15 Minute Transformation

by Noelle Apostol Colin, a Bright Morning Senior Associate and guest blogger

Her eyes filled with tears. She took a deep breath and blinked slowly. “I’m withdrawing. I’m not being who I need to be to make things better,” she said quietly. We stood huddled together, leaning around a tall cocktail table, inside a beautiful wooden gathering hall full of excited Art of Coaching conference attendees. I was coaching her at one of our drop-in coaching booths that a small group of Bright Morning coaches held during registration at this year’s Art of Coaching Conference. It was like speed-dating, except goal was learning. People signed up for a fifteen minute coaching conversation with a coach they had never met before. Elena’s teenage son was keeping us on time, flashing us signs for two minutes left, then the “wrap-it-up” sign. 

“So, who are you being?” I asked after a few seconds of intentional silence. Silence is a powerful way to allow someone to hear their own words and absorb their impact. As my speed-coaching client talked this through, she realized on her own that to make headway on a stubborn relational problem impacting the quality of her work, she needed to show up differently. She talked about how ever since she was a kid, she has withdrawn in stressful situations. She said she felt suddenly embarrassed that this habitual reaction was showing up in her work-life. I asked her who she wanted to be in this situation. Then we identified a couple of small shifts she could make to show up in the way she wanted. And when Elena’s son came around and gave us the wrap-it-up sign, she took one final deep breath, this time with a smile of relief on her face. She said, “thank you,” and walked away. 

Outside the gathering hall just before our coaching booths began, our team of coaches had stood around in a circle sharing ideas for how to make these incredibly short coaching conversations matter. I worried; doesn’t coaching take so much more time and trust? Is it going to emotionally drain me to speed-coach all these strangers in a row? And yet, these conversations were happening, so we had to make them count. I took an inquiry stance to relieve the pressure and told myself, “Noelle, just see what’s possible.” We kept talking and came up with a set of essential questions, a framework for a 15 minute coaching conversation. It went like this: 

  • Start with purpose. 
  • Ask, “What do you want to be true at the end of this 15 minutes?” 
  • Then at some point ask who they’re being, what’s possible if that’s who they’re being in this situation, who they want to be, and what they need to do in order to be that person. 
  • Finally, ask what they want to remember from the conversation.

One of the things that makes Elena’s model of transformational coaching transformational is that we explore and possibly seek to shift ways of being (in addition to coaching around behaviors and beliefs). Our way of being is, simply put, the expression of our attitudes, beliefs and feelings in our body language, tone, facial expressions and language choice. For example, if we’re feeling nervous or afraid, and we’re unaware of it, people will be able to pick up on this. We’ll communicate it even if we don’t come right out and say it. Working in any job that’s highly relational, such as education, it’s critical for our success that we develop awareness and intentionality around who we’re being. When we only coach for behavioral change, and we don’t address beliefs or ways of being, we don’t see lasting change. It would be like trying to help a plant grow by adjusting its sun exposure without ever tending to soil conditions. We might have some initial success, but without optimizing the soil conditions, the plant won’t ever thrive in its environment, and will eventually suffer. 

As it turned out, every single person I coached during those coaching booths had similar teary-eyed moments, and sighs of relief. And when I asked people what they wanted to remember, they all said something tangible that they wanted to remember to do to show up differently. They all expressed gratitude. 

In each 15-minute conversation, the client identified an outcome they wanted, developed awareness of their emotions, identified new actions they could take, and walked away feeling more empowered. These are my goals for every single coaching conversation. And these things happened in every single one of these 15-minute conversations. And I walked away from my two hours at the coaching booth feeling energized myself! 

As I’ve reflected on this experience since the conference, I feel a renewed energy for the power and potential of transformational coaching. If people could consistently meet all of my goals for a coaching conversation in 15 minutes, what’s possible in every single conversation, be it 15, 30, 50 or 90 minutes?  

Not every conversation will explore ways of being. Because we do need to address skill and knowledge gaps about content, students, culture, pedagogy, etc. But what I learned with this coaching booth experiment (which was really what it was, a “hey, wouldn’t that be cool? Let’s try it!” flash of inspiration) is that the element of Elena’s transformational coaching model, where we explore ways of being, can make a conversation immediately resonate. It instantly shifts the conversation into what’s most closely within someone’s sphere of influence and allows people to connect with their emotions, a source of wisdom and strength. 

So, here again is the framework, along with an alternative set of questions for addressing ways of being. 

  • What do you want to be true at the end of our time together?
  • Who are you being in this situation? 
  • What’s possible if that’s who you’re being? 
  • Who do you want to be? 
  • What do you need to do in order to be that person? 
  • What do you want to remember from this conversation? 

And, to support someone to even more quickly access the subconscious, and go deeper quickly, use symbolic thinking and try these questions: 

  • What animal are you being? 
  • What’s possible if that’s the animal you’re being? 
  • What animal do you want to be? 
  • What do you need to do in order to be that animal? 


The views and opinions expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion or position of Bright Morning.


Photo by Linda Perez Johannessen on Unsplash