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The Complete Lawyer: Looking up can be the start of transformation

Dennis Coyne

Dennis Coyne

Max is an emerging leader at a major corporation. He is personable, highly regarded and travels extensively, leading corporate teams around the world. As he walks toward my office on his first visit, I notice that Max looks down as he walks along. His shoulders bend forward, as though he is ahead of himself.

Max is already highly effective in the work he does, yet he wants more from the life he lives. For example, Max explains that he likes his job and the people he works with, but he doesn’t feel connected to them. Max recounts that as he begins his day and walks down the long hallway into his building, he doesn’t greet people, nor do they greet him. I suggest that Max’s downcast eyes and hurtling-forward gait might be a factor in all of that.

Max and I return to the hallway outside my office and Max practices an eyes-up and erect (centered not stiff) way of walking. He is curious about the shift he experiences walking in that way. He notices more of what’s around him — people, doors, lights, textures. Max volunteers to practice walking in this new way when entering his building. That tiny shift might just enhance his connection with others at work.

When I see Max for his second coaching session, he is excited to report that an eyes-up way of entering his building has paid-off. He literally sees people he had not seen before and greets them. In turn, he is seen, and others return his greeting. He is intrigued how such a small shift can reap immediate results.

Max is open-minded, inquisitive, an adult learner. Previously, Max was a collegiate athlete. Throughout our work, he was attuned to his body. Max was always curious about himself and the world around him. And it was his curiosity that prompted Max to see himself and others differently and to try new things. From the outset, Max wanted to have a transformative experience.

Not all clients enter coaching with Max’s profile. Some enter feeling defeated, are resistant to change and divorced from their bodies. Many lawyers have been trained to think a lot and feel little. Many have been taught to show no emotion. They value (and are valued) for their schooling, their logic and ability to argue effectively. They mostly value their bodies as a means of transport, a way to get from point “A” to point “B”. Even so, such people can learn to more fully experience the life of the body and access its wisdom. In doing so, they experience new possibilities.

In the coaching sessions that followed, Max talked about the many public addresses he makes and how he wants to better connect with his audiences. He comes to these appearances well-prepared, with interesting graphics to illustrate his talking points. In response, I tell Max a story shared by George, another client of mine.

George travels extensively, often speaking to business colleagues around the world. He attributes his success in doing so to advice from his trumpet coach. After several days of intensive training, his coach summed it all up by saying to George: “You’ll have to decide whether you want to impress your audiences or connect with them. In that is all the difference.”

Before hearing the advice of his music coach, George had never teased-out the distinction between impressing someone and connecting with them. His preparation had always been geared toward impressing his audiences. He prized himself as a performer, and he was. Smitten with the advice of his music coach, George decided to connect with his audiences and set out to do so.

Max was curious about the distinction between connecting with an audience and impressing them. He decided to orient toward connection with others, both in his presentations and in his everyday conversations. He practiced by making eye contact, maintaining a calm and centered presence, directing his attention to the person/audience before him. His background in athletics aided him. Max had learned to be relaxed and adaptive under the stress of high-stakes competition.

As the weeks went by, Max reported more success in connecting with others. Along the way, there was a moment when it all came together. That day, Max had spoken to an audience. He felt good about the rapport and exchange with the audience. Afterward, as he exited the room, a colleague came forward from the back of the room and said: “Wow, you showed up today! People got to experience the Max I know!” She hadn’t known about his resolve to connect with the audience. She simply felt the connection and reported it. The connection had been palpable.

In his work with me, Max made many incremental changes. From time to time, there was a highlight event, as when he had received the acclaim from the colleague seated in the back of the room. Overall, though, Max simply took one step at a time, practicing each day. He had learned the effectiveness of practice in his days as a competitive athlete. He knew that his practicing would pay-off, and it did. His transformation was incremental, the result of his daily practices.

From where I stand, the objective of coaching is to leverage your skills and talents to be all that you can be. By accessing more of who you are, you will be more able to stand for the causes you champion and the people you love.

Carl Jung summed it up when he observed: “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”

May it prove true for you.

Dennis Coyne is a Master Certified Coach and retired lawyer. He coaches lawyers and consults with law firms to take effective action and to achieve their objectives. He can be reached at, or at his mobile: 612 708-8924. 

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