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Hi folks,

After spending a lot of time in Dubai last year, and obviously not writing this newsletter, I am committed to get started sharing a lot of the ideas derived from reading books on 15 hour plane rides and the amazing experiences doing global coaching.

Liminal Space: Windows of Change

Sometimes, I find the rare opportunity of a coaching or an executive development client that has moved into a liminal space, the space between day-to-day forms of being present, where permanent change can occur. I often express it as that moment when the message pierces deeper into the client (generally past the daily defenses and resistances of the ego) and results in a visibly deep, visceral shift of the client. The shift can be a profound insight that is experienced as the elimination or dissolution of a fixed perception that now allows a different perception to form.1

Common examples of when liminal space is already in place for a coaching situation is when a major transition has occurred. It can be a promotion, demotion, divorce, tragic loss, or some other disruptive event that breaks the trance of day-to-day life. I refer to it as trance as most people function through a series of habitual responses to prior experienced situations without providing a modicum of reflective presence until the trance is broken.

Another time that this can happen is when the board or the CEO require coaching as a condition to stay. For example, I had worked with a CEO for a few months. Each session felt more mechanical as we moved through the various steps of establishing a goal for the session, examining obstacles and options/opportunities, and ending in a specific action. Rarely was there a sense of actual change; rather, it felt more like compliance or tolerance. One day, we were reviewing the 360 results again. At first, it felt like he was simply looking at data. We discussed each point. Finally, he looked me directly in the eyes and asked for my summation of the report including what was working and what clearly was not working. Using the principles of gestalt theory to describe instead of prescribe (which can feel judgmental), I proceeded to answer his question. He paused for a few minutes mulling over what I had said. (A very long pause in my experience.) Finally, in very clear terms he connected all of the dots of how the behavior that had supported his success in the past was going to derail his success as CEO. I nodded agreement. He proceeded with his understanding by noting that he now understood why I had told him that he must learn to pause, reflect, and choose as he tended to shoot from the hip with highly judgmental and sometimes enraged responses. He further stated that he would like to review the three gestalt principles of "slow is fast", "small is big" and "less is more" that all senior leaders must use to be effective. My experience of those minutes is that he had been pierced at a deeper, more visceral level. He integrated all of the behavioral shifts and has become a stalwart CEO.

Over the years, I've had several of these experiences and have determined that much of the inability to pierce is related to how well the person slows down enough to fully reflect and integrate what is happening in the moment.

Some Thoughts

Dr. Edward Hallowell, a Harvard professor and prolific writer suggests the fast pace of business has gone to the point of creating attention deficit traits (ADT). This makes perfect sense as society has moved from an era of dialogue and conversation to the evolving era of sound bytes, texts, and tweets with no sense of responsibility to what was communicated until someone gets hurt, quits, or embarrassed. Recent studies have indicated that the youngest generation lacks sufficient emotional and social intelligence to be effective in the workplace. Basically, they do not know how to maintain eye contact or to stay engaged in a conversation with more than a few sound bytes. In discussing this phenomenon with my attorney, he had a eureka moment as his law firm has had a difficult time hiring younger people that can fit into the organization. The younger hires want to listen to their MP3 players with ear-buds and not engage anyone even to say hello in the morning.

Applied directly to executives, the pace of business is so bounded around time2 and therefore the need to create some sense of efficiency is revered so much that it has created a pseudo premium status that does not serve the effectiveness of the executive. Yes, lots of tasks and decisions are made, but effective leadership is often missing. Acting and deciding is not leading unless there is a fully embodied person involved. As most of you know, the fully embodied, fully present, if you prefer, executive is a rare commodity.

One step to better leadership is the ability to be fully present and to be able to truly reflect on the moment versus recall what has worked in the past; because it is close enough to feel comfortable that it is the correct decision without realizing that it is different enough to be like trying to force a 3 foot in diameter ball into a two foot in diameter hole.

Life Review

One method to get clients to slow down enough to reflect is to have them do a life review. At first, most are hesitate. If I cannot get any movement, I may ask them to try an experiment where they complete the exercise with their spouse. It functions to create more dialogue at home which is likely to at least be a memory that can be rekindled. If they cannot see doing it at home or alone, I sit and we go through the review together. I gather lots of data about the person and the relationship as coach and coachee is enhanced.


In the next issue, I will introduce the contact model that that I have created over the last thirty years. It is a two-by-two to support the coach to track the client and the coach's degree of presence and vulnerability. Once this lens is established as one view of the client, the self, and the dyad. The opportunity to create liminal space increases. I hope you all have a Happy Holiday and find time with your families...

Herb Stevenson

Herb Stevenson, CEO/President
Cleveland Consulting Group

Life Stages Exercise

In the following pages is a process to evaluate yourself in the various stages of life. For the curious, courageous, and desperate, it offers an opportunity to complete a life review to understand how you became this person sitting in this room.

I suggest taking the time to reflect as you go through the process.


1 Victor Turner has written extensively on this process from a rite of passage perspective (which could apply to many executives). Tim Carson has written a succinct yet indepth perspective of this process from a spiritual perspective in Liminal Reality and Transformational Power. Manfred Kets deVries has highlighted this in the team coaching process in his latest book, The Hedge Hog Effect.

2 Note: I did not say time bound as generally these are self perpetuated illusions that have not been examined for their validity versus examining how one can more efficiently define the use of time to create more expansiveness.


Life Stages

Erik Erikson1, Daniel Levinson2, and Gail Sheehy3 conducted research and identified developmental stages through which most people pass in their life's journey. As we pass through these stages some personal values may deepen or fall away while new ones surfaces.

These stages are only approximations, as some will go through particular stages early while others may spend little time in one and much time in another. For example Erickson believed we moved through the following stages.

Erickson's Psychosocial Stages

I imagine it is easy to find something on the above chart that creates a pang of fear, pain, or wonderment. Rather than dwell on the past, there is a way to review and reframe it through a different set of stages that start with early adult. I like to refer to is as a life review of what worked well, what worked not so well, and what have we learned from it so that we can leave the pangs of fear or pain and create moments of wonderment and joy.

Life's Stages4

As you read the following pages, pay attention to memories, physical reactions, your trends of thought, moments of angst, moments of joy or ecstacy, and other reactions. As these reactions come to your attention, you may feel like these moments were "deciding or defining". Hold these reactions and express them in the questions that follow each stage of life.

If you have not lived through a stage or have not entered a stage, you can choose to read and skip the questions or be playful and guestimate how it will be for you. Do not strain yourself. Trust that what needs to surface will emerge.

Stage 1. Autonomy and Tentative Choices
(Approximately 18-26)

In this stage we are typically developing personal autonomy and leaving the family to establish an independent home, finances etc. We're developing our own sense of personhood as separate from parents and childhood peer groups. We try out new relationships (e.g., romantic interests, professional associates, peer groups and friends). This is typically a period of tentative or provisional commitments. We're comfortable there is plenty of time ahead to change our minds on provisional decisions concerning things like location, occupation, plans to marry or not marry, friends, key life values, etc. Our focus is on defining ourselves as individuals and establishing an initial life structure.

  • During this time of your life, what did you most personally value? Explain What did you personally dislike about this time of your life?
  • List three or four soul choices that were made or life-changing events that occurred during this time that have impacted your life. Describe the impact.

Stage 2. Young Adult Transition
(Approximately 27-31)

This is usually a period of significant turmoil - of looking at who we are becoming and asking if we're really journeying in directions we want to go. We question most of our earlier tentative choices. Have we made the right decisions? Are we running out of time for changing our decisions? Are our decisions becoming permanent before we want them to? Do we really want to make this location, career path or romantic relationship permanent? Will we or will we not settle down and have a family? Is time running out? Often with considerable angst similar to the better known mid-life crisis we rethink our provisional decisions and maintain them or change them in the process of making more permanent choices.

  • During this time, what did you most personally value? Explain.
  • What did you personally dislike about this time of your life?
  • List three or four choices that were made or events that occurred during this time that have impacted your life. Describe the impact.

Stage 3. Making Commitments
(Approximately 32-42)

This is typically a period of relative order and stability where we implement and live the choices made in the young adult transition. We settle down into deeper commitments involving work, family, church, our community ties etc. We focus on accomplishment, becoming our own persons and generating an inner sense of expertise and mastery of our professions. By now we have a better developed and fairly well defined, though not usually final, dream of what we want to achieve in life. We put significant energy into achieving the dream.

  • During this time, what did you most personally value? Explain
  • What did you personally dislike about this time of your life?
  • List three or four choices that were made or events that occurred during this time that have impacted your life. Describe the impact.

Stage 4. Mid-Life Transition
(Approximately 42-48)

This is the stage of mid-life questioning that's been discussed so much in the popular press. Here we tend to question everything again. If we have not achieved our dreams we wonder why not. Were they really the right dreams? If we have achieved our dreams we look at what values we might have neglected in their pursuit. Was it worth it? Either way we're probably disillusioned. A period of reassessment and realignment usually takes place, including recognition and re-balancing of key polarities, such as:

Immortality vs. Mortality - While young people know better intellectually, emotionally they seem to feel they are immortal. In mid-life we start to realize it may be half over and we want to make the best of what remains. This typically requires some revision of priorities and values - perhaps less emphasis on values already achieved and more emphasis on those we have neglected.

Constructive vs. Destructive - Up to mid-life, most of us fool ourselves that our behavior has been constructive while we had to deal with others' destructive behavior. In mid-life we get the uncomfortable insight that we have also engaged in our share of destructive as well as constructive behavior. This insight is painful but essential if we want to continue growing intellectually and spiritually.

Nurturing vs. Aggressive - Whether we have focused on aggressive (e.g., fast track corporate careers) or nurturing (e.g., teaching, social work, or homemaking) behavior to date, in midlife we often want to re-balance. Some aggressive corporate people want to spend more time nurturing with their families or in socially oriented work, and some who have been in more service-oriented nurturing careers want to pursue something more aggressive or financially rewarding.

The experts stress that acknowledging the turmoil, experiencing the pain, and facing and resolving the polarities is essential for continued growth and satisfaction. Refusing to acknowledge or experience mid-life anxieties and questionsor at some unconscious level trying to go back and be twenty againis usually a sure way to get stuck and disgruntled in a way station.

  • If you went through a mid life transition as described, what became the most important discovery? How did it change your life?
  • During this time, what did you most personally value? Explain.
  • What did you personally dislike about this time of your life?
  • List three or four choices that were made or events that occurred during this time that have impacted your life. Describe the impact.

Stage 5. Leaving a Legacy
(Approximately 49-65)

The period after completion of the mid-life transition can be one of the most productive of all stages. We are usually at the peak of our mature abilities here. If the issues of the mid-life transition have been acknowledged and addressed we can make our greatest possible contributions to others and society. Here we can be less driven, less ego-centered, less compelled to compete with and impress others. Instead we can focus on what really matters to us, on developing younger people, on community with others, on leaving some personal legacy that really makes things better for people (whether it's recognized as our personal legacy or not), and on accomplishing values that our maturity and greater spirituality tell us have the most true meaning in the overall scheme of life.

  • During this time, what did you most personally value? Explain.
  • What did you personally dislike about this time of your life?
  • List three or four choices that were made or events that occurred during this time that have impacted your life. Describe the impact.

Stage 6. Spiritual Resolution
(Approximately 66 and Beyond)

This is the stage of tying things up, of completing the design of what we want to become, of finalizing our growth and assessing/fine-tuning the persons we have made of ourselves. This stage can go on for many years. It can be hopeful or cynical depending on how realistically, humbly, and effectively we have resolved (or now finally resolve) the issues faced in earlier stages. We may move into this stage sooner or later depending on how rapidly we have developed in earlier stages - how much we have moved beyond our narrow selves. Here we come to grips with the ultimate limitations of life, ourselves and mortality. We can look hopefully and unflinchingly at the ultimate meaning of our life and the life of others in the larger context. We do the best we can to pass whatever wisdom we have gained on to others. We accept others for what they are, seeing them as growing like we are and part of humankind's diversity. Our sense of community continually expands as we prepare for survival of the spirit beyond our mortality.

  • During this time, what did you most personally value? Explain.
  • What did you personally dislike about this time of your life?
  • List three or four choices that were made or events that occurred during this time that have impacted your life. Describe the impact.


  • In reviewing what has come and gone and what is yet to come, what thoughts, feelings, and/or reactions come to you?
  • Are there themes that run through your most personally valued stages?
  • Are there themes of dislike that run through your life stages?
  • In looking back, have your prior choices informed you about your present self or state? or possibly embarrassed you? Explain.
  • After some reflections, are there any choices that you would change? Explain.
  • After writing your thoughts, discuss with your life partner or a close friend.


1 See: Erik Erikson's, The Life Cycle Completed, Identity and the Life Cycle 1982, and Vital Involvement
in Old Age, 1989.

2 See: Daniel J. Levinson's, The Season's of a Man's Life, 1986, and The Seasons of Woman's Life, 1997.

3 See: Gail Sheehy's, New Passages: Mapping your Life Across Time, 1996.

4 The Life Stages paragraphs of this exercise were adapted from Your Soul at Work Copyright 2002, Nicholas Weiler