Monday, April 18, 2011

Repurposing Coaching

Posted on Monday, April 18, 2011 by International Coach Federation

Repurposing is a common term in our profession, and generally means taking content or work and offering it in a different way or towards a different end.

It's time to consider repurposing coaching itself.

Coaching has often been about More. About playing a bigger game. About accumulating and building businesses and leading more effectively.

At the extreme, the laws of quantum physics have been invoked to claim that the Universe will snap to attention and give us everything we want if we only focus our intentions and passions clearly enough. (Sorry, quantum physics doesn't work that way.)

The law of abundance is fine and well, as long as the economy is growing and oil is cheap and we don't look too deeply at what is going on in the rest of the world. However, the illusion is becoming harder to maintain. The house is on fire, and the fire is spreading.

When our house is on fire, any lucid person will discern which activities inside the house make sense. Getting people out of the building, calling 911, and locating fire extinguishers are actions that, given the context, obviously make more sense than hanging art on the wall, painting the bathroom, or rolling sushi with friends.

Yet, too often, we take it as our mission to help our clients accomplish what they want, or "live the life of their dreams." There is nothing wrong with creating wealth, building new businesses, and leading more effectively. Yet, too often our work supports clients' actions towards what they want (art, a new bathroom, and sushi) while failing to consider the context of the burning house.

It's time for those of us in the change profession to examine the purpose our work is serving. We must question whether we are using our skills and perspectives to make the most relevant and powerful contribution possible in times of accelerating and existential change.

Most of us have narratives about how our work contributes to a better world; I believe them to be largely true. And, experience tells me not to underestimate the capacity of the human mind to skew our narratives to justify what we desire. It is our nature to be driven more by our own identities, ambitions, and sense of entitlement than we can possibly be aware of. (I am not exempting myself from uncomfortable examination. I did some work in Asia that made perfect sense to me at the time. Now, I question whether the good really justified the wear and tear on me, on my family, and on the planet, considering the carbon dioxide emitted by my trans-Pacific flights.)

The coaching profession has developed powerful methods for catalyzing significant and sustainable change in those we work with. However, it is no longer sufficient or appropriate to simply ask people what they want, and help them get it, without also asking deeper questions. Until our own success and achievement, and that of our clients, are relevant and aligned to the global context, our own sense of entitlement and that of our clients will be part of the problem.

Coaching as a skill set and as a profession is urgently relevant to our times. We are leaders with influence. And, we have real influence with other leaders in positions of power. Influence carries responsibility. It is time to repurpose our work towards "bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just way of being on this earth."

Many of us already place our work squarely in this larger context, and pride ourselves on asking deeper questions that invite clients into discovery. However, as individual professionals and as an industry, it is imperative that we focus our considerable energies on this overarching purpose. To fail to do so is to remain in the myopic illusion that the law of abundance will take care of global warming, dwindling oil reserves, food and water crises, and fundamental injustices in the way the world accesses and distributes resources.

Alternatively, we can drink deeply, sinking our roots, and those of our work, into this compelling purpose. We can each choose to play our bold and unique role in times that are both dire and pregnant with possibility.

Doug Silsbee, PCC

The stakes could not be higher. We are all needed.

* What do you agree with? Disagree with?
* How does your narrative about building a better world also justify your own desires?
* Where do you stop listening to what the world is asking of you?
* What bolder actions could you be taking?

Posted by Doug Silsbee, PCC, author of The Mindful Coach, and leader of the ICF-approved Presence-Based Coaching training program. For other posts, or to comment on this one, visit

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