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Sue McDonnell is an Irishwoman working in Sydney Australia. She is an Executive Coach, Team Coach, Facilitator and Energy alignment practitioner. Sue holds a degree in Sociology from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, a Postgraduate diploma in Business from University College Dublin, Ireland and she is also a qualified psychotherapist.

Show Notes

Podcast episode summary: This episode is a fascinating listen into the life of a Practitioner who is able to be vulnerable and open and as a consequence raise the consciousness of her clients. Sue McDonnell shares her approach to team work, speaks to real issue of trauma on teams and how she helps teams heal. She discusses dialogue and how she helps teams connect their being with their doing. Sue is honest about subjects like feedback, real conversations and our capacity to be truly honest with each other. This episode is packed with stories, anecdotes and practices that are practicable. A very real conversation I hope you enjoy


Show highlights:


  • Sue shares how she was a naturally sensitive child and was almost born into facilitation
  • She has an amazing manager in Eircom in the guise of Yvonne McWey who helped Sue really hone her passion for OD and Leadership Development
  • Sue decided to pursue a course in psychotherapy in a guest to really understand why for her she could not work with just anyone.
  • Journey from Head to Heart is often the longest one
  • Sue suffered from Chronic fatigue and in her healing discovered that she was living in indecision which was tearing her. Teams often live the same way
  • In Australia there is a cultural need to be mates. Teams often chose harmony over conflict with the shadow being that often team members are not able to have the robust and necessary conversations for change.
  • In Australia she finds that there exists a hierarchical and deferential with respect to power in culture s
  • Sue employs the Adaptive Leadership Approach to her team work and approach she learnt from Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksy in the US.
  • Their approach is to give the work back to the team and this message is essential as often teams project onto facilitators their need to be led.
  • Sue often starts a team engagement by simply asking “where do we begin?”
  • Upfront part of contracting is vital, and Sue conducts it with every member of the team. She is looking for the members appetite for the work, their measure of accountability and also a relationship so the work can start on a sound footing
  • Often our work as Coaches is to raise the heat on teams so that the team can see their stuck patterns and or have the conversations that are necessary
  • Sue is very conscious that as facilitators and as coaches we need to do the work on ourselves first.
  • Team often have a vague idea of why they need support but often that comes by doing the work as is often the case with individual coaching
  • Sue used to work with teams where it was not prudent or wise to call what she was doing as mindfulness or meditation, now both of those terms are ubiquitous. Today she is seeing trauma in evidence on teams and in the work place and she imagines that in 5 years’ time that word will be commonplace too. Stress/Redundancies/ Fear/ are creating the conditions for the ego to be live. Competition between members is often acute.
  • Sue works on an individual basis with team members when she is doing team coaching and as part of that work, she helps members understand their biases/beliefs/behaviours in terms of their story of origin. This then helps more mature conversations on the team.
  • Biggest problem people have is believing their thoughts. She helps team members reframe, get curious, be conscious and she does that through skilful questioning.
  • Sue shared some of her work on energy alignment and the practices she employs to help teams operate from a more open space.
  • She spoke to the continuum between selfless to selfish and how she encourages members to become self-full
  • Our work as coaches is to help team’s step back, reflect and pause which can often be counterintuitive in a fast -paced world.
  • Sue questions the veracity of feedback when she opines, we are not very self -aware or emotionally intelligent. She is keen to read a recent HBR article called feedback is flawed.
  • Much of our work is about disruption today. She was working with a team whose purpose it was to help other organisations disrupt themselves but curiously that same team had a very high score in “pleasing” the message is clear we need to be conscious of our own drivers/biases and patterns before we can help others.
  • Sue does use tools and she respects that many tools serve a useful purpose and for her are gateways to more powerful conversations. She uses Lominger, the Leadership Circle and Kantors dialogue model. She explained how she helps teams get confortable in the use of her models and tools
  • What she particularly loves about Kantor’s model is that for her it is practical, easy to teach and an approach that is non-judgemental but enormously helpful for teams to see their communication patterns and preferences. Often by its use Teams get comfortable in their increased appreciation for difference and the consequence is not only behavioural change but a growth in psychological safety.


Quotable Quotes: “Journey from the head to the heart is often the  longest” “Our role as facilitators is to first wake up” “working with teams from success to significance” “95% of people come to work to do a good job” “often our biggest problem is believing our thoughts” “there is nothing more protecting that an open heart”


Resources: the following include the resources we alluded to over the course of our conversation


  1. The practice of Adaptive Leadership, Tools and tactics for changing your organisation and the world by Ronald A, Heifetz, Marty Linksky and Alexander Grahsow
  2. The Leadership Circle, a profiling tool for Leadership Development
  3. Lominger Assessment Instruments and the Lominger Competency Model
  4. Kantor Institute
Tara Nolan

Author Tara Nolan

I wasn’t always a coach, in fact I never conceived I would be a coach, the word simply wasn’t in my lexicon. I love, however, where I have landed. The truth is I really did not know what I wanted to be when I first started. I had a vague inkling I wanted to be successful but that was the sum of my plan

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