A conversation with Nina Simonds, MA, CPCC, ORSCC
Nina Simonds believes that coaching can leverage leadership in unexpected places. For more than 15 years, this certified Organization and Relationship Systems (ORSC™) coach has worked with individuals, pairs and teams to support transformational change in systems.
Nina now uses her coaching skillset to host “Let’s Get Real,” a podcast exploring the intersection between personal transformation and social change. Her hope is to help others better understand complex social issues, and through that new understanding inspire affirmative choices and action.
In addition to her ORSCC credential, Nina is a certified Co-Active Coach (CPCC) and has served as a faculty member for both CRR Global and the Co-Active Training Institute. She earned her Master's degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago and holds a Bachelors in Business Administration from Oklahoma State University. Nina was recognized as the Washington State Coach of the Year in 2014.
In this conversation, Nina discusses connecting people to create community, how coaching supports activism, and what she anticipates as being her next step forward.
If Nina were to name her superpower, it would be:
Making connections - connecting people and connecting communities. It’s common for me to text two friends who haven’t met, because I think there's something that the three of us could collaborate on together. It could be as small as that, or as big as hosting a dinner party of people that I think need to know each other or would enjoy being together.
I love creating community. I'm excited to be doing more pair coaching, because you're actually connecting different leaders together. They get to learn from each other within the safety of an ORSC conversation. There’s a lot of magic in that.
On coaching and ORSC
When I discovered coaching, I felt like a whole new world opened up for me because of the focus on the whole person.
I had a degree in business and was working in the college publishing industry. The industry was going through a lot of constriction. It was my first experience of being just dissatisfied with the way capitalism tends to focus on profits, often at the expense of people. I didn't see any women above my boss's level and the organization wasn’t very holistic.
When I was first researching the profession, I was looking at it more holistically. At the time it was about being family-friendly. I’ve been a feminist since my college days, and there was something about how we can change systems so that they are more nurturing and create more of what people need.
I really loved adding ORSC to my toolkit, because I've always been a systems thinker. ORSC was being offered through CTI and I was in that mode of my career where I was taking anything. I took a course in Fundamentals, just to try it out, and then decided I needed to do the whole thing.
I was partially attracted to ORSC because I wanted the skills for my own marriage, and when I got into it I was just fascinated by the first course. Intimacy is a huge value of mine, creating intimate conversation.
In the one-on-one coaching paradigm, I'm part of the relationship, not outside of it. It's very focused on the other person. Coaching pairs - being an observer, a nurturer and an encourager of those relationships - is so powerful to me. I have worked with teams, and of course I use the skills a lot when I'm facilitating any kind of group.
On being part of ORSC
This work is unique. We don't have enough people or enough organizations in this area of organizational transformation who are looking at something beyond personal development or professional development. There's something important about transformation that has an impact on more than just self. Relationship Systems Intelligence (RSI™) gave me language and tools for being a more impactful leader and a better facilitator. I think it's just an amazing place to be in conversation with other people who are doing the same thing.
On the ORSC toolkit
You can't take the system lenses off once you've worn them for a while. My whole podcast is about the intersection between personal transformation and social change. That's not an accident, right? When people are in either/or conversations about climate change, is it about individual action? Or is it about putting pressure on systems?
It's both. It's yes.
I've always been a proponent of the competencies over the tools. To me, the real magic in ORSC is what we call above-the-line things, like reading the emotional field or revealing the system to itself. Those are the things that I actually leverage the most in my pairs work.
I have other tools like nonviolent communication and polarity management. When I'm using those, I can always go back to the basic competencies of ORSC to serve the client and not lose my way in by taking sides or getting out of that systems lens.
When I’m not doing group coaching, my favorite way of doing systems work is paired coaching. It doesn't have to be a couple. When I can help business leaders who have been at odds with each other to see one another's humanity and start to develop more empathy for the other person, and from there work better together - that's a real sweet spot for me.
Having ORSC in my toolkit is just so ingrained. It’s the water I swim in. It's very hard for me not to think about the system. I really owe a lot to the program for helping me develop different ways of thinking about it. Even when it came down to the social justice stuff that we've all been exposed to, especially in the United States over the last year. I already had an understanding of rank, though I was a bit oblivious to my own white centering in my daily work and life, and how I still internalize a lot of dominant cultural norms.
Approaching these topics with some humility and knowing that you don't know it all yet is such a great base for so many different ways of doing the work.
When she’s most on purpose
If you'd asked me two years ago, I would have said I felt most on purpose around being a political activist. I was working in community with others, and we had a really great candidate and a really strong sense of mission. We were all very aligned. But I was looking for the “what's next.” Like any good systems thinker, I can tell that being involved in politics isn't going to move the needle on its own.
Right now, I feel most on purpose with co-producing “Let’s Get Real.” The show allows me to be an activist in a way that actually serves more of my strengths. I am using coaching skills like powerful questions and curiosity to have what I hope are enriching conversations. In listening to the podcast, maybe it will be thought-provoking enough for people to either learn about or take action on something that one of my guests talks about.
On her heroes
I really admire the activists in my community. A lot of them are moving beyond paid work, so they're technically retired. It's not even just any one person. My friend Pam, a wonderful activist in her late 70s, is doing something almost every day because she wants to make this world a better place for her grandchildren.
It's important for me not to take myself too seriously. Activism is easy for me but I don't think everyone has to do it the way I'm doing it, or do as much as I'm doing. It can be just as important to sit with a sick friend or to take a meal to someone or to be present and work on yourself. I'm not that interested in what they call spiritual bypassing, where it's just about my growth and not about what kind of leader I want to be in the world. I don't think that I'm the role model for activism, I just think that I'm doing it the way that makes sense for me.
On what inspires her
Anything related to presence. Mindfulness is quite a buzzword, but for me, mindfulness is in relationship - with myself, in my daily life, and with my spouse. I’m aware of when I'm out of presence and when I'm in it, and how much richer everything is when I can be in presence.
Two thought leaders for that are Dan Siegel, who wrote a book called “Mindsight.” He is one of my favorite authors that I return to again and again. Pema Chödrön is another, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers. When I think about being resilient and dealing with change, she's my go-to.
Meg Wheatley and Joanna Macy are two thought leaders that I was exposed to through the ORSC Path course. They have had a huge impact on me. I discovered these schools of thought in systems thinking - what's emerging, how things interact with each other and the virtuous cycle of growth.
We also talked about John Wheeler - the universe is learning from itself. When I'm doing work with executives, it’s really important to help them see that it's not just about them pushing a button and having something happen. They need to pay attention to what's happening in the field of their organization. Who are their allies? What's trying to happen? That's a super-important concept.
On her current influences
Because of the reawakening to the systems of oppression that I've become more aware of in myself, I'm reading a lot more work by black, queer and feminist thought leaders. They help me to see what I can't see, because I'm so embedded in my own perspectives and privilege. The thought leader adrienne maree brown is a great example. She just published a book called “Holding Change” applying the work in her last book, “Emergent Strategy.” Reading her work, watching her videos and following her online - it is my next frontier when it comes to integrating and applying ORSC. She's just holding systems in a way that I wasn't holding them. I really love her work.
She builds on the work of people like Meg Wheatley and Joanna Macy, and references Octavia E. Butler, a science fiction writer that I'd never read. I ended up reading a couple of Octavia E. Butler books after being exposed to Adrienne Maree Brown. I was really glad I did because it just opened my eyes to experiences different people are having, in the United States especially.
Prentis Hemphill has a wonderful podcast called “Finding our Way” and interviews people like adrienne maree brown and Mia Birdsong. I just heard about “Eyes on the Prize,” a documentary series. I’m hoping to watch that.
You can apply the system lens to almost any good book or series. I just finished “Succession,” about this totally dysfunctional family, white patriarchy and capitalism run amok. That's the lens through which I'm viewing it, but someone else might be just viewing it as a family drama about power and wealth. For me, it was heartbreaking and fascinating to watch this family practically eating itself from the inside out. I will have to warn you, I do love dark shows! With a show like “Succession” - you can look at that through an ORSC lens and have a great conversation.
On what might come next
I definitely want to use the skills that I've accumulated and the experience I have in working with leaders to leverage leadership in unexpected places. Rather than focusing exclusively on executive coaching, I'd like to be enabling more leaders who are doing what we call social impact work - whether it's climate justice or helping women who are survivors of domestic violence. Empowering people to create the change that we need, rather than continuing to support systems that in some ways are not responding fast enough to the changes that are needed now.
On being on purpose
I think being on purpose is part of what I want for the world - for more people to feel like they are working from purpose. It doesn't have to be anything major, like protesting. But as long as you feel like your strengths are being utilized and you're making the world a better place, I think that is an amazing place to spend your time.
Listening or Watching
Prentis Hemphill's podcast | "Finding Our Way"
PBS documentary on the civil rights era | "Eyes on the Prize"
Toshi Reagan and Adrienne Maree Brown's podcast | Octavia's Parables
Adrienne Maree Brown | "Holding Change" and "Emergent Strategy"
Dr Dan Seigel | "Mindsight"
Octavia Butler | Works
Nina Simonds' podcast | "Let's Get Real"
Want to connect with Nina? Get in touch via her LinkedIn profile.
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