Butler Coaching Blog

Making Space for Magic


Christa Doty quote

Christa Doty | March 2023

I was recently a support person for a colleague’s coaching webinar focused on identifying and honoring culture through coaching. The 90-minute professional development training gathered a batch of coaches we’d recently trained. My colleague is a trained professional coach and Cherokee citizen, so I was excited she would be sharing her perspective with the webinar participants and offering them some tips and tricks to make their coaching sessions more inclusive.  

The webinar started with my colleague sharing who she was, where she was from, and who her people were. She talked about her kids, how she arrived at the place she calls home, what her path was to the work she is doing now, and more.  

She then proceeded to ask each attendee on the webinar to do the same. As the first few people began to talk, my stomach tightened, and my heart started to beat faster. We had 90 minutes and 17 people in this webinar. How were we going to be able to get through the introductions and still have time to cover the information in the PowerPoint she created? I glanced at the clock in the bottom right-hand corner of my screen every few minutes and checked off in my mind how many more people had to go before we could dig into the heart of the training.  

Then this magical thing happened. I stopped looking at the clock and started to truly hear the participants’ stories. I let go of the agenda and listened to what they thought was important and what influenced who they are today.  

I have had professional relationships with many of these folks for four years and thought I knew them well. Yet, here in this short amount of time, I was getting to know these individuals on a deeper level. For example, one person had always talked about her step-kids, but when it was her turn to speak, she shared how she considered herself a mom because of her relationship with these children. Another person shared that her parents were part of the civil rights movement in the South and how it had influenced who she is today. Lastly, a participant shared how she was a naturally shy person, which gave me insights into many of our interactions. Each new piece of information told me something about the person’s being.  

At 70 minutes in when the last person shared, I had a deeper sense of connection to and appreciation for each person in the virtual room. This glimpse into what and who truly mattered to them filled my heart with warmth and created an extraordinarily profound time together. If I had let my anxiety of keeping to a perceived schedule and reaching “concrete” outcomes override my ability to be present with others, this gift of connection would have been lost.  

In the last 20 minutes, my colleague pointed out that this was an exercise—hearing, witnessing, and learning in a way that was culturally normal for her—and she predicted there was some anxiety for many because of the white dominant norms of “doing” versus “being.” The learning was being with each other. For my colleague, to honor culture in coaching, we need to be open to different ways of operating and hearing. Her guidance on how to honor culture was to listen to a person’s story and not always have a to-do list. 

When I think about how this experience will influence my coaching, four questions to ponder come to my mind:  

  • As a coach, how can I unlearn white dominant norms of producing, urgency, and there only being one right way? 

  • How can I be aware of my socialization in white dominant norms and not let them take over?  

  • How can I let my coaching be full of rich possibilities that are more inclusive of the individual in front of me? 

  • Lastly, how do I need to switch the way I hear other’s stories so that I receive the unique gift of practicing approaches different from the approach I’m accustomed to?  

If you find yourself in a coaching session feeling as if you must “get to the real stuff,” pause and consider what is happening right before you. Are you open to the magic of the other person’s story? You and your client might be transformed by what reveals itself by just being present and being with each other.   

3 Lessons for Coaches from an Endurance Athlete

Brenda Lockwood Cover Image You are an Ironman

Brenda Lockwood | November 2022

You are an Ironman.

Not many people will hear those words during their lifetime. But when you cross the finish line of an Ironman Triathlon, the emcee honors your physical and mental perseverance with these words. In September 2021, I participated in this physical endurance event that challenges its participants to a combined 140.6 miles of swimming, cycling, and running. My body powered my flailing arms through choppy waters, pedaled me up 6,000 feet of hills, and dragged one foot in front of the other over miles of pavement. Finally, after 15.5 hours, I heard the words, “Brenda Lockwood, you are an Ironman.”

Crossing the finish line was overwhelming, trying to take in all that was happening around me and everything that I had done to get to that moment. Mike Reilly, the author of Finding My Voice, coined the phrase “you are an Ironman.” For 30 years, Reilly called people across the Ironman finish line. To him, “Completing an Ironman isn’t just something you do, it’s something you become.” That becoming takes time, commitment, and mental toughness. All three of these qualities relate to mindset.

When training new coaches, we talk about the mindset a coach must bring to the coaching relationship to support and facilitate client growth and change. As coaches, this mindset is about believing in the client and recognizing that our clients are creative, resourceful, and whole. In training for long endurance events, it occurred to me that as coaches we also need to cultivate and support the mindset of our clients, to ensure they bring the mindset they need to be successful in reaching their goals. We need to help them build some mental toughness. Below are three lessons I’ve learned from endurance training that we can apply to our coaching journeys.

Lesson 1: Change is often uncomfortable.

Training for an endurance event is about adaptation. Without getting too technical, training helps your body build resilience and increase efficiency so that it can do what it is you’re asking it to do.  Adaptation does not come easy. First, we must physically stress our bodies to build physical strength. It doesn’t always feel good to physically stress our bodies—it can even hurt! Second, our human brain ensures that adapting (changing) will come with a mental struggle. Our brains are wired to keep us comfortable, so anything that requires us to move out of our comfort zone will encounter a strong response from our sympathetic nervous system, our brain’s fight-flight-freeze function. In order to step outside of our comfort zone, we need to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable (i.e., develop mental toughness). How long it takes to gain that mental toughness will depend on how big the goal is.

Change is often uncomfortable. As coaches, it’s imperative to keep in mind that the change isn’t just about doing something different; it’s also about becoming something different on a cognitive level. Help your clients identify situations or events that can trigger their discomfort and get in the way of their personal growth, and encourage them to consider how they will negotiate with themselves to overcome those barriers. Understand this is about being uncomfortable, not unsafe. There is a difference in these types of risk, and you may want to discuss how they are different for your client. Make sure your clients set realistic expectations about how much time they need to achieve their goals. The bigger the goal, the smaller the steps, which may require more time than expected. Everyone adapts/changes at their own pace.

Lesson 2: Consistency is key.

Change takes time and consistency. Spending time doing something outside of your comfort zone on a regular basis is key to change. For me, that day in September 2021 was long and challenging, but the training on my path to becoming an Ironman—spending time outside my comfort zone—was even more difficult than the actual event. In the time (many months!) it took for me to prepare for the event, there were days when it was all I could do to get myself out the door to do what was on my training plan. There were many days and many hours of training that required a constant negotiation with myself to just keep going during the workout, even though I was feeling like I wanted to do anything but follow the plan for the day. By the time I made it to the start line on event day, my training had ensured that I had the physical strength and mental toughness to negotiate the task before me. The training that led me to the start line on race day was days and hours of grinding, outside my comfort zone, toward my goal. The event was the victory lap.

In order to achieve a goal, a person needs to put forth consistent effort that will move them toward it. This is about doing something, anything, related to their goal as often as possible. In the context of coaching, in most cases related to making a change, it doesn’t matter how much effort, just that there is effort. As a coach, identifying specific steps and accountability measures and/or an accountability partner can help increase consistency in effort.

Lesson 3: Vary the course.

In any change endeavor, spending time outside your comfort zone is important to growth. In training for an endurance event, this means varying intensity and including days for recovery, as well as finding routes with variations in elevation and distance. The path that leads to achieving change should include things that are easy and familiar (maybe even still somewhat within one’s comfort zone at times) and move toward steps that are appropriately challenging and novel. This means moving outside one’s comfort zone incrementally and in a variety of ways.

As a coach, our role in this journey is to encourage our clients to know that it’s okay to be uncomfortable (not unsafe, just uncomfortable), to support them as they step outside their comfort zone at least as often as they stay inside it (more is better, but 50/50 is a good place to start), and to help them consider new and differing ways of moving toward their goal.

Bonus lesson: Ring the cowbell!

There are so many lessons from being an endurance athlete that can be applied in coaching. I’d be remiss if I did not mention spectator energy—the cheering fans and crowds—and its impact on an athlete during an event. The cheers and encouraging signs help keep the athlete present to what is happening in the moment and drown out their brain’s natural tendency to want to call them back to their comfort zone (i.e., stop or quit). Being alongside your client on their journey, and ringing the proverbial cowbell to remind them to stay focused on their goal, will make the variations on their path easier to overcome. 

As coaches, we know that becoming—adapting to a new way of being—takes time. It is an honor and privilege to be invited on a client’s journey of becoming. Make the most of this invitation and your role by doing what you can to help set your clients up for success.

The Season of Being: How Coaching Can Shed Light on Our Hopes and Dreams

Kavitha Kailasam Coaching Blog Cover


Kavitha Kailasam | October 2022

Fall is my favorite time of year. As the season changes, I’m reminded to pause, reflect, and just “be,” even while on the brink of the busy holiday season. This month, my holiday season kicks off with Deepavali. It’s an energizing time of year. We connect with family and friends. We decorate our homes with lights and prepare our favorite foods to share. And we build memories and traditions around this season.

But it can also be a frantic time of year. When October comes around, I see the calendar filling up and feel like the year will be over in the blink of an eye. I feel overwhelmed and have been known to make a hasty decision or two. For example, it was this time of year, many years ago, that I decided to break up with my then-boyfriend. The rush of the upcoming holidays amplified my fear of the unknowns and I decided to end the relationship before I became too overwhelmed.

Stress, overwhelm, and anxiety are not uncommon in this season. With the swirl of activities and the pressures on our time, our brains become hyper-focused on to-do lists and problem-solving. We become less able to just “be.” As I learned in the Butler Institute’s Academy of Professional Coaching, brain science can help us understand two networks in our brains—the Task Positive Network (TPN) and the Default Mode Network (DMN). Both networks influence our ways of understanding and, in turn, influence our decision-making (Betz, 2015).

We engage the TPN and the DMN at different times, through different activities, and for different purposes. The TPN engages with more perceptual and analytical concepts, while the DMN engages with more social and emotional concepts. The TPN helps us focus and make decisions on particular issues, often being the network that is stimulated when we are reflecting on the past. The DMN, in contrast, allows us to think more broadly and encourages an open-ended mindset. While they work at different times, they both perform very important functions (Boyatzis and Jack, 2018).

The art and science of coaching can leverage these understandings, intentionally drawing us into the TPN or the DMN when one or the other seems to be overused and not in service of our ultimate values and aspirations. When my “get stuff done” energy activated the TPN, I was motivated to take hold of the uncertainty I was feeling and end my relationship right before the holidays. A good friend then flew into town, spent my birthday with me, and helped me slow down and think about the future. Engaging the DMN in this way helped me imagine what might be if I allowed the relationship to take its course and approached it from a space of dreaming rather than doing. The possibilities became inspiring rather than daunting. I reconnected with the boyfriend, and now, seven years later, we find ourselves with a baby who will turn one next month, adding more celebrations to the season and dreams for the future!

With a good coach (or a friend who asks good coach-like questions), instead of being swept into the frenzy, I can be more thoughtful and make sure my “doing” is aligned with my way of “being.” I can turn the chaos into energy that nurtures me rather than drains me. I can celebrate the season’s gifts, embracing the light that sheds knowledge, awareness, and being.

Sharing the Value of “What Could Be” Through Coaching

Rachel Fore Coaching Blog Photo

Rachel Fore | September 2022

After more than 20 years of working, I am at a unique place where I can see experiences that shaped me and evaluate the contributions I want to make in the human-serving field before I retire. With years spent in the corporate world peddling products and services; a decade working for my own tribal nation, Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma; and my more current systems-level role in human services, developing healthy communities is the most important outcome when it comes to the work that I do. Healthy communities can only exist when people are seen, valued, and heard for who they truly are.

My coaching journey began in the last two years through formal training systems, but looking back at my career choices, coaching was always an important part of how I led those I had the opportunity to supervise. As I engaged in formal coaching training, the experience gave me many more skills and insights to add to what I already practiced and helped me to understand the impact coaching can have on myself and others. Coaching has provided the opportunity for me to contribute to the many communities I am part of by helping people connect their values to their life’s work. Watching and guiding this kind of personal and professional growth drives my work, and connection and relationship are at the heart of how I engage with people.

As I engage in connection and relationship with those I am coaching, I am always drawn to the “what could be.” How do people experience the world around them? What do their perspectives show them? What are their values, and how do those values drive their interactions in the world? Working with clients in this space and being a part of someone’s process of discovering “what could be” is an honor that I take seriously. Helping clients think deeply about what they are experiencing and the reason they chose coaching allows me to live out my community-focused values as clients discover or bring forth their own. Each coaching experience feeds my belief in the value of connection, and honoring how values drive interactions helps create the connection between coach and client. 

Helping people discover how their values impact their behavior is one of the elements of coaching that deeply connects me to this work. As people start to live intentionally guided by their values, their focus starts to center in on “what could be,” which helps bring forth their authentic self. In today’s world, we’re barraged with nonstop information, and it can be hard to determine the right decisions, right paths, or right next steps. Some people default to a very technical decision-making space, and that doesn’t always match who they want to be in this world or in their work. The deeper work of living one’s values is something that coaching keeps at its core. The coaching relationship can help those who are looking to live more authentic lives (at home and at work) by bringing deeply held values into their interactions regularly.

As we dream of “what could be” in the coaching relationship, we can look to our values as the foundation of the dream and work together to build a path for clients to attain that dream. This experience is client led as they discover through each session what creates the steps on the path for them to move along. Being able to be a traveler on this path with the client is something that I honor.

As I continue in my own coaching journey, I see myself as part of a bigger picture that creates spaces where people can live out their values, bring forth their authentic selves, and experience well-being as an ever-present feeling. Being a coach affords me the opportunity to contribute to healthy communities through connections and relationships and be a part of that systems-level change that I wish to see in the human-serving field. 

Intersection of Life and Trauma-Informed Coaching

Sommer Purdom Trauma has impacted so many people that the question now is not whether a person has experienced trauma but rather how much trauma they have experienced.

Sommer Purdom | July 2022

According to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, one in six adults have experienced four or more traumatic experiences in their lives. Trauma impacts an individual’s way of being, such as their physical and mental health, cognition, behavior, emotions, brain development, relationships, and emotional intelligence. Trauma has impacted so many people that the question now is not whether a person has experienced trauma but rather how much trauma they have experienced.

Individuals who have faced adversity are different in the way they think, act, feel, and express themselves. To connect and form a coaching alliance based upon mutual trust, the coaching approach must also differ with these individuals. While all professional coaches can support others through questions and personalized approaches to growth, trauma-informed coaching is a specialized way to connect to clients and help them make decisions based on resiliency.

Trauma-informed coaching means coaching with the knowledge that most people I come in contact with have been impacted by an adverse experience at some point in their lives. Keeping that understanding in mind helps me partner with them in a thought-provoking, creative, client-driven way that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional growth. As a colleague at Butler once said, being trauma-informed is not something a coach can just pick up and put on whenever they feel it applies; it is a way of being. Trauma-informed coaching is a way of understanding the presence of past trauma, its current effects on a client, and how to use the client’s resiliency to guide them along their path toward solution-focused growth.

Trauma has had a profound and personal impact on my own life. My childhood adversities impacted me into adulthood, and it was no surprise when I began my professional coaching journey that I immediately gravitated toward coaching from a trauma-informed perspective. As a professional coach, I want to be equipped to meet everyone where they are. Recognizing that most of the unique individuals I work with have potentially been affected by trauma allows me to create a safe and trusting environment and hold a better understanding of clients’ behaviors and challenges as well as their remarkable ability to overcome, adapt, and transform through long-lasting sustainable change.

By understanding the different types of trauma and their effect on individuals, I can take a trauma-informed coaching approach that focuses on the physical, emotional, psychological, and cultural safety of each client. This approach creates a more inclusive space that allows for diverse perspectives and everyone’s voice to be heard. Further, meeting people where they are in a safe space can empower individuals by giving choice and agency in each interaction.

In my early experiences as a coach, I met with an individual multiple times. At each session she informed me that she had no idea what she really expected from the coaching experience, and I noticed that she exhibited no internal drive for growth and transformation. She had experienced generational racism as an adolescent and even as a young adult first responder. When we began to identify those traumatic experiences for what they were and their current effect on our coaching relationship, I watched this client blossom. She began to identify more self-awareness and started thinking about how she could have a positive impact on others. Her confidence increased, and her passion to persevere fueled her intrinsic motivation and improved her self-regulation and social skills. We quickly moved on to be able to identify goals for growth and instill self-confidence that she had the skillset needed to meet each personal goal she had set for herself. 

As this example illustrates, coaching from a trauma-informed approach provides individuals with a greater awareness of their personal strengths and individual worth. It can open the door to new possibilities; improve relationships; increase an appreciation for life; and support physical, emotional, and psychological growth.

I love walking with others along the path of discovering one’s self-worth and personal and professional superpowers. Since becoming a professional coach, I’ve grown along with my clients as we identify and embrace the differences everyone brings to the coaching relationship. Partnering with each client, we work to rediscover their confidence; hone their ability to adapt well to change, manage conflict, and grow during difficult situations; and instill a passion for achieving their goals.


3 Things I Learned in My Coaching Program

Christa Doty Coaching Gives People the opportunity and the skills to slow down and make room to reflect, and that time for reflection allows us to uncover solutions and growth opportunities we might have missed

Christa Doty | March 2022

Eight years ago, I was mid-career and mid-life. My career in social work continued to be meaningful though a little rote.  I didn’t want to “move up” into administration because what I loved to do was work with people and facilitate change directly, but I was itching to grow and try new things. While I could be content with my place at Butler, I kept asking myself, “Was this it for the next 25 years?”  

This self-reflection got underway just as coaching started gaining steam as a mainstream profession.  Popular in the corporate world for years, coaching was beginning to be seen as a good investment to support and retain the workforce in the government and nonprofit world where I made my home.     

With my background in social work, coupled with my experiences training new workers and seasoned staff, coaching seemed like a perfect path to connect my interests in on-the-ground changemaking. I started “coaching” and something was missing. Yes, we were coming up with ideas to solve a problem, but it seemed as if the coaching sessions lacked depth. We were staying on the surface and not unpacking the nuanced layers beneath where real change could happen in various projects but quickly realized something. It became clear I needed to dig deeper into this coaching thing.   

Even with my newfound curiosity and an opportunity to attend an accredited International Coaching Federation coaching school, I still went to the first day of class thinking that since I had been in the “helping” field for 20 years, all I needed to do was “check the boxes.”   

I couldn’t have been more wrong.  

While I did have some foundational knowledge that prepared me for the coaching practice—a formal education focused on human development and change management, as well as various work roles that offered opportunities to cultivate empathy and self-awareness—, by going through a formal coaching program, I not only learned to pivot those skills to be used in different ways; I was profoundly changed by the experience.    

The coaching program I joined uncovered three epiphanies that have transformed my work as a professional coach: 


  1. Coach the person, not the problem.  In my earlier “coaching” work, something was missing in the sessions, and through a formal coaching program, I realized I was focusing on the problem and not the whole person. We are not compartmentalized entities that come to work but whole beings with values, beliefs, and cultural experiences that influence how we approach and interact in situations. To be a coach is to honor the whole person and bring that perspective into any interaction.   
  2. There are little agendas and big agendas, and we often confuse the two.  People come to coaching wanting answers. Often, they have a presenting problem, and that becomes their focus. In reality, the presenting problem is just the little agenda. The big agenda is what lives behind the presenting problem – what value is being stepped on, what aspiration is not being fulfilled, how the individual may be inadvertently influencing the situation. As a coach, I can help someone’s  little agenda through exploring and working on the big agenda.   
  3. Be open to magical transformations—no matter your age.  Part of being a coach is doing the work ourselves. Through my coaching program, I learned how to honor all my brilliance and accomplishments, while at the same time recognizing areas where I was still holding back—even in my 50s. I was able to recognize that  my value of humility was getting in the way of also sharing my expertise with confidence. My deeply held belief in being grateful for the “here and now” had become an excuse to not push myself to communicate my needs in relationships so that they could continue to deepen and grow. Coaching helped me be open to magical transformation.   

I had thought being mid-career and mid-life, I was using my skills at their optimal level, that I knew myself and I had 90% of my life figured out. By going through a formal coaching program, I gathered tools to reframe this thinking. A fulfilling life, in fact, wasn’t about a percentage system; it was more like sediments in a rock building each layer to make me stronger and more resilient.  

Coaching encouraged me to approach life with a “both/and” mindset. I can know myself and be successful and satisfied while at the same time remain open to pushing myself to grow. So much of our modern culture focuses on movement, chasing the next big thing, and living in reaction mode. Coaching gives people the opportunity and the skills to slow down and make room to reflect, and that time for reflection allows us to uncover solutions and growth opportunities we might have missed.  

Coaching helped me see a path for myself for the next 25 years, one where I can keep building the layers of my mountain as I grow and learn.

How Coaching Can Help Align Your Decisions With What You Value Most

Coaching Blog: Brenda Lockwood headshot and quote - "Coaching helped me slow down and align my decisions with my values and strengths. "

Brenda Lockwood | February 2022

Have you ever been trucking along in your life only to arrive at a time or a place and think, I wish I had done that differently? Maybe you’ve made a decision without thinking about what you truly wanted the outcome to be or tried something because you thought it would be a good idea and then ended up realizing it was a mistake.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too!

The latest neuroscience research finds that our subconscious minds control 95% of our lives. That’s right: 95% of our brain activity lies beyond our conscious awareness. From habits, behavior patterns and automatic body functions to emotional responses, personality, beliefs and values, cognitive biases, creativity and long-term memory, the subconscious influences the decisions we make and the actions we take in our lives.

It’s a beautiful thing, really. The fact that most of what we do and say happens without us even having to think about it can help life move efficiently. Imagine if you had to think about each specific action you needed to take to brush your teeth in the morning. How long would it take you to do this simple task if you had to stop and think through every step necessary to get the toothpaste from its tube onto your teeth?

The subconscious mind is a beautiful thing, until it isn’t. Relying on your subconscious to make the decision to brush your teeth in the morning isn’t likely to have a big impact on important decisions you’re making in your life. But, what about decisions that will have an impact on your life if you don’t spend some time thinking about them first?

I tend to be one of those people who often leaps before she looks. I like to make decisions based on what feels right in the moment. If you know me, you know that I am enthusiastic and optimistic and live life as it comes. Living life as it comes usually means, at least for me, that the subconscious mind drives my actions. Much of the time this approach to life works for me; however, there are times when it doesn’t. 

Ten years ago, I woke up one day and quit my job. I was feeling frustrated in the work I was doing and decided it was time to step out on my own as an independent consultant in the human services field. I had the connections I needed to procure projects that would keep a steady revenue stream coming my way. I’d be just fine, I thought, and off on my own I went.

The next two years were filled with a lot of work, a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of headaches. While I managed to stay busy with projects, I hadn’t considered that working as an independent contractor would require more time and attention to details. I was passionate about the consulting I was doing, but I wasn’t interested in administrative details, like learning how to use software to manage invoicing and payments. It didn’t take long before I felt more frustrated than I did when I was working as a team member in an organization.

Finding myself in a situation where I really did not want to be left me feeling embarrassed and vulnerable. I decided to talk to a coach who worked with small business owners, and they helped me unpack the excitement and enthusiasm I had for wanting to work as an independent consultant in the first place. We worked on aligning my values with what I actually had the capacity and competence to do. Basically, my coach helped slow me down and connect to all the wisdom that resides in my subconscious mind – that 95% of my brain which was always available to me and which I hadn’t taken the time to consult.  

Since that time as an independent consultant, I’ve gone back to working within an organization, where I find value in being part of a team. I completed a coach training program and have learned more about how the human brain functions when making decisions. I now spend much of my time at Butler Institute for Families, coaching others on how to slow down and align their decisions with their values and strengths. Basically, I help others connect to that 95% of their brain that is waiting to share its wisdom with them!

I love the feeling when I get to witness the people I coach have “aha” moments those moments that come when their values align with what it is they really want in their lives. I always say to myself – I get it! And, I really do. If you’re interested in joining me in our coaching program and want to learn about what Butler offers, visit our page for more info.