Daniel Doherty on discovering the ‘becoming’ process.
Following the two days we spent together on 9th October 2023 exploring the becoming theme, I sent out a summary of the day and my understanding of the next steps. I also put together a narrative regarding the genesis of the Becoming project. The latter part caused me to reflect on just how long this ‘becoming’ project has been bumping around in its various forms both within the CCG as well as in my and others’ minds, including `David Megginson, Kerry Phillips, Bob Garvey, and others.
One reflection is that – whilst we were pushing for some kind of outcome from our time together to progress and distil the ‘becoming’ work – it was said by a number of people, particularly those who were joining us in person for the first time, that much of the power of the day lay in us being together, physically, breathing the same air while in conversation with each other. For those participants, something shifted in the process that was an outcome in itself. That is true not only for newcomers but also for us veterans who recognise afresh the power of us being, thinking and feeling together
If action research is for the benefit of the participant researchers and the generation of their insights, then all the evidence would suggest that the CCG delivers this handsomely.
This latest search for our ‘becoming’ made me curious to delve more deeply into CCG history. In doing so, I discovered that there is a remarkable consistency, over that history, of participants valuing the connection of being there together and all that that brings, as much as any tangible outcomes such as research papers or findings that may result from our musings. Judy Madavo, who has been with the CCG for quite a while, but who was visiting us in person for the first time, from South Africa, noted, at one point, ‘This is different from networking, isn’t it?’ I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment. We are not a Round Table Business Breakfast Club. We exchange far more than business cards, without future transactional benefits in view.
The power of being together online is strong but is immeasurably deepened by being together in person. So many commented on how it was to meet, face to face, someone that they’ve got to know only over Zoom; and in that momentary encounter discover fresh dimensions of that person as they meet them naturally in a real-life setting. This would argue strongly for us to maintain the mix of in-person and online to really deepen our joint discoveries and our relationships.
The strength of these in-person relationships has been built not only through our meetings in Bristol but also through the regional meetings that we have convened throughout the year. These regional gatherings are clearly easier to set up and have the same wonderful tangible benefits of in-person connection on a smaller scale. Furthermore, the assembly in Bristol of regional groupings who had already laid down strong bonds with each other has helped accelerate the building of trust and openness across the wider group.
I’ve had some really gratifying emails back from a number of you reinforcing the power of us being together in person as being a primary benefit of the CCG for them, beyond the ephemeral but nonetheless tantalising goal of crystalising what we understand becoming to be. One person said that she was looking forward to next October’s meeting for more of the same – and I share her anticipation.
It has been fascinating to go down the rabbit hole of the history of ‘becoming’ research within the CCG, reminding me of several rather obvious things that we have nevertheless failed to mention of late, but which you need to hear. One is that conventional coach training and accreditation, regardless of how powerful it is, typically terminates at a point of attaining ‘mastery,’ or whatever the point is at which candidates are fully credentialed. What follows from that formal recognition is a scattering of CPD activities that they may or may not take up to fulfill ‘renewal’ criteria.
Since the inception of CCG in 2006, we have discovered within our CCG members a restlessness to continuously learn that goes beyond conventionally prescribed boundaries of attainment. Indeed, it was the felt need to fill this gap that caused the CCG to come into being in the first place. And that is one function that CCG continues to serve; to be a place for seasoned practitioners – who are well developed in their practice – to reflect with fellow travelers as to where they have arrived, and where they might take their journey next. Feedback from this week reinforces that CCG continues to provide this purpose just by virtue of us getting together almost regardless of whatever the particular theme in hand might be for each particular gathering – although the focus on ‘becoming’ has proved an enduring focus, circling back into our conversations in various forms over the past 18 years.
I am also reminded, as I reflect, that, three years ago, part of the impetus for this ‘maturity’ focus was that we were aware of a growing demand for coaching services from clients who are approaching their ‘third age’ or later career stage. What we discovered to be common across such clients was that, within their particular professions, there was no defined developmental passageway beyond that which they had already achieved perhaps even 20 or 30 years ago. What these clients were seeking was support from a ‘soul guide’ as much as a performance coach to help them work through their transition through this phase of their lives. And it transpires that their preference in seeking such support was to turn towards a coach who has done the ‘becoming’ work for themselves and were somewhat advanced in years. It seems clear that such clients are likely to recognise authentic ‘becomers’ over those following some hand-me-down becoming formula or toolkit that they are invited to follow.
At a personal level, I notice that those clients or colleagues coming towards me for coaching nowadays are those facing major becoming or unbecoming transitions at a later stage in their lives. Not only are they coming to me. I’m moving towards them as well, instinctively. It could well be that, if this is our coaching demography, then the more we understand about becoming, the better enabled we are to assist clients in navigating around their becoming’s twists and turns.
While I fully acknowledge that being together is an end in itself, it is also deeply gratifying to know that we are embarking once more into an action research process. Looking back over our history, our foundation story was the development of just such action research projects and inquiries, based upon deep participation by the CCG members themselves. It may be that we have drifted some way away from that of late. We have not lost the benefits that accrue from us being together as being valuable in its own right. And we have been enriched by hearing from outside speakers on the discoveries they have made from their own research out in the world. But for me, that does not beat all of us being actively engaged in action research and discovering what that might mean, and how it lifts their insights and understanding.
People over the two days asked me how this research fits with the next stages in Bob Garvey’s ‘becoming’ research. It is a good question, but not one to which I have a definite answer. The best I say is that both of these inquiries run in parallel. And it may well be that at some point next year, we can begin to look at how the findings might speak one to another. Bob is still very much a part of our group and is also playing this role of getting some of our becoming writing out into the academic milieu, so the connection with that will not be lost.
One thing I would say is that our research methods are different in kind. Not that one is better than the other, but they’re different. If you remember Bob’s study relied upon a number of academic inquirers interviewing later-stage coaches in great depth; and then bringing together their findings to coalesce the four or five key themes that emerged. In that sense, the findings were mediated. What we’re embarking on does not have that mediation. Instead, we are doing our best to make sense, jointly, of experiences that we’re having commonly or differently, then attempting to draw some thematic findings and conclusions from that. It will be fascinating to see how these findings chime with those coming out of Bob’s study.
It is marvelous to have among us still CCG members who are still deeply immersed in formal academic studies. This brings a different rigour and theoretical framework to our deliberations as we continue to divine our experiential and reflective findings.
Going through the CCG history has been both fascinating and moving. So many names have come and gone, while many are still with us. And there are ghosts. I don’t often use the term ‘proud’ but when I think of and read off again the contributions that David Megginson and Kerry Phillips, now gone, have made have made to our understanding of our world, placing at it a moral centre, then I feel that, from afar, they would be proud of the extent of which we have continued this critical and moral tradition in our work. To progress and deepen and honour the work that matters in the face of so many commercial and ego-based distractions that could have driven our work to a different place.
Emerging from the rabbit hole, I looked again at the listing of themes, and the scattered quotes that I have assembled under each theme. At first, that idea of clustering was making sense in my mind; but then it all began to break down. I needed to ask, what were these themes that we were clustering? Were they characteristics of becomers? Or developmental pathways that becomers had to follow to emerge – only to unbecome, then become once more, on the road to ephemeral wisdom? Or was there something else beneath all of that that we only dimly perceive?
As I began to construct sentences out of the various thematic quotes, then the difficulties inherent in coherently clustering and expression became increasingly apparent. I was well aware that my interpretation could be quite distinct from another’s who was in the room that day in Bristol. I was also aware of the dangers of reducing our sense-making beyond meaning, through forced generalisation and connection. Reductio ad absurdum.
This impasse drove me to ponder as to whether it is actually possible to break down these stories into themes, without doing damage to the original narratives. Perhaps the power lies in the telling of the unique story alone, where the power lies in the parable and whatever it is that the listener may take from that parable. And if the various parables that we have collected dance together, that is fine, if not then we leave them as they are.
The CCG history tells me that we have been here before, at the door of seeking a synthesis of our becoming, then backing off, lest we damage what we have tenderly unearthed. It is tempting, when looking at the sequence of earlier forays into becoming, to suggest that there is a convergent process that we have progressively refined, towards yielding a terminal point, especially where it might join with contemporary findings such as those of Bob’s study, which for now terminate in peer-reviewed journals.
To suggest that there is no endpoint is not to counsel futility. If we keep returning to the same place, if we accept that becoming is a perpetual process, that it is never static; and that there are layers and levels of knowing that it is fascinating to return to, then our time is not wasted. If there are landings along the way, then these are temporary landings, because the innate restlessness or a provocation or interruption from outside will start the process all over again. There is a provisionally, a temporariness, a circularity that we need to accept as an intrinsic part of this becoming work. Looking at our history is rather like reading back through old personal journals and discovering the same questions, the same dilemmas recurring time after time after time, in cursive fashion, just strongly as before. Just when we thought we had moved on from being driven by such dilemmas, we discover them all over again. These questions are part of us.
If we cannot generalise about becoming, take it to a still point, then what can we do? Well, we can further refine our personal stories, to enable us to get in touch with our own becoming process and discover what blocks it. We may even decide to land for a while and see what happens on that plateau, at that place of rest, for a while. But in the knowledge that we are likely to move on.
Does knowledge of our becoming better enable us to work with other’s becoming, as their coach or guide? Perhaps it does. The evidence would suggest it does, when clients say in different ways, ‘you know what I am facing.’ Or perhaps it’s just us being nosy again, unable to stop ourselves from poking around in other people’s stories. Even the attraction of this collective becoming inquiry could be a proxy, yet another opportunity to poke around in the stories of others, on the pretext of seeing what we can jointly make of them.
This becoming is a journey without a terminus, and I think we all know that. And it could be that the CCG is the living embodiment of coach maturity, informed by an awareness of the underlying becoming and unbecoming processes in life, to which are becoming increasingly attenuated. The more we know our own journey into becoming, the better able we are to support each other in their journey too, within the CCG and without. And we know this is tough work to do alone – the deepest self-development requires the presence of others.
In all of this, there is a deep sense of unknowing that requires embracing if we are to eventually make anything of this at all. I have pushed on to interpret the clusters – and would be most interested to hear what you think this rendition might represent.