THREE MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT: SHAKIN’ ALL OVER

An earthquake in England led Neil Scotton to think about climate change – and an earth-shattering conclusion about our profession and planet Earth

 

It was with great fear of a backlash that in late February I posted on LinkedIn the article which appears in an edited version below. What happened next was extraordinary. Have a read of the edited article, then I’ll share some of the repercussions.

 

“…the Earth

Was feverous and did shake”

Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3

 

It’s 04.18am. 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 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 past year. So they have installed further stations to monitor things more closely.

You didn’t need a seismograph this morning, though. A bookcase would do the job. The earthquake follows the beginning of fracking drilling; official sources say there’s no relationship.

This wasn’t the article I was planning. I was going to write about how I caught the sun working on the allotment at the weekend. How it was 21 degrees in Kew yesterday. How people have been sunbathing on Welsh beaches. How yesterday there were wildfires in Sussex.

This is no work of fiction though. 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 degrees. Then it rained. And 500, 000 (read that number carefully) drought-weakened cattle died.

“This is now a food security issue,” said Josie.

That heat you feel; earthquakes in Surrey; children protesting outside schools about climate change and their future.It’s all telling you something. It’s time to do something. Our profession has to come off the fence. All professions have to.

 

Where to start?

An earthquake that has to happen is one that begins in our minds. During the Renaissance, 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 Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and all it stands for. But get their recent messaging: “Give nature a home.”

It implies 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? 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 the coaching profession is, ‘it’s not the client’s agenda.’ Now, remember the Wheel of Life tool? When you put that in front of clients did your client already tell you that they want to talk about all the segments?

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 to see that will serve them well. Your client does not exist in a bubble. Their happiness and wellbeing rely on the world around them. Their 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?

 

Enough is enough

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, it’s clear that this exploitation mindset isn’t just about the environment; it’s 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. On short-termism. It’s time to assert that our children’s future is our leaders’ agenda.

I haven’t heard much that’s 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 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. Like those who stood by during times of slavery, and when B&Bs had ‘No dogs, no Irish’ signs in their windows. This stuff isn’t comfortable. But as Josie asks,“Are we paid to have comfortable conversations?”

We’re not slaves – we have free choice. Doing paid work you know isn’t right so you can afford to do some pro bono to feel better isn’t enough. The paid work should be good work. And we’re not just coaches. We’re citizens, parents, more.

“Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors,” as Dr Jonas Salk, who discovered a vaccine for polio, put it.

Josie suggests that in talking with clients you ought to be transparent about what you believe in. Not to persuade, but to be honest.

And I believe we ought to be bolder, asking clients questions like, “What’s the balance of the organisational culture between exploitation and nurture?” And “How much is enough?”

Josie and I reflected on the potential of coaching to enable change in clients, and on how it changes us as coaches. The ICF’s vision of “coaching becoming an integral part of society” isn’t simply about billions of people having the coaching skills to enable others to make changes. It’s also about us gaining insights into ourselves and our relationship with people, and the world around us by adopting a coaching mindset and practices that increasingly get to the interconnected nature of things.

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.

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’ll press ‘Send’.

I’m meeting a CEO later today. Our work with the organisation has already helped it be recognised as a great place to work. I’m vowing to extend our work to discussing its green agenda.

There’ll be more decisions like this. It’ll be scary. It’s not yet comfortable. But it has to happen.

It took an earthquake to finally wake me up.

 

Aftershocks

So what happened? I posted a fuller version of the above on LinkedIn. Agreement and affirmations flowed in. They included big names in our profession. It became clear that if you feel strongly about the sorts of things raised here, you are not alone. Many commented on the post. Many wrote directly. Every person responding seemed to have resonated with a different part of the post. Many shared their ‘What we need to do…’ ideas. That we need to change. That we need more conversations like this. That we should be supporting protesting children. That we should…It seems to me that we all have a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. And each piece is important.

Individually, we don’t need to worry about the whole puzzle. It’s too big. We each need to discern our piece or pieces and seek people whose pieces fit ours, putting the pieces together and working together. We shouldn’t assume that what appears to be on our piece is indicative of the whole picture.

Some sections may look very different and indeed opposite to ours. But each piece of the puzzle is useful. And no one has the lid of the box – the picture is more complex than we can imagine. By piecing this together, piece by piece, the picture will emerge.

And so it is that coaching groups and communities are asking if they can use it as a discussion topic for their groups (Ans: Yes, absolutely). It’s sparking a whole conversation within several of the biggest coaching bodies. Requests to speak/take part in coaching group conversations/do podcasts are flowing in.

Just to say, myself, Josie, Alister Scott, and a number of highly trusted names in the profession I’ve spoken with about this are delighted to try to support conversations you may wish to host. Just get in touch.

 

Press ‘send’

And back to the story… I pressed ‘Send’ and Liz had the courage to print this in Coaching at Work.

And I had the conversation with the CEO. Remarkably, they formed an idea and then committed to develop a ‘green solutions’ income stream within five years. They wouldn’t simply comply. They’d create solutions – and then drive part of their business through selling them.

I got over my fear – and a story to share with the grandchildren is beginning to unfold.

I look forward to writing the next piece when I can hopefully share some of the conversations unfolding with the bodies. You may want to take part! And in the meantime, what’s your piece of the puzzle? How can you connect with others who might want to help or who hold a similar piece?

  • Neil Scotton is co-founder of the One Leadership Project. Join Neil’s session at the Coaching at Work annual conference on 3 July, inspired by the content in this column
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