“Is coaching encouraging racism?”, is the question that was front of mind this weekend. The catalyst for this question was Friday’s US Government Memo, relating to Training in Federal Government. The memo applies restrictions to spending in US Federal agencies. It prohibits spending on training related to Critical Race Theory and white privilege, and any material that teaches or suggests that either “(1) that the United States is inherently racist or an evil country” or “(2) that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil”.
Whatever the motivation behind the Memo, it does call into question some aspects of what I do and what my industry does. By Industry, I am referring to Coaching, as I layout in The Anatomy of Coaching.
From what I can determine, there are a number of strands in Critical Race Theory, which in itself is one aspect of Critical Theory. The strand that is being called into question by this Memo, is the idea that racism is baked into the system by its creators. In the context of this Memo, I guess the “system” is the US and the creators are those who, throughout history, have directly influenced the creation of the state. It appears that in Critical Race Theory, that if you are born with one or more characteristics of these “system creators”, you automatically inherit everything the system creators stood for and must take responsibility for everything they have ever done badly. There is also a suggestion that Critical Race Theory is actually encouraging racism. From what I understand, practices that have Critical Race Theory as their origins are actively seeking to establish different policies and related education for people, based on their race. That feels like racism to me. Which, is the opposite of what you’d expect. It certainly doesn’t feel like something that would bring about more diversity and the removal of racism. And, it feels a long way from judging someone by the content of their character. Furthermore, critics of the approach point towards flawed and bias research, and a corrupted foundation that has Marxism at its core. Much of the criticism of the adoption of Critical Race Theory appears to be aimed at the humanities education sector, from which coaching is often taught. This is not welcomed news.
I see references to bias, in much of the Critical Race Theory and related training syllabuses. These references include addressing unconscious bias and anti-bias. Coaching leverages the idea that we filter our experiences with our existing beliefs and values, and that can limit our growth and progress. Coaching can be used to understand and adjust those filters. Coaching also points to the idea that we must welcome what is not ourselves, in order to learn and grow. And that we have to work at becoming aware of how we filter information in order to see something other than what we know. Being unaware of these filters is unconscious bias. Embracing the idea of tackling these filters is somewhat the idea of anti-bias. So, filters are at the core of bias. It is the built-in or learned bias that helps us navigate our experience of the world. The bias is based on what worked to get us thus far, i.e. nothing we did in the past resulted in death so it must be right. So, yes coaching focuses on uncovering bias. In a way, uncovering bias is a critical component of the coaching process.
So, if coaching makes use of a framework relating to uncovering bias and Critical Race Theory does the same, is coaching in a way the same as Critical Race Theory. Is coaching contributing to what Critical Race Theory pertains to, i.e. encouraging race-based policies? The answer is no. The reason lies within the approach to the victim mindset. The victim mindset suggests that you are where you are because of someone or something else. The victim mindset completely overlooks any strengths you may have and dissociates you from the context or actions that got you here. The victim mindset suggests that you are nothing but a product of external circumstance and what others will have you be. It suggests the only possible course of action for you to move forward, is to remove that person or thing from your path. The victim mindset suggests that until that something is removed or that someone changes who they are or how they behave, you can never move forward. Critical Race Theory appears to embrace the victim mindset, i.e. you are where you are because of something or someone else, not because of who you are, and that you are powerless to do anything about it until that something is removed or that someone changes who they are and what they believe. Coaching, whilst being empathetic to the context of the victim mindset, doesn’t dwell there. Instead, coaching fosters an understanding of strengths and then what is within one's control to influence, in order to progress and grow. A cornerstone of the coaching approach is that you are immensely capable and not a victim.
So, I am happy that what I do as a coach, is something to be proud of. However, considering this question has helped me realize something more disturbing. It appears that not all those building and delivering interventions in my industry, embrace this constructive approach to the victim mindset. It would appear that much of the material aligning to Critical Race Theory, white privilege, and related ideologies, take a different path. That path being the idea of “re-educating” or removing those seen as sharing characteristics of the system creators. This path suggests you are a victim and you can’t progress with them in your way. This is clearly counter-intuitive to those that embrace the notion that you are valuable and capable in your own right. And, it doesn’t feel right that we should continue to support these destructive practices in our education systems, workplaces, and communities.
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[First published via LinkedIn, September 7, 2020]
In this piece, I look at the why, what, and how of coaching. In doing that, I hold little back. I share the truth about the ugliness it fights and what is truly needed to make it work.
This article took far longer to write than I had ever expected. The idea was simple. Share my knowledge on a subject that I had identified as something that is a significant impediment to my progress and success. As I started to collect ideas and build out the piece, I found myself in conflict. What I did not want to do was contribute to the root cause. Neither did I want to come across as obnoxious or forthright. And, I was tired of all the warm and fuzzy stuff coming from my industry. I hope that what I share here is somewhere in between all of that.
The challenge I looked to address when I started to write this article, was bridging the gap in understanding of what I do. I found that answering “What do you do Brad?” with “I am a coach” does not help most understand what I do. It is a hard question to answer concisely. Underpinning this challenge is that I am in a new industry. It is unlike more established professions where I could say “I am an engineer, nurse or teacher”. As with all new things, naming is built on current understanding or taken from a word that has some sort of relationship. My favourite example of this is in “telephone”, a word which has its origins in Ancient Greek τῆλε (têle, “afar”) + φωνή (phōnḗ, “voice, sound”). In the 90s we moved to “mobile telephone”, “cell phone” and “smart phone”. We now simply say “phone”. So, I call myself a coach. However, I do not oversee a sports team. Nor am I an 80-seater vehicle used to carry that sports team to the match. To help shed light, I am going to step back and look at the “why” first.
There are mixed messages coming from my industry. It is confusing. You will hear “coach”, “mentor”, “consultant”, “advisor”, “speaker”, “facilitator” and “trainer”. Often you will see words added like “strategy”, “business”, “sports”, “sales”, “career”, “executive”, “life”, “personal”, “medical”, “HR”, “Fitness”, “wellbeing”, “resilience”, “leadership”, “performance”, “development” and “motivation”. Whilst eluding to, these titles do not answer the question. For most, the use of the word “coach” simply does not communicate what I do.
You will see material from my industry that includes messages about the value proposition offered. Some examples being “growth”, “be better”, “empowerment”, “return to thriving”, “unleash your potential”, “unlock your potential”, “maximize your performance”, and “achieve a life worth living”. I have used many of these myself. You could say I help others achieve these things. However, sharing the outcome in isolation, is not sufficient to understand what it is exactly that I do.
In helping explain the why, let me look at what is not working in the places coaching is very successfully utilised. Since 2014, I have been working with people across the globe from some of the biggest and well-known multinational companies. These people confront challenges in the most complex circumstances, environments, and cultures. In addition to what I experienced for myself when I was working in industry, the work I now do allows me to see what is really happening within these organisations. And what I see is good people fighting a raft of topics. These include: the victim mindsets, bullying, manipulation, humiliation, conflict, the blame game, fear, sabotage, stubbornness, incompetency, protectionism, micro management, narcissism, disillusionment, ineffectiveness, indecision, inflexibility, restrictive practices, discrimination, aimlessness, career stagnation, career setbacks, demotivation, demotion, disappointment, personal priority conflict, overwhelm, and complacency. This is where things are broken.
In my book I write about the world going mad. However, it is not what you would expect. Sure, we have famine, war, exploitation, and all manner of things going wrong. That is not what I am talking about. These awful truths have been present since the beginning of our existence. Life has been hard and unfair for an awfully long time. For as long as we can recall, we have had thinkers and doers, leaders and followers, heroes and scoundrels, hard workers, and thieves. None of that is new and none of it suggests a change of anything for better or worse. The thing that has gone mad is the experience of ourselves within the world. You risk filling your time with greater amounts of things that do not really matter. You risk draining your thinking capacity in a search for things to blame and find wrong with everything and everyone else. You risk focusing every moment possible on the pursuit of getting as close as you can to becoming a perfect superhuman being. And, you berate yourself for lack of understanding of what it all means. It is these things that are new and that are not right.
This is the “why” of coaching. Let us move onto the “what”?
Let me start by answering what coaching is not.
Coaching is not all positive affirmations. A positive attitude is an advantage. However, an open mindset and a willingness to act, wins hands down. It is not helpful to only hear that we are perfect, can do no wrong and that nothing is our fault. In a lot of ways, being told only what we want to hear, is worse than being put down all the time. At times, it is the thing we want to hear least that is the thing we need to hear most.
As well as not being solely about motivation, coaching is not mentoring. Mentoring is a master and apprentice relationship. The mentor typically has direct experience of many of the situations confronting those being mentored. Mentoring is relevant in many situations. For example, you do not want to be reinventing the wheel every other day. Instead, you want to learn from the mistakes of others. And at times, you want to ensure consistency is present. An example being when you are building a bridge or mass manufacturing a product. Mentoring draws on first-hand experience, making it a powerful tool in passing on the learning in predictable circumstances. Do not get me wrong, experience and awareness of past learning is important to coaching also. That experience and learning helps guide the questions and direction encouraged during coaching.
Thirdly, coaching is not therapy. Coaching is a form of intervention; however, it does not work for all needs. Let me share the definition I use for coaching to help explain that better:
“Coaching is working together to find and give voice to that part of you that focuses on building awareness, taking responsibility and making constructive choices as you take on challenges in order to reach your goals.”
This is a mouthful, so let me break each part down for you. I use the phrase "working together to find and give voice to that part of you that focuses on", because coaching is about helping you help yourself, not me teaching or leading you. I use the phrases "building awareness” and “taking responsibility", to emphasise that coaching aims to help you build awareness of where change is required and also help you identify what is within your control to change. I use the phrase "making constructive choices", because coaching looks at the present and the way forward. Other forms of intervention may look more at the past and its impact on the present. Whilst we want to take learning from the past, in coaching, we do not dwell there. I use the phrase "as you take on challenges in order to reach your goals", in order to emphasise that coaching focuses on specific goals and how you may eliminate obstacles and improve your overall performance as you strive to reach them. The key aspect in all of that is the willingness to be coached. Coaching needs a willingness to look at the gap between where you are and where you want to be. In its absence, a different sort of intervention is needed, not coaching.
So, what is coaching?
The coaching style that I use most is non-directive. I think it works best if I do not tell you how you should do things or how you should think. The only person to tell you how you should do things or how you should think, is you. Whilst circumstances and luck play a part, mostly, the only thing holding you back is your own fears and doubts. Ego also gets in the way. I can help you see the gaps and different perspectives; however, it is you that needs to act. To succeed at that, I need to be impartial. It is particularly challenging for me to coach effectively if I am involved in the circumstances or solution, or if I have a vested interest. Being connected in any way to your challenges, limits how much I want to hear. It also limits the degree to which I will want to make waves. And, it limits my willingness to help see different perspectives.
Through all the hours of coaching and working with real people, with real challenges, it is clear to me that life is brutal, and it is not a walk in the park. You are confronted with difficult situations and people, daily. You face hard choices on a regular basis. This all requires you to think effectively and efficiently, because time spent in reflection reduces the time spent acting on your decisions. Also, when you only have yourself to listen to or those that simply reflect what you are thinking, you risk not only limiting yourself but you risk corrupting your actions and aligning them with what you fear, not what you want. Comprehending where you are and where you want to be, is quickly obtained when offered non-judgemental observations and well-formed questions. You get both supported and challenged at the same time. The externalizing of your thinking, through structured conversations, and the related tools, is the most efficient and effective way to achieve all of this. Impartiality is crucial in forming those observations and questions. The absence of same makes it harder to see the gaps and different perspectives. Skilfully delivered structured conversations are the right way to get the right answer. Finally, when you decide the course of action, you also need to be held accountable. It is possible to do that alone, but it is more efficient if someone else is involved. This is, in a nutshell, what coaching is. Coaching is an effective and efficient method to help you think and act better, as well as keep you accountable.
Let me wrap this piece with a look at how coaching delivers.
The skills needed for what I have shared above, define what I do. To provide support, I need to have excellent skills in listening. I need to be highly empathetic. I need to be curious and open to learning. To challenge effectively and ensure accountability, I need to be conscientious. I need to have advanced knowledge of how to understand and leverage personality values and traits. I need to be adept at seeing different perspectives. I need to be an excellent storyteller. I need to be a fast learner. I need to be better than most at holding complex models and problems in my mind and seeing the gaps. And finally, I need to be able to ask the right questions, at the right time. For that, I need to be brave, I need to be highly creative and I need strong insight. Bringing all that together in an effective manner requires a high degree of discipline and organisation. It is using these skills that defines what I do. This is the anatomy of coaching.
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[First published via LinkedIn, August 3, 2020]
It is time!
Nearly everything we do and say, offends someone.
We don’t know if we are to be men or women or something else.
It is time! Time for men to be their real selves again!
Being real as a man is being true and good, but without the egotistically driven bravado.
Being real as a man is about operating with integrity and respect for yourself and all those, you cross paths with.
Being real as a man is about operating with compassion and empathy for your fellow human beings, both men and women.
Being real as a man is standing up for yourself and those who depend on you.
Being real as a man doesn’t involve allowing yourself to be put down and made feel weak, even if the person doing that to you is stressed and overworked doing things for your good and those you care about.
Being real as a man doesn’t include saying nothing when it is insinuated that you are a less than capable parent, because of your sex.
Being real as a man is being willing to make hard choices and stand-up to those wishing to bully you away from the right path.
Being real as a man doesn’t include allowing yourself to be left out of shared decisions, relating to family, finances, career, friendships, well-being or anything else that impacts you and those you care about.
Being real as a man includes having equal say in the number of children you co-create.
Being real as a man means you apply yourself and works smart, the right way.
Being real as a man doesn’t include making unreasonable career sacrifices for the sole benefit of your partner or those dependent on you.
Being real as a man doesn’t include putting your re-education and future employability aside for ever, even if it’s more financially viable for a time to step into home duties.
Being real as a man is making mistakes and being allowed to own them, and not tolerating those who make you feel otherwise.
Being real as a man is sharing what you feel, openly and honestly, with compassion and humility.
Being real as a man is accepting that you get the blues, are willing to share that you do, and not tolerating those who make you feel it should be any other way.
Being real as a man is choosing what you do, say, experience, eat and drink, guilt free.
Being real as a man doesn’t include allowing your partner’s interests to create distance between your friendships.
Being real as a man is about taking care of your body and mind.
Being real as a man implies you search for your purpose.
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[Draws on themes in "Men! Let's get real again' post, published via LinkedIn, January 8, 2020]
Am I doing enough
As I shared what I was doing with my book with trusted friends and family, I got feedback. During those conversations I’d get ideas and insights. One of the key insights was the concept of “imagine”, which became the starting place for my promotional material.
The way that insight came to me was a truly surreal example of how the world works. It was a lovely reminder of how chaotic the events in our journey appear if we aren’t willing to ask and listen. (read ...)
Show your cards
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There is a philosophy that says hold your cards until you need to show them. It's based on the idea that if you have good cards you should only show them at the right time to ensure victory! I get that; however, I now feel that when it comes to the cards that show what we are good at, we need to stop hiding them. (read ...)
Choose awesome over good enough
All things are not equal, when it comes to choosing a coach.
Coaches are, by definition, supportive. They provide structures for thinking and acting. They bring their experience to conversations. They enable us to explore what we desire and want. They enable us to find the right path and to follow it. A good coach or mentor will do all that. However, an awesome coach goes further. (read ...)
Rent is crucial for Abundance
In the absence of Rent, Abundance becomes an insurmountable concept. From there, life becomes a chore.
Abundance in all that we are, is a requirement of a purposeful and engaging life. It's not a nice to have. In the absence of financial, cognitive, emotional, social and physical Abundance, we are limited in what we can do for ourselves and others. With an Abundance of means, friendships, health and Love, our choices become vast and unlimited. When means, friendships, health and Love come effortless to us, we our free to fully engage whole heartily in our purpose. When that happens, everything looks brighter and richer. That is a life worth experiencing. (read ...)
Embrace the wobble
We may feel aligned. We may feel we have clarity. We may have confidence in the effectiveness and efficiency of our structures and systems. We may feel on top of our exercise, eating, sleeping, relationships and Career. No matter, how good things are going, we always experience wobbles.
Watch a professional sports person doing anything and they are constantly correcting. Watch someone that is good with a skateboard and the same things happen. You may even know the feeling. At one moment you are cruising, the wind is in your hair, you are looking good, you are feeling good. Life is good. It couldn’t be better. However, (read ...)
Using your magic to help others be their best selves
Do you believe you have magic within you? Stop, let your mind think about that for a moment.
So, if there is a yes or even the smallest feeling that it could be possible, keep reading. Otherwise, stop reading now. Your time will be better invested elsewhere. (read ...)
"Hard work" - Where it demotivates!
Using the phrase "hard work" is potentially demotivating. Realising this helped me see more learning opportunities in the challenges before me.
A coaching friend recently helped me look at the way I was using the word "hard" when I described something that I needed to complete or focus on. It became clear that I could find an alternative that motivated me towards where I wanted to go, and not away from it. If we look at the definition of "hard" we get something like solid, rigid or not easily broken, as well as something needing a great deal of effort. (read ...)
Using the moment to build a better self
Being our best selves is both easier and harder than we think.
Life is such a wonderful collection of experiences. Experiences that beckon us to engage with them. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't. The journey to being our best selves is aided by focusing on engaging with those experiences more often than not. Also when we do engage, we must allow those experiences to change us. It is through the change that we are our best selves. (read ...)