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Potential & Vulnerability Drive Professional Mastery

“Be better, be our best Self, be true to Self, be you-everybody else is taken, live from Essence, make it your best year yet, be free to choose, be whole, be authentic…”

Be Able

What do you know about your personal potency to invite clients into an explicit exploration of potential? The idea for this column that launches with this issue of choice comes from hours of discussion with coaches at every stage of development wondering about the path to mastery. Sometimes the quest is to earn the next ICF credential. For others, the question arises from a driven desire for excellence that borders on perfection, an end state that is perceived as elusive and unattainable no matter how hard we work. In my view, the journey toward mastery, in all its forms and definitions is personal, unique and defies formulaic answers. Let us then begin a journey together of exploring and in the words of Winnie the Pooh, experience the places we will go.

Potential, by ICF definition, is the focus of a coaching relationship. As coaches, we are to maximize personal and professional potential. We do this through a thought-provoking and creative process with our clients. The implied core purpose of a coach then is to generate an experience with positive affect that facilitates desired change for clients. That change, in all forms, is recognized as maximizing potential. What do clients know or better yet, care about potential? Language used with clients rarely includes the term potential. I am curious about why and invite you to explore this topic first conceptually and then very practically in terms of what we do with clients in being a coach that is effective.

Let’s start with language and what potential means. The Latin root of the word potential is a combination of potis, able plus esse, to be: to be able. Most dictionaries and discussion of potential go on to say that potential is: 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/or underdeveloped. Clients usually share that potential is stifled by the circumstance or context, ‘so and so won’t give me the authority” or, “the climate isn’t right for a promotion” or, “it will be perceived as unfair if I am given the opportunity I want and have earned.” All of these examples, and others I’m sure spring to mind for us are beliefs about what is acceptable behavior so that belonging and respect results. Paradoxical perhaps and what we know from the viewpoint of coaching is that any belief adopted may also be transformed, in the same way a belief originates. It’s a wonderful example of a parallel process bursting into awareness. Imagine what opens with clients when we boldly engage in an exploration of what created what we believe. For a client to witness that he or she invented what is believed means in that moment he or she has the power to change what is believed. As Dr. Carl Rogers explored in person-centered psychology we understand that values, and our choices in life that honor or dishonor those values are a primary influence over our beliefs. Further, that beliefs are a primary influence over behavior choices Autopilot in an airplane is a good metaphor for creating habitual behaviors. We set a course for life that seems useful based on the conditions in a moment of time and then give our attention to something else. In changing our attention we stop noticing the conditions and as the wind and temperature shifts we drift off course. The impact of being off course brings our attention back to the course and we make some new choices. The power, the potential, is in every one of us to be free and at choice about our relationship to life in any moment. To be aware of our vulnerability is the stimulus to choose something new. The question then is this, “What is it that stops us from naturally expressing our fully potency?” Ah, now that is the sweet spot I find inspiring to explore with clients!

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 fully 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 essential self freely in any relationship is a state of wholeness and that state includes allowing for our vulnerability to be transparent. When we courageously choose to embody wholeness our energy is contagious, fueling inspiration and a reciprocal exchange with clients. Being self-reflective about our potency is a practice that broadens and deepens awareness while with others. Coaching purposefully is therefore incredibly important for the environment to welcome vulnerability and activate choices that maximize potential.

Be Conscious of Potential

Everything in life is energy. Recall a moment in your life when you stood by a waterfall or maybe a rushing river in the Spring or at the edge of the ocean on a storming day. We experience nature’s energy and realize that lives inside each of us as well. Energy with a certain magnitude is at the root of understanding potential. Imagine a state of being in which our ultimate potential is available and realized by us, energy flows like the spectacular waterfall. The potency of our highest truth is eternal; it will always be, regardless of our degree of awareness of it. The first step then toward realizing our Essence is to purposefully direct our energy to open awareness. It is vulnerable moment of course that is rewarded by access to our potency and the choice to “own” it, live it and purposefully choose moment to moment.

There is an interesting paradox about realizing Essence. Living from an externally prescribed set of rules and expectations demands energy. When this way of being is our primary mode, especially as an unconscious habit, it’s like having a small hole in our gas tank. No matter how much energy we put into our tank in the form of rest, healthy eating, exercise, learning and fun, we never seem to sustain our fuel. By contrast, living from Essence, from inside out instead of outside in, is replenishing and doesn’t wear a hole in our tank. Our gas tank is always flush with plenty of fuel flowing through our bodies. Consider another metaphor from nature that we often use with clients. Visualize a warm summer day and with eyes closed pay attention to the light and temperature of the sun shining on our bodies until we experience being the sun, shining brightly from the center of our body out to everything around us. Visualizing being the sun, radiating care, love, compassion, power and strength allows us to metaphorically realize our potential. If we can imagine it, we can create it, learn how to continuously access it and produce results in life that activate our unique essential potential. In other words, be generative.

When we attempt to make changes from the outside it is similar to depending on the advice of others versus trusting the answers from within. It also calls for being someone we are not and that requires extra energy, lowering the magnitude of energy available for expression. For example, when we recognize that we consistently accommodate what others want or expect of us, we are living from the outside in. And, that’s exhausting.

When we live, choose and act from the inside out it’s energizing. While it is true that outside circumstances may be beyond our control, we are in charge of how we relate to circumstances. When we choose from our Essence, life is easier and more satisfying. Focusing our energy in this way is central to sustaining conscious awareness of our potency. Here are four practical reflection questions to engage with individually.

These are central questions to answer, consciously and daily in order to maximize our potential. And, because this is an internal process, we must find these answers for ourselves and act accordingly. Pay attention to your process and begin to experiment with clients, inviting exploration of the same vulnerable territory in order to open conscious awareness of potential. Professional coaches care deeply about people, so much so that we habitually extend our caring beyond what clients require. This can tip the balance from being partners to being an expert. In this moment we limit rather than maximize potential and the energy flow to vulnerability slows down. Invite discovery of Essence in coaching sessions and notice what happens to client energy and most important, client leadership in our partnership.

Be A Conscious Observer of Self

What I realize for myself is that I know less and experience being a beginning more with passage of time and expansion of hours with clients. A paradox indeed and one I find inspiring and energizing. Being a student of our powerful modality maximizes our potential as coaches and reminds us that it is our responsibility to express potency, fully and freely, as role model and inspiration for clients.

The self-development goals offered below support understanding the journey of maximizing potential first hand. Bringing our compassion to clients helps us to invite clients to engage in the same journey. Together we experience vitality and inspiration to be the cause of positive transformation in the world.


Behavior to Broaden & Deepen

Expand client perspective about inherent potency

  • Ability to acknowledge and welcome the forces of nature that drive realizing potential
  • Ability to listen deeply and be actively curious about the environment and relationships that will facilitate empowering forces of nurture
  • Ability to consistently demonstrate an absolute belief in and partnership skills to create an environment that promotes individual wholeness, resourcefulness, capability and creativity

Create session environment that encourages taking personal risk

  • Ability to extend an open invitation for individuals to express and apply his or her unique learning, thinking, and creating capacity will activate latent potential
  • Ability to focus attention upon conscious choice so that individuals choose a relationship to circumstance that complements inherent strengths and Essence
  • Ability to create awareness about the magnitude of energy clients apply and the influence and impact of those choices upon full expression of potency

Demonstrate the conditions of satisfaction and success available by maximizing potential

  • Ability to observe, communicate and contribute to consistent cultural practices that honor the inherent nature of potential
  • Ability to invite clients to imagine and construct measurement systems that evaluate and reward wholeness in Self and with others
  • Ability to be generative, the dynamic capacity to originate, create, learn and produce desired results while being free to express from Essence in any relationship

About the Author

Janet M. Harvey, ICF Master Certified Coach, Certified Mentor Coach, Certified Coaching Supervisor, ICF Global Past President and ICF Foundation Board President, has 30 years of experience as both a corporate and entrepreneurial business executive. An early adopter for creating a coach-centered workplace, Janet has worked with global organizations and teams of leaders within to establish a generative, resilient and high performance culture through a coaching approach to leading and managing success. Janet Harvey brings her executive and entrepreneurial experience as CEO for inviteCHANGE, dedicated to coach certification training, advanced coach development and talent solutions for organizations. Despite her Mid-Western US roots, people speak of Janet as bold, curious, provocative, challenging, yet respectful and compassionate in her leadership roles.


Phone: 877-228-2622 Ext. 108


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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