Potency, protection and permission…

Category: Blog

Recently (8th May 2020), Sandra Wilson and I gave a webinar on the so-called ‘3Ps’. We know this concept from our work with Transactional Analysis; we think it’s useful for leadership, coaching and for making sense of our lives at the moment.

The 3Ps are attributes, all of which can be learnt. You might like to rate yourself on each on a scale of 1 to 10, and plan a way of raising your level of one of them by one point (or even half a point!).

The first is Potency. Originally, this idea was about therapists who needed to be ‘bigger and stronger’ than the ghosts and gremlins in their clients’ heads.

For leaders today, the idea would include being a respected go-to person who takes our ideas, makes them happen and who gives credit where credit is due. They walk their talk. This leader is a ‘secure base’. (Kohlrieser et al )

 For coaches, this is about bring credible, having personal power and a strong presence. A coach needs to have resolved in themselves the kinds of issues their clients bring, and to believe in the effectiveness of the process. They have to be and to model what they believe a professional is and does. The International Coach Federation also suggests the ability to manage one’s own emotions, and to be OK with a client’s strong emotions. Reliable and predictable (in the positive sense) come to mind.

For us as people, we can think about Bandura’s self-efficacy model: to what degree do you believe you can make things happen in your life at the moment? Where are your areas of impact? Where were they? What are or were your sources of (positive) personal power and influence? How can you stay grounded in you and be all of yourself? How do you stay stable in spite of…?

The next is Protection. Originally this was about protecting the client against their internal oppressor, the then it became also about ‘no harm’.

Leaders protect their brand, their people and their interests. They protect their team’s mission, values and wellbeing and they protect the individuals from persecution.

Coaches need to protect the space, protect the coaching work and our reputation. We do this by working in a private space without interruptions or distractions, by holding the time boundary and by making sure that we stay on track towards the agreed outcome. We also ask clients how they can thrive and grow in spite of their Gremlins. We concern ourselves with ways of creating a space where clients feel safe enough to say what’s happening to them.

Socially, we protect ourselves by taking vitamin D, wearing face masks and not coming too close. We protect others by abstaining from handshake and hugging rituals. We consciously and awarely avoid potentially infectious places. But, as Tudor points out, it is easy to slip into over-protection; the Nanny State clicks its tongue disapprovingly, ‘Ealth and Safety over-rules common sense and representatives of the State dye the Blue Lagoon black. ‘All for your own good,’ say our protectors. So, in 2020, how do you protect yourself? Not only from viruses, but from losing hope and faith, from losing good parts of yourself, from losing your reason for being?

The third is Permission. Originally this was where the therapist gave their patient permission to change, told them that it was OK for them to change. Thus, the power to give permission lay with the therapist, and the relationship was not one of equals.

For leaders, permission shows itself in hands-off leadership, trust and encouragement to be active and make things happen without expecting repeated recourse to the leader.

Sandra and I as coaches see the value, even the necessity of permission in the coaching relationship, but the approach is different now. We expect that, as part of the process, our coaching clients will give themselves permission to change (just as we do for ourselves), to achieve their goals, to craft the lives that they want for themselves, to move beyond their ‘can’t’ to their ‘can if I want to’. So, if you’re a coach, you might like to think about how you actually encourage your clients to give themselves permission to change. This leads to a further question; Do you believe it is possible for a coaching process to be successful if the coach has not taken permission to (change) themselves?

As a final thought: What permissions do we give ourselves, now and generally? Perhaps there’s an important one at the moment about not giving way to peer group pressure, but holding the belief that ‘It’s OK for me not go along with the gang’. Or ‘It’s OK for me to say ‘no hugs’ at the moment, but thank you’. Or even ‘it’s OK for me to go along with what they want, even if I actually want to rebel’.


Kohlrieser  G., Goldsworthy S. & Coombe D. (2012), Care to Dare, John Wiley & Sons

Tudor K. Permission, Protection and Potency: The 3P’s Reconsidered. Transactional Analysis Journal, Volume 46, 2016, Issue 1