Leading Blog


Exploring Your Interior Landscape

Self as Coach

THE CHANGING ORGANIZATIONAL and leadership environment is changing at such a pace that leaders need to develop quickly. Coaching, more than training, focuses on an individual’s specific development needs. Technical skills and talents aside, how we lead is a product of who we are. Coaching seeks to make us more aware of the mindset that directs our interactions so that we can become more intentional in our leadership.

The same is true, of course, of the coach themselves. While a coach may use certain tools and techniques to help their client, the most critical factor affecting the coaching relationship is the coach. Who you are is how you coach. It is this aspect of coaching that Pamela McLean explores in Self as Coach, Self as Leader.

A coach will be far more effective in helping other leaders know themselves if they have a grasp of who they are and what they bring to the coaching relationship. Exploring our own interior landscape is critical as coaches and leaders.

McLean states, “The greatest tool we need to cultivate is our self.”

What’s more, to know one’s self requires a fierce and courageous willingness to explore the many layers of one’s inner landscape, a territory that can be elusive and enigmatic, confusing and paradoxical. This space can be intimidating if we have not spent much time there.

To this end, McLean introduces a process to examine our interior landscape through six broad dimensions of interior knowing that overlap and support one another: presence, empathy, range of feelings, boundaries and systems, embodiment, and courage. “Our most worthy goal as a great coach is to remain at the edge of our growth, always feeling appreciative for where we find ourselves in our development, and simultaneously for where we find ourselves in our development, and simultaneously leaning into new layers and emerging opportunities to deepen our capacity as coach.”

Self as Coach Model


McLean has found that there are three layers or aspects to presence: presence to our inner rumblings (our thoughts, assumptions, biases, and judgments), presence to the relationship (the voice, language, emotion, body and somatic signals of our client), and presence to the ecology or our surroundings.

Are we able to put our agenda on the shelf and listen to our clients or fellow workers? We must be able to keep our own experiences out of the equation.


Empathy is a skill that allows us to feel and understand others so that we can “offer sensitive, perceptive, and appropriate communication and support.” But there has to be a balance. Too much or too little can impede our work. She explains how to cultivate the right amount of empathy. And notes: “Take nothing for granted and check your understanding of another’s situation to make sure you aren’t blurring their story with your interpretation or stories.”

Range of Feelings

It is important for a coach to have an understanding of a wide range of feelings in order to meet others where they are. We begin by taking an inventory of our own feelings. Over time we have developed judgments about certain feelings. “The simple act of uncovering judgements allows us to access some of the off-limits feelings and grow our repertoire.” We are in control of our feelings. “Our reality is that things happen to us and we have a feeling or we decide we have a feeling, but others can never ‘make us feel.’”

Boundaries and Systems

Coaches need to resist the urge to rescue their client.

In coaching, when our boundaries are porous, we have an almost automatic tendency to take on what our clients bring to us, to want to solve, to make others feel better, to save them from themselves, to put on the cape and go to work.

Our work in coaching is to help our clients see their stories and assumptions, not to jump into their situation and become a part of it.

At the other end of the spectrum, when our boundaries are too rigid, we run the risk of disconnecting.

When we have appropriate boundaries in place it is easier for us to see the system as a whole—the interconnectedness of everything.


“Embodiment is all about how we live in our body and allow our body to be the center from which we interact and move in the world.” The way we respond to life and stress is built into our muscle memory and the way we hold ourselves. “The way we sit and stand can change the way we think and feel.”


For coaching, courage is about the willingness to face our fears and our long-held ways of thinking and being. Additionally, leaders need courageous coaches. “It takes courage for a leader to seek out a coach and when a leader comes knocking, they deserve the coach’s courage to help them look at that which is invisible or only marginally accessible and uncomfortable to explore.”

The Self as Coach Model creates a valuable framework to discover and evaluate how we show up as coaches and leaders. It helps to turn up our awareness of our interior landscape.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:45 PM
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