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Overcoming Inertia to Liberate Potential

“Doing nothing requires effort. Over time, that effort is greater than the effort necessary to improve, or move somewhere better. The trick is to redirect energy.”
― Max McKeown, Adaptability: The Art of Winning in an Age of Uncertainty

Liberate potential. That phrase expresses my overriding intention as I engage with clients. My presence, perceiving, and provocative curiosity are keenly focused by this intention in order to overcome personal and emotional inertia. Inertia, the tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged, is a state of being that creeps in when I am feeling comfortable in my work. A mindset of ease and comfort as coach has a shadow side I describe as complacency and habit. For most of us, shadow beliefs and behaviors signal the threshold of change, an opportunity to stretch beyond what is known into the territory of innovation and catalytic insight. As a coach educator and trainer I am often asked about what it takes to demonstrate competence at a level that earns a Master Certified Coach credential from the ICF. The core coaching competency language is described as abstract. A common refrain from experienced coaches and assessors is, “I know it – an MCC demonstration -- when I witness it.” I appreciate that this is not useful for practitioners who seek mastery and long for more clarity about the developmental path that will allow achievement. Ultimately it is the focus on Self, on liberating my potential as a practitioner that stimulates effectiveness with clients and the experience of artful mastery. Oh yes, it really is an inside job!

The pathway to mastery and liberation of full potency is a lifelong, generative work in process. Vulnerability, feeling it, welcoming it, accepting it makes me a better coach in the same way this emotional state is useful for client learning and change. Being a continuous student of coaching practices maximizes my potential as coach and reminds me that it is my responsibility to express my potency, fully and freely. Simple enough ideas to understand and align with and yet a state of inertia inevitably creeps into my way of being. Why?

The Latin root of the word potential is a combination of potis, able plus esse, to be: to be able, to have authority and power to be effective in action. From this we learn that potential is a condition of having power that is potent and has not yet come into being; it is possible, latent, unrealized and underdeveloped. What stops natural expression of full potency? Ah, now that is the sweet spot I find inspiring to explore!

Our potential resides in our Essence, the core or center of us. That means the playing field of life is level in terms of potential because we each have it. However, following cultural norms of society, our community, our workplace and our family create a bit of amnesia. Sometimes a lot of amnesia caused by attachment to a particular model or coaching approach followed as “the right way.” One of the beautiful and sacred influences of a coaching relationship is that our memory of Essence is restored and with that access to unique internal gifts and resources, in other words our possible, latent, unrealized or underdeveloped potential.

In order to fully explore potential with a client it is important for each of us as coaches to explore the same question: What stops us from naturally expressing our full potency? Self-reflection generates perspective, understanding and compassion for the journey we invite clients to take with us. Taking the risk to express our potent Essence freely in any relationship is a state of wholeness. When we courageously choose to embody wholeness we generate reciprocal inspiration with clients. When we let go it is possible to let come!

In physics, the term inertia describes a state of uniform motion in a straight line unless an external force changes that state. A coach-client relationship is a perfect example of this physics principle. Coaches are an external force that is useful for clients who seek a new direction, action or behavior that will change an experience of life toward something more satisfying and meaningful. Fundamentally coaching is partnering with clients to generate sustaining change that is relevant to a desired quality of life experience. What is our parallel as coaches so that we generate sustaining change that is useful in our work? Beyond the important and valuable resources of a personal coach, a mentor coach, a coaching supervisor and advanced skills training, what must we, on our own, become conscious of in our life journey? What is our development pathway for being emergent and overcoming inertia? Clients are our external force to overcome inertia, when we allow it. This is a central principle underpinning the language of the MCC behaviors for Creating Awareness and one of the most misunderstood.

Anthropologist and organizational coach Margaret Wheatley has been exploring the principle of emergence for a while and I’ve found inspiration in her work. Her study of Nature reveals patterns of simple behavior that explain complex systems of behavior. For example, watching starlings paint the sky with fantastic shapes and flow or a school of herring boil the ocean, thousands of termites that build three-dimensional archways or starfish that dance across the ocean floor while eating. There is no leader, no conductor, no blueprint, no process manual and no traffic lights. Dr. Wheatley explains it this way: “Synchronized behavior emerges without orchestrated planning. Members develop connections with one another. Each determines its behavior based on information about what its neighbors are doing and what the collective purpose is. From such simple conditions, working communities emerge, self-organizing from local connections into global patterns and processes. Nothing is preplanned; patterns of behavior emerge that could not be predicted from observing individuals.”[1] Through this lens the liberator of my potential is greater connection, risking more transparency, wholeness and self-trust. When I work in an organizational system, coaching individual leaders and their teams, the degree of risk I choose to express my full potency directly correlates with the risk leaders will choose. Unless leaders choose to shift, the collective purpose is not fulfilled. The stakes are high and consequences for inertia are great, individually and organizationally. Being boldly potent, overcoming my own inertia and modeling that state of being is an invitation for clients to do the same. The rewards are priceless. The privilege to serve clients demands that I engage my full potency. Clients deserve nothing less.

Most coaches are trained to focus on creating awareness for clients so that desired change can be identified and then new choices selected that manifest the shift in life experience. Master Certified Coach[2] competencies refer to a specific skill to engage with clients through not-knowing. Engaging in a not-knowing field requires self-trust that the greater purpose of our work will be an invisible hand supporting every choice we make during the exchange. An absence of that self-trust is inertia and every time I experience myself default to the comfortable and easy path with a client I notice an unintended consequence. The experience runs the spectrum from outright boredom to self satisfied arrogance. For a client to be my external force to overcome inertia requires my presence, participation and permission. I must consciously choose emergence as a continuous state rather than seeking a destination of mastery or some other measure of successful outcome. I must accept that “what is” is magnificence and mastery because through connection something new occurs that is another way. Not a wrong or right way, simply another way filled with wonder, possibility and the vitality our relationship infuses in each of us.

I wonder what you are experiencing reading this brief article. To bring more clarity and specificity to the artful territory that is MCC competence is my intent. Through my own story I offer a view into the non-linear pathway, one that requires surrender to connected relationship, a way of being coach not doing coaching. Mastery is generative, a lifelong journey filled with humbling gems of learning and awe.

[1] Article Reference, Margaret Wheatley, “An Irresistible Future”,

[2] International Coach Federation credential award;

Janet M. Harvey, MCC

Experienced with individuals at the Board of Directors, “C” Chair, Executive and Senior Management levels, Janet assists executives in adopting effective habits of perception and behavior to lead and accelerate corporate strategies. Typical engagements address executive development in the following areas: articulate and inspire through clarity of vision, enable respectful challenge, debate and catalyze synergy for strategic business choices, risk/reward critical thinking about investments and shareholder value, plan leader succession and architect sustainable cultural/strategic change.
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