It’s 04.18. I’ve just been woken by a bump in the night. Actually, it was an earthquake. Where am I? Somewhere with volcanoes or big mountains by tectonic plate edges? Nope. I’m in Surrey, England. If you want to know what an ‘Off the scale’ earthquake graph looks like, see the screenshot from a live read-out. If you check out the British Geological Survey website you’ll notice a cluster of recording stations around the Gatwick area. Why? Because this earthquake isn’t the first. There have been more than 10 in the last year. So they have installed more stations to monitor things more closely. You didn’t need a seismograph this morning. A bookcase would do the job. It follows the beginning of fracking drilling. Official sources say there’s no relationship. See the attached tweet following an earlier quake.
This wasn’t the article I was planning on writing today. I was going to write our regular column in Coaching at Work Magazine. And talk about how I caught the sun working the allotment at the weekend. How it was 21°C in Kew yesterday. How people have been sunbathing on Welsh beaches. How yesterday there were wildfires in Sussex in forests made famous by AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. This is no work of fiction. It’s February. It’s officially winter. I was going to lead into a recent conversation with Josie Mclean PhD, leadership coach in Adelaide. Josie had been dealing with temperatures above 40°C. Then it rained. And 500, 000 (read that number carefully) head of drought-weakened cattle died. ‘This is now a food security issue,’ said Josie.
That heat you feel is telling you something. Earthquakes in Surrey are telling you something. Here in the UK the children protesting outside our schools about climate change and their future are wanting you to hear something.
It’s time to do something.
Our profession has to come off the fence. All professions have to come off the fence.
An earthquake that has to happen is one that begins in our minds. It’s as though the Renaissance only did half the job. Back then, people were killed for daring to say the Earth is not at the centre of the universe. But they were right. The incomplete part of that seismic shift is simply this – humans are not the centre of the universe either.
I love the RSPB (the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and all they stand for. But get their recent messaging – ‘Give nature a home’. Now think about that. The implication is that nature no longer has a home, it’s all ours, and it would be kind if we gave some back. Whose house do we think we’re living in? No-one kicked back against the advertising, maybe because at least the RSPB were doing something. It’s certainly true that we’re taking living, breeding and feeding grounds away and so wildlife populations are declining. Something should be done. I hope their campaign is a big success. But the fact that no-one raised an eyebrow at the wording and underlying mindset shows just how implicit the belief is that ‘everything is ours’ and how completely arrogant, self-centred, egotistical, and frankly stupid, we collectively are.
The usual kick-back in this area for the coaching profession is ‘It’s not the client’s agenda.’ Now, remember the wheel of life? When you put that in front of clients did your client already tell you that they want to talk about all the segments? Their job. And finances. And romantic life. And family. And health. And physical environment. And… Nope. You put it there and invited them into that space to see it all. Because you knew it’s all connected. And helping them see that will serve them well. And so here’s the thing. As John Donne wrote many years ago ‘No man is an island’. Your client does not exist in a bubble. Their happiness and well-being rely on the world around them. Your client’s agenda includes the food on their plate, their children’s future, and even the consequences of mass migration at borders caused by climate change and economic rich/poor divides – see how that has shifted global politics and subsequently economics already. No one can control all those things. But we’re not separated from it either. So, what can we do?
As Josie puts it “We need to shift from a mindset of exploitation to one of nurture.” As we at the One Leadership Project do more work and research around One-ness for organisations, it’s clear that this exploitation mindset is not just about the environment; it is also behind our gender and colour inequality issues too.
This isn’t just about coaching. All professions need to be responsible. The unsaid needs to be said. It’s time we called time on celebrating the ‘Me-More-Now’ lifestyle. It’s time we called time on short-termism. It’s time to assert that our children’s future is our leaders’ agenda.
I haven’t heard much new from the coaching world in a long time. We’ve mined the familiar places. We need to look at new frontiers. Like how we shift the fear that means we don’t confront the big issues, that we don’t speak our truths to power. It’s the fear of being ridiculed. Outcast. Rejected. It’s the fear of losing the job. Of upsetting people you care about. It’s about finding a way to safely unleash the grief and shame of those (probably most) of us who know we’ve stood by, quietly knowing what’s been going on. It’s probably the same as those who stood by during times of slavery, and when B&B’s had ‘No dogs, no Irish’ signs, and that time you heard the awful sexist joke or saw that inequality or abuse, or when someone was laughed at or put down, and said and did nothing. And driving teams to work ever harder, to constantly feel ‘not enough’ and achieve more, ignoring the stress, anxiety, burnout and overwhelm that’s clearly apparent – ‘Put them on a resilience course – that’ll do it’. We stick plasters on but keep up the beatings.
This stuff isn’t comfortable. But as Josie asks, “Are we paid to have comfortable conversations?”
The conversation with Josie covered the conflicts within ourselves. She wants to live without a car, but the scale of Australia means that’s only possible living in a city. So, she has chosen to not fly, meaning not going to, or speaking at, coaching conferences. It’s made me very conscious of having just booked flights to go and support the coaching community in Ukraine. We can’t ask others to change without acting with integrity and being prepared to change first.
We have written columns in Coaching at Work recently calling on us to explore ‘Coach as leader’. Josie echoes this. “It’s time for us to step up to our leadership. If we drop the ball on this there isn’t going to be much left.’
We are not slaves – we have free choice. We don’t have to do whatever the boss/client asks regardless of how we might feel about it, and taking the money and doing it again. Doing paid work you know is not right so you can afford to do some pro bono to feel better is not enough. The paid work should be good work. And we are not just coaches. We are citizens, parents and more. “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.” as Jonas Salk put it.
Josie’s top 3 tips for coaches:
- Become aware of the inter-connectedness: As Josie puts it “Each individual is whole and complete themselves, within organisations which are whole and complete within the communities they are embedded in, which are whole and complete within the larger natural system.”
- Ask questions that point the client towards the inter-connectedness of things and help them recognise some of the possible, unintended consequences that their decisions may unleash in their community and the natural world they live in. For their long-term happiness and well-being, that is their agenda.
- Be transparent about what you believe in. Not to persuade, but to be honest.
And we ought to be bolder, asking clients questions like ‘What is the balance of the organisational culture between exploitation and nurture?’ And ‘How much is enough?’
As Josie and I reflected on the potential of coaching to enable change in clients, we reflected on how it changes us as coaches. The International Coach Federation vision of ‘coaching becoming an integral part of society’ is not simply about billions of people having the coaching skills to enable others to make changes. It’s also about how we gain insights into ourselves and our relationship with people, and the world around us, by adopting a coaching mindset and practices. Through practising coaching we increasingly get the interconnected nature of things ourselves. Josie reminds me of John Whitmore and his message that the aim of coaching is to raise awareness and responsibility. Our awareness is raised. Now for the responsibility.
Outside, as I write, the sky is brightening. Another day. Another chance. Will I do something different? Or pretend the night didn’t happen. Do I hide this writing for fear of causing upset to the magazine’s readers, or because it’s over the word count? Or do I press ‘Send’?
I will press send.
I’m meeting a CEO later today. Our work with the organisation has already helped them be recognised as a great place to work. I’m vowing to extend our work to discussing their green agenda.
There will be more decisions like this. It will be scary. It’s not yet comfortable. But it has to happen.
It took an earthquake to finally wake me up.