A conversation with Cynthia Loy Darst, MFA, MCC, CPCC, ORSCC
Cynthia Loy Darst brings the sunshine. Throughout the course of her eclectic career, her exuberant personality and a fascination with what makes people tick has supported her in all of the roles she has played - from actor to career consultant, team and leadership coach, author and keynote speaker. Her client list ranges from CEOs, chiropractors, and singers to Silicon Valley pros, documentary filmmaking teams and large corporate systems.
Cynthia has been called a pioneer of the coaching industry, having been a Front of the Room Leader for the Co-Active Training Institute and Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™) from the early days of those trainings. In 1995, Cynthia was among the group suggesting that professional ethics and standards should apply to coaching. From this conversation the International Coach Federation (ICF), which oversees coaching credentials and certifications, was born.
A former actor, Cynthia is particularly intrigued by the concept of roles and secret selves. In 2018 she published "Meet Your Inside Team," a guide to exploring the system of voices and beliefs which have such a powerful impact on our inner worlds. She speaks about this ensemble of players in her TedX Talk, Safe Inside Yourself.
In addition to being certified in ORSC, Cynthia is a Master Certified Coach, a faculty member for the Co-Active Training Institute and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Arts.
If Cynthia named her superpower, it would be:
I’m delighted to have several superpowers which work well together. One is joy. My husband calls me “joy on a stick” because I am such a joyful person, and I bring joy. I also have a superpower around creating clarity, and an ability to “woo” - to be engaging, and pull people in.
On her work
I tell people I'm a leadership development coach. That gives context, right? But the fact of the matter is that I help people to create awareness about how they work, so that they can be more effective, more productive, and enjoy a life that they want to live. That's what I do with all kinds of different people - whether Fortune 100, C-Suite, someone writing a book, or someone who has been out of work and is wondering how they move forward. I love working with all kinds of humans.
I started out as a professional actress. When I was in graduate school at UCSD, we studied Transactional Analysis as part of acting. Right at the very beginning, I was learning about different parts of myself. The part of me that's a child, the part of me that's the rebellious adolescent, the part of me that is the critical parent. I went on to be moderately successful making a living as an actor in New York. I’d heard about this place called the Actors Information Project (AIP) which taught actors the business of show business - how you actually get work. Right! Sign me up.
Thanks to AIP, I was able to make my living early on, because I learned how show business works, how to market, who I needed to meet, and how to create relationship. I was tenacious about it, and you can tell that has served me as a coach years later. Once I started doing shows, I started to see acting wasn’t for me. I’m good at it. I can do it. But I didn’t want to constantly market just to have bits on soap operas and in plays.
My timing was right to start into the coaching world. When I came across it, it wasn't even coaching yet. The work AIP was doing had interested me. The first person I met when I walked in the door in 1983 was Henry House (now Henry Kimsey-House). Surprise! At AIP, they were supporting actors in setting goals to get into action, to create plans and overcome objections. That became the precursor of what coaching is today. There are other pieces to the story, but basically I let go of acting as a career and came to work for them as a consultant for professional actors.
A few years later, Henry met Laura Whitworth in a course that they were taking together and they started CTI, The Coaches Training Institute, which is now The Co-Active Training Institute. To make a long story short, that was where I wanted to be. I got on the early bandwagon of coaching, and have been doing it since 1992.
Fast forward to the late 90s, when I was introduced to Marita and Faith. I’d heard of Marita Fridjhon, this force of nature, and I just thought they were totally cool. By this time, both my husband and I had been leading courses for CTI. Marita and Faith told us that they “liked our relationship” and asked if we would lead for them, as well.
Honestly, that’s one way my life has been. Almost every time I’ve thought that I need to set a certain goal and be in action to create it, it has never been my way forward. It’s always almost been something like - “Oh, okay, why not go find out what this relationship thing is about?”
So as Marita and Faith were starting to create and shape the courses, we became leaders for them. It just added so much to the way we coach and to the way we think about relationships and systems. Doing that work, all of the puzzle pieces came back to me. Eventually I wrote “Meet Your Inside Team” which references Co-Active Coaching and parts of Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™).
What first drew me to acting and then to coaching is that I'm fascinated by how people think, the decisions we make, and what gets us inspired and engaged. Co-Active is fantastic because it really leans in to the idea that every human is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. So I'm not trying to fix people - I’m becoming curious about how they think and their best ways to work, rather than imposing my point of view.
When she is most on purpose
I’m most on purpose when I'm engaged. ‘Coaching presence’ really means is that you’re in synch, fully listening and fully with someone. At times, there’s a kind of magic, and something opens up for a client. We call it ‘evoking transformation.’ And then I know, okay, I've had a good day at the office, right? That takes partnership, not me “doing it” to them.
On her biggest inspirations or philosophies
The first thing that comes up is CRR Global's work. I've had this blessing of this mix in my life of Co-Active Coaching - the ideas, the model, the stance of that - and really getting in touch with the ORSC tools and philosophies. One in particular is - Who knows what is good and what is bad?! I'm not biased toward the outcome. Also, this idea of revealing the system to itself, so it can find its best way.
It's interesting, because I've been doing this so long that it’s in my cells now. I don't quite know what “philosophy” I’m using anymore! It's just there.
On her favorite ORSC Tools
I frequently have conversations about roles. It’s something that I've noticed many of our ORSC participants step over or don't quite realize. Role clarity, role nausea, finding out how we occupy roles in a system, and how we get in each other's way when we're not clear on roles - that's one thing I am constantly using, Also Edge Work, the Three Levels of Reality and Lands Work. Sometimes, people just need a map.
About the Inside Team
In the coaching world, there is an idea of sabotaging energy. It’s a ‘gremlin’ energy or negative self talk that most people have. It’s useful to find out what your saboteurs are like, and what they are trying to accomplish. For many years, the thinking was that we need to notice this negative self talk and just push it aside. Right? Okay, but that doesn’t get the job done.
In coaching, I would frequently hear - “Well, there's a part of me that really wants to do this, but another part of me doesn’t.” So bit by bit. I started tuning into those voices and the different energies they had. Then in working with Secret Selves in CRR Global’s Geography course, I started to realize that we actually have primary selves and several Secret Selves that are all in this conversation. Guess what? If we start to name them, we start to create awareness.
Imagine that these different voices are like characters that are going to come out onto a stage. Here they come! Now, look at the energies. Who’s talking directly to me? How is this working? It’s not only about naming who the players on your Inside Team are, but noticing the dynamic that’s happening between them.
When the ORSC work came along, all of a sudden, I started to see this interaction and dynamic. How cool. And triggering - here's this place where one comes and hijacks me!
I originally created “Meet Your Inside Team” as a coach training. It just made so much sense to me. Then when I wrote the book, I wanted it to not only be a manual for coaches, but for any human that wanted to understand themselves more. What's really exciting to me now is that it is not unusual for someone to say - “You know, I bought your book, and my husband who's an engineer picked it up and won’t give it back to me.”
On what’s lighting her up right now
At this moment in my life, I have been pulled back into the Co-Active Training Institute in a role where I'm developing new leaders and supporting our senior leaders. When we are leading coaching courses all over the world - say thirty coaching courses happening over a month - in at least one or two of those courses, the leaders are going to have problems with a participant or with each other. Big surprise! Humans. These days, I find myself using my ORSC skills to work with leaders that are having challenges with each other. I love it.
I'm also doing my own private coaching, which has my attention. Sometimes it’s partnerships, sometimes teams, and mainly one-on-one. One of the things that's cooking in the back of my head is to recreate “Meet the Inside Team” as a coach training. Now that everything's online, or on Zoom, we’d need to to find a way to deliver some of the basic concepts in a recorded version, and then have one-on-one work with me as people learn and grow. That's the idea.
On ORSC co-founders Marita and Faith
They are dear friends of ours. Along this road has come not only so much learning, but a real depth of friendship. I feel blessed with that as well. Sometimes in life you have a mentor who is just a mentor, and that’s wonderful, but we've been blessed to not only have their mentorship but their friendship, and times where they lean into us.
They are more experienced and have just so gently taken us by the hand and said, “Come this way.”
When we were first learning this work, we weren't certified because there wasn't certification yet. I would be in front of the room, leading with Marita and doing a demo. And sometimes I would stop and say - “Just a second, Marita - What do I do next?” She had such generosity of spirit that I felt able to do that without judgment. The participants loved it because it was honest and gave them room not to know as well.
On why systems coaching is important now
Here's the thing - a lot of coaching and coach training has this idea that if you're working with one human about what they want to change, it should just happen. What many coach trainings fail to notice is that this human is actually part of several systems. If you're not aware of that, you can get frustrated. If we understand that, we can create an awareness of how they are in systems and what roles they play. Do they want to keep doing that? What's going to need to change here? It makes for a much more interesting conversation, and one that's usually more effective.
I've used ORSC work for everything. Once, a company contacted me and said “You know, we just keep having this problem and we don't know how to get past it. Can you come in and work with us?” So I came in to train them in some basic concepts. We started to work and guess what? Boom! There was a huge blow up in the middle of the day. It was revealed to the system that there was one person who had an addiction that had never been dealt with properly, and was creating all kinds of mess and upset everywhere they went. Once that became clear and the whole system saw it, they knew what to do to move forward. It wasn’t just a problem for the president to manage. They decided that the person needed to leave; I worked with the system as they re-established who they were as a team.
With another organization, we had around 100 people who did this wonderful work around the values of the organization. They didn’t have a problem that needed to be fixed, they were all doing their work. It was just one of those situations that happens in teams and organizations where sometimes the air goes flat. We had them walk the Metaskills Wheel, and have conversations they’d never been able to have before. This exercise really engaged them, and put them on a better footing going forward.
Sometimes partnerships - whether romantic or business partnerships - will find me when they are trying to break up. They don’t know they are doing that. They’re having trouble, and what happens is that they feel they are being held in a safe space in the coaching. They can say the thing that has felt so taboo to say. When a team or partnership needs to break up, it feels almost like being a midwife - delivering them through it in a way where they do no harm to each other.
On her heroes and current influences
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit. I don’t really have ‘heroes.’ However, there are many people whom I greatly admire. Barack Obama - he’s a brilliant man. John Lewis - I admire people who have the courage to step into the path which opens for them and make a difference. I actually want more of this from myself. It’s the people who say yes, who recognize that something needs to happen and claim it.
Simone Biles - I have so much admiration for her saying “I need to step away from this right now. It is not safe for me.” To know herself so clearly that she would risk upsetting the world by not playing the role she was expected to be in. In my own life, I was trained to behave properly for other people, to do what was wanted or expected. A big part of my work with “Meet Your Inside Team” is finding ways to notice those parts. Even more deeply, to start to find where my choices are - what’s my point of view? What Simone did by saying ‘No,’ at the Olympics - it was amazing. She was able to know and trust herself to the point where she knew that it didn’t matter what anybody said. That wasn’t the point. It wasn’t about being loved, admired or appreciated. It was about being true and responsible to herself and her safety. I so admire that.
I am spending time these days in the space of diversity, equity and inclusion. Now that I have some systems awareness, I’m really starting to tune into what’s been happening racially in our country for all of these years. Books like Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste.” One that first spoke to me is “Growing Up White and Finding Myself in a Story of Race.” And “My Grandmother’s Hands” - that is about trauma. A lot of Inside Team Players are born because of trauma.
My heroes are people that stand up. Here’s part of it - there are many activists these days that “call out” people, who say you shouldn’t be doing that. Cancel Culture. That is not cool for me. Let’s call each other in to relationship with each other, let’s learn to be accountable to each other - not blame and shame. My heroes have the ability to invite people into a powerful conversation that creates learning and change.
Cynthia’s Book | "Meet Your Inside Team"
Cynthia’s TedX Talk | Safe Inside Yourself
Want to connect with Cynthia? Get in touch via her LinkedIn profile.
Interested in Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching?