As our global crises of social, environmental and economic breakdown accelerate in pace, we believe the very mindset that underpins our economic systems needs to be challenged. Gift Based Coaching is an experiment in shifting perspective.
So let’s talk about the why…
Sharing the idea of Gift Based Coaching with friends and colleagues, many have commented positively on what they perceive as an altruistic intention. Altruism, however, involves doing something at a cost to oneself for the benefit of another. It assumes a sacrifice or disadvantage to the giver and that’s not how I see this. Gift Based Coaching is a challenge to the very mindset that lies behind this cost-benefit thinking and an attempt to try a different model of benefit to all.
A personal journey
I started coaching about 15 years ago, inspired by the brilliant sports psychologists I’d worked with during my athletic career. They ignited my interest in understanding the psychology of optimal performance and “being our best selves.” Fuelled by a desire to do good in the world, I believed I was helping others to lead happier and more successful lives.
Viewed from this perspective, the first few years of my coaching career were a success. My clients were enthusiastic about the impact of the coaching on their productivity, business returns, personal wellbeing and quality of relationships. And yet, as I journeyed further in my development as a coach, I was troubled by a growing sense of there being something more. Looking around I saw organisations investing heavily in people development and reporting positive indicators of success, whilst at the same time society as a whole seemed to be heading further into global crises of social, ecological and economic breakdown.
It seemed to me that even though I was working with clients at the privileged end of the global socio-economic spectrum, all I was really doing was helping them to survive in a broken system. And with that realisation came my new ‘calling;’ to contribute to a system transformation.
With this renewed sense of purpose, I started to notice that my first impulse was to try harder. Surely I could make people see the system differently and change the way they did things? And then it dawned on me that it was this mindset, based on the principles of Newtonian Physics, that was keeping me, and keeps so many of us, stuck. I was holding on to a belief that we MAKE change happen by applying the right forces.
Linear Thinking and the Growth Economy
A quick look back through history and it’s easy to see how society became seduced by these principles. It was Newtonian Physics that was pivotal to the scientific revolution and paved the way for industrialisation leading to what seemed like limitless possibilities for human endeavour, development of technology, economic growth and improved standards of living. And so we came to perceive progress as the ability to exercise force.
In my 15 years of coaching, I think most, if not all, of the business challenges that my clients have grappled with can be reframed in terms of these principles. They have something they’d like to change – to move from where they are now to where they’d like to be – and they are looking for the right strategy (force) to apply. We even apply this thinking to people; we believe we can MAKE them change their minds!
With my changing perspective and a growing discomfort at the ‘privilege’ of coaching, it has become apparent to me that this linear thinking is what has led to and keeps us stuck in our current economic paradigm based on the assumption of growth. I know few who would disagree with the sentiment behind John Elkington’s challenge to business and it’s narrow focus on profit for shareholders. Yet 26 years have passed since he introduced the concept of the Triple Bottom Line (people, planet, profit) and our collective behaviours do not seem to have shifted. Environmental and social degradation continues to accelerate.
Awakening to Inter-being
What this linear thinking fails to account for is where processes start and end. When you stop and consider how the entity you want to apply a force to came into being and what will happen to it when you’re done, your field of awareness starts to shift. Every ‘thing’ that exists in our world, whether that be an inanimate object or another human being is simply a moment in the earth’s evolution. With this perspective we awaken from the illusion and start to recognise that we are a web of interconnectedness. We are not ON the earth but we are OF the earth. Our linear processes and belief in economic growth, assume an unlimited supply of resources and are therefore unsustainable. The ONLY choice for the future must be some sort of cyclical or regenerative economy.
As Charles Eisenstein’s so beautifully puts it, we are living in a ‘story of separation.’ A story that tells us that we, as individuals, are somehow separate from each other and the world around us. The alternative story that we need to wake up to, is the ‘story of inter-being.’ This story recognises that we are all interconnected. I don’t just depend on you for my survival (that would be a story of interdependence) but my very existence depends on you. In this story, every action creates a field of resonance or a ripple effect. So choosing compassion and kindness over projections of force contributes to shifting the paradigm.
Why Gift Based Coaching?
In this field of inter-being it is not true that more for you is less for me. Instead, my well-being is inextricably linked to yours; if you prosper, so do I. And I feel the results of what I do to you. There is a zulu word for this, Ubuntu. It relates to the understanding that a person is a person through other people. In coaching terms; when your potential is restricted, all of humanity are denied the gifts that can only come through you.
So, if altruism involves a cost to me then it is only in the story of separation that Gift Based Coaching is an altruistic endeavour. In the story of interbeing, however, when I give to the world, I will also be enriched.
In bringing Gift Based Coaching to life we’ve danced back and forth between the excitement of possibility and the many fears that the old mindset throws up to try and hold us back. In moments of hesitancy I find myself clinging to the safety of my deeply engrained habitual thinking and worrying about the ‘what if’s’. But stepping into a new mindset of inter-being requires us to let go of the illusion of certainty and embrace the unknown; what Otto Scharmer describes as a letting go and a letting come.
We don’t know how Gift Based Coaching will unfold, but we step boldly into an experiment of inter-being.