A series of columns on our role in tackling the complicated economic, environmental and social challenges we face. It is a place to question, offer, share, explore, challenge, dissent, celebrate, reflect, learn and enjoy

Some years ago we heard a story: two of the grandfathers of coaching, Sir John Whitmore and Tim Gallwey, were discussing the question: What is the question at the heart of coaching?

“What do you want?” offered Sir John (after all, GROW starts with G for goal).

“Who are you?” proposed Tim.

Questions shape conversations that shape actions in the world.

Recently, we asked Ian McDermott, founder of NLP and coach training organisation ITS, prolific writer, member of the Association for Coaching’s Global Advisory Panel and Honorary Fellow of Exeter University Business School, the core question for this column: “What is our role in addressing the big challenges of our times?”

“It doesn’t engage me,” he replied with fabulous, refreshing directness. “It seems so abstract. Global trends have to be personalised.”

He is clear that we should not be “an early warning system for society”.

We explored how coaching helps people to find their own wisdom; that it transcends techniques; that it is about a way of being; that it begins with the client’s own issues. Ian recounted a conversation with a colleague who shared the idea of creating an MBA together. “I’m more interested in an MBH – a Masters in Being Human. What would that be like?”

For him it led to creating the Henley MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change. He describes how, when we focus on being human, we become more humane. Beautiful.

Working at the personal, individual level is undoubtedly an essential part of what makes coaching so powerful.

The question that nags at us is: Should our coaching journeys stop there? As poet, John Donne said: “No man is an island.”

Work and life is about more than ‘Me’. The profession is seeing a growth in team and systemic work. As many put it: ‘From Me to We’.

It goes further. As anthropologist Gregory Bateson said, the unit of success and flourishing is not the individual, team, organisation or even nation; if the environment you are in is not flourishing, you will not flourish.

So, is the current journey ‘From Me to We’ going to be about much more than high performing teams and organisations? Will we get to become as comfortable introducing questions like: ‘What wider impact are you having?’ and ‘What will you be leaving for others?’ as we already are at asking: ‘What do you want?’ and ‘Who are you?’

A couple of years ago we heard Sir John say he will no longer work for organisations that won’t also consider the wider implications of their work.

Perhaps there actually is no conflict in these two views – maybe. Both looking out beyond ourselves and looking deeply within, are journeys along opposite areas of the same circle, each if completed, arriving in the same place: being human, being humane; connected; recognising our place and role in the world; treating all things, including ourselves, with care.

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