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Seaside Coaching
by Lucille Maddalena, Ed.D.


Have you ever watched people simply stand and stare at the sea for hours? I often wonder where their minds have wandered, their eyes mesmerized with the rolling movement, their bodies warmed by the sun and their skin cooled by the soft ocean breezes. To my surprise, events of the past few months seem to be revealing an answer to this musing.

For the past twenty years I have worked as a management consultant, supporting executives advancing in the corporate culture. A few years ago I learned that part of what I have been doing is now called ‘coaching’, based on the obvious sports analogy.

Personally, I wish there were a better word for that private interaction to support one individual’s growth or to guide a group to engage in a revealing team experience. We are meeting at the point in someone’s life when they are experiencing a unique transition. Facing major decisions, this life juncture forces changes that question and challenge basic perceptions, arousing deep emotions and selfdoubt. It is a time of personal development, as our growth thrives on success and loss, dreams and foundations, desires and compromises—with a few surprises in the mix.

When you are at a transition point in your life, do you seek the familiarity of your current surroundings, or would it be useful for you to reach out to tap resources and experiences from your own past as well? More importantly, how do you sort through the turmoil that accompanies change to discover your own revelations?

By the Sea

Last summer I relocated to a small beach community, a comfortable walking distance to the beach, fabulous restaurants, the library, post office and Main Street stores—all I need to walk, work and enjoy life. What has truly startled me is that many of my clients no longer ask that I meet with them at their office or a local restaurant. The request is to allow them to make the one hour or so ride to visit me at the sea!

The first time a distinguished company CEO suggested making the trip, I admit to being caught a bit off guard. A reserved and focused individual who preferred three piece suits and never missed a day of work, he arrived as if he were going to the golf course to cover a few links. When I commented on his attire he explained that he does not have the time for golf. I learned that his joy is researching historical war skirmishes at sea during the colonial period. Perhaps he was aware of my insecurity in the new routine we were to employ when he quoted an old proverb to me:

Smooth seas do not skillful sailors make

Recalling that first coaching experience, I was not certain it went well as I did not take the copious notes for the client to review after our discussion. Preoccupied with maneuvering us through the environment, I wasn’t certain when the useful dialogue began. Instead, I was distracted by choosing the quickest route to the boardwalk, and the most efficient way to pack a bag to carry sunscreen and a towel should my guest choose to take a walk in the surf. Fortunately, the environment itself made the meeting a success.

Involving a colleague in any type of outdoors activity has its concerns. Although the attire must casual, I still try to prevent my client from returning to the office sweaty or sun burned, much less exhausted from the walk. Because the one thing I insist is that we walk. We don’t have to walk on the sand or to the water’s edge, we can stay on the boardwalk, or head directly to a restaurant, but we must walk.

Walking and Talking

In addition to the physical benefits, walking to the beach while talking allows my guest to adjust to the new environment promising a different perspective to examine current pressures. Only hours before, this guest was sitting at a desk plodding through numerous demands for immediate attention. Now the person is in a quiet, peaceful environment that recalls pleasant memories often of youthful exuberance, family adventures and gentle summer days.

My task is to partner with each guest, to understand the unique story and relationships that combine to form their work situations. Joining me at the beach changes their perspective. Guests are able to share personal vignettes, drawing from a more intimate, elemental source of strength and appear more capable of objectively considering their daily activities. Interestingly, a process appears to be emerging as my guests seem to go through several phases during the three block walk to the beach.

On the first block there are general questions about the weather, the commute, the community. The conversation is light as we discuss tour surroundings and our various living situations, exchanging private revelations that strengthen and bond our association.

On the second block there is a slight tenseness to the conversation. The signs of pressure slip into the discussion when we begin to gossip and express petty annoyances. Each step on the sidewalk is deliberate, expressing our earnest intent to address the issue.

By the third block, the volume of our voices rise and the speech patterns are fast and reactive. The door is open to a wide variety of topics and we quickly touch on each as if experimenting with the weight and value of that subject at this moment. Our pace is quick and sentences are often left unfinished, with short, terse expressions of verbal release.

Now we’re at the boardwalk overlooking the ocean. Either the guest’s endorphins are functioning or the impact of the stunning view silences us both. It is impossible to talk or even breathe for that first moment, as we step up to the majesty before us. The sea breeze fills our lungs – magically, all trivial complaints are gone.

"Wide sea, that one continuous murmur breeds along the pebbled shore of memory!"
­ John Keats


For me, this is when the real work begins. Empathizing with my guest, I feel my own stress leave as I inhale the salt air, and we comfortably assume our roles of coach and client. We continue our path, now on the boardwalk, to allow the first flow of stressors to emerge. Each item is presented, contemplated and marked for future action. As we walk and talk, we are passed by joggers and runners yet our steps are quicker than those strolling privately or enjoying silent companionship of another.

For my guest, it is the time to reveal the innocence, the vulnerable individual carefully preserved by layers of training, education, experience, loss and success. We talk about those vague, soft topics that are too difficult or embarrassing to grasp in public situations: values, ethics, passion, creativity, commitment, and dedication. We slowly work our way to issues of seeming importance: expectations, professionalism, goals, obstacles and priorities.

The close to our conversation always comes down to choices. This is our conversation as we dine by the sea. The task begins with all due gravity and seriousness; soon the natural flow beams with the joy of spontaneous creativity. Decision paths, options and outcomes are laid as we often resort to writing our designs and plans on napkins to preserve the treasure of unrestricted ideas.

Surf Line

Savoring the satisfaction of completing a good meal, we know our meeting is almost at an end. If we were in an office, I would formally adjourn the meeting and prepare for my next appointment.

Our environment is still in control as we select our path home. Some guests prefer to walk barefoot to the water’s edge unconcerned that we will return with seawater in our clothing and windblown hair. Others choose to stand or sit on the boardwalk to look at the ocean, allowing private thoughts to pass in silence. It is with a feeling of freedom and peace that we retrace our steps.

On this short return walk along the ocean front we talk very little, still caught in our own thoughts uncovered in the same way as the water retreats from the shore. Guests that prefer to visit the edge of the foam line respond naturally, moving toward and away from the breaking waves. Our conversation seems to surf over our issues and concerns, releasing our ambitions and our goals to simply revere in the sun and salt air.

"Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul, if either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in midseas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, Is a flame that burns to its own destruction." – Kahill Gibran

The Walk Home

Relaxed and rejuvenated, we accept the sorrow of moving from this spot of comfort just as quickly as we embrace the future. Our steps are lighter, our conversation is grounded. Many of the topics we spoke about when we first began the trek to the beach resurface. Now we find closure. Now we only seek the satisfaction of our efforts and the wisdom that comes from our experiences.

Could we have achieved this same ending sitting in an office, meeting room, company cafeteria, or in a local park? Possibly. Perhaps the key to confronting your emotions is to put yourself in an environment with the same passion you are feeling, that brings together your past with your future and allows you to expend the energy to explore what lies beneath.

My guests visit me when they are moving through some phase of transition in their lives. I encourage them to freely express, and thus release their frustrations and anger while preserving the heart of what has moved them. The emotions that erupt from change are pivotal to success: seek what you learned from the price you paid. Whether it is yoga, golf, sailing or simply walking, find a way to move past the distractions to discover the essence of what your passion has revealed.

"We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” - Mother Theresa of Calcutta

Reference Readings

Budd, Richard W. and Brent D. Ruben, APPROACHES TO HUMAN COMMUNICATION, Spartan Books, 1972.

Chang, Stephen T., THE COMPLETE SYSTEM OF SELFHEALING. Tao Publishing, 1986.


Landsberg, Max, THE TAO OF COACHING. McKinsey & Company, 1997.


The Author

Lucille Maddalena

Lucille Maddalena, Ed.D. is an Executive Coach and Management Consultant providing management skill training, team building, meeting facilitation, conflict resolution processes, and group coaching programs. More than 6,000 managers have successfully completed her popular TRANSITIONS TO MANAGEMENT seminars. Her new workshop, TRAIL SETTING & STORY TELLING, guides participants to achieve life and career goals while clearly defining their own legacy through story telling. See Dr. Maddalena's recently published articles on her website or blogs: .

Many more articles in Coaching in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2008 by Lucille Maddalena. All rights reserved.

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