Peer Coaching Offers Unexpected Benefits in Women’s Leadership Program | Weatherhead School at Case Western Reserve University

Peer Coaching Offers Unexpected Benefits in Women’s Leadership Program

Posted 7.15.2021

Peer Coaching Offers Unexpected Benefits in Women’s Leadership Program

We all have a tendency to gravitate toward what is comfortable.  In fact, the more volatile and uncertain our world becomes, the stronger our instinct grows to seek solace in the familiar. But sometimes the things that provide us comfort also block us from making the changes we desire in life. No one understands this inclination better than Audrey Turley. 

Audrey works at Nelson Labs, a thriving, family-founded company committed to developing leadership skills and opportunities for women within the traditionally male-dominated organization.  A group of Audrey’s managers and peers at Nelson Labs selected her to participate in the Leadership Lab for Women in STEM and Manufacturing, offered by Weatherhead Executive Education. 

It was in a class taught by Professor Ellen Van Oosten that Audrey experienced her aha moment.  The group was engaged in an exercise illuminating the powerful effects visioning can have when used in a coaching conversation. 

Professor Van Oosten’s instructions to the class were to create their bucket lists using sticky notes, without thought about limitations such as money, time, resources, etc. They should imagine that anything was possible. In two minutes, Audrey filled 17 sticky notes with things she wanted to do before she died. 

As she was debriefing the exercise in her peer coaching group afterward, one of her classmates pointed out that unlike many of the items on her peers’ lists, Audrey’s dreams and goals weren’t outlandish at all. 

“She said, ‘You know, you could do any of these things right away.  None of these are impossible,’” Audrey recalled.  “And I realized, I can. There’s absolutely nothing stopping me.”

Audrey decided that what she wanted most of all was to get a new house. When the notion arrived, it felt at first like a sudden epiphany, because Audrey hadn’t given much thought to moving.  Then she realized that the idea had been simmering unconsciously for a long time.  

Audrey moved into her current house thirteen years ago, when she was pregnant with twins, and her husband was undergoing treatment for cancer. Eighteen months later, Audrey lost her husband to the disease. Audrey and her children continued to live in the house, surrounded by the love and support of family and friends, and the happy memories they created there together.

But Audrey was ready for a change.

“I just realized I was staying there out of not wanting to move on.  I was just stuck, and this course really woke me up to that,” she said.  “I really, really wanted some change, but I just needed somebody to kind of do it with me; I needed someone cheering me on and found that in my peer coaching group.”

Audrey realized that she had been relying on familiar surroundings to provide her with a sense of ease and belonging; staying in a house that no longer made her happy. The result is that she felt stuck in a rut, unable to escape the habits and patterns of the past. 

Instead, Audrey decided to seek the comfort she needed in her supportive relationships, and that’s where she found the strength which propelled her to make the changes she desired in her life. 

“I just needed that outside perspective,” said Audrey.  “The unexpected benefits of this course have been a new house for me and realizing that I can still do hard things!”

This article was written by Laura Weber Smith, director of coaching services and business development, Weatherhead Executive Education.

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