Lifeflowbalance Blog

Hnad holding a simmering translucent globe symbolising growth and creativity.
The core purpose of a coach or a leader who coaches is to use what they know about human psychology, relationship building, social and business systems and ‘life’ itself, to enable growth and optimum functioning in their coachees, with confidence. In this blog, I’ll explore my current thinking on:
  • What it means to coach confidently
  • What it means to coach others into confidence
  • How this relates to the concept of human flourishing

Coaching Confidently- The dangers of a limited model of coaching

Coaches are often engaged with people at their most vulnerable, in a state of uncomfortable agitation or at a transitional point, personally or within an organisation. As such they are stewards, guides, navigators, teachers and mentors in times of uncertainty, ambiguity, and fluidity.
It is not their role to meet people in this territory with their own certainties, stories, beliefs and convictions. This is not what it means to coach with confidence.

To coach with confidence is to have the courage to meet coachees on this ground with our own uncertainties, insecurities and vulnerabilities. Not worn on our sleeves but carried and held within our presence into the coaching space with clients/colleagues.

In his paper, The Liberated Coach Professor David Clutterbuck reveals that many of the coaches interviewed for Techniques in Coaching and Mentoring (2004) based their practice on relatively simplistic models of a coaching conversation, such as GROW, and its derivatives.
Among the dangers, he observed in this one-model approach was that:
  • Coaching becomes mechanistic.
  • Critical clues to the coachee context are missed or ignored.
  • Despite claims to the contrary, the coachee can easily become manipulated to fit the coach’s agenda.

This is especially true with regard to goal setting, where research indicates that fixing upon specific goals at the start of a coaching relationship can sometimes be a crutch for the coach, rather than for the benefit of the coachee.

What Professor Clutterbuck argues for instead is a coach who develops their own approach based on “an intelligent, sensitive ability to select a broad philosophical and theoretical approach, and within that approach, select appropriate tools and techniques, which meet the particular needs of a particular coachee at a particular time.”

These words inspired me to want to become what he calls a “liberated coach”.

Table expalining the key principles that kind the liberated coaching appraoch

Central to this concept is that:
  • The initial learning conversations provide the clues as to what approaches and frameworks may be best suited to the coachee.
  • Every learning conversation is an experiment for both the coach/mentor and the coachee.

Values and Core Purpose

Coaching for change presupposes that you engage with your coachee at a fundamental level of core purpose and values which are not always on the surface. Coaches need to be attuned to this and be listening with focused attention.
What we do not need is more rigidity and prescription in the methodology of coaches. To be a catalyst for change and transformation coaching needs to be liberated from power-based relationships and hierarchy. If not, it acts as a straightjacket and can create damage.

What is the best way to introduce coaching?

In the opinion of Professor Christian van Nierwerburgh’s, the principle of democratic voluntary involvement underpins initiatives to support the development of a coaching culture.

Table showing what each word in the title, Democratic, Voluntary, Involvement, means and which expresses a powerful set of values upon which to base any coaching initiative in the workplace.

Coaching Others into Confidence

The people I coach do not lack confidence per se, they just cannot see a safe and non-destructive place for themselves in the predominant culture of our education system. Once they see how they can help to create such spaces they are fearless. My role is to challenge them to become change agents working from a place of authenticity and courage.

Coaching confidence does not come from the certainty that we as coaches know what will solve personal or professional problems, making clients or colleagues better teachers or better leaders. It is based on discovering what we don’t and cannot know by listening and asking the right questions that will help them to discover for themselves what will make them better teachers or leaders under the current conditions and contexts in which they live and work.

While we know that there are systemic barriers, these intersect with internal, personal barriers of attitude, perspective, bias, overplaying our values and a low capacity for self-management and self-regulation.

When we focus on system issues alone we leave the client without agency and they can only ever see themselves as a victim of circumstances.

How to get to the hidden place where the external and internal barriers meet?

Within the coaching context, instead of rigidly following a set model you initiate learning conversations from which insights and change can flow. You model an exchange that emulates a template for a learning culture that can exist inside schools, leadership teams and classrooms.
Openness, listening, tentativeness, searching, fearlessness in the face of uncertainty. This is how we best serve those we coach by modelling what our client or colleague themselves need to be – that is open to mutability and change in relation to life’s biggest and deepest questions.
Who am I, where do I belong; what is my purpose and how do I best serve and live out my purpose in this role at this point in time?

Measuring the impact of my coaching?

As an executive and leadership development coach my guiding motivation is to help create organisations that know how to create the conditions for flourishing. I have therefore begun to use a tool for measuring psychological wellbeing to measure the outcomes of my work.
Flourishing is not a simple measure of happiness, life satisfaction or positive thinking. It requires the presence or development of a specific set of personal attributes that are measurable and the environmental that enables the development of these attributes. The tool that I use was developed by Professor Carol Ryff - see my last blog for full details of this tool.

My case study client completed the questionnaire before and after three 90 min sessions of personal development coaching. I was called in to support this client after he began to show signs of deep distress, was facing an HR meeting triggered by prolonged periods of work and experiencing deep anger related to problems at home.

To end this post I am going to let the numbers speak for themselves.

A table of scores collected before and after one to one coaching showing the wellbeing gains for one individual.

*Anonymised data generated using research validated wellbeing measure.

The focus of the coaching was to reduce his anger and ability to deal with difficult emotions. The key to his growth as self-acceptance practices. The figures indicate that in starting with self-acceptance he was able to experience growth in all areas of psychological wellbeing.

If you would like to know more and volunteer to work with this tool to measure the outcomes of your wellbeing strategy, please get in touch.
This year for Mental Health Awareness Week, 14-20th May, the Mental Health Foundation is focusing on stress.

They have launched with the ‘big question’, “What is the single greatest thing we could do to prevent mental health problems?”

This piece is my response to that question.

Some wonderful things are happening in workplaces across the country under the banner of wellbeing, including education where I work as an Executive Coach and Consultant. Concerns about the rising tide of mental health issues amongst the young and amongst education professions are rightly driving this agenda.

And I have my own ‘big question’. How do we ensure that what we offer under the banner of wellbeing acts as more than a sticking plaster over the wounded psyche of those most affected by the 21st-century plague of stress-related illness, anxiety, and depression? Perhaps a tad dramatic in phraseology, but let’s run with it.

The Art and Science of Living.

My ‘single greatest thing’ would be to move the emphasis onto to the creation of flourishing. To give everyone the tools of the art and science of living well.
“There is … little serious consideration of how mental health can be seen as an overall positive state that needs to be understood, managed and nurtured in its entirety as an art and science of living.” New Zealand Mental Health Foundation.

In the current wellbeing discourse, I have become struck by the fact that our use of the term mental health refers almost entirely to mental illness, stress-related psychological and physical disorders, anxiety and depression. As if the term mental health itself were a deficit concept- i.e. naming the absence of something rather than the presence of something.

Mental health has a positive side closely associated with the research-based concepts of wellbeing, happiness, and flourishing underpinned by the work of positive psychology.

A reorientation toward the positive would transform both the current debate as well as the approach we are taking to meeting the challenge of reducing the personal, social and economic impact of what is globally regarded as the epidemic rates of increase in stress-related illness, depression, and anxiety.

It has been accepted that the very conditions 21st-century life have exponentially increased the risk factors that undermine optimal human functioning. These risk factors include the increasingly uneven distribution of wealth and power across the globe; growing uncertainty created by the impact and implications of technological change, information overload; environmental degradation; increased complexity in life; consumerism; and global and national political events that seem out of our control.

To best respond to the effects of these huge changes on our lives we need to seize opportunities to advance understanding and cultivate the quality of personal, familial, educational, social, political and economic relations that promote positive mental health and flourishing.

How Does the Focus on Flourishing Help?

There is a growing body of theory and practice advancing flourishing and improved wellbeing as an aim of our public service institutions, education, health; that promoting it should be a function of government in terms of setting policy and allocation of resources. and so on. To this, I would like to add my voice.

The concept of flourishing primarily helps, in my view because it is inclusive. It recognises, for example, that people with a mental illness may have all the attributes that constitute flourishing while someone who may appear well, may be languishing. It is not about sorting the defective from the well and fixing them but of creating the conditions where all can thrive.

Flourishing is a useful descriptor of positive mental health. Flourishing as defined in international literature is “a state where people experience positive emotions, positive psychological functioning and positive social functioning, most of the time. In more philosophical terms this means access to the pleasant life, the engaged or good life, the meaningful life.”

Flourishing is not just a simple measure of happiness or life satisfaction or positive thinking. It requires the presence or development of a specific set of personal attributes (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson, 2005) that are measurable (Ryff & Keyes, 1989). It is opposed to languishing which includes the state of being where people describe their lives as “hollow” or “empty” (Fredrickson & Lahoda, 2005). I would add that it also requires the active creation and maintenance of the environmental conditions that promote flourishing.

The attributes that describe a flourishing human being are captured here by Carol Ryff in her six-factor model of psychological wellbeing.
  • Self-acceptance
  • Positive relations with others
  • Autonomy
  • Environmental mastery
  • Purpose in life
  • Personal Growth

You can measure your position on a scale of psychological wellbeing from high to low.

My question directly to school leaders and employers generally is, “How does your workplace culture either support or undermine wellbeing or flourishing as measured on a scale like this?”

We could address the same question to governments and policymakers as what they do has a direct impact on how specific groups either flourish or languish.

We can also ask, what do we do to build our own resilience and flourishing?

Beginning with this piece written for Mental Health Awareness Week I will be publishing a series of posts that will show how the concept of flourishing influences my work as a coach and education consultant and inviting you to engage with me in a project.

Before you go!
I would like to hear from any reader who would be interested in working with me to collect evidence about how this concept impacts on how we work and live together in a society where there is a distinct gap between rhetoric and reality around wellbeing.

Like me, I hope you will see the value of starting where we are at and scoring those small victories that can lead to a revolution. You may have your own stories to share to add to mine.
Follow me @lifeflowbalance
Write to me: charmaine@lifeflowbalance
Connect with me on LinkedIn
Leave a comment below.
Allies, collaborators and polite, constructive critics welcome.

Everyday self-leadership is at the core of the work I do with my clients. Coaching has taught me to prize the un-celebrated courage of women and men whose ability to face up to punishing and cataclysmic life events. The courage and fortitude of my clients inspire me. I draw strength from them as much as I do from the publicly celebrated and revered individuals who live in our imagination.

This opening blog post of 2018 celebrates one such client.

When I started coaching Toni was unhappy at work, feeling undervalued and out of sync with the culture of the organisation in which she worked.
Coaching helped her to change workplace within a matter of months to an organisation that was more aligned with her values and aspirations and, so she felt well placed to begin to pursue her ambitions to become a senior leader. That happened between May and July 2017.
Then, over the summer, she discovered that she had the life-changing condition, Lupus. She started a new academic year struggling to accept the implications of this fact for herself, her family and her new employers. But it was not to end there. In October she had to undergo an emergency appendectomy which also revealed the presence of a cancerous tumour. Luckily it has been removed but now on top of managing her condition she also has to undergo regular monitoring in relation to the cancer risk.

As you can imagine, this sequence of events has turned her life upside down. Where before her concerns were about how long it would take her to find a good place to pursue her dreams of becoming a senior leader she is now concerned with just being able to weather the storm of uncertainty that threatens to overwhelm her in relation to her health. How to manage her own emotions and be there for her husband and children? In our last session of 2017, we agreed to abandon goal seeking and to focus instead on her being.

This deep fundamental work is where life can take us when striving and status is not enough to answer the questions that life poses to us. When your plans go awry when the things you wanted to achieve move beyond your grasp, what then? My client’s determination to continue to define herself is moving and inspirational.

Time and time again I have drawn inspiration from the words of Victor Frankl.

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

As a coach who has integrated mindfulness and compassion based approaches into my work, I was able to offer her a new programme of coaching that would focus on developing resilience. Toni's major focus now is just how to live with the new circumstances that she finds herself in, a situation not of her choosing. How to face everything and rise. This is a new world in which she needs to regain her sense of self, re-examine her values and purpose and rebalance her priorities.

So 2018 will be a transformative year, a journey of discovery and metamorphosis for Toni. I will be following up this story in future posts. For now, I will leave with words from Toni:

"Coaching sessions with Charmaine have provided an immense amount of emotional and professional support. Charmaine has given me the time to talk openly and at length about strategies to help cope with day to day life, particularly significant as this year has been one of the most unpredictable by far. This process began as a journey of professional goal setting but has now transitioned to one of building an overall resilience to whatever life throws my way. One which I fully embrace."

Names have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

Charmaine's Blog Summer 2017 Non-Fiction
  • Check here for some interesting Leadership reads- Titles 1,2 and 5, are on my list

  • The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
  • Who Leaves and Who Stays, by Elena Farrante
  • My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Farrante
  • The Story of a New Name, by Elena Farrante
  • Pussy, by Howard Jacobson

Three by Elena…well, I am holidaying in Italy, seems appropriate!

Fiction- Classics
  • The Man who was Thursday, by GK Chesterton
  • The Counterfeiters, by Andre Gide
  • Satan in the Suburbs and other short stories, by Bertrand Russell

I would love to know what you are reading. On my return, I will be sharing reviews of my reads using:
#womenedReadingReviews & #RecommendedReads

Follow @lifeflowbalance on Twitter to join in the conversation

Happy Holidays.
Summer 2017 Well-Being Plan
Now is the time to put in place your summer holiday wellbeing plan. I have booked all of August off. For the first four days of the month, we are off to the Edinburgh festival, then back for 5 days to recover from the joyous madness that is the fringe and turn around for a break in Italy for the rest of the month.

There I will sleep, walk, cycle, swim read, and hopefully find the inspiration to complete my idea for my first book.
The extended break is designed to give me the space to fulfil this aspiration and, what has come to feel like a need, to capture and explore the last three years and their impact on my life through the work I have been engaged on in self-development as well as the work I have done serving the developmental needs of those I have coached.

As my business has grown work-life balance has become an increasing challenge for me. I have not yet got to that stage since becoming self-employed. So, another summertime break task will be to give this some thought and reshape my business plan to address the imbalance.

So, what is your wellbeing plan for the summer break?

My No. 1 Tip for a Guilt-Free Break

Freedom from guilt.

Carve out time to just be, as well as time to put some thought into how you can improve your work life balance once you are back into work mode. If you have created a huge to-do list that you will then neglect once the break comes because you need to stop, but with which you will beat yourself up about not doing, burdening yourself with guilt. Just chuck the list in the bin. If you have failed to complete your to-do list in the past and the earth did not stop spinning then you do not need the list at all.

Accept that you need the break and have it free from guilt. Only do what is essential and which will serve to rejuvenate you and create better balance once you are back to work.

Rest, recuperate, rejuvenate and enjoy!

Teacher's CPD Gold #womened
Austerity has meant that CPD budgets for schools have been heavily cut. So, access to free or low cost, good quality professional development is like gold dust. Whether you are a teacher, senior leader, member of a school’s support staff, a consultant or trainer WomenEd events are an excellent source of such gold dust.

Here is a list of events that will be taking place in the East and West Midlands during the Autumn term:
  • October 11th, 2017, International Day of the Girl #LeadMeet at venues to be confirmed
  • October 14th Saturday Regional Unconference, organised by Dr Kay Fuller, Nottingham University, Theme: ‘Pass it On’. I will be leading a workshop on Reflective Leadership as part of the programme of workshops available. You can book your place here.

If you live outside in the West Midlands then these events may be of interest
  • September 30th Womened 3rd Annual Unconference , Sheffield Hallam University. Register for this event here to go on the waiting list as this event is now sold out.
  • November 18th Birmingham Regional Event at which Dame Alison Peacock from the Chartered College of Teachers is confirmed to speak. Register for this event here
SEC Logo

As a member of the Board of Directors for The Society of Education Consultants (SEC) I am proud to announce that we will soon be extending our activities to include regional events.

These events will be organised in partnership with other influential organisations and networks connected to the education sector. This initiative is still in development, however, I can say that our first regional event is most likely to be in Nottingham.

We are looking to partner with the East Midlands Women Leading in Education Network which provides access to the DfE list of coaches who have made the pledge to coach aspirant women leaders for free.
Women Leading in Education
I made this pledge last year. If you are interested in either making the pledge and joining the list of coaches or wish to register for coaching then you can do both of those things by following the links provided.

These regional events will be open members and non-members of SEC, I look forward to seeing you at one of them at some time in the future
From September, I will be promoting the following exciting new additions to my suite of services:

Fledgling online Group Coaching for education professionals looking to make the transition into education consultancy. More This niche business coaching package will give you all you need to develop and launch your consultancy in 6 months. Register your interest here.
Full Flight and Flow One to One Coaching for Education Consultants who want to take a fresh look at their business because you are feeling stuck or need space to develop new possibilities in your life and business.

The programme was inspired by my work with Mal Khrishnasamy, who joined as a client while she was in the early stages of her transition from school senior leader to Education Consultant and coach. I love the logo she created between our first and second session of coaching and the lovely testimonial she wrote.
Lifeflowbalance testimonial

In addition, for clients choosing to work with me from September, I will be able to offer two new services to add another dimension to the self-exploration and transformational process of leadership development coaching.
  • Strengths Profile psychometric that can be used to support career and leadership development coaching. Cognitive, Emotional, Social and Spiritual dimensions are all covered in this comprehensive empowering model. It was developed by positive physiologists and backed by rigorous research.
  • 360 Degree Strengths-based Feedback Questionnaire plus Debrief coaching session.

More news about these in September...
#LeadershipHacks  @lifeflowbalance

The Disruptive Power of HOPE

I do not normally write about politics, but the events of the last 7 or so days demand comment. Nothing has recently exemplified the essence of a ‘determined perseverance’ in the face of seemingly impossible odds, better than the performance of Jeremy Corbyn, during #GE2017.
Preceding this he’d had to hang on to leadership while members of the parliamentary party tried to oust him our refused to work with him fearing that his ‘old fashioned’ socialist policies would mean the end of their careers. What then appeared to be arrogance can now be seen as the exercise of patience based on sound assessment of the possibilities and a principled belief in a cause. that the tide was turning in favour of hope based politics, even if some of us were unable to see it.

He has done this with visible dignity and calm. What has fascinated me throughout the period since he was elected to lead the party is the gap between the vilification he has received from the right-wing press and some in his own party, and the respect and popularity he has generated amongst those who voted for him – three times- to be labour party leader and this was before the seismic events of the general election results still playing themselves out as I write. I was by no means a fan, but having met him, I withheld judgement. Waiting for time to tell. And it has not only told, it has roared.

Hope Not Hate!

Hope not Hate

Following the election of Trump, and the vote for Brexit I nailed my flag firmly to the mast of hope with the blog series, The Habits of Hope Based (Self) Leadership #HopeinAction2017, from which the above quote is taken. So did the Hope not Hate Campaign that helped to create this disruptive result by developing a sophisticated strategy for engaging with people. Speaking directly to the fears of different sectors of society. Inclusive, empathetic and diverse messages were crafted and communicated, under the radar of the certain, the confident, the complacent. Those who seized the opportunity presented by uncertainty turned the tide in their favour.

" Hope combined with intelligent action is a disruptive force and opens the way for change and innovation."

Leadership Lessons from #GE2017
  • Dream big and keep your feet grounded in the realities of what it means to fight for change, it's not easy and never proceeds in a straight line.
  • Embrace uncertainty, work with the possibilities it opens up for dialogue and engagement with the forces over which you have influence and or control.
  • When you have a strong and compelling message in which you believe and which offers hope to others, do not be afraid to speak out, even if you are a lone voice at first, the tide will turn.
  • Be the leader you are looking for, don't wait for a hero to arise. Believe that you can make a difference, and act accordingly.Tell stories of empowerment, make clear your values and sense of purpose; resist the urge to peddle fear and abusive criticism.
  • Lead yourself with integrity and authenticity.
  • Capture all of this in a mantra that becomes a battle cry- Hope Not Hate! The #GE2017 song of hope.

Subscribe to my blog
Leave a comment or share.


#LeadershipHacks  @lifeflowbalance Importance of Self-Acceptance

Are you fully aware of the self-narrative you have developed that may be holding you back? If you are aware, do you know how to change it?

Not everyone is able to self-coach. Why? Because we all have blind spots and they are only revealed to us through feedback. The kind of feedback that leads to deep-seated change is often best offered by an impartial partner who is non-judgemental, compassionate and challenging; wholly focused on your growth and development.

* John had spent most of his adult life struggling with traumatic events; the early death of his father being the most life changing. Now in his late 50s and approaching retirement he has come for coaching because he ‘just can’t live with it anymore’. The IT, that John has resolved to finally face is his own internal self-critic. The one that has developed a narrative telling him that he is undeserving of his success and that he is a fraud.
Now, I am not talking about that inner voice that gives you a mild ticking off when you fall in some way below the internal standards you set for yourself. That inner voice is a healthy sign of self-management and self-regulation. The observer self, the best self that we nurture as responsible adults.
Be the best of you!
John would describe his inner voice as brutal, harsh; if it were a colour that colour would be red; the volume is loud, intrusive and utterly destructive to his sense of self-worth. He is also aware of having chosen to listen to it, even as a child, over the external voice of praise coming from his mother. His mother he remembers as a positive, affirmative influence; but it was not her voice that he internalised. As a team leader while he is caring and nurturing of others he is harsh and unforgiving of himself. It discolours his life and is exhausting him.

When coaching it is not necessary to determine why John chose to listen to his harsh inner critic over the more positive voices around him. What is important is his decision to change that now.

Here are the three key steps John and I worked through to transform his relationship to himself.

Establishing the current reality for John and his motivation toward change:
Break the cycle of negativity.

John feels stifled, withered and stunted by his way of talking to himself. In his eyes, this impairs his performance at work leading to procrastination and indecisiveness. He is not living to his full potential.

Challenging John’s view of his current reality- What in your life is Golden?

Listening to John I hear all the negatives that are his distorted view of himself and his reality. So to challenge this and bring his strengths into the light I asked- What in your life is golden? After a pause, he communicates freely the success he feels he has made of fatherhood, his creativity, and his love of helping others. I feedback to him the total change in demeanour between John when talking about his ‘negatives’ and John when talking about his ‘positives’.

Hearing this he is surprised. He had been blind to the outward manifestations of his internal state and mindset. However, becoming sensitive to these help with the next stage. I ask him to turn his attention to the difference he felt when talking about what was golden. He noticed the change in energy, he felt more engaged and his words flowed with ease. This was the self he wanted to be more often.

Mindful – Awareness and Acceptance
Mindful self-leadership.
During the next few weeks, John agrees to practice catching the negative thoughts as they arise, and instead of holding on to them, to image them as clouds which either pass on by or which dissolve into thin air. The key principle here is to practice acceptance of the thoughts rather than to do battle with them. To say, “This is what I am thinking, but it is only a thought, it is not reality, let it go. Breath into this and let the thought drift away on your out breath.” Being aware that his negative mindset affects the tone and pitch of his voice, his facial expressions and his body language (sitting up straight or slumped in the chair) also helped to alert him to changes in his internal state.


Mindful awareness and acceptance are the foundations for the other key principle of mindfulness which is self-compassion. When you have a harsh inner critic, trying to consciously reframe that voice can be counterproductive. To begin with, John found that in paying more attention to what his inner critic was saying to made him feel even more de-motivated. He was more aware of all the things he had not done and trying to say positive things about himself did not work. He was running away from acceptance by trying to replace the negative with positive thoughts.
But with persistence and over time he found that the negative thoughts dissipated more quickly and then started to come less frequently when he stopped fighting them. He did not have to consciously replace a less negative thought with a more positive thought he just began to notice the positive things that were there before him more. As his holding onto the negative voice decreased, so the space for more positive ways of relating to himself opened up. From never being able to say, ‘I have done this well’ John can now comfortably say’ This is good enough!’ and for him, that is a transformation.


In our last session together John said,” I feel that I have come a long way. There is less negativity in my head and I have got some skills to manage myself better. I feel happy, even though I now there is still stuff to work on I feel that I can do that myself now.”
So I fulfil my purpose. First to be a space of safety, then to be a source of challenge- what does not challenge you will not change you. And then to hand the process of continuing change and growth back over to my client. Ths is success.

*Real names are changed to protect client confidentiality.

If you have considered engaging an Executive Life Coach but something has held you back why not give it a try by booking a no obligation free consultation/coaching session with me?

Take the leap!

Request your session here.