We are living and leading in times where almost nothing is predictable, where all assumptions, even those arrived at through plenty of research, data and careful contemplation, are not making much sense anymore. More importantly, best practice, and the tried and tested are not offering organisations and communities a sense of safety in stormy weather, nor offering direction of when to set sail.
Lighthouses are often thought of as indicating areas that ships should avoid – prophets of potential doom and disaster. However, in Kalk Bay, South Africa, we have lighthouses which act as indicators of more possibilities. They indicate
- where not to sail so as not to run aground
- where to sail so as to enter the safety, respite and protection of the harbour
- where to sail when leaving the harbour so as to catch the swell and energy of the forward-moving energies of the ocean.
Professional coaches offer organisations and their people something way beyond battening down the hatches and weathering out the storms. They offer opportunities to partner in ways that encourage and support the optimisation of the creativity, innovation and the forward-looking decision-making and action-taking which is available at the edge of chaos. And they do so with full awareness of the need for generating a sense of safety, for compassionate acknowledgement of the fear and anxiety experienced, and for moving at a pace that takes into account crisis and change fatigue.
One thing is certain – the global pandemic that we are experiencing in 2020 impacts us all and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. It is a huge humanitarian tragedy. First and foremost it needs to be acknowledged as such. Some are affected very directly; others may be a little more sheltered. In order to meet this challenge and move beyond it in a growthful way, all of us need to access the best in ourselves and each other. We need to do that right now, and to keep doing that. This is a long game, a change game which will likely bring fresh ways of doing business, and hence different ways of relating to and being with one another in our workplaces.
While our initial responses to the pandemic’s effects on our daily and working lives included dismay, frustration, fear, disbelief and outright rage, as the months have continued, we have begun to see expressions of the best that people can bring when faced with “NO”. This crisis is bringing ways of looking at things differently, of doing things differently, or as Albert Einstein famously said: “The questions may be the same, but the answers have changed”. Currently all organisations, small and large, for profit and not for profit, public and private, well established and new, are facing an emerging rather than a predictable reality. And this emerging future appears to play by rules which are not explicit and, even when we begin to think we are understanding the dynamics, yet more unanticipated waves wash over our embryonic plans and strategies.
At first we clung to what we know to do in a crisis – secure the assets, make sure the employees are taken care of, review supply chains and make financial projections. Communicate with clients, customers and vendors. Move into scenario-planning. And we hoped we’d weather the storm by adopting this crisis management approach. Crisis management is the process by which an organisation deals with disruptive and unexpected events that threaten to harm the organisation and/or its stakeholders.
Canadian futurist and trends-hunter Jeremy Gutsche suggests that the time of crisis leads to the time of chaos. Many associate chaos with destruction. However, chaos can invite creativity and innovation – opportunities for evolving and going beyond what we currently know and trust. Chaos changes the rules. Chaos can switch who is in the lead. This is where disruption leadership comes into play. Disruption leadership creates opportunities where previously only disadvantages were perceived. Organisations that successfully navigate disruptions can emerge from uncertainty stronger, more flexible, more productive, and with greater employee, customer, and community loyalty.
The question arises – how can individuals, groups and teams resource themselves to provide growth-oriented leadership in times of chaotic disruption? How can the disturbances become opportunities for creativity, innovation, and resourceful responding?
Clear communication, observable competence, compassionate calm, and discerning decision-making are capabilities that can be of tremendous significance. Staying steady, being responsive rather than reactive, and communicating a deep attunement to the voices of the vulnerable, the lost, the enraged, and the apathetic, can offer the security and the encouragement to recover and set sail that lighthouses offer.
Professional coaching can be that lighthouse that makes that remarkable difference. At ICF we define coaching as “partnering in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires the client’s to maximise their professional and personal potential”. A coach is a partner who shines a light in disruptive times when certainty fails. ICF professional coaches achieve their credentials by submitting to a gold standard quality assurance assessment process. This confirms that they are long game people. At least 60 hours of coach-specific training, at least 100 hours of logged experience with a variety of clients and topics, and lived experience of managing their vulnerability about having their coaching capability assessed by a review system that operates globally. And that makes them safe hands when partnering with organisations and people.
Coaches can work with an individual, with a group, or with a team to walk through the natural states of fear and lack of security, towards seeing opportunities and possibilities. Professional coaches have the awareness, humility and commitment to ethical practice to know that in situations like the current pandemic, professional coaching may not be the support that is best suited to clients’ needs and circumstances. The ICF provides its professional coaches with guidelines and training in recognizing when support other than coaching may be more appropriate – for example, trauma debriefing, counseling, medical investigation. Workplace resources such as re-training, employee assistance programmes, wellness programmes, organisational design and development are also viewed as options. The guidelines include ethical referral practices which uphold the privacy, dignity and integrity of those involved. Referral is done by agreement wherever possible, in a partnering way that brings hope and builds resourceful responding, rather than labelling people as deficient, or as victims of circumstances. In this way, coaches engage not only with the immediate disruption, but with an eye of how best to partner with organisations and people so that they are ready to set sail again, no matter how uncertain the waters they will need to navigate.
In times of crisis, it is easy to just focus on what is happening; right here, right now. With a coach walking alongside with them, organisational leaders can start preparing for the emerging future, build pictures of what they, their organisations and their people will need to tackle, and do the build-back-better work that allows life and work to continue, but with a responsiveness to changing circumstances.
An important outcome of crisis and chaos is learning. It is a unique way for the organisation to examine its actions, acknowledge the journey, and decide which behaviors, attitudes, beliefs and actions will be important to take forward into the emerging future. Professional coaches evoke the awareness, courage and stamina needed to critically examine assumptions, and to support organisations to take with them what can continue to serve them on the journey through uncertainty. They also provide the creative, thought-provoking conversational and design spaces to nimbly generate capabilities better suited to the changed circumstances of the waters they will be setting sail into. Professional coaching helps with distilling this learning and making sure it informs the strategy and actions of the organisation moving forward.
In times like this, coaching is not a luxury, it is an essential resource. It is an important investment that can help individuals, organisations and large systems not only survive, but thrive.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. H. Jackson Brown.Jr (sourced from https://www.azquotes.com/quotes/topics/setting-sail.html on 2 Oct 2020).
Magdalena Nowicka Mook, CEO International Coaching Federation (ICF) / Svea van der Hoorn, MCC, President-Elect, ICF South Africa Charter Chapter.
ICF Global and ICF South Africa Charter Chapter – two lighthouses that offer you shelter and recovery from the storm, AND the opportunity to prepare for setting sail into your emerging future with creativity and innovation, grounded in optimism and pragmatism.
In 2020, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) celebrates 25 years as the global organisation for coaches and coaching. ICF is dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high ethical standards, providing independent certification and building a worldwide network of credentialed coaches across a variety of coaching disciplines. Its 37 000-plus members located in 146 countries and territories work toward the common goal of enhancing awareness of coaching, upholding the integrity of the profession, and continually educating themselves with the newest research and practices.
ICF South Africa is a Chartered Chapter of ICF with 413 members of whom 323 – 78% – are ICF credential holders. (Figures for October 2020).