Co-Active Coach Training from the Perspective of a Left-Brain Agile Coach

That which does not kill us makes us stronger – F. Nietzsche

As those of you who follow my blog know, last year I attended the Agile Team Coaching Class with Lyssa Adkins and Michael Hamman. The wealth of knowledge I gained in this class literally changed the course of my life. You may think that I am being a bit melodramatic,” but the truth of the matter is that this class, more than all the others I have taken, so intensified my desire not just to do Agile but to be Agile that I decided to devote myself totally to being and doing just that.

Being Agile and doing Agile requires a great deal of knowledge. I can honestly say that the more I think I know, the more I know I don’t know. As the clients and teams I work with deserve the best value I can bring to them, I am consistently working to improve my skills as an Agile Coach.

My desire for continuous improvement led me to enroll in an Agile Coaching Circle with the Agile Coaching Institute The circle, which ran for two months and was broken down into six, ninety-minute sessions, consisted of nine attendees and two coaches (David Chilcott and Volker Frank). The topics covered in these highly informative sessions included Levels of Listening, Designing Alliances, Accountability, and Powerful Questions. Each session also included time for paired practice.

The Agile Coaching Circle was a good start, but it left me wanting more. As luck would have it, I started a project in San Francisco and ran into David and Volker at an Agile Leadership Network meeting they were hosting in Oakland. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with them, face-to-face, about some questions I had regarding Co-Active Coach training.

I had initially heard about Co-Active Coaching from Lyssa Adkins. Needing to learn more, I kicked into high gear and began researching the topic. I spent hours perusing Co-Active Coaching sites, watching videos, and reading blogs and books. After reading “Co-Active Coaching, Changing Business Transforming Lives,” by Henry Kimsey-House, Karen Kimsey-House, Phillip Sandahl, and Laura Whitworth, I knew I needed an Agile coach’s opinion on the subject.

As David is both a Master Agile Coach and a Certified Co-Active Coach, I highly valued his opinion on the subject. He and one of his colleagues spoke to my concern that Co-Active Coaching techniques might not be applicable to Agile coaching. They both felt the tools I would learn in the Co-Active Coaching classes would make me a better Agile coach. I mulled over David’s advice, continued my research, and read “Co-Active Coaching, Changing Business Transforming Lives,” several more times before deciding to register for the full Co-Active Coach Core Training Program.

Thus my journey into Co-Active Coach training began. I was fortunate in that all of the courses I needed were being conducted in Austin, Texas, so I didn’t have a long or expensive commute. General descriptions of the five core courses can be found at the Coaches Training Institute website:

Before I go any further, I want to be very open about the fact that I am more of a left-brain person. I am logical, analytical, and linear—a just tell me the facts and get to it kind of a person. Please keep this in mind as you continue reading. As I spent 104 hours in these classes, there is no way I could write about all of my experiences. What follows is a condensed overview of each class, some of my experiences, and some of the ways that I have incorporated what I learned into my Agile coaching.

Fundamentals: This class introduces the Co-Active Coaching Model, which can be found at Other topics covered included Levels of Listening, Designed Alliance, Establishing an Agenda, etc. Several of the topics discussed had been covered in the Agile Coaching Circle and the Agile Team Coach Training I attended. The new knowledge and coaching skills I learned in this class fit well with and reinforced the knowledge and skills that I had previously learned.

In this class, as in all the others that followed, hands-on coaching practice was the norm. The time spent in coaching and in being coached by my classmates helped me to hone my skills and enabled me to clearly identify the strengths and weaknesses of my own coaching process. The feedback from my fellow students and instructors helped me to cut through my internal blocks and achieve emotional breakthroughs. I learned a great deal during this class—not just about coaching but also about myself.

My takeaway from this class was the reinforcement of a set of tools that I had already been using in my Agile coaching. These tools, the Designed Alliance, the 3 Levels of Listening, and the use of Powerful Questions, are powerful tools that everyone involved in an Agile transformation should be skilled in, regardless of his/her role.

Fulfillment: In this class, I was guided through an inner life journey in order to ascertain my Life Purpose. My Life Purpose is, “To be the catalyst that helps individuals, teams, and organizations reach their highest potential.” The importance of knowing and confirming one’s life purpose cannot be underestimated. For how can we, as coaches, bring value to our clients if we, ourselves, are not sure why we are there in the first place. My life’s purpose embodies who I am as an Agile coach. I am a catalyst for transformation.

I also identified my inner Saboteur, as well as my Captain and Crew. The Saboteur is that inner voice that tries to keep you from taking risks. Also known as the Inner Critic, it wants to maintain the status quo. The Saboteur feeds on your fears and insecurities and is not above using intimidation to keep you from stepping into the unknown. The Captain and Crew are the opposite of the Saboteur. They protect and support you, encourage you, and help you to overcome the Saboteur’s self-defeating limitations.

For me, personally, this class was a great awakening. The exercises and coaching sessions opened my eyes and my heart to areas of self-doubt and insecurity that had plagued me both in my personal life and in my career. The tools presented in this class then helped me to overcome many of my own self-defeating habits. Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that I have mastered these techniques. What I am saying is that I will continue working with these techniques to gain mastery of my own Inner Critic.

As an Agile coach, I have used the tools presented in this class to help my teams identify and work through areas of resistance and doubt. It is important to note that once the teams were able to identify where the resistance and doubt were really coming from, they were able to see the real issues at hand and were able to overcome them.

Balance:  This was a very difficult class for me. When you look at the syllabus and read about Balance in the Co-Active Coach book it seems pretty up front. Balance consists of a formula that is based on perspective, choice, co-active strategy, commitment, and action; easy, right?  Not so fast partner—this class, at least for me, was so much MORE.

Like I said at the beginning, I’m a left-brain kind of a guy. I don’t go for all the “touchy-feely, woo woo” kind of stuff. To be honest, metaphors are far too amorphous for me; and role-playing and dancing in the moment, well, this crusty old Marine just wasn’t having any of it. As you can imagine, this resistance really affected my learning.

It didn’t help that one of the coaching assistants kept telling me that I was going to get it—the “it” being the Balance principle. Couldn’t he tell by my crossed arms and pursed lips that I didn’t want to get it? Well, at least not in the way that it was being presented. I wanted everything to be cut and dry. I wanted definitions and set guidelines.

In this class, I was challenged to step out of my own preconceived notions of what a coaching session should look like and step into an open free-flowing session that took the client through several different stages of what I considered metaphorical reasoning. After spending over twenty years in the military, I found this almost impossible.

Here’s the amazing thing. I got through the class—albeit with a lot of residual questions not just about the process but also about myself. And, in the end, the coaching assistant was right. I did get it. Oddly enough, I got it while watching Oprah Winfrey interview Amy Purdy, a Paralympic Bronze Medalist and overall incredible person. In the middle of the interview, Amy was talking about the fact that at the lowest point in her life she had felt like giving up but instead asked herself if her life was a book how would she want it to be written. I turned to my wife and said, “That’s Balance. She is using the metaphor of her life being a book to change her perspective.”

After re-reading the material and giving it much thought, I was able to see the cord that connected the principle of Balance to Agile coaching. That cord is perspective. As Agile Coaches, we need to be able to help our teams/organizations look at things from different perspectives. We then need to help them make choices based on these perspectives. Only then will we be able to help them commit to an action for which they will be willing to be held accountable. While it is highly unlikely I will ever use metaphors in my Agile coaching, this class has taught me never to say “never.”

In discussing client/coach relationships and expectations, one of the co-leaders of this class said something that really resonated with me. I have no doubt that I will use his words many times in the future and I quote, “You hired me to tell you the HARD truth.” Sometimes our clients may want us to compromise our values and beliefs; when this happens, call up your Captain and Crew and speak your truth. I will speak more on the subject of the Captain and Crew in the Synergy Section.

Process: “The goal of Process coaching is to give clients the opportunity to own their whole life . . . all of it. The peaks and valleys. The ups and downs. Too often people create their lives to avoid the highs and lows. . . . .” (Experiential Learning Guide, Co-Active Coaching Process 1).

This was another difficult class for me. The entire class was based on understanding and practicing the components of the Co-Active Energy Pattern. In this class, the coach is taught how to help the client work through his/her own stuck emotional energy issues. To do this, the coach must remain present during the process, which can, at times, feel unpleasant.

Sitting with emotions is not a skill-set I developed during my twenty plus years in the military. As a soldier, I was taught to adapt, improvise, and overcome. No matter what happens, a soldier is expected to pull him/herself up by the bootstraps and soldier on. To say that I had a difficult time sitting in that emotionally charged room for three days would be an understatement.

Thus far in my career as an Agile Coach, I have not had to deal with a client or team member in an extreme emotional state. I am not saying it will never happen. I am just saying it has not happened yet. I will also readily admit that I do not yet have the skill set to differentiate between this type of coaching and therapy. Perhaps that is why it made me feel so uncomfortable.

That said; I do acknowledge that people do bring their personal lives into the workplace; and as Agile Coaches, we may, at times, be placed in circumstances which may require us to deal with certain emotions and feelings. While we are not therapists, this type of knowledge may be useful to prevent a bad situation from getting out of hand.

I also believe that clients and coaches very often mirror each other, so it would behoove the coach, Agile as well as Co-Active, to deal with his/her own stuck emotional energy before trying to help the client do so. This class heightened my awareness of this fact. It also reinforced my own belief that the coach must always strive to stay present with his/her individual clients and team members.

Synergy: Synergy is the last class of the Co-Active Coach Training; this is the culmination of all the previous classes.

We started this class with an exercise called Pacing. We walked around the room and on command of the leaders would change the pace of our walking from fast pace, to ½ pace, to ¼ pace, and then to what I call a snail’s pace. All the while we were instructed to pay attention to what we were thinking, feeling, and experiencing; how we were breathing, whether we were looking at each other or at the floor, and which direction we were walking in (talking was not permitted).

This was an interesting exercise. We were not told in which direction to walk—only the pace at which we were to walk and to be mindful of what was going on within ourselves. When we began, we were all walking in different directions—we really were all over that room; however, by the end of the exercise, we were all going in the same direction. This exercise highlighted the importance of pace in coaching sessions.

In another exercise, we were told to pick up labels that the course leaders had placed on the floor. Once we had our labels, we were told to embody them. The labels included the diva, the samurai warrior, the drill sergeant, the super hero, the messy baby, and the mud wrestler. Once again, my left-brain took over and began to question the premise of this exercise. I am not going to lie; I had a really hard time with this one.

Just when I thought it was over, the course leaders added another step to the process. This time, one person would be the coach (A) and the other person would be the client (B). The client would drop his/her label; however, the coach would have to coach embodying the label. Before you tell me to quit whining, imagine this: I went from being a samurai warrior to being a diva in a matter of minutes. I am still not sure what value I can place on this exercise. This one is still percolating in my brain.

On day one, we also discussed the importance of voice when coaching and went through the Co-Active Model Cornerstones:

People are Naturally Creative, Resourceful, and Whole
Dance in This Moment
Focus on the Whole Person
Evoke Transformation

The course leaders laid the Co-Active Coaching Model Map out on the floor. We paired up and coached each other from one of the cornerstones. After a few minutes, we rotated around to another cornerstone. We did this until we had coached each other from each of the four cornerstones.

This class also took us into a deeper exploration of our life purpose and the synergy of our Captain and Crew. In fact, our homework at the end of day one was to create a visual of the synergy of our Captain and Crew. Examples could include collages, vision boards, assemblages, and sculptures, collections of objects, and photos or videos on devices. Thanks to my wife, I didn’t have a problem with this assignment.

In the Co-Active Coaching Fundamentals’ class, we had discussed the different energies that we were intuiting in one another as well as the energies we needed to embody to become better coaches. I am not going to lie; I had built a pretty high wall around myself. Must have been higher than even I thought. Several of my classmates told me that I needed to embody the energy of a Care Bear. Thank you Angela B, Matt, Jane, and Kyle. When I told my wife, she laughed and then went out and bought me a set of small plastic care bears. As you can see from the picture below, my team was in place and ready to rock-and-roll.


On day two, we were asked to pair up with someone and to explore the various facets of our Captain and Crew. We were being asked to look at them with different eyes—to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and to discover attributes we had possibly overlooked. I had no problem with this exercise. While I may not yet possess the ability to dance in the moment metaphorically, I do understand teams. I have spent my life working with teams and on teams. I understand how they work, and I understand how they play.

Now it was time for me to honestly evaluate my own internal team—my Crew! While my original Crew Members all embodied the energy of a Marine Rifle Squad, I decided it might be time to bring in some new blood, so to speak; and, in so doing, bring about a more balanced energetic playing field. So, I retired, with good benefits, mind you, a few of the Devil Dogs on my team. In turn, I decided it might be time to promote some of my Care Bears. Of course, they had to complete ‘boot camp’ training to ‘earn’ the right to be a member of my crew. Oh, come on now, I can only change so fast. One day at time! That’s all I’m saying.

Another exercise that I found extremely useful and very relevant to Agile coaching was based on mirroring. During this exercise, we learned about range and the three attributes of Authentic Expression: Fierce Courage, Aliveness, and Connection. Again, we paired up and without talking one of us would be the coach and the other the client; the coach decided what movements to perform and the client mirrored the coach. At a designated time, we would switch roles; and for the final part, we would both mirror each other simultaneously, which was interesting.

In my opinion, this type of mirroring exercise is a very valuable tool that we, as Agile Coaches, can use to deepen connections and improve communication between individuals as well as teams. Non-verbal communication is an integral link in human interaction. Unfortunately, non-verbal communication tends to be overlooked when we are dispersed and communicating globally. With this in mind, I am going to be working to develop different methods of using this type of exercise for remote situations. If any of you have any suggestions, please feel free to email me.

The last day of the Synergy Class was bittersweet for me. I had been working and learning with these men and women since December. We had shared our fears, our heartbreaks, and our joys. We had laughed and sometimes cried together. But more importantly, we had experienced being “present” with each other in a very safe space without being judged or ridiculed.

At the end of the Fundamentals’ Class, I had questioned my ability to be a Co-Active Coach. As I said earlier, I am a left-brainer. This type of logical and rational thinking served me well in my military career and in my career as a software engineer and an Agile Coach. But my desire not just to do Agile but also to be Agile, led me to go deeper down the rabbit hole. I wanted to take my role as a Servant Leader to a new level.

I wanted to go past the processes, strategies, methodologies, and tools. I wanted to be able to truly understand my team members and clients. I wanted to be able to delve deeply into their organizational and personal cultures and provide REAL value to them. My Co-Active training is just one step in this journey.

My experiences during my Co-Active training have helped me to step outside of myself—to see things from many different perspectives. This training forced me to look deep within my own self—to see and own my strengths and weaknesses, both as a human being and as a coach. It also helped me to delve more deeply into the coaching process; thereby, enabling me to better understand those I am coaching.

Now, I am probably never going to be a “touchy-feely” type of guy, but my Co-Active training has taught me how to open up more and how to find balance between my left-brain and right-brain. In the end, I have to say that I am glad that I took the plunge. And I am truly grateful to the instructors, assistants, and all of my classmates for sharing their knowledge and life experiences with me.

So, you may be wondering if this training has made me a better Agile Coach. The answer to that question is a resounding YES! As stated throughout this article, I am using several of the tools I learned in this class in my Agile coaching. I no longer doubt that I can be a Co-Active Coach because I did it. I got in touch with my own inner compass, dug in, dug deep, worked the process my way, and became a Co-Active Coach.

I will close this article with a quote taken from an inscription at Apollo’s Temple in Delphi, “Know Thyself!” And I will add my own maxim: If you do not know yourself—at the deepest levels—it will be very difficult to truly know others. And if you do not possess the ability to truly know others, how will be ever be able to help them to transform.

Be Safe and BE Agile


  1. Steve Crago on April 5, 2015 at 7:53 pm
  2. allisonpollard on April 9, 2015 at 1:37 am

    Wow, thanks for sharing–it’s amazing to hear someone else’s story about exploring coaching to bring it into the agile world. 🙂

  3. Jake Calabrese on May 13, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    Steve, this is fantastic! I love the balance from what you did in class to what you learned and how you applied it. Amazing story – thank you for sharing! Also, thanks for your insight in the open space session we were in in #sgphx.

  4. Pradeep Bindra on February 20, 2020 at 9:41 pm

    That’s awesome Steve. Very insightful and helpful. Thanks for sharing.

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