executive coaching: cells, systems, and signals

I 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 a newly merged company and there was an opportunity to help build a new transnational research company. I realized that organizations are like 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 consequently cause pathology – I knew less about organizational dynamics.

As a result, 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 within the system.

I had recognized my third passion – helping leaders become more effective by changing their behavior, ultimately resulting in the maximum impact on the system as a whole. Through serving as an informal coach in the corporate world, my career transitioned to becoming an executive coach based on my passion for changing organizations and helping leaders maximize their productivity and success, develop leadership capabilities, and successfully manage change and uncertainty. In this way, I witnessed, first-hand, the value of a coach in changing a leader’s behavior and impacting 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.

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.

Executive 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 maximize their signals to ensure healthy systems and cells.


Charles Dormer – an Executive Coach with AIIR Consulting – is passionate about studying what creates value and what depletes value in large organizations and complex collaborations. To learn more, check out his full bio here.

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