A Tribute to My Teacher

PBLIn the spring of 2013, Amazon suggested that I read The Mindful Coach by Doug Silsbee. I did–on a 15 hour plane ride to Hong Kong. I was so excited by what I read that the first thing I did upon arriving in my hotel room was to go online and find out if Doug taught in person. He did. And, the program, Presence-Based Coaching, sounded wonderful.

Doug’s work combined many of the things I was already exploring (mindfulness, neuroscience. adult development) with other domains I’d never heard of (somatic work, polarity management, and more ) in a way that was both fresh and familiar. I would be able to deepen areas I wanted to work on and gain new ways of putting it all together.

So began 5 years of study–in person at a beautiful retreat center near Asheville, North Carolina and through a variety of online courses. Throughout that time, Doug kept building, adding, growing and expanding his understanding of leadership, coaching, our place as humans on this planet. He was generous enough to include us in his journey. And I was fortunate enough to be his student.

Some of the most important distinctions and insights that I’ve gained came from my work with Doug, and his partner Bebe Hansen. (Bebe has recently taken the reins at Presence-Based Coaching–meaning that the work is in great hands.) The polarity thinking framework, which is central to my work as a coach, facilitator and human being, was originally shared by Doug. When, on the last day of one of our retreats, Doug offered up the polarity of humility AND confidence to replace the dichotomy of confidence OR arrogance, my life changed in a moment. I felt liberated. Similarly, Doug helped me name the “scarcity habit” that was getting in  my way–which was an opening to seeing it clearly and embracing abundance.

Doug has focused much of his recent work on complexity. He introduced me to the work of Jennifer Garvey Berger, whose teachings have powerfully influenced my thinking and my work as well.

Doug’s newest book Presence-Based Leadership:Complexity Practices for Clarity, Resilience, and Results That Matter is now available. I’d encourage you to buy it—because it’s bound to be an awesome book and because I really want to see him sell a huge number! (More on the why of that, below.) Doug has been talking about the ideas and frameworks in this book for several years. They have evolved. They are practical and profound (just like Doug.) They are the work of a lifetime for both writer and reader.

At the same time as this book is being published, Doug is dying of a rare form of cancer. He is now in hospice care. He continues to include us (his friends, family, students) in his experience–and to face this phase of his life with curiosity–and as a space for practice. A recent post began with these words: “I’m a beginner at this. Dying, that is. We all know death is coming, and we are all beginners.” I sat with that for quite some time.

If you don’t know Doug, read his books, listen to podcast interviews of with Amiel Handelsman him and with Coaches Rising. Perhaps buy his newest book today–or one of his older ones. If you do know him, then I’m sure you and I are having many of the same feelings and sensations. It’s wonderful to have a teacher and hard to lose one. I’m grateful that Doug is guiding us in the journey.

Update: Read the preface and first chapter of Presence-Based Leadership today and am even more wholehearted in my recommendation. Doug is, among other things, a wonderful writer.