Executive Coaching – Cells, Systems and Signals

June 9, 2016

Recently, I was reflecting on my journey to become an executive coach and how my past experience had shaped my views on leadership and organizations. I realized that coaching was the third professional passion I had followed.  My journey started with my first passion – cellular pathology, I still remember looking down a microscope for the first time and viewing the wonders of the world of cells and organ systems (it was not the Universal silver microscope by George Adams, 1761 found at the Science museum in London in the picture above).  The different cell types fascinated me, as they came together in an organ to perform the tasks needed for human life.  Each cell has specific functions that make up the form and function of the organ within the body’s systems.  I was hooked; I had found the career that interested me the most - a passion for which I had been searching.  I found a job in a hospital pathology laboratory and I threw myself into learning how cells work together and how organs and systems work.  I also soon learned the problems that arise when cells were dysfunctional and the resultant diseases, such as cancer, where cells become obsessed with reproducing themselves uncontrollably at the cost of the human host.  I also began to study the immune system and learned how different cells interact and communicate to cause an effect in the body and to store memory for future attacks.  It was clear to me that we had to treat these diseases if we were to alleviate human suffering – I moved to working in pharmaceutical drug research to help find ways to influence dysfunctional cells and systems and regulate disease.

 

            Having spent 10 years in pre-clinical research, I started to realize that there was a greater opportunity to help get innovative drugs to patients.  I was working for the newly merged company and there was an opportunity to help build a new transnational research company. I realized that organizations are human systems that have many separate functions that need to work together as a single system. I knew about cells and how they function within organs and systems and how they create energy and communicate to transform body functions. I also knew how things could go wrong if cells don’t work together and cause pathology. I knew less about organizational dynamics.

 

            I studied Organizational Dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania.  My studies at Penn helped me frame organizational dynamics and the pathology that arises in organizations.  I had found my second passion. My studies gave me a different way of thinking about these problems and gave me new perspectives on the solutions. I started to get involved in organizational design and process optimization and was particularly interested in how to optimize the interfaces between functional silos.  I was also interested in how to create and maximize organizational energy to change and transform organizations. I learned that it is easier to destroy an organization than to build one.   

 

My first two passions – cellular pathology and organizational dynamics involved studying elements (cells or people) that work together to form functional or dysfunctional systems.  Both rely on these elements to behave in a way that maximizes the effectiveness of the system.  During my corporate life I had been fortunate to work with some great leaders, but also with leaders who had significant development needs.  I came to the realization that the system was only as good as the leadership behaviors of individuals in the system.  I had recognized my third passion –helping leaders become more effective by changing their behavior resulting in the maximum impact on the system as a whole. Coaching leaders became my third passion.  Though serving as a coach informally throughout my corporate career, my career transitioned to becoming an executive coach based on my passion for changing organizations and helping leaders to maximize their productivity and success, development leadership capabilities, and successfully manage change and uncertainty.  I witnessed, first-hand, the value of coaches to change leaders behaviors and impact performance.

 

So what have I learned about organizations and leadership on my journey driven by these three passions?  Organizations, like systems and organs in the human body, are made up of individuals.  Like cells, these individuals have skills and abilities that carry out important functions for the organism as a whole.  Many cells within a system react to signals such as hormones, neurotransmitters and other proteins and will perform their function in a certain way.  A good example is a cell found in the stomach called the Parietal cell. Their function is to secrete hydrochloric acid (gastric acid), they reside in the stomach and are part of the digestive system.  The function of the digestive system is to take in food, extract nutrients and expel waste materials.  In most cases, the digestive system is fairly efficient, well structured; it has a clear mission and strategy. The parietal cells are effectively organized in the stomach and in the gastric glands.  Parietal cells are primarily regulated via histamine, acetylcholine and gastrin signaling from both central and local modulators and when stimulated will synthesize and produce gastric acid. One of these modulators, Gastrin, primarily induces acid-secretion indirectly increasing histamine synthesis in ECL cells, which in turn signal parietal cells via histamine release.  In other words, gastrin is secreted by G cells, which then stimulate ECL cells to produce histamine that then stimulate the parietal cell to produce acid.

 

This all sounds very good, but there are times when the system does not work properly and disease occurs.  In the case of the stomach, peptic ulcers can occur as a result of too much acid being produced by the parietal cells. This can be a result of G cells producing too much gastrin or ECL cells producing too much histamine.  In either case, the parietal cell produces too much acid leading to ulcers.  If G cells or ECL cells were leaders they would be behaving (signaling) in a way that was causing dysfunction of their parietal cells organization and leading to a negative impact on their digestive system of which they are part.  I have witnessed that changing a leader’s behavior through coaching can impact the whole system leading to healthy organizations.  This starts by ensuring they produce the desired signals to achieve the desired effect they want from others – nobody wants to have or cause gastric ulcers as a leader.

 

In a previous posting, I highlighted a form of coaching that I call – Value-Focused Executive Coaching (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/value-focused-executive-coaching-charles-s-dormer?trk=hp-feed-article-title-publish).  This coaching highlights the need to help leaders improve their performance and deliver additional value to their organizations.  I would add that it also helps leaders to maximize their signals to ensure healthy systems and cells.

 

 

If you want details of VFEC please visit my website - http://www.apexstp.com

 

 

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