Mason Institute for Leadership Excellence
Center for the Advancement of Well-Being | The College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Leadership Coaching for Organizational Well-Being Program Develops Change Agents

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Coordinator

Coaching teamwork

Most leaders hope to achieve goals at work, but only those who know how to act as agents of positive change can actually accomplish those goals. Most teams try to work together well on the job, but only those who incorporate well-being into their lives can build relationships that lead to the best results. The Professional Certificate in Leadership Coaching for Organizational Well-Being program at the Mason Institute for Leadership Excellence (MILE) empowers people to maximize success both personally and professionally. A new cohort begins this September and is now accepting applications.

“At Mason, we really come from a unique perspective with a deep concentration on strengths, purpose and resilience,” says Dr. Nance Lucas, Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. “Developing those skills can lead to greater meaning, purpose, and transformation.”

Since the program teaches people how to fully incorporate well-being principles into their lives and workplaces, it has a distinctive power to bring about positive change, says Dr. Pamela Patterson, MILE’s Senior Coaching Fellow and Associate Vice President of University Life at George Mason University. “The Mason program fully integrates individual and organizational well-being as instrumental in coaching. I’m so pleased with the caliber of coaches that are being cultivated in this program. Our students have remarkable stories of taking what they are learning in the classroom and applying that learning immediately in their lives and organizations. They are seeing and experiencing different results and positive impact.”

One of many students who have experienced positive change through participating in the program is John Willison, acting Executive Deputy Commanding General for U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM). “In the process of becoming a coach, I struggled with the concept that coaching is more about asking the right questions than about having the right answers,” he recalls. “Once I embraced this, however, it enabled me to coach more effectively, and gave me tools for facilitating two-way conversations. [Asking] good questions combined with active listening is harder than it sounds, and more effective than I thought. And using both of those in an overall context of polarity management has significantly improved my ability to lead others and to lead myself.”

The polarity management coaching skills that Willison learned at MILE proved beneficial in both his personal and professional lives, he says. “Both personally and professionally, my most significant take-away from the program was from the module on polarity management. So often as an executive, you are faced with resolving hard problems that could not be solved by others, and the options presented are either ‘this’ OR ‘that.’ And many times, the best approach is ‘AND’ not ‘OR’ – both as an executive and also personally. This is equally true with coaching. Recognizing such situations and having a framework to work through them has significantly enhanced my ability to manage both at work as well as managing myself.”

MILE Director Dr. Penny Potter says that witnessing positive transformation in students’ lives is gratifying. “I’ve most enjoyed witnessing the transformation that happens,” she says. “With a couple of cohorts under our belt, we’re seeing a predictable pattern to the process of becoming a coach. I studied the process in my research, but it is quite another thing to bear witness to it. To be able to create and hold a safe space for people to first learn the rules and skills of coaching, and transform that knowledge into an artful coaching conversation is probably one of the most fulfilling aspects of my work.

Coaching capabilities help leaders bring greater resilience to their organizations during stressful times of change, explains Potter. “When one becomes a coach, one develops the ability to reflect and take action in the moment. This is a key component to becoming more agile and adaptable, essential qualities for leading in times of change and transition,” she says. “Reflection-in-action means one has a greater ability to monitor and regulate one’s reactions in the moment. Leaders who become coaches can expect to develop their emotional and social intelligence, as well as be more strategic and thoughtful, rather than reactive in times of stress. Since we know that leaders spread their own emotional contagion to those they lead, being strategic and thoughtful has a calming effect on their teams.”

In rapidly changing workplaces where stress regularly occurs, coaching skills are essential and leaders are realizing that, Patterson says. “There is greater awareness that cultivating resilience and agility is imperative in order for leaders and organizations to thrive in a world of increasing complexity and uncertainty.”  Coaching can make a significant contribution in supporting leaders in meeting today’s challenges. Leaders as coaches tend to be more mindful and have greater awareness of how they land on people. Coaches as leaders are committed to facilitating the well-being of others and they see that commitment as a responsibility of their leadership.

When dealing with stress on the job, coaching can help people tap into their strengths and learn what they actually have as a reserve.  The Mason Resilience Project is a valuable set of resources for coaches to use.  Resilience is like a muscle that individuals can strengthen with experience and intentionality.  Coaching helps people figure out how they can become more resilient while inspiring and supporting them through their growth.

Learning strong coaching skills that emphasize well-being is a vital part of every leader’s development, says Patterson, because those skills empower team members to become the best they can be while working together. “Acquiring coaching skills is increasingly being acknowledged as a core element of a leader’s competencies,” she says. “My experience is that leaders and organizations are also more fully realizing that well-being is core and foundational to both being a leader, and is also critically important to coaching.” Leaders who see themselves as coaches are at an advantage to get the best out of their people and teams by maximizing their potential and engaging them in different ways. As coaches, leaders learn how to ask great questions and listen for deeper meaning and understanding.

If you join one of the upcoming coaching program cohorts, what you learn there can go beyond what you expect, Willison says. “Come in with a clean pair of eyes and be open to all interactions, with both mentors and other cohort members,” he advises. “You will get out of it what you put into it. Don’t be afraid to challenge the experts, and more importantly to challenge yourself.”

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