“It is our duty to refuse to work with any organisation if it is not about changing the world.”
You can always rely on Sir John Whitmore for a comment to stimulate conversation. This one was retold to us by Marianne Craig of Firework Coaching and MIRUS (a collaborate venture of coaching for social change).
“I sort of agree with him, but it’s not the right thing to say. We do need to convince people it’s three minutes to midnight. But my problem is the telling,” she says.
It was a similar story for Sue Burnell of This Is Business Coaching. And again, it started with Sir John. “I was at an event in Wimbledon, London, five years ago. He asked, ‘What are you doing to make the world a better place?’ It was a body blow. There was shock, recognition and fear.
Then I got really cross with him. He was opening my eyes when there was enough to be getting on with in starting the business. I was left with tough questions: Do I have the right to ask such things of clients? Are my clients at the right level to be able to answer them and do something? And, if yes to these, how do I open up the subject?”
Burnell has been exploring how to bring the answers into her work and personal life ever since. It’s a common challenge in the profession. We care, but what can we do?
Should we bring our agenda to the conversation?
Is it appropriate to do so?
Neil Johnson was chair of Quaker Social Action for nine years and is now a coach working with charities and community social action organisations. His view? “Bringing what we care about is legitimate if it is a described aim for the coaching.”
Linda Woolston and Jacqueline Hill have similar perspectives. Woolston has been involved in Community Links in East London for 21 years, and coaches various charity leaders. “My agenda is set in agreement with the client. But the main agenda is generated by them, if not co-created.”
For Hill, whose clients include a lot of UK-based charitable organisations, “it’s about being clear with the client”.
Another angle is about ourselves and our own integrity. Virginia Williams works with many corporates as well as leaders in international charities: “I have a need to make a difference in the world. But I’m only one person. By working with these people I expand the possibilities.”
And perhaps we owe it to clients. Something powerful seems to happen when deeply held values are shared. Camilla Arnold, global head of coaching for coach broker DIG, says: “There are clients I work with and clients I play with.”
Woolston echoes this: “I love working with people who have that incredible ability to make good things happen. There’s a creative space I feel completely free in. There’s spontaneity and the agility to go with whatever will enable them to move forward in their mission. One minute on a global scale, another about the office. The whole of me is there – you draw on all of it.”
Johnson highlights the win-win nature of doing good. “We’re motivated to do good. And doing that makes us feel good. “And it goes deeper: “Coaching affects every single area of life. As coaches we are coaching a soul – a place of perfectness within us surrounded by a body that can do things imperfectly. Coaching can be seen as a spiritual activity.”
Wanting to serve something bigger stimulates our development. Williams says: “We work with clients in a shared space. Who I am makes a difference. I look in the mirror and ask, ‘Who am I being today?’ The more I work with myself the more I can deal with my filters and serve the client and the world.”
What are we worried about?
Two responses are common: fear of losing/not winning work, and fear of not having/living our own answers. We raised the question of clients and work with Arnold. “When people are passionate, people buy into it. There is an opening here, but not for everyone. If it is your passion – declare it. But if you follow just because of the business opportunity, you will turn up inauthentic and fail.”
Arnold has already seen this with topics such as resilience. “The coach must be fascinated by the area the client wants to work with.”
Regarding ‘not knowing’, our research is showing that clients have the same issues – they too care about things they do not know how to bring to their work. If we are honest about this together, the effect could be transformational. As Arnold notes, “Give yourself confidence if this is your passion. You will show the difference between mediocre and great.”
What makes it easier to share what we care about?
Johnson has learnt that: “A lot has to do with the quality of the relationship. It’s about them detecting you have a genuine desire to help them.”
William’s brand, Peaceful Productivity, puts an agenda clearly and simply in the open. Conversation follows naturally.
Sometimes there’s a natural opening. Craig says: “Many clients at a crossroads in their career are frustrated and disillusioned with the company and the focus on shareholder value. So they begin to ask: ‘What’s it all about?'”
At other times, businesses make it easier by moving this way themselves. Arnold is seeing “more senior leaders who are keen to look at value systems, and explore how to cascade them down in strengths-based ways”.
Why? Because “values-led organisations attract and keep the people and customers they want”.
Sometimes we show our values simply by whom we choose to work with. David Megginson e us professor of HRH Sheffield Business School, and colleagues, do pro bono coaching for two leaders of green charities and a homelessness charity. He says: “The values come in the selection of charities we support- after that we coach in a value-neutral way.”
Role models are important too. “Coaches in this values-based line need to be more visible as a niche. When others see their success and challenges they can decide if and how to declare their own values in their work,” says Arnold.
What about the money?
Many working with charities and social enterprises wish to do so pro bono or on very low rates. We notice this is often subsidised by paid work or income from previous careers. This poses a problem – what about those who want to make a living by working with people doing good? In time, we can hope that recognising social and environmental impact becomes the norm. For now, it’s an issue. As Williams states, “I haven’t worked out how to work half-price, full-time.”
Hill says it’s not just about the money. “You have to ask, What constitutes an exchange of equal value for you? What do you get out of it? Would you consider working with people making the world a better place to offset that value rather than thinking about hourly rates?”
Are there any dangers?
Megginson shares his learning of pro bono charity work: “Because it is not costing, the motivation for change of the client must be clear. It is also important to watch out for parent-child interventions, fuelled by the temptation towards self-righteousness. Charities are much more complex than private sector or public service companies, so stakeholder management is crucial and complex. And it is important to be clear about how the relationship will come to an end, as the end of funding does not apply.”
Arnold warns, “Advocating the big picture can come across as ‘Holier than thou’. It needs to be grounded in a compelling, evidence-based, ‘What’s in it for them’ way.”
Sharing the spark
If we do want to be catalytic in changing the world, then enabling others to coach and mentor inspiring people can be
transformational. Anna Springbett works for Business in the Community. Each year she matches 70 mentors who have significant business experience with leaders of social enterprises. “The mentors get taken out of their comfort zone. It’s an exciting, fresh experience for them to be working with people who are prepared to risk everything for their passion, and who are less constrained by systems and processes. The mentors get energised and take ideas back. It’s a way of bringing meaning, purpose, social consciousness and agility into corporations.”
This is a powerful alternative to anything that can come across as telling, preaching and berating.
All rights reserved. © This article originally appeared in Coaching at Work, Vol 7, Issue 2, 2012
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