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Agile Coach & Life Coach … Both/And

This week, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic exceeding 250,000 cases worldwide and over 10,000 deaths, I focused on finishing my certification for Master Life Coach with the team at Transformation Academy. With my focus on helping others find Deep Joy through life purpose, contribution, courage, community, and challenge, I believe the world will need me (and many other coaches) more than ever. 

My journey to Life Coach has been circuitous. My career has been spent in the world of software development. Long ago, I was a programmer (before we called this role ‘developer’), and for most of the technical part of my career, I was a data analyst/architect, gathering requirements from end users about what data they’d want their new system to store and what they’d want the system to do. It was a very human-facing role in the world of software. I was never the one coding in the backroom. I was always the one with the pen at the whiteboard talking about possibilities and needs, always the one talking to the business team about what they wanted their future system to do. 

In 1996, I moved into leadership roles. As a normal introvert (INTJ, for most of my life), I developed an approach to management that was decidedly human and humane. I was guided by books like:

  • Leadership is an Art
  • Leadership Jazz: The Essential Elements of a Great Leader
  • Developing the Leader Within You
  • Flight of the Buffalo / Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead
  • The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus
  • The Power Principle / Influence with Honor
  • The Rise of the Creative Class
  • The One Minute Manager
  • The Situational Leader

These books taught me the servant leader approach long before Agile ever hit the scene. They taught me about management integrity, managing with grace, visioning, adaptive planning, and working with creative people. In 2001, I had an amazing experience leading a software development team in Nashville, home to so many creative people, in an office with bright colors, an open floorplan (in the early days), a game room to spurn team bonding and creativity, and a neon fireplace. That space and that role was the culmination of all of those learnings. I was in heaven with 80 other creative software team members in a city with the most amazing music and songwriters. And then, in 2003, the dot-coms had crashed, and telecom followed. The team in Nashville was disbanded. I headed over to Vanderbilt to get a master’s Degree. 

In 2005, I was done with the master’s programs, but out of a management role. I trained with PMI in Project Management and capped that off with a PMP certification late that year. I was still the encapsulation of all of my learnings that came before. I had not mystically converted to a command-and-control style, but its funny now how people assume that’s the style everyone adopted if you got a PMP certification. 

Late in 2013, I was working as a PM and the team converted to the agile/scrum approach. I was not easily convinced that this new nirvana would work, but I dove in.  I shifted from my PMP training and strict long-term plans to sprint planning and self-governing teams. I learned the too (TFS)l and made the most of it in the project. I dug deep into many Agile books and approaches and earned a PMI Agile certification. I found a way to keep one foot in the Gantt charts and status reports that the upper management team wanted, and the other foot in the agile/scrum style approach for the team.  

The deeper I dug into Agile, Scrum, and Kanban, the more I saw evidence that this approach had the human values, collaboration, and flexible planning style that I had learned in the early management training. 

In 2017, I listened to Co-Active Coaching, a key book from 1998 that launched the profession of coaching. I also began a year-long engagement as a mentor through the Phoenix Fresh Start Women’s Foundation. Life was leading me into more opportunities for coaching. (While this program used the term ‘mentor/mentee’, the relationship was far closer to the current definition of ‘coach/coachee’.)

In 2019, while working as a scrum master and agile coach in Lisbon, I wanted to dig deeper into agile coaching. I took a class with Adventures with Agile, a training team certified by ICAgile, and a class that teaches professional coaching techniques (along with several others). I was happy to find a strong connectedness to the Co-Active Coaching techniques, and several team and management models I had learned so many years before (Tuckman, Cynefin, EQ, DiSC, Levels of Listening, and more). The idea of coaching was settling deeper into my heart and soul. 

Later in 2019, when my time in Lisbon ended, I began diving deeper into Life Coaching. For me, the alignment to Agile Coaching is clear, and both roles support the other. Goal-setting, adaptive and iterative plans, flexibility for change, team collaboration and communication, powerful questions for deep-rooted culture change, experiential learning. I can apply professional (life) coaching approaches when I’m agile coaching, and I can apply agile thinking with life coaching. Together, they make me better at what I do in either realm.

Both… And.  

This post was originally published as a LinkedIn article March 20, 2020.

Published by Thene Sheehy

Living & Working in Northern Portugal