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Welcome to the second issue of the CCG Newsletter.  In the prior issue we discussed the basics of coaching, the differences between mentoring, coaching, consulting, and supervising, what coaches do, and measuring success. In this issue, we will discuss generally acknowledged types of coaching, traits of effective coaches, and basic coaching agreements.

Also, in the last issue, we introduced visioning processes that can be applied to individuals as well as organizations. We will continue this discussion.

New to this issue is what to do with a coaching client that is plagued with regret and is frozen at work, unable to move forward and unable to move back.  An in depth article on Existential regret is listed on the Natural Passages website.

Enjoy the issue and send me a note if you like the letter.

Bountiful Blessings
Herb Stevenson

Bottom Line of Coaching....

Types of Coaching

According to the Executive Coaching Forum (2001, 9-12), there are four common forms of coaching, all of which can be a part of executive coaching while none of which fully encompass executive coaching:

1) Feedback/Debriefing/Development Planning: As the name suggests, this type of coaching occurs when an individual’s performance needs to be assessed and/or redirected. Typically, a 360-degree feedback is completed. The results are reviewed and a developmental plan is created. The coaching tends to be focused and short-term. In the past, this was simply a task completed by consultants as a management assessment or appraisal with remedial training.

2) Targeted Content Coaching: This type of coaching is designed to expeditiously impart knowledge and/or skills. Often the individual has been promoted and needs accelerated learning either in the background that supports the position or skills to support the effectiveness of the individual, such as computer literacy, financial acumen, time management, presentation and writing skills.

3) Career Coaching: This form of coaching is typically engaged as a competitive edge for an individual, even though some organizations provide it as a developmental support. The focus is to support the individual in developing a career plan, make critical work-related decisions, such as job moves, and planning career transitions, such as retirement planning and job succession.

4) Personal/Life Coaching: In many ways, this is personal growth work, where the individual seeks to create a more balanced way of living. Similar to career coaches, individuals typically hire these coaches to provide personal support in exploring personal improvement and self awareness.

Traits of Effective Coaches

The role of a coach is that of a strategic business partner. The coaching relationship is built on trust - that the coach supports the client without judgment. Furthermore, trust is built on the belief and fact that all coaching conversations remain confidential between the individual and the coach. When coaching is provided, the relationship may extend to the individual's supervisor, who helps define the performance goals and provides feedback on progress, but does not engage in the actual coaching sessions.

Coaches demonstrate knowledge through past experience and application of basic competencies. Some organizations have adopted the competencies identified by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) where the coach must meet ethical guidelines of the profession. Other competencies include the ability to:

  • Establish a coaching agreement or letter of engagement.
  • Create a safe environment for the client to explore insights and develop new skills.
  • Establish a trusting relationship with the client via maintenance of confidentiality, empathy, and use of self.
  • Model effective behaviors by being fully present, attentive, and spontaneous.
  • Engage the client through active listening and providing a clear sounding board as well as pertinent feedback.
  • Ask pertinent and powerful questions that stimulate new ways of thinking as well as new ways of being.
  • Be a direct communicator by saying what is so, when it is so without blame or judgment.
  • Create and raise the client's awareness by adding a new lens for seeing and new frames for holding perceptions.
  • Design and create action plans and action behaviors.
  • Develop plans and establish goals congruent with the client.
  • Manage the client's progress and hold him/her responsible for action.

In addition to the above, effective coaches believe in the potential of their client and demonstrate, through their "use of self", a personal integrity in "walking the talk".

How Does a Coaching Partnership Work?

Formal coaching relationships are based on written agreements between the coach and the individual being coached. This written agreement delineates the goals and mutual expectations for how the coaching relationship will work. The individual, coach, and supervisor, where applicable, must be in agreement regarding the desired results of the coaching relationship. These are typically called coaching contracts, letters of engagement, and learning contracts.


We are voluntarily entering into a formal coaching relationship partnership, which we expect to benefit XXXX and us. The following highlights the features of our partnership:

Coaching partnership objectives:

Coaching milestones related to objectives:

Measures of success related to objectives:

Specific role of the coach and key stakeholders:



Other key stakeholders (manager, peers, direct reports, and customers):

The logistics of our meetings will generally include the following:
How long:

Who is responsible for initiating:

The client will gain commitment of his/her supervisor by:

We will honor the following confidentiality agreement:

This agreement remains in effect for twelve months. The agreement may be terminated at any time by either the coach or the individual being coached.

Signature: ________________________________
Individual Being Coached
Signature: _______________________________

Coaching relationships can vary in duration and complexity. A coach may use assessment instruments to help focus the coaching process. Short-term, feedback coaching generally takes from one to six months and is intended to provide immediate feedback to the individual to help him or her develop a plan to address specific needs. Longer term, in-depth coaching involves a close, long-term relationship between the coach and individual to address specific needs, and generally lasts from six to twelve months. This type of coaching will involve more in-depth data collection and analysis with an intensive feedback session. Generally, a coach will continue to work with the client until the plan is implemented.

Example of Coaching Options

Developmental Coaching (8-15 hours)
Typically for three months or less, the focus of the engagement is to identify and prioritize developmental needs. A brief data gathering interview with the executive’s supervisor lays the foundation for the work to be done. A developmental plan is created with the client. The coach jump-starts the plan with a quick transition to client independence with supervisory and HR support for continued progress.

Executive Coaching (24 to 30 Hours)
Typically for six months or less, the focus is to identify and prioritize developmental issues. An initial assessment and data gathering is completed by the coach, including, if applicable, a 360 degree feedback process. The coach is retained for the implementation of the plan and follow-up for the client.

Expanded Executive Coaching (40 to 60 hours)
Typically for six to twelve months, the focus can be:

  • to identify and prioritize developmental issues. An initial assessment and data gathering is completed by the coach, including if applicable a 360 degree feedback process. The coach is retained for the implementation of the plan and follow-up with the client.
  • to support the client in addressing and keeping a clear picture of strategic issues of the organization, while addressing personal developmental issues.

Why Would One Choose to Work With a Coach?

A critical aspect of working with a coach is to know what a good use of a coach is.  Employees may choose to work with a coach when they:

  • Recognize the need to improve their performance and that it requires more than the acquisition of new knowledge or the development of new skills;
  • Are willing and wanting to participate in a rigorous and honest self-appraisal;
  • Recognize the need and are willing to ask for support to become more effective;
  • Are willing to devote the time, energy, and resources to work with the coach to make changes over a period of months;
  • Are willing to trust another person and genuinely talk about their strengths and challenges.

Employees considering coaching generally think about career goals and how coaching could help achieve them. Employees may also find it helpful to ask questions to clarify their expectations for the coaching partnership, such as:

  • How do I expect coaching to help me reach my personal, career, or professional goals?
  • Are there other activities that better fit my developmental needs at this time, such as counseling, training, or mentoring?

Potential benefits of coaching to the employee include: better decisions, clearer goals and roles, increased self awareness, more ideas and options, better relationships, better teamwork, reduced conflict, and renewed organizational commitment. Potential benefits to the organization include: improvements in productivity, quality, organizational strength, customer service, and shareholder value. Moreover, when coaching produces better alignment between personal and organizational values and goals, the results often include increased job satisfaction and organizational commitment and improved performance.        

To be continued...

In the next issue, we will continue the discussion of coaching by discussing assessment stages, what is executive coaching (versus other types of coaching), and working with coaches.

The Visioning Process....

Vision Components

The vision statement is the formal document that includes a desired future that is explained in a mission statement, a glossary of key terms, and a set of guiding or core values that support the mission statement. (Wall, Sobol, & Solum, 1992, pp. 32-33). In corporations, ..."mission statements - sometimes called value statements, credos, or principles - are the operational, ethical and financial guiding lights of companies. They are not simply mottoes or slogans; they articulate the goals, dreams, behavior, culture, and strategies of companies more than any other document." (Jones & Kahaner, 1995, ix) It is common for an organization to have a statement of vision as well as mission statement that conveys how the organization will create the vision.

Symbolic representation of the vision can be very powerful if it captures the intended meaning. Corporations invest heavily in the development of corporate symbols that can convey the desired meaning of the corporate vision and mission.  For example, use of "the Rock" to represent the stability of Prudential as a company is widely recognized.

Similarly, one of the most powerful visions in native American lore is the White Buffalo Calf Woman. It is an image of transformation that has been shared among all tribes and nations for many centuries. However, the core story, or the essence of the meaning of the image, is maintained regardless of who tells it, yet it is totally unique as told by each individual.

Consequently, the vision statement, composed of a vision, a supporting mission statement, and core values, is the primary force for meaning-making throughout the organization. It creates a common understanding of what distinguishes the organization from other organizations (Abrahams, 1995).  It creates a special identity (as compared to other organizations). This special identity taps into the power of unified diversity. More specifically, at the core of every individual within the organization will be a shared or common understanding that may not be expressed in words beyond the vision statement itself. However, the meaning of the vision statement touches parts of the person that is unique to them individually and yet binds them organically to everyone else. In many ways, it is the creation of a community comprised of many individuals held together by common meaning (Lewis. 1997).

Core Values

Over the last few decades, organizations have recognized that the vision must be steeped in common understanding and meaning. This led to conscious development of core values that would support the vision and how the organization hopes to be in the world. A value is an enduring belief pertaining to preferable personal or social behaviors and outcomes from such behavior (Rokeach, 1973). "It is the absolute or ‘black or white’ learning of values that more or less assures their stability and endurance" (Bumpus & Munchus, 1996, p. 169).  "Collectively.... value systems provide an inner, often invisible, governance system which can allow individuals and their organizations to stay on course in turbulent times" (Kriger & Hanson, 1999, p. 302). More basically, "[c]ommon values are the glue which binds an organization together; they motivate and create a sense of community" (Brytting & Trollestad, 2000, p. 55).

"Today’s organizations, both profit and not-for-profit, have to balance an increasing array of conflicting forces and values. Stakeholder demands are diverse and numerous. No individual is in a job without conflicting demands - for innovation and stability, for quality and efficiency, for goal clarity and flexibility, for short-term results and long term effectiveness" (Kriger & Hanson, 1999, p. 302). Moreover, within this malaise of conflicting interests, "[a] fundamental issue in organizations is that ‘right’ human relationships are essential for effectiveness in our work systems" (p. 305). At issue, as discovered by many organizations, is that if the organization does not "stand for something" through a set of organizational values, then "it stands for nothing." In other words, organizational success is dependent upon organizational values that convey a deep concern for the employees as individuals and that reinforces the meaning and purpose of the organization (Kouzes & Posner, 1995). "With people-oriented values, successful organizations were found to use employee groups to solve problems, promote cooperative interaction, and have employees influence important issues" (Tjosvold, Dean. 1998, p. 44).

Visioning Process

As a process, developing an organizational vision has been done in a variety of ways. Some organizations have an individual or team develop a vision statement, comprised of a statement of vision, a mission statement, and/or set of core values. Some base the vision statement on their intuition and personal knowledge of their organization and the external environment, while others complete extensive research of the internal strengths and weaknesses, the competition, if applicable, and the external environment, including the economic, political, and social climates. Once the vision is developed, it is shared with other individuals for review, revision, and acceptance. In some organizations, this process may involve officers and directors. In other organizations, it might involve all levels of management, and in others, it may involve representation from all ranks within the organization (Abrahams, 1995; Carver, 1997; Nanus, 1992; Wall, Sobol, & Solum, 1992).

An alternative method of developing a vision is to quest or search for the vision as done by indigenous and religious leaders for thousands of years. As a process, it relies on what is inside the people seeking to develop the vision and yet can incorporate the findings of the various qualitative and quantitative research methods1. Harrison Owen has brought this form of visioning process into modern organizational meetings through his development of the process called Open Space Technology. (Owen, 1997a; 1997b).

A native American description of this statement provides a deeper perspective. "In the Turtle Mountains, North Dakota, Harry Boise...was with me eight months. At his request, I allowed him to teach the old Chippewa and Cree Indians there the modern scientific attitude with its view of things....The chief among his pupils was old Sakan’ku Skonk (Rising Sun).....But Rising Sun, speaking the conclusion of all, pronounced ‘the scientific view’ inadequate. Not bad, or untrue, but inadequate to explain, among many other things, how man is to find and know a road along which he wishes and chooses to make this said progress unless the Great Manitou by his spirit guides the mind of man, keeping human beings just and generous and hospitable." (McG. 6-7) 

Vision Questing

Vision questing, in Native American terms, is a different process than the visioning done in most corporations and organizations.  Using the Gestalt awareness process model, corporations and organizations tend to lean more towards an "active, directed awareness" model to establish a vision, whereas vision questing would be an "open, undirected awareness" model. In truth, the actual process involves both forms of awareness, whereas depending on the focus and intent of the organization, one of the forms of awareness becomes more figural in its use.

Figure 1: Gestalt Awareness Process

Active, Directed Awareness Open, Undirected Awareness

Goes to the world

Forces something to emerge

Uses Structures/framework to guide what you wish to see, hear, etc.

Focuses questioning; strives for a narrow, sharp field of vision

Attends to things in terms of knowledge of how they work, what is present and missing in a normative sense.

Searching of sensory modalities

Supports work by content values and conceptual biases

Lets the world come to you

Waits for something to emerge

Investigates without being organized or "prejudiced" in any way as to what you wish to see hear, etc.

Maintains widest peripheral vision; little foreground and everything of equal importance

Is naive about how things work; hopes to find something new about how things work

Receptive use of sensory modalities

Values are process-oriented, tend to be content free.

Native American Approach

Riddington (1996) suggests how the open, undirected awareness process works in the Native American visioning traditions.

  1. Visioning is a personal process that is begun in isolation2 however it is fundamentally conversational and social.3
  2. Even though it may seem that nothing is happening at the time, it is the experience that changes the person, the group, and/or the organization.4
  3. The experience enables us to become more of whom we are or what we are and therefore changes how we are in the world.5
  4. Visions come to children and to adults that can make themselves like children.6
  5. Vision comes when we are humble and pitiable.7
  6. Vision’s power comes as we listen to our own, internal stories8.
  7. Vision’s power comes as we learn to communicate with our deepest selves.9
  8. Vision’s power comes when we can honor dreams that energize the very essence of whom we are and how we want to be in the world.10
  9. Vision’s power comes to us when we can be open to something greater than ourselves.11
  10. Vision’s power comes as we listen to the stories around us.12
  11. Vision’s power comes when the story of a person’s life joins the circle.13
  12. Power of the vision comes when a person realizes a story that already exists.14
  13. The power of vision comes when we add a new episode to that story.15
  14. The power of vision comes when the story of a person’s life becomes that of life as a whole.16

Framing the Vision

There are some additional criteria that should be met that might increase the length of the vision statement. For example, a vision statement, consistent with the natural laws of organizations (as noted in the prior CCG Newsletter), should provide a frame of reference for each member of the organization as well as the overall organization (as a separate entity). This is sometimes called "framing what we want and what we need." To do this, the vision statement should include the following:

  • It should represent or reflect or portray a future or goal or way of life that creates meaning and excitement and commitment at all levels of the organization - individual, group and organization.
  • It should create value in some form, internally and externally, at multiple levels----such as physically, emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually for the individual, group, and organization, as well as for the public being served.
  • It should reveal or reflect, implicitly or explicitly, the high standards of excellence and/or the core values of life within the organization and for all of its members.
  • It should provide a governing frame that provides guidance at all levels (individual, group, and organization) of the decision-making processes, similar to the concepts of the guiding hands of God or the invisible hand of capitalism.
  • It should inspire and/or make-meaning for all levels of organization.
  • The vision statement that meets all of the above criteria will tend to be timeless, meaning that it will endure the test of time by remaining near and dear to all levels of organization well into the future.

A Faith Based Social Service Organization (Stevenson, 2001)

Sample Vision Statements

How the world will be different because we exist - Our vision: A safe and caring community, holding space for others.

Sample Mission Statements

What we will do to fulfill our vision - Our mission: To create a caring community, safely aiding others in life’s passages.

Values Supporting the Vision and Mission

The principles of Kwanzaa provides wisdom and guidance in setting values.

  • Unity: A deep sense of knowing that our strength comes from building and drawing on togetherness both within East End, our families,  and in our communities and acting on this knowing every day;
  • Self-determination: A heartfelt commitment to developing and patterning our lives and self-images after ourselves, as individuals, as a social service agency, and as a community;
  • Collective work and responsibility: A visionary pledge of working together, whenever plausible, with each other, our clients, and our surrounding communities on matters of common interest regardless of other differences;
  • Cooperative economics: A deep understanding that to receive we must share our wealth and resources;
  • Purpose: A core understanding that in working with each other, our clients, and our local community, we are building and developing our national community;
  • Creativity: We inspire ourselves, our clients, and our community to find the way that will enable the wholeness of each individual to step into our life-work and industrial pursuits;
  • Faith: In our wholeness as a community of individuals believing in ourselves as a people, we draw strength from our knowing a higher being exists.
  • Honor and Respect:  In our wholeness as human beings, we cannot be fully who we are until we are able to honor and respect all that we are as a person. As such, we maintain a clear and respectful awareness of whom we are as individuals, families, a community, a nation, and a race. Furthermore, we are always mindful and grateful from whence we came, and therefore we hold a space in the heart for the Creator, our Ancestors, and our elders.


  • 1 A native American description of this statement provides a deeper perspective. "In the Turtle Mountains, North Dakota, Harry Boise...was with me eight months. At his request, I allowed him to teach the old Chippewa and Cree Indians there the modern scientific attitude with its view of things....The chief among his pupils was old Sakan’ku Skonk (Rising Sun).....But Rising Sun, speaking the conclusion of all, pronounced ‘the scientific view’ inadequate. Not bad, or untrue, but inadequate to explain, among many other things, how man is to find and know a road along which he wishes and chooses to make this said progress unless the Great Manitou by his spirit guides the mind of man, keeping human beings just and generous and hospitable." (McG. 6-7)
  • 2 with nothing but the internal thoughts and pictures of one’s self;
  • 3 Dialogue versus Discussion
  • 4 Replacing social constructs of "what is" reality with internal knowing through the creation of compelling internal pictures
  • 5 Paradoxical Theory of change
  • 6 Open-minded and open-hearted
  • 7 Receptive and Vulnerable–At the Boundary–Making Contact with the Self or Others at the Edge of Discomfort
  • 8 Voices from the Past–Introjects swallowed over the years–Images unconnected to the present yet still impacting every moment–Personal and/or social constructs.
  • 9 Soul/Spirit---by releasing the rote judgements of doing and learn to be with self and others in the stillness of each eternal moment.
  • 10 Purpose, Meaningful life, Life purpose, life dreams.
  • 11 Spirit, God, the Great Mystery, All That Is, Buddha, etc.
  • 12 Listening to others, pondering what is being said without judgement, and noticing how the story is physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually impacting us. It is not creating a story in response that can be used to keep distance between our souls.
  • 13 Building sufficient ground for a figure to surface that enables the person to regain a sense of community with all of mankind and nature and assumes responsibility for one’s place in the world.
  • 14 Learning as in a deep knowing - Double loop learning - the 100th Monkey.
  • 15 Creation of the personal Vision of how the world is different because of this single person, or the realization that fate is not what happens to us; it is what we are, if we are true to ourselves
  • 16 Sense of Interrelatedness, "All One Tribe" Sense of Oneness, Wholeness


  • Abrahams, Jeffrey.  The Mission Statement Book: 301 Corporate Mission Statements from America’s Top Companies, 1995. Berkeley, Ca.: Ten Speed Press.
  • Brown, Jr., Tom. The Vision. 1988. New York: The Berkley Publishing Co.
  • Brytting, Tomas & Trollestad, Claes. (2000) Managerial Thinking in Value-Based Management. International Journal of Value-Based Management, 13, 55-77.
  • Bumpus, Minnette A. & Munchus, George, (1996) Values in the Workplace: Diversity in Meaning and Importance, International Journal of Value-Based Management, 9, 169-194.
  • Campbell, Andrew, (1997) Brief Case: Mission Statements, Long Range Planning, . Vol. 30, No. 6. 931-931.
  • Carver, John. (1997) Creating a Mission that Makes a Difference. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Cooperrider, David, Sorensen, Peter  F., Whitney, Daina., Yaeger, Therese F. (2000) Appreciative Inquiry: Rethinking Human Organization Toward a Positive Theory of Change. Champaign, Illinois: Stipes Publishing.
  • Deloria,  Vine, Jr. (1996) If You Think About It, You Will See That It Is True. ReVision, Winter, 37-44. Original source: McG, Beede A. "Western Sioux Cosmology", unpublished paper in the North Dakota Historical Records, Bismarck and the Newberry Library, Chicago. 3
  • Dent, Eric B. (1999) Complexity Science: A Worldview Shift. Emergence, Vol. 1. No. 4. 5-19.
  • Ensley, Eddie. (200) Visions: The Soul’s Path to the Sacred.  Chicago: LoyolaPress
  • Foster, Steven with Little, Meredith. (1992) Vision Quest: A Sun Bear Book.  New York: Fireside.
  • Gioia, Dennis.(1998)  From Individual to Organizational Identity. In David A. Whetten and Paul C. Godfrey,  (Eds.),  Identity in Organizations: Building Theory Through Conversations. Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage.
  • Goldstein, Jeffrey. (1999)  Emergence as a Construct: History and Issues  Emergence, Vol. 1. No. 1. 49-72
  • Johnson, Martin, (1999, Sept-Oct.) A feasibility test for corporate vision. Strategic Change, 8, 335-348.
  • Jones, Patricia & Kahaner, Larry. (1995) Say it and Live it: 50 Corporate Mission Statements that Hit the Mark.  New York: Currency Doubleday.
  • Kouzes, James M. and Posner, Barry Z. (1995) The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in an Organization. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Kriger, Mark P. & Hanson, Bruce J. (1999). A value-based paradigm for creating truly healthy organizations. Journal of Organizational Change.  Vol. 12, No. 4. 302-317.
  • Lewis, C. Patrick (1997) Building a Shared Vision: A Leader’s Guide to Aligning the Organization; Portland: Productivity Press.
  • Lipton, Mark. (1996) Demystifying the Development of an Organizational Vision, Sloan Management Review, Vol. 37. No. 4. 83-92
  • Nanus, Burt. Visionary Leadership. (1992) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Nevis, Edwin. (1987) Organizational Consulting: A Gestalt Approach.  New York: Gardner Press.
  • Owen, Harrison. (1997a) Expanding Our Now: The Story of Open Space Technology, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
  • Owen, Harrison.(1997b) Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide, 2nd Ed. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
  • Riddington, Robin. (1996) Voice, Representation, and Dialogue: the Poetics of Native American Spiritual Traditions. The American Indian Quarterly, June, Vol. 20. 467-489.
  • Rokeach, M. (1973) The Nature of Human Values. New York: The Free Press.
  • Stevenson, T. Herbert (2001) Developing a Vision for a Non-Profit Social Service Agency, Unpublished thesis, Cleveland State University, 2001.
  • Tjosvold, Dean.(1998) Employee Involvement in Support of Corporate Values in Successful Organizations: Groups, Cooperative Interaction, and Influence. International Journal of Value-Based Management, 11, 35-46.
  • Torrance, Robert M.  (1994) The Spiritual Quest.  Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Wall, Bob, Sobol, Mark R., and Solum, Robert S. (1992) The Mission Driven Organization, Roseville Ca.: Prima Publishing.
  • Weisbord, Marvin, & Sandra Janoff. (2000) Future Search: An action Guide to Finding common Ground in Organizations and Communities. 2nd Ed. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

 Facing Regret

Coaching clients often are plagued with regret about some aspect of their life, whether it is related to dreams unfulfilled,  to missing the mark in a major project, or to making decisions in haste that later lead to a wish to have done differently.

From a Gestalt (and existential perspective), a conscious and choiceful life is rarely filled with regret because the person tends to be fully present in the choice-making process. Regret occurs when we have "a profound desire to go back and change a past experience in which one has failed to choose consciously or has made a choice that did not follow one’s beliefs, values, or growth needs." (Lucas, 2004, 58) It is a painful blending of existential anxiety and existential guilt that can be experienced as angst and/or anguish.

How We Create Regret

Making Mistakes

In terms of our day-to-day existence, to live in good faith means to be fully present in the moment and consciously live in a way that is congruent with one’s beliefs and values. Life is choiceful. When we make a mistake in decision, deed, and/or understanding of the future, if it is in good faith, we will experience a modicum of regret and likely learn from the situation as we move on in life. We know that we based our decision, deed or understanding of the future on what we knew in the moment. However, if we make a mistake in bad faith, that is, incongruent with one’s beliefs and values, then we can become painfully aware of having chosen poorly without the ability to correct it.   

Failing to Choose Well

My first job after college was in a bank. They needed a warm body and I needed a job. Over the years, I was able to publish numerous banking books, complete nine bank turnarounds, and become very successful as both a banker and a consultant. Nonetheless, the gnawing deep within was that I had sold out my dreams to be a psychologist. In time, I realized that I could satisfy those desires by expanding my skill base and become an executive coach. I had to accept responsibility for the life I created.

In basic terms, every decision involves relinquishing an infinite number of other choices.  "To choose means to relinquish or even kill other choices or possibilities" (Lucas, 2004, 62) Interestingly, in not choosing - by literally not choosing, and following the road of least resistance or as in not consciously making a decision consistent with our circumstances, facts, and personal values - we choose. Hence, when we act out of habitual thought patterns created from parental and other influences, such as "it’s the way men in our family do things", a choice is made, albeit semi- or unconsciously. In failing to consciously choose, we withdraw from our responsibility to live well by creating our own life. Generally, "these are moments in which we acted without purposeful, conscious choosing. We were not present; our experience was more characterized by a divided consciousness, and hence we were living in bad faith" (Lucas, 2004, 59-60) to oneself. Existentially, we feel guilty because at some deep level, we become aware that we have abandoned and betrayed the self. "It is a sense that I abandoned myself at that moment and instead serviced another reality at the expense of my current experience, needs, and choices. The effect is that at some level I feel that I have let myself down... and I am acutely angry, despairing, and full of regret" and there is nothing I can do about it.

Failing to Live One’s Potentialities

Existential regret can be also understood through failing to live one’s potentialities. ( May, 1983) This is seen when "we consciously consider our choices and let ourselves down by choosing to do what is easier rather than responding to our inner values, integrity, beliefs, potential, and knowledge." (Lucas, 2004, 60). Abraham Maslow believed that even though we have a predisposition towards self-actualizing, we also can defend against growth. In the latter case, defending against growth, we will tend to experience regret because we took the easy way out or chose to do less than we are capable. He foretells that, "if you deliberately plan to be less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be deeply unhappy for the rest of your life. You will be evading your own capacities, your own possibilities." ( Maslow, 1993, 35)

Some things to think about

As a coach, often the client is unable to move forward because the well of drive and determine is dry. In these cases, I often ask if there are any regrets or forgotten dreams. Typically, with some patience the client notes some turning point in their career where they sold their soul for a position, or a job, or a friendship.  If need be, I ask some of the following questions:

  • What mistakes have you made?
  • Did you learn from them or do they still plague you?
  • Describe a time that you chose well for yourself?
  • Describe a time when you chose poorly and in bad faith towards yourself?
  • What would you do differently, if given the chance; what prevents you from being yourself? 

In these cases, the only way to return to the day-to-day work, for which I am coaching the individual, is to discover the fountain of lost dreams that make the blood feel like the life force flowing through the veins. These questions start the process of unraveling the turning-points that occurred and begin to create a discussion of possibilities.

For example, one client was very successful, living large in a million dollar home, extremely large investment portfolio, and basically unhappy. Work was more of a drag and no longer the passionate and exciting reason for getting up. After exploring different regrets, he came to the conclusion that he needed to consciously choose to look for what made him feel alive. After much exploration, he realized that he enjoyed supporting other people, by giving them a chance in life. Coming from a lower-middle class family in the U.S., he remembered being provided scholarships to go to school and it had made all the difference in his life. He explored ways to become involved in a scholarship fund for people in his home town. He became invigorated. Asked what changed, he noted that now he had a reason to be successful - to support others as well as to provide for himself.


Block, Peter & Peter Koestenbaum (2001) Freedom and Accountability at Work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Koestenbaum, Peter (1971)The Vitality of Death: Essays in Existential Psychology and Philosophy. Westport,   Connecticut: Greenwood.
.........................(1974) Existential Sexuality, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall
 .........................(1978) The New Image of the Person: The Theory and Practice of Clinical Philosophy, Westport Connecticut: Greenwood
........................(1979) Managing Anxiety, Millbrae, California: Celestial Arts.
 ........................(1987) The Heart of Business: Ethics, Power and Philosophy. San Francisco, California: Saybrook Publishing.
 ........................(2002) Leadership: The Inner Side of Greatness - a  philosophy for leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 Lucas, Marijo, (2004) Existential Regret: A Crossroads of Existential Anxiety and Existential Guilt, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 44. No. 1, Winter, 58-70.

Maslow, Abraham, (1993) "Neurosis as a failure of personal growth", In M. Vich (Ed.) The farther reaches of human nature. New York, Penguin.

May, Rollo(1983) The Discovery of Discovery. New York, Norton.