Finding the answers within

Paul Biwan believes that the answers to our success really do lie within ourselves. But sometimes, it takes an outsider to help us realize that potential.

Paul Biwan is the Training and Professional Development Director at OSU.

Paul Biwan is the Training and Professional Development Manager at OSU.

Biwan is the Training and Professional Development manager for Oregon State University, and his office provides free services to OSU employees. From workshops tailored to specific departments, to one-on-on consultations, there is a range of opportunities available to help faculty and staff discover their potential.

Programs include general workshops on work performance, management skills development, meeting facilitation and performance coaching. When Biwan arrived at OSU 14 years ago, he helped create the training programs from scratch. Over the years, Biwan said he’s seen an increasing demand for more customized programming.

“What’s evolved is a need for more one-on-one internal consulting to address specific workplace issues,” he said.

Performance coaching is one of the ways Biwan’s office addresses those needs. The coaches are trained in a process rooted in deep and profound listening and in asking questions that elicit critical thinking, and, often, a new awareness about the situation This allows the coaches to make the desired improvements. There are more than 40 trained coaches at OSU and LBCC, which is a partner in the program.

“The coaching process enables the coachees to take their performance, development or project to another level,” Biwan said. “By increasing the awareness, the coachee understands what they need to do differently, allowing them to more fully utilize their talent. The capacity already exists within the person Coaching provides the focused effort to draw it out. Not only do we see the difference over eight sessions, but often it’s sustainable.”

Catherine Porter, Research Program coordinator for the College of Health and Human Sciences, first became involved in the coaching program two years ago, when she was searching for a mentoring program similar to the one she’d experienced while working in the Secretary of State’s office. She was intrigued with the coaching idea and decided to try it out. It was such a successful experience that she is now a coach, and works one-on-one with a different person each term.

“It’s about stopping and thinking about the bigger picture kind of things,” Porter said. While each individual’s project may be different, the idea behind coaching is that it gives them the space and opportunity to discover what they need to do to achieve their goals.

“Sometimes coaching lets you see the things that are getting in the way,” Porter said. “Things aren’t always necessarily what they seem. Sometimes it takes someone outside guiding you to see the power one has in their own actions and perceptions. It is this ability that allows you the freedom to create the reality you want and to do truly great things.’”

By listening and asking question, coaches often help coachees discover the thought processes and faulty assumptions that are keeping them from reaching their goals. Coaches aren’t always familiar with the discipline of the person they’re working with, but that doesn’t always matter.

“Chemistry is not my field, but I know about communication and listening,” Porter said as an example. “The whole premise of this is people know their own answers. You aren’t coming up with answers, you help people with their own discovery processes.”

Porter said there is always an “aha’ moment for the person being coached, a breakthrough that allows them to move forward with his or her goal or project. As a coach, she also learns about herself in sessions and finds ways to approach her own work. The lessons taken away from coaching can be translated into the personal realm as well.

“We’re not counselors, but what we do is to help people work on things that may be holding them back, and help them realize their potential. Figuring these things out helps both professionally and personally,” she said. “Focusing on what is possible is a mindset.”

Another popular offering is the Journey Into Leadership program, which takes a group of around 40 people from across campus on a path toward increasing their leadership abilities no matter what their job level. The program takes four months and seven sessions, and participants pledge to follow through and do work on their own as well as in class.

“I don’t think you’re going to find a similar program at any other higher ed institution,” Biwan said. “It’s designed to allow people to explore and gain a deeper appreciation of who they are, delve into a set of leadership attributes and map that into their unique world, ultimately applying these discoveries and leadership concepts in whatever position they hold. It’s designed to be highly self exploratory and self directed.”

Linda Brewer works in the College of Agricultural Science, and has found over the years that her work has become more focused on project management for administrators. She also found that when working with extension faculty in different programs, humor got her the best results.

But sometimes, her humor was misinterpreted, and she worried that in trying to be a good but funny leader, she was risking offending the very people she sought to serve. So when Brewer saw an announcement in OSU Today about the Journey Into Leadership program, she decided it was a good opportunity to hone her leadership skills.

“It was much more about polishing my skills, and getting more sophistication (in my approach) than it was about uncovering unknowns,” she said.

Brewer appreciated that the program included faculty and staff from all over campus, and she liked that each session featured a different campus leader talking about their own perspective on leadership. She also enjoyed the out-of-class reading and the work book, which helps participants to distill what they’ve learned in class.

Because of the program, Brewer said she now feels more comfortable in speaking up to administrators about potential problems or conflicts being experienced by staff and faculty, and she is more ready to take charge rather than ask permission to do things she sees need to be done.

“I’m less likely to wait for someone to invite me,” she said.

While she believes the program offers something for almost everyone, she said participants should prepare to work hard.

“If you’re really going to change your interactions, it’s going to mean spending weekends and evenings doing the work. It’s an investment in yourself,” she said. “If you’re not doing the work, and you’re just showing up, it shows. This is for people who are interested in a change.”

While all services are free, staff and faculty must find a way to dedicate time to the program, whether it’s getting permission from their department head or using comp time. Biwan believes that trainees receive a spectrum of benefits from the program.

“The feedback we get is that for those that really do their work, it not only benefits them at work, it benefits them in their non-work life.”

For more information on these and other free learning opportunities, visit

To hear a podcast interview with Biwan and Porter, go here.

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