Watching the daily news cycle I’m sure most of you are wondering what the hell is going on? Virtually not a week goes by without some tragic act of violence (against both humans and non-humans) only to be momentarily forgotten and then repeated. And like the proverbial iceberg these acts are just the tip of a confluence of social and environmental threats that will inevitably lead to even greater disruption.
For those who are familiar with how societies change and evolve this awareness, unfortunately, is not news. In 1993, Peter Drucker – considered the founder of modern management, and who wrote Ecological Vision and Post-Capitalist Society, argued that:
“Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation…within a few short decades, society rearranges itself – its worldview, its basic values, its social and political structures, its arts, its key institutions…we are currently living through such a transformation.”
Where this “transformation” will lead us is yet to be seen. In any case, I’m sure you feel this at least captures the essence of our times and there is an increasingly urgent need for leaders, change agents, citizens who have the courage, know-how and tenacity to help us move towards a more positive and sustainable future. Critical systems thinkers such as yourself with the capacities to work with increasing complexity, uncertainty, and possibly disruptive changes to enable this transition over the long term.
So where do I come in?
I’m currently on a break from facilitating the Sydney Fellowship Program and about 7 months into my PhD at Macquarie University. My research is looking at how we can better support sustainability practitioners such as yourself to continue to do what you do. This builds on research I conducted with alumni of the 2014 Fellowship Program which looked at how creative practice (think of journaling and Luke Hockley of Midnightsky's “Saying yes to movement” exercise) can support sustainability leaders to make better sense of their life and career journeys. And this led me to my current focus, exploring how we can support the resilience (i.e. the ability to not only “bounce back” but to “keep on bouncing”) and effectiveness of sustainability practitioners…with an emphasis on the workplace. This support requires more innovative, whole-person approaches to learning – the kinds of approaches we employ at CSL. And one particular and increasingly popular and powerful way to support such learning is through coaching. Specifically, transformative coaching, which is an example of an approach to learning that I feel can support the journey of transformation for both individuals and society.
Based on transformative learning theory (developed by Jack Mezirow) transformative coaching involves self-directed learning. Importantly, it emphasises self-reflection that leads to changes in oneself, behaviour and practice, which is essential for empowerment. For example, by becoming more critically conscious of issues such as power in the workplace, which is of particular significance to sustainability practitioners who are often labelled as “greenies” and face push back from colleagues, individuals can become more aware of how to better affect change. Or how their expectations and assumptions have led them to behave in ways that may perhaps be uncomfortable or inauthentic for them, or provide them with a better sense of who they are and who they would like to become.
Significantly, making sense of how to move forward can be supported in the coaching process through sense-making practices such as Focusing (developed by Eugene Gendlin), which can help an individual to describe the “feel” or sense of a situation and deepen their insight into possible ways to move forward…think Star Wars and “feel the force”.
In addition, (and this is one of the key findings from my previous research) by helping an individual to connect what they do with a sense of purpose that is situated within a broader historical context of social change (for example, the sustainability movement), individuals can better understand their identity or sense of self, which can reinvigorate their commitment to the long and challenging journey of social transformation.
So why am I writing this?
Although there is a great deal of research in transformative learning, coaching and leadership in general, there has been little in transformative coaching and even less, in fact none that I’m aware of, looking at how we might support the particular needs of sustainability practitioners with this coaching approach. So I’m writing this to:
- invite you to share any thoughts you may have on my research focus and/or to point me to anyone who may be doing similar research
- let you know that I’ll be inviting you to participate in a questionnaire and indepth interviews in a couple of months (depending on ethics approval which can take a while)
- ask if you could refer anyone who is not a CSL alumni who you think might be interested in being interviewed or might benefit from participating in coaching.
In the meantime, keep on doing what you do…and may the force be with you!