Featured Image: The Alchemist In Search of The Philosopher’s Stone: Joseph Wright of Derby 1771
It’s not a game
Coaches, leaders helping professionals interested in using their science art craft to support social justice supporting and leading social change, one conversation at a time.
What is the role of coaching and leading in a world in need of healing and radical change?
Charmaine Roche started a podcast, Speak Up, Speak Out through an amazing ability to network and create a tangible forum for highly knowledgeable coaching practitioners to discuss and express their practice. You can see and feel in the podcasts how the conversations touch something very exciting inside coaching but also resonating with a wider social appetite for growth and change.
The final episode of the podcast repositions the tools and practice of coaching as something universally hopeful, useful, practical: the new season will launch as The Philosopher’s Stone Collective to help grow awareness and potentialities through critical self reflection.
Have a look at the episodes, the talk is relevant wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever role you have, job you do, profession you work in, business you run.
The idea is to break down silo living, thinking and working and feel the ‘force that through the green fuse drives (our) green age’ as poet Dylan Thomas knew all those sad post war contractual nights he sat with a crate of beer in a BBC studio, (locked in until he met the script deadline for Under Milk Wood):
And in a way the podcasts are unlocking the doors on the history of the post war reconstruction, how talking about the lives, people, histories, workplaces, organisations, education creates a much more dynamic resource, a new kind of space where, slowly, slowly, slowly new images, new sounds, new feelings and thoughts about humanity can flourish. The courageous people who are part of this new way of working, thinking, expressing are definitely in the vanguard: thanking them for their attention to the detail as well as the bigger picture.
In the pod she takes the vision, experiences and insights (having been a teacher, head teacher, coach, now a Phd researcher) into places that need spaces so that people can thrive: how insightful coaching can be utilised to help organisations and institutions receive and assist better everyone who works in them, everyone who passes through them, so that instead of massive inaccessible monoliths, even the largest organisation feels vibrant, alive, connected to the local, regional, national and international, to the people working in it.
Work should feel purposeful, meaningful and connected to change and development.
Knowing the organisations we’re part of, knowing who works in an organisation, understanding how they evolved, their histories, what organisations do now, what they did before and what they can do in the future is now recognised as a normal part of our democracy.
In speaking up, speaking out about our knowledge, experience and history we’re including ourselves and realising that ‘in’ should include everyone, into a podcast. The last episode of the podcast begins to address the twin needs of humanity: healing/radical change by beginning to discuss the things that speak to that need, safely, warmly, with care.
Have a think about the ideas around The Philosopher’s Stone
The ground we’re in
Inequalities, globally illuminated by pandemic/ resurgence of black lives matter in the wake of killing of George Floyd divisions in society are defining the nature of the next presidency America Trump/George Floyd/Covid 19.
opencity: (writing this up) How can this change? Is it through better communication, relationships, quality of media?
Charmaine Roche New presidency in th US: relief. Tensions divisions will play out and affect the globe.
opencity (as I write this up): How can changes across the world inform better relationships between countries? How can the United Nations be useful in this?
Charmaine The rupture in Britain due to Brexit playing out in the context of pandemic. Events related to my work as a coach and life as a human on this planet. They really bring me to what called me to start the podcast speak up speak out ethics matter and launching The Philosopher’s Stone Collective launching today. How The Philosopher’s Stone Collective embodies the psychological spirit of safety, compassion, collaboration and desire for social justice.
It’s needed to discuss difficult important questions
opencity (thinking and writing this up) Is this a moment when we can rethink how the economies of the world were reconstructed after the second world war? Who was ‘included’ who was here/there, not represented? Understand the underpinnings. Understand the pain of the old losses in the new organisations. Infrastructures, ways of educating working, training, employing people. The Philosopher’s Stone Is this a good metaphor? What does the philosopher’s stone metaphor offer? It speaks to dogma -is it a way out of intolerable situations? How can the philosopher’s stone metaphor be useful in coaching?
Charmaine The notion is to evolve the compassion, collaboration, challenge and social justice
Dreaming social justice. Image of this event (the culmination of all the work of all the podcasts, all the obstacles and landmarks in the first year of broadcast) Charmaine dreamt the image: a group gathered around a large, rough hewn solid stone table.
It’s a great metaphor: the idea of an exchanging of ideas, thoughts, questions as if all the participants were at a meal, sharing food.
An atmosphere of gentle and open curiosity: curious about what everyone could learn from each other. We’re not here to reach for easy answers-there aren’t any. If there is a difficulty sit with it to see what we can learn warmth, open and gentle curiosity. It would be great if we could use that to create that container. Does coaching have a role to play in healing the divides?
Martin Vogel The short answer is yes..I take it as read that coaches should be capable of addressing matters related to socio political contest. It’s not just socio political divides
It’s probably shared among this audience though it’s not held generally in the coaching world beyond.
When we live in such a polarised time it seems to me that almost everything can be turned into a culture war…and that’s unsettling for people.
Not only because orthodoxies melt very quickly.
But that they re-solidify and people have very little space to pause and think through their own position before they come under normative pressure to align with one side or another -there’s sort of a sense of people feeling possibly intimidated into conforming
or keeping quiet
or having to voice things when they’re not quite ready to
And I think this is evident in organisations as well organisations to they adopt positions on matters of controversy quite quickly for PR reasons
Often because of social media pressure and they haven’t neccessarily thought them through because these are very complex issues and they raise as many complexities as they solve
When organisations adopt positions it seems to me what people need a space where people can converse freely very much in the spirit that you were asking us to contract to Charmaine at the beginning
Where we can encounter differences and disagree in safety: take the risk of disagreeing and this isn’t neccessarily a cross polarise device it’s often within them as well you often get sub polarisations and I think that that’s a space that’s going to be quite hard to create and
Coaching can have a role in creating it but even before we get there possibly
Coaches can provide a space for our clients where they can encounter themselves, explore their own issues, doubts, confusions in a safe space and maybe kind of practice:
What it’s like to step into the public space with their tentative opinions
Without fear of judgement
The Philosopher’s Stone Collective
I think it should be a place of experimentation
How to experiment with positions and explore doubts, explore emerging opinions and play with
and drop our fear a little bit
Zoe Cohen my own initial response…yes it’s absolutely unimaginable to say otherwise, linked to what Martin’s said the local and global communities need dialogue more than ever and so for example
We need a broad and better deliberative democracy
The core coaching skills:
Respectful listening, open minded, open hearted, curiosity and empathy are crucial to this.
It’s important, we need to give our skills away democratise coaching skills and given them away
We need to be humble: there are many groups, facilitators to therapists etc that have related skills, humble open generous
I’ll dive straight in …
Build on what Martin and Zoe have said..
I want to just position the many drivers of the divides
I’m going to focus on a few markers on what I think has split our political and social fabric…
Firstly, the manipulation of truth: it has become a cheap commodity
Fear mongering to promote the interests of the few,
The widespread breakdown of trust in the institutions …
These are three of the several corrosive things
I think they have a common root…
The mindset that sees human beings as separate from their context
So that we can utilise the natural world,
Or other people and its corollary
The human as top dog mindset and way of being which means
We have throwaway plastics
And throwaway people which goes right across the whole way of conceiving of ourselves
What our role is we take for granted is our role is for being on the planet
Anglo Western approach is to have fun
to enjoy ourselves to satisfy ourselves have our needs met
We could turn that round and say that our role could be to contribute to the wellbeing of the planet to the wellbeing of others
That’s where coaching comes in
Coaching promotes awareness and responsibility
We do this through listening widely and deeply to ourselves as well as to others and deeply which promotes
Respect to others which seems to be in short supply in the (wrecked) or fragmented societies we live in they build relations of trust without you don’t get the kind of respect and picking up of responsibility and ownership that coaching brings without respect.
I’m trained in transpersonal psychology which reintroduces the spiritual a beyond self cultivation of higher qualities purpose courage, compassion, service, also the tolerance of the unknown.
We need to get a way from arrogance: Zoe mentioned humility there is so much we don’t know and have the arrogance to believe we know everything and that brings with it a profound understanding of interdependence so I think that that knowledge that intimate interdependence… that knowledge my well being depends on your wellbeing.
We’re intimately interconnected.
That’s the beginning the mindset that coaches and coaching can bring about….coaches to speak to Zoe’s point can help bring about to begin the healing and promote a healthier relationship not only with other people, but our beleaguered planet and with ourselves and we haven’t even begun to talk about mental health and emotional breakdown.
(and that’s without talking about mental health/emotional health!).
Hany Shukry: (Hetty is) A tough act to follow!
I think if I start with does coaching have a role it does have a role the answer society nations and so forth the most important thing is that it can challenge the status quo or make the status quo stronger
The key point is the falsity of neutrality
Does coaching it does have a role and
It’s not neutral we should be very aware that as coaches we’re helping interacting in the public domain our role will go on this side or that side regardless of how neutral we tell ourselves we can be
How big is the coaching role?
Sometimes we do have access within companies or non profits or schools
to the highest level of decision making,
sometimes the influence is felt to be strategic
although it’s not more important than work with individuals maybe a bit less access to places like government policies where coaching doesn’t have the footprint that it has currently in companies or individuals lives the could it be a good role?
I think that coaching has a lot of ingredients Martin, Zoe Hettie have a lot of good things
Most coaches starting from a position of care to help others
The nature of coaching is by its very nature dialogical, experimental, opens spaces has the possible to be empowering, critical opening critical ideas these are all the ideas to lead to something good
Where it goes has to be a conscious choice rather than assuming that it’s something good
There is another outcome other than good
Charmaine Coaching as process….The psychological climate that coaching creates is a prerequisite for healing, repair or however we might describe it ,the sorts of things touching me I was thinking about the people who are resistant to change. Because of fear. Which taps into what Martin was saying and cuts us off from what Hetty was saying: cuts us off from interconnection from a very different narrative about what it means to be a human being on this planet how we relate to this planet, how we relate to each other.
Question on the Chat: Ashok Is there a danger that coaching can make leaders more socially effective at doing damaging things….?
Zoe: I responded to Ashok’s chat too. Is coaching that powerful I guess I’d put that aside that I do think there’s definitely a risk if you think about the range of damaging things they are massive. Practically all organisations are unprofitable without exploitation: almost inevitable that coaching produces more damaging outcomes: (inside the supply chains: slow violence).
Hany I wear two hats one within corporate….. the answer is definitely yes…. doing damage is quite easy when you’re in power it’s not a binary thing the amount of pressure competition and Board pressure puts things in the grey area:
it’s easier to do horrible things unless you can be conscious and take steps back to capture it. It becomes very quickly a habit, damaging behaviours are the way we do things…Yes coaches can help within that space
Charmaine: Zoe, Naomi, Christian: we are currently seeing the rise of the Activist Coach in the form of the Climate Coaching Alliance. Is this a benefit or a threat to the coaching profession as a supposedly impartial helping profession?
Zoe: I can’t be morally neutral: the world current political, economic is driving us to a world of average3-4 degrees global average heating a world of unprecedented suffering. All citizens need to understand this reality if not we’re either unknowing or colluding. I do think around the narrative a conflation of two things ‘activist and a coach’. In my coaching I hope I’m an aware citizen who’s educated themselves to bring this reality to clients when appropriate. We all wear different hats: this is wider than professional identity it’s about how to use this role to raise awareness much wider that professional identity to raise awareness being citizens, parents voters, taxpayers, grandparents as well as a coach I am genuinely curious to find out what those coaches who express those concerns about (impartiality and activism) to really understand what those concerns are about. With openness, love, compassion and spirit.
Naomi I’ve been working with someone in the charity sector who works with women at risk of sexual exploitation and some of the women have died because of covid not slow violence: there is immediate violence what happened to those girls on the streets who are now dead because of this pandemic.
We’re not neutral: our purpose as coaches is a huge part of why we are here our role is to break open others to feel the pain and suffering that we share. As coaches we come from a place of purpose wanting to make the world a better place to address the injustice we need to remember the pain.
Christian Thank you: it’s a wonderful conversation to be part of I do have concerns as I’ve been listening about neutrality.
I like impartiality.
The first question: one of the things is the polarisation we talked about.
My concern is that it’s very important that we are highly non-judgemental.
My main concern is that they don’t feel judged by us as an activist who is a coach if we go into a conversation with an agenda if we go into a conversation.
I have already heard comments that are highly critical and judgemental of large organisations I’ve heard a bias: general statements about this. I’ve heard comments that make me cautious like ‘dysfunctional leadership’, ‘toxic culture’ as if our clients are doing something unethical.
I know this whole conversation is about ethics: my focus, our ethics and transparency.
When clients work they pay me -also paying clients in hindsight re the financial crash.
Coaches had high ethics and integrity.
It might be about re-contracting contracting differently about different contracts and wellbeing and wellbeing of others once we’ve contracted for that then wellbeing becomes part of the playing field I really appreciate people’s comments so far.
Activist coach coaches who asked what could we lose? That non judgemental space that creates the possibility for change.
Charmaine I would say neutrality/impartiality aren’t value free, they’re values.
What are we using them to serve? We might be impartial/judgemental and we can use them to serve good purposes or they can reinforce less positive purposes. They are values when you hear coaches talking about them they’re not impartial
Charmaine Christian you can come back, any other questions
Kate Hammond yes and I can build on what Charmaine has just said what is the space serving within your space does the coach pretend pay equity exist?
Christian Great question coaching/coach will be impartial if topic not about gender pay equality not contracted for…wouldn’t be ignoring it but as Hetty said personal responsibility
Naomi we are in the business of raising and expanding the Climate Change Alliance professional bodies with race, gender awareness part of agenda as and when it comes up.
We’re in a privileged position where we need to ask questions these people in positions of power we ned to step into.
Martin I worked in an organisation thinks deeply about impartiality so deeply that caution becomes a risk averse value. It goes to the question of training to think about how the organisations work.
Coaches could be more courageous in expanding the areas they work with. Part of role of coaches (training) how client’s organisations work think about broader picture. I share Christian’s concern about straying into advocacy. Coaches could be more courageous in expanding horizon of organisations they work with bringing issues that might not enter conversation if there wasn’t a coach in the room.
Climate change, social, economic issues a personal responsibility scared of broaching…
Zoe: Layers of unspoken assumptions: if activist will leak… don’t agree…. just a way of being not being an activist, being an activist is a way of being. Should be aware of biases.
Christian I agree welcome activist but not in activist activity as coach open intention of really making coaching as well regarded as possible.
Charmaine recommends a book: Complex Situations in Coaching Hany Shukry writes a case study. It’s an unusual book in that it deals with things not usually dealt with: how a coach’s assumptions about power make him manipulate things in the light of his assumptions.
Hetty add to debate: a valuable perennial debate in all the caring professions: the idea that we can ever be impartial, neutral, the act of asking comes from ‘a place’ so cultivating a level of transparency (is important). For example when Simon Weston introduces himself
He says this is where I’m coming from: he places himself.
Coaching not neutral an Anglo American view of high performance when I coach in other parts of the world independence not valued the idea of disrupting we are incredibly privileged
Charmaine: Do we need a similar movement as the Climate Coaching Alliance to champion gender and racial equality in the workplace?
Hi it’s been an amazing discussion it’s a big question.
I thought of about ten stories (I could use to illustrate this and chose this example).
This happened last week. A woman at a business conference was talking about the advantages in business of being attractive to help chances of success.
I was immediately triggered with ‘facial disfigurement’
What are my chances of being successful ?
I go inward, fix my inner narrative, a quick scan of notes in my belief system so now….. I’m free now to rejoin the conversation….. the speaker has no idea of the journey her words have sent me on and has moved on…
Where there is no cultural sensitivity
Assault, aggression, alienation could take the place of allyship and facilitation and radical change
We need a movement to bring light to this undesirable potential
Invite you to the dilemma true in this day and age sceptical around organisation around any cause. The definitions are elusive: what do we mean?
Also working for a cause doesn’t guarantee serving the cause all definitions equality freedom I come from a place Arab Spring: where words were contaminated.
Adapted because we’re in a messy human environment so I am sceptical when talking about specific causes from coaching I take the view that step away.
The question is how do we approach it a lot of what’s been said?
It’s about principles/values of praxis if we can create communities of praxis: Black Lives Matter, the Arab Spring instead of a cause to focus on the disclosures
Being clear of what we care about, commit to reflexive practice, if we focus on balance to create a voice and a critical awareness in clients.
The how: one of the things I admire the CCA (Climate Change Alliance) have positioned themselves in an educational space becoming a beacon prompted me and others to make a statement so change happens when people step out within BLM not neccessarily that coaching needs an organisation it might do.
I can speak about women Tunisian women, Moroccan women, Algerian: one assumption was we need to be like men strong, loud, aggressive.
Enabled them to find their voices not to compete.
Survive, thrive, change the rules. Anger entrenches those who have power. Not to necessitate being part of that system.
What interests me is the lived experience that Dion was evoking
How you can be excluded race, gender (class)
Also hearing about the grass roots and speaking to a need
Rather than necessarily championing a cause I hesitate to champion silos of causes that compete for attention when there is so much that unites them.
Rosemary Campbell Stephens. I hope you can all hear me? Joining from Jamaica
Discussion fab, thanks for the very thoughtful questions, that you’ve posed Charmaine my reflections no such thing as being neutral whenever that has been suggested as a route that I might take in terms of questions I wanted to ask it was normally coming from a place of wanting to shut me up and so one of the detours I have been navigating over the past 40 years is how to legitimately turn up as an African woman who lives in a very different space physically intellectually, spiritually as a tribal and ancestral soul navigating western spaces and western ways of thinking and doing things.
I just wanted to support a lot of what’s been said in the chat and about very many of the speakers about neutrality about there being no such thing actually in fact I wrote a paper about neutrality being very much overrated.
I think now that we’ve moved into a dispensation where western modes have been exposed for their limitations it may be time to think more globally about different ways of thinking and being.
Ashok I have very little experience as a coach though plenty years as school leader. Does coaching have the capacity to support people in challenging inequality and changing things or is that asking too much of what coaching can do in the current context?
And to find the answer to that listen to the final episode of Speak Up Speak Out Season 2! (Below are episodes and summaries of the participants so far).
Episodes of the Speak Up Speak Out podcast introduce: 1) Martin Vogel, a Leadership Coach and Coach Supervisor, is also co-founder of VogelWakefield the Counter Consultancy. Martin works with people leading creative teams and works with leaders in media, higher education and the cultural sector. 2) Viv Grant Executive Coach, ex-headteacher is passionate about supporting the emotional and psychological needs of school leaders whose sense of purpose, values and vocation might feel at odds with the system they work in. 3) Jane Fentonspeaks up about ethical stress and social justice, her work on ‘ethical stress’ has been an inspiration to Charmaine’s Phd research: questioning how the dominance of neoliberal ideology and ‘managerialism’ affects professional conduct today. 4) Zoe Cohen Zoe combines safeguarding the future of our shared planetary home with enabling and encouraging people to shine and to take action. 5) George Floyd Memorial Special A fundamental expression of our humanity. Charmaine and 6) Martha Da Costa Sherwood, Transformational Coach and Director. 7) Dr Ayesha Roche, Clinical Psychologist, NHS and Lecturer in Psychology, Nottingham Trent University. 8) Cara Thompson, Black Creative ,Writer, Public Speaker, Diversity and Inclusion Champion. 9) Nicole Roche, MEd Educational Leadership, English Teacher, Senior Leader. 10)Hannah Wilson Leadership Development 11) Angela Browne The Nourished Collective. Creating Effective Schools that Nourish- Revolutionising Education.12) Dr Stanley Arumugam Achieving Transformative Feminist Leadership https://www.creaworld.org/13) Hetty Einzig, Naomi Ward and Charmaine discuss both the creative and destructive power of ‘disruption’and the role it can play in coaching as it evolves to meet current and future challenges.14) Hany Shoukry Coaching for Emancipation Coaching for emancipation challenges the western focussed paradigms used in coaching and research relating to coaching: how can we help clients affected by oppressive contexts reach emancipation? What are our ethical duties?15)
Max Girardeau Max helps secondary schools grow healthy and cohesive communities that role model what it is to live harmoniously, co-creating programmes with schools, staff and the community through collective enquiry. 16) Katherine Long Eco-systems thinking and stake-holder based design.17) Dion Johnson is a coach, speaker, facilitator and author of Influential Woman: helping senior women resolve the many personal challenges that get in the way influence and impact through trusting, candid conversation that allows strategic ‘allyship’.