What will your client do with the value you provide? If it isn’t for the greatest good nor bring you peace of mind, why do it? Joel and Michelle Levey have explored this powerfully in a programme for the US Army Special Forces

Have you ever asked yourself ‘Should I really be doing this work, with this person/organisation?’

It’s a question we often find ourselves asking. And it raised its head twice at the recent Coaching at Work conference: once with a Master coach, asking themselves about their work with a CEO knowing that the CEO was being paid many, many times what the lowest paid in the organisation was getting; on the other side I received the challenge, ‘Is that a question you can only ask yourself once you have a liveable income?’

It’s a fair challenge.

A recent conversation with Joel Levey provides great insight. Joel and his wife Michelle are world leaders in mindfulness, change, resilience, creativity, wellness and wisdom. As a visit to their homepage shows, Joel and Michelle met this question in the biggest possible fashion when asked to deliver a programme for the US Army special forces.

I spoke to Joel at their retreat centre in Hawaii about their thinking before creating what became known as the ‘Jedi Warrior: Mind Fitness Based Resilience Training’.

“It was really a response to tremendous amount of suffering that had been caused by the way that the military had gone about waging war and then the aftermath of that in people’s lives,” explained Joel.

He described people’s guilt for what had unfolded and how totally ill-prepared and ill-equipped the men were going into those circumstances. The military were looking for a solution to the “devastating pain” the soldiers had coming home, that would then ripple out into their families, their communities and their units.

Essentially, this was about helping them “recognise and befriend their inner enemies and stop the war inside”.

The Leveys and the military realised that the men needed to be able to work with those tremendously powerful and confusing forces within them and come to clarity and a clear mind, an open heart, a sense of decision-making based on a deeper kind of seeing and a deeper kind of caring.

Joel and Michelle were in no doubt about the significance of their decision.Essentially they would be working “with people who were in the position to potentially start or stop the next World War”.

So they spoke with military leaders, abbots of monastic universities, friends, colleagues and contacts, and “really deep, wise souls that we could just sort this out with”.

It went as far as the Dalai Lama.

The response was “actually, stunningly universal”. The basic advice was: “If you have a chance to influence these people, to use their power and their influence in wiser, more compassionate, responsible ways, by all means take it on.”

But there are essential caveats. Joel is clear about powerful questions that must be asked (see box: Powerful questions for challenging decisions).

Joel’s experience also led him to share some advice: “Run the mental simulations of what might play out from the work you do. As people become more calm, more centred, more clear on their ambitions, more resilient or whatever, and they’re working in a toxic organisation with a nasty mission to create great wealth or great profits or great gains at the expense of countless other beings or generations to come, or the environment, how might that play out? Run those simulations in gruesome detail, and to see how that lands for you. And to run those simulations in ways that really play out through the greatest good, through the influence you have. And to be able to hold both those and let both of those sets of simulations inform your decisions.”

And a point Joel wanted to make very clear: “The most absolutely precious human resource that any of us have is our peace of mind. And we don’t want to mess with that. If we have an opportunity to work with a client and there’s a good chance that what they do with the value that they get from us will create devastating circumstances, for their stakeholders, or in the world, because they’ve learned to manage their stress or sort out their priorities and just feed their own narcissistic ego and ambitions in ways that are harmful, we’ve got to live with that. If we’ve got an opportunity to work with a client and we’re going to be plagued by that decision for the rest of our life, nobody could pay us enough to have that be worthwhile.”


Powerful questions for challenging decisions

  • “Do you believe strongly enough about this work with this client and the nobleness of the mission that you have and the opportunity to have influence there, that you would do the work even if you weren’t being paid?”
  • “What is your motivation?”
  • “From whom, and where, do you get your guidance?”
  • “Do you truly believe you have the capacity necessary to wisely and skilfully work with this population or organisation?”
  • “Are complex constellations
    and circumstances going to compromise the situation?”
  • “Do you trust the client and what the client might do with what they learn or gain through the work that you do with them?”
  • “Does the client trust you enough that if their people are radically transformed through the process of your work with them that they can handle that?”
  • “Do you have a strong enough set of personal practices to sustain you in the most challenging environment?”


Find out more

See more about Joel and Michelle and their work at:


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