Last year, I worked on a coaching program designed for private sector leaders committed to innovate for social impact. Being curious about their reasons for voluntarily stepping into this area, I began informally interviewing them. What I discovered was a clear and common theme in their stories. Each one of them described a drive to do purposeful work beyond what was written in their job description. They all shared a personal commitment to do good and inspire the future generation of leaders. They shared in the realization that with personal commitment, anything can change. One of the leaders shared a very personal story about their journey and said, “I had asked myself time and again who my work served, and I couldn’t answer the question. Now that I know the answer, I have become unstoppable. With this work I am creating a legacy.”
The question those leaders considered about who their work was serving seeped into my mind and began to take root as a driving question for my future work as a coach.
For years I have seen the transformational power of coaching while facilitating leadership programs across many sectors, and I am grateful to have the privilege to act as a thinking partner with my clients as I witness their amazing journeys. Despite the success and transformation of these leaders, however, I always believed we could do much more as coaches. It was and still is evident to me that we need to disrupt how we currently coach and find a different way of developing leaders. The debate is not a new one. Most people would agree that we need a different kind of leader to take us into a sustainable future; leaders who are innovative and fundamentally understand this is a shared responsibility. How do we adapt our coaching to foster a new way of leading for tomorrow?
How suitable is today’s coaching practice for developing tomorrow’s leaders?
There is no doubt that the coaching profession achieved a lot in the last few decades. But hold on. If we want purpose-driven leadership that prevents further environmental destruction and creates value for all stakeholders, what is the role of coaching in supporting that shift?
We cannot afford to keep comfortably coaching individual leaders, often already privileged individuals who are typically only focused on their “front-of-mind” issues. It is time to partner with our clients and co-create coaching relationships that will help them recognize all interconnected issues, systems complexities and patterns, as well as their unique individual power in becoming part of the solutions to global challenges.
Most leadership development and coaching are accessible to a selected group of leaders whose ultimate objective is to boost organizational profitability. I am convinced that it is possible for organizations to do good, to consider the planet and people, and to still make profit. It’s possible for leaders to consider the interests of broader stakeholders when making decisions, and there are many powerful examples of organizations and leaders who have found a way to balance profit-making while also considering future generations and environmental impact. This should be the norm for measuring leadership success and measuring success of our coaching work. As coaches, how are we supporting this transition?
I would argue that we don’t need heroic individuals, but we do need inclusive visionary leaders, collaboratively working on systemic issues. Leaders who are focused on long-term outcomes see themselves as part of the planetary ecosystem and assess long-term consequences of their actions—or inaction.
We know that organizations cannot tackle environmental and global challenges alone, so coaching needs to support leaders to consider their role in a much broader stakeholder network. It’s time to stop ignoring an environmental agenda that belongs to all of us. With moving from self-awareness to systems-awareness, coaching can deepen client relationships with inner-self, communities, nature and the ecosystem. This new mindset will result in new behaviors that are more sustainable, purposeful and focused on improving human conditions.
What are some immediate actions to support coaches and leaders to do what the world needs?
Provide an opportunity to consider connectedness, patterns and impact.
Co-create a coaching relationship that explores the relational space. Move away from coaching the problem and begin to focus on learning. Try asking questions that expand the client’s ability to see patterns, interconnectedness and hopefully create an awakening. Ask, “Who does your work serve?” as a jumping off point.
Bring current and future stakeholders into the process.
Coaching can make a difference when clients bring different stakeholders, including future generations and the planetary ecosystem, into their decision-making process. With this approach, coaches continue to support their client’s agenda and create space for insight-based learning around issues that belong to everyone and should not be ignored. One of the ways to convert these new insights into commitment is to inspire and encourage clients to imagine what the future could look like for diverse stakeholders and how even an incremental change in their choices could engage many people in a powerful movement toward a higher purpose.
Everything is interconnected and one with nature.
It is paramount for organizations to consider the environment while driving their business forward. If we fail in doing this, we are jeopardizing our future. To achieve this goal, we desperately need leaders who are innovative and aware of this connection and ready to take on the challenge. In order to be true to the belief that we are all part of a complex system and not living and working in a microcosm, we need to take on a new role as coaches for those leaders who are ready.
We need to not only raise awareness, but also elevate human consciousness.
Ask leaders to consider what they are doing that is good for them, what they are doing that is good for the company and what they are doing that is good for the world. Only with these three questions aligned, and serving a higher purpose, will we feel we are truly making a difference. It is time to make a shift from striving to be “the best in the world” to becoming the “best for the world.”
This article was originally published on the ICF website.