Using ecological coaching to make leadership fit for the 21st century

#191: Using ecological coaching to make leadership fit for the 21st century with Professor Peter Hawkins


"Let life do the coaching. You're there just to assist"

Prof Peter Hawkins

How can ecological coaching help leadership teams become fit for the 21st century?

Professor Peter Hawkins director  of Renewal Associates, believes in partnership – in seeing coachees and clients not as customers, but as partners for change. Not only that, he says it's vital to bring a chair for ecology to the table – to include ecology in all business decision making. That way, leadership will become fit for the 21st century.

Renewal Associates provides training programmes and works with organisations helping them develop their board, leadership teams, organisational strategy, culture and leadership in ways that are integrative and systemic.

Covered in the episode:

Can you tell us just a little bit more about Renewal Associates? [0:27]

“Renewal Associates has been, over the last 10 years, trying to take the cutting edge of what's happening in consultancy in coaching and spreading that globally. I'm very involved at the moment in co-founding the Global Team Coaching Institute with WBECS; looking at how can we help people, not just be effective coaches, but create in-depth change at the individual level, the team level, the inter-team level, the organisational level, and the ecosystem level. There are many people who can work at one of those levels. But what the world is short of is people who can connect change across all those levels. And that's what we've been setting out at Renewal Associates – to try and reach at least 100,000 people who can do that work that's so urgently required.”

How can ecological coaching help leadership teams become fit for the 21st century? [2:39]

“We need a fundamental paradigm shift in the whole way we think about coaching. I'm very careful not just to shift our attention from seeing the individual as the client, seeing the team as the client, but to actually do a bigger paradigm shift – which is to stop seeing the individual opposite you as your coaching client, but rather to see them as your partner, so that you're going shoulder to shoulder, both facing all the stakeholders that that coachee's work and life serves. I ask [coachees], ‘Tell me about you. Tell me about what in your life you're passionate about. Tell me about your work and who your work serves.' And, gradually, we would bring all those stakeholder voices into the coaching room… I'd say, so, how does your work serve the more-than-human world that gives us 99% of what makes life possible? And then I would say, so how are we going to attend? What is it all those stakeholders need us to be working on in the coaching? Let's explore that together. How can this coaching create value not just for you, but for every one of those systemic levels, and every one of those stakeholder groupings? And that just sets a totally different frame.”

How do we create that paradigm shift? [7:32]

“I have to not ask, ‘What's your goal in life?' But ‘What is it you as an individual or as a team, or an organisation, or as a country, or a movement, what is it you can uniquely do that the world of tomorrow needs? Not that your boss or your customers or your other stakeholders want, but what is it you can uniquely do?' People will say, well, there's nothing I can uniquely do, you know, I'm not unique – but nobody has the background that you have, or the mixture of experience that you've got, or has the network of connections, or lives where you live. So it's your context that creates your uniqueness, or context in your history, because nobody occupies the path in the wider, interconnected web of life that you occupy.”

And how do you bring ecology into coaching? How do you move coachees from an egocentric viewpoint to an eco-centric one? [10:23]

“James Hillman, who was one of my teachers, said at the heart of the coming environmental revolution is a change in values. One that derives from a growing appreciation of our dependence on nature. Without it, there is no hope. In simple terms, we cannot restore our own health, our own sense of wellbeing, unless we restore the health of the planet. It's absolutely, fundamentally getting that interdependency. There is no self without other, there is no human without the more-than-human. We are obsessed about coronavirus currently, and that can drive us back into very individualistic self-anxiety. We could also respond to coronavirus and say, what a great teacher this is, because it's teaching us to live with uncertainty and unpredictability.”

But how do we navigate eco-anxiety to get to that place of openness? [13:56]

“We're all in forms of denial and wilful blindness, about what's going on with the whole ecological crisis. We have to go from denial, to come further up and see the bigger picture. And the next thing we need to do is be eco informed. There's so much good material out there, that we could go to and just inform ourselves; and be eco informed. For many people, it will trigger fear and anxiety; then it will trigger a sense of anger. You know, ‘Why are politicians or leaders of the big oil and petrol companies not doing more?' – we can blame others. Then when we stop blaming others we could go into, ‘Oh my god, what am I doing?' I've been part of a generation that has been the most destructive generation to the ecology, of any generation in history. And that brings guilt and shame. We need to do our personal work to get from denial and wilful blindness right through to having a space we can start to engage from, which isn't reactive. That takes us to what we then call eco engaged, which is learning some appropriate ways of attending to the ecology in every meeting, every coaching session, every team coaching meeting; actually learning how it's embedded in every issue. So it's not a separate thing we attend to – you know, number five on the list. We start to recognise it's part of everything we do, and the skills are bringing that into the room, giving it a seat at the table, a voice in the exploration.”

And it's about reclaiming our own ability to take action, isn't it? [20:02]

“Absolutely. People used to talk about, what can I control and what can't I control? But we should ask, how could I increase my influence and impact? What can I do by myself? What can I do by working with others? And we can't do this as a series of individuals, we've got to do it through new forms of collaboration. So, what can I do by myself? What can I do with others? And what can I influence others to do? Every coaching engagement we do, we should set out and ask, how can this coaching engagement create beneficial value for at least 100 people beyond the coachee? And not just 100 people, but for systemic levels, for the organisation, the communities where they operate, and the ecology. And that should be our starting framework. In the 20th century, we used to talk about being customer centric, and I think a lot of coaching has got stuck there. Whereas 21st-century thinking is not focusing on your customer, but focusing on your customer's customer's customer! How do I partner my customer to focus on their world?”

And when we're able to bring the ecology into decision-making, we can start to create a world that works for everybody… [27:35]

“Yes, we're not going to solve poverty and social inequality without addressing the ecology, and we're not gonna solve the ecology without addressing social inequality. In the UK, you get our Prime Minister saying, ‘We're doing more than most countries in the world,' but not taking responsibility for the fact that, if we look from 1750 to today, the UK has made a bigger contribution per head of the population than any other country in the world to the amount of carbon dioxide in the environment, because we started so much earlier than everyone else, and went through the Industrial Revolution. We blame China, but that's because we're measuring pollution at the place of production, not the place of consumption. There's a lovely story from 1992, the Rio summit, where some of the developing countries came to the first President Bush and said, ‘Look, it's unfair that we should have the same targets to reduce carbon usage when a lot of what we're doing is producing goods for the American way of life.' And you know what President Bush said? He said, ‘The American way of life is not up for negotiation,' and that kind of said it all. In the UK, we were the first to have the Industrial Revolution, and we're still living off the economic benefits of that. We're still living off the economic benefits of slavery, and we're not taking responsibility for the price of that privilege.”

So, what's one of your favourite memories of a time or place in nature and why? [34:28]

“We've just taken the moss from various parts of our garden and created a new moss garden, inspired by Japan, the stones… and then watching wildflowers, so, if we've got cyclamen and many primroses out… and then going to my greenhouse – we have a peach and nectarine growing and, at the moment, there are 1000 pink blossoms on those two trees. And the bees aren't yet out so I'm having to take a paintbrush and tickle every blossom; and that opportunity to make love to a peach and nectarine tree is such beauty. Is just magical for me.”