(and a shout out to a fellow coach and generous giver)

Recently I had a great experience working briefly with leadership coach Penny Terndrup and discovered more about the benefits of working with people using a systems coaching and constellations approach. This article is a shout out to her by way of a thank you, and a brief explanation of the significant clarity I gained on my own business development as I began to appreciate the systems (environments) I inhabit and my place in them.

Penny and I met on a shared project coaching local politicians. In a group supervision session we were both involved in I shared some questions I had been sitting with for a while about where was my strong place to stand in the systems I work within. This was both in my work as an executive coach but also as a person living working in a society I care about.

Resonating with some of these questions for herself, and both feeing that our conversation was not quite done, we met over Zoom a week later and worked to explore some of these questions I had using a constellations approach.

Sometimes words just aren’t enough

As coaches, our toolkit is often words framed into questions or reflections. We pride ourselves on the craft of our questions. We listen, we notice, and we use tools of silence too.

But sometimes words just aren’t enough and in those places where words can’t reach, pictures, shapes, and thinking in systems can.

We are all born into and belong in relational systems

If you buy John Whittington’s book, Systemic Coaching and Constellations, his first words encourage us to appreciate that “whilst it’s easy to think of ourselves and those we work with just as individuals, in truth we are all born into and belong in systems.” These systems are relational and when we begin to identify and understand the professional, organisational, educational etc environments we are a part of, we, in turn, start to identify and understand our place in it and what we are uniquely equipped to bring to it.

Lineage and positioning: what I discovered when I thought about my systems

So here’s what I discovered when I thought intentionally about some of my own systems and my place in them:

The picture here is what I created in my work with Penny. As you can see, it is the very finest in Miro-board art!

“Who do you need to acknowledge in your system in order to help you find and fully occupy with authority your place in it?”

As you read this (and if you are reading, thank you), I encourage you to use my own experience to reflect on your systems and where might you be standing in them? Who do you need to acknowledge in your system in order to help you find and fully occupy with authority your place in it?

As I drew, with simple questions from Penny and encouragement to think intuitively, I found myself discovering how the system of my family lineage supports and orients me as I work on behalf of others as an executive coach.

The big circle you can see is the system of my professional field. Around the edges are other coaches I know and appreciate and sometimes collaborate with (the little circles). The tilted square represents those clients I am most equipped to serve.

“I stand as an individual within a lineage of people who are all different but bear common themes”

Can you see the arrow? It took shape as I made shapes and moved them around the board. I am the yellow dot (yellow is my favourite colour!). Behind me standing in arrow-shaped formation are family members past and present. I stand as an individual within a lineage of people who are all different but bear common themes. Business owners and leaders, politicians local and national, church leaders. Compassionate businessmen (yes, they were mostly men. My arrow reaches back to the 1850s and this was a different era). Strong women, leaders of others at home and work. Communications specialists. Innovative, generationally-minded thinkers. Public servants in the truest form. And me. An individual standing in a line with a clear path ahead of her.

The family in my arrow all have and had flaws. We all do. But this exercise was about trying to recognise the positive attributes of those who have gone before and stand alongside me in service of their own professional fields in orders to recognise and celebrate my own.

It was a truly fascinating exercise. Essentially I was just drawing shapes on a whiteboard as I pondered over some questions I had and it was amazing to experience the clarity and cut-through that doing this had for me.

A picture is a thousand words. So too a picture of a system.


Whilst the concept of constellations was new to me, I have training in systems thinking from team coaching, and am familiar with different approaches to interpretation and perception from my research days. It’s probably fair to say that I have a longstanding and informed interest in the many different approaches a person can take to help them gain insight and I will always maintain that interpretation, whether it is of a text, a situation, or of oneself, is an holistic, simultaneously personal and communal, experience and never an exercise that should be purely confined to the mind. This interest (perhaps passion) has stayed with me across the academic, faith-centred, and business sectors I have inhabited across my career so far and it is partly why I was so intrigued by the systems and constellations approach. 

Penny has had training in systems coaching and constellations. She would probably be at pains to say that there are practitioners with more training than her but I trusted her to show me the basics because she is trained and proper training is important. As coaches, people trust us to help them gain insight into things that are really important to them. Training is a part of taking care to ensure we are equipped to do this well.

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