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  • Karen White & Leah Newman

Interview with Ontological Practioner: Leah Newman

By Karen White and Leah Newman

Could you share a little about your background in Ontological Coaching and where you are working currently?

I was first exposed to the Ontological Approach a number of years ago and was blown away. Firstly because of what I had observed other people achieve and then later on in applying it in my own life and getting amazing results, and I mean life-changing. Prior to this learning I was just caught in the drift of life and totally oblivious to myself. It was as though I was the captain of the ship and didn’t know it.

The place where I originally learned about Ontology wasn’t able to offer me the learning I was looking for and after many years, I discovered Ontological Coaching in South Africa, and the rest as they say is history.

In terms of my working background, I’ve been at the same financial services organisation for the past 8 years. My work was focused on evaluating and coaching consultants and since completing the Ontological Coaching and Leadership Programme I am now an in-house Ontological Practitioner, which I love! I offer workshops and individual coaching, and will share more about that later.

What was it about Ontological Coaching that you thought would be a good fit for the work you do in the organization?

Honestly, I think the Ontological Coaching approach fits into anything and everything. I had years of exposure to seeing how effective it has been in people’s lives and wanted to make it available.

At my organisation we’ve tried different approaches and there was no sustained success or effectiveness. After 8 years at the organisation, I was very familiar with the brand, the people, the processes, and the kinds of challenges that we were dealing with, as well as the different ways those challenges were attempting to be addressed.

It really was just a hunch but I put that hunch to the test and ran a few pilot workshops using an Ontological Approach and had a lot of success. Both with the workshops and the individual coaching, the results were undeniable – it produced hard business results, which was backed up by the consultants, and the Team Leaders as well.

What were those hard business results?

In summary, effectiveness and performance increased.. Other areas positively affected are:

  • Capacity to problem-solve

  • Better decision making

  • Increased productivity

  • Reduced error rate

  • Improved teamwork

And consultants share that they are happier and had a greater sense of wellbeing. From a happier space they make better decisions and they do better. Linked to the consultant’s feedback I hear from team leaders that they see positive changes in the person and their participation in the team.

Here are some verbatim comments from people who have attended the programmes:

  • “Excellent, I knew that this course was supposed to reframe my thinking and teach me new ways to challenge situations and learning, but I did not realise it would be so effective.”

  • “I have learnt a lot about myself and how to control my moods and emotions. This has made me less anxious and feeling in control of my life, my moods and emotions”.

  • “How the ‘always already listening’ affects our decisions, attitudes and ways of dealing with situations. I think also the fact that I can be a better communicator by being mindful and aware of my way of being.”

  • “It feels good not placing any emphasis on anyone else's control or chalking an outcome up to someone else. The insight I'm taking is that I can control my day, emotions and mindset, and mindset is very important to me. This leads towards my own personal sense of motivation”.

How did you go about getting the buy-in into being a full-time Ontological Practitioner and offering what you offer?

It was a multi-faceted approach, which started with me doing mini pilots. I would take a section of work and do a one-hour workshop with a group of consultants that I was already working with. We treated it as an experiment and I did a few of those over a period of 6 to 8 months to test what the results would be. I then took the results and the feedback to multiple leaders at various levels and showed them what was possible. I had a number of strategic conversations highlighting how we could address key challenges we were facing in the business.

We didn’t have the skills-set within the organisation and finding an external provider would mean we would be paying through the neck. I said I can fill the gap and can do it right now. My proposal included the resultant impact that I’d gotten off from the pilots I had been running and so it wasn’t a case of, let’s give this a chance to see if it works, I was showing them it does work.

It’s a great example of being influential

Yes and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without paying attention to what their key concerns were and speaking to that, which I learned how to do on the Ontological Coaching and Leadership Program. I shared that this is a business improvement strategy – we’ve just spent millions on new technology, new systems and employing new IT staff. I said, we’re doing all of this along with new products and new processes, but our human processes are what makes all of this stuff work and that’s the missing component that we need to address.

What are the levels you’ve been working with in the organisation and I know there are some future plans?

For now, the work that’s actually been done is dealing with our Consultants, which is the majority of the department. In the future there will also be programmes for middle management and a one-day version for the Heads of Department.

Super. And Leah just to check a bit more about the structure of the program and what you cover?

There are 5 workshops and a minimum of 5 individual coaching conversations.

The themes for the workshops are:

  • The first one is an Introductory Session which is a half-day session, exploring what Ontological Learning is, what it means to be a learner and what gets in the way of our learning, and how you can optimise your learning by focusing on our Way of Being.

  • The second session we do Language in Action and the role language plays in what does or doesn’t get done.

  • The third session is on Moods and Emotion and how the embodiment of our Moods and Emotions affects our behavior and the results we do and don’t get.

  • The focus of the fourth session is about Courageous Conversations that is not just necessarily within the scope of your role but in any aspect of your life. We draw on the learnings from the previous workshops, how are we being when we have these conversations, linguistically, physiologically and emotionally and what would be the best way of being to have such a conversation. why are you having it, what do you want to get out of it and how can you prepare yourselves in these domains?

  • And the last session is a quick wrap-up session, a conversation for accomplishment and appreciation as participants complete the program sharing with colleagues and their team leaders about what their experience of the program has been and what difference it has made.

And as a result there have been countless, I mean countless, new initiatives and changes to processes, new developments, improvements to the business, how teams operate as a result, coming from the participants on this program.

So, it sounds like one of the other benefits is that there’s been an increase in innovation?

Yes, definitely. And a lot of the time the consultants have ideas and have been sitting with them and haven’t had the confidence to share the idea. Now that their relationship has improved with their Manager, they now have the confidence to say this is what the idea has been, let’s give it a try as opposed to sitting and just not participating or engaging at all. Added to that a vast majority of consultants who attended the programme have been promoted and taken on other roles. In other words, the rate of advancement has been impacted positively when you compare to a controlled group for example.

Is there anything else that you want to say just by way of perhaps closing?

In terms of the impact that I’m making, the impact has far, far exceeded my expectations.

Leah Newman can be contacted at A short and very informative video of the impact of her work can be viewed at here on YouTube

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