an image with their goals it might mean more to them than the words themselves. I am always hoping for an intention to appear, a symbol that would reflect an emotion, a private thought or a connection to core values that is attached to the outcome in contrast to a goal that is more in the physical world of doing.

Playing Hard Ball with the Boys

She was a member of a leadership-training program for women. The role she played was highly visible in a male dominated profession and she wanted to ‘play hardball with the boys.' Yes this is a direct quote. An attractive tall white woman with broad shoulders, married with one son who was her most proud accomplishment. On paper she was enthusiastic and energetic about life. In person she appeared tired and pensive. By the end of the session she admitted that her Catholic upbringing had led her to believe and act that women needed to defer to men or anyone who wielded power. There was some cognitive dissonance in relationship to her ambitious nature. When she picked the card that had five young boys in a semicircle with their backs to the camera and a young girl on the end she was shocked. She paused for a few minutes then said I guess I already am playing hardball with the boys and maybe I need to act with that attitude. She later e-mailed to say she had gone to speak with her boss, a man, and asked for more challenges. And he offered her what she had wanted.
When I contacted this participant to ask her to read the above for accuracy and to fill in the gaps for me. She wrote: 'When I pulled the card I first saw the young girl and then realized that the group around her was all boys. As you indicated, I was shocked about this—based on our conversation about my desire to play hardball with the boys. The other thing that struck me was that the situation that was depicted could have certainly been a group of kids playing “ball”, with one girl joining the boys. I felt an instant connection to the card, and yes, was very happy to get a copy of it. As it is on my Vision Board on my desk, it is a reminder to me of you, our conversation, and my desire to play hardball with the boys.'

The Changing Eye of the Perceiver

He was in a crossroads in his life. All he had worked for he had accomplished and he was no longer being energized by his work. He was confused as to where to go next and was in a leadership program to help him become the leader that the larger community needed. He had spoken to few about his dilemma. This is what he wrote a year later. “When we sat at CCL, you showed me cards. I picked one with a newly hatched duckling. At the time, all I could see was fear of the world. Today, because of the process that you helped initiate, I reconsider that picture and realize that it is about rebirth and about the excitement of possibilities that come with experiencing the world anew, and for those gifts, I thank you for being among those I consider my rebbeim.”

The Missing Link

For an hour and 20 minutes of the 1 ½ we had together we worked together deciphering the results of the surveys he had taken and building rapport. The 26-year-old young white man remained with a flat affect. He did not look happy. His company believed in him enough to send him for a three-day training program and he was still lost not sure what he needed to do. I was not seeing any emotion until I gave him the cards and asked him to shuffle them any way he wished. He immediately became animated appearing at home with the deck and enthusiastically responded to my request by being firm and playful with the cards. I asked him how he had learned how to do this so well. He said that when he was eight his grandfather had taught him how and had given him specific training in the art of card handling. I do not remember the goal right now however the card he picked was again the group of young people coming together. He named the picture ‘friendship’. ‘How does this relate to work?’ I asked. He said I have no friends there. What kind of a friend are you outside of work. ‘Cooky out side of work and serious and stern at work’. Then in the few minutes left we conversed about this challenge and what he could do to perhaps become more integrated.

Perspective of the Observer

I was curious about meeting with this 46 year old woman who responded in her biography to the question 'have you ever experienced any stressful or traumatic events in your life?' with 'growing up in in a mixed race family in the 60's during the civil rights movement'.   When I met her I saw a tall, elegant beautiful black woman.  She met my eye contact and questions with direct, confident assertiveness.  When she pulled from the deck a black and white photo of a dandelion clock her first comment was 'I see everything in black and white.'  This dropped us into a deeper conversation that confronted racism, religious prejudice and sexism.  This is the kind of coaching that soothes and massages the soul.


It does not matter whether the participant is male or female, extrovert or introvert, high need for control or easy going. They all participate without much encouragement. The cards reflect a part of them and give them a metaphor that months later can remain with them. And when I ask if they would like a copy of the card almost all replied ‘yes’ with enthusiasm that sounded like ‘of course, what a silly question.'..not wanting to leave a piece of their self behind!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Organizational Coaching: Living 'We need Each Other'

this is a work in progress

I am trying to live one life. To walk my talk and live my values. My father of blessed memory's favorite comment was 'we need each other.' He said it at shul when he was president, he spoke it to his granddaughters and he said it to me. That was his legacy. There is a sign at the end of the community where my parents lived; 'be safe we need each other.' I like that.

In my studies of mystical Judaism and other faiths a core concept is that we are all connected, we are one. In quantum physics a butterfly's wings in one part of the world can cause a typhoon in a place 180 degrees from the butterfly. Barbara Streisand and Cher sing that each heart is connected to each others. I am getting this information from all sides. And now I am reading Appreciative Inquiry and World Cafe. Pieces of the puzzle are beginning to find each other.

I was in individual counseling for many years, my parents refused to go for various reasons. Years later I had a practice in individual counseling and my most fun was when I worked with couples because I could see change happening. Now I do executive coaching where I work one on one with clients. It works really works when the individual I work with is a CEO and can make organizational change. And I agree no matter how large or small any change is important when peace of mind and heart happens even for a moment. And the world is going so fast and we are too often living the illusion of separation and fear before connectedness and love.

In the Hebrew tradition the sages speak that the soul takes life to heal the tears in the fabric of the world and each soul is unique so has a special offering to the larger picture.

Organizational coaching moves beyond the individual coaching to live the Servant Leadership concept of 'it is not just about me , it is about us.' It is an evolution where the community that is made up of individuals can get a collective massage through the venue of collaborative conversations. We are needing to go back to the original concept of councils where people in the tribes sat around and discussed the community's needs.

So What is a Vav?

Vav is the sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet and mystically represents completion, redemption, transformation (Munk), connection and unification ( Haralick). It is for me the letter that demands that I look at everything in terms of relationships.