What will it take to make coaching anti-racist?

Can coaching become anti-racist?

Black woman working at a laptop

I’ve been a coach since January, 1996, and a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) since March of that year. I joined ICF because I wanted to learn and grow in this emerging profession, I wanted to locate myself in the larger coaching community, and i wanted a way to demonstrate my commitment to professionalism, which for me includes being accountable to something outside of myself for my performance.

I know that coaches, by and large, are in this profession to do good, so it was no surprise that ICF would publish a Statement Condemning Racism and Systemic Inequality. I’m proud that ICF has stepped up, and I look forward to working within ICF and outside of it to turn this statement into a substantive ongoing commitment to dismantling white supremacy and patriarchy within coaching, coach training, and to the extent we have influence, all the systems and communities we interact with.

Here’s the comment I shared in response to ICF’s statement:

This is a good beginning, and we have a lot of work to do.

ACTO (Association of Coach Training Organizations) has made exploring what a real commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in coaching and coach training might really mean. We devoted two entire conferences to that theme and have made a commitment to integrating it into every aspect of the organization’s work. We have formulated an ACTO Stand for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging as follows:

“ACTO is committed to creating diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the coaching profession through calling forth, honoring and inviting the uniqueness of all individuals and diverse life experiences.

“In support of this stand, we acknowledge and are committed to eliminating the negative impact of personal and systemic bias, privilege and oppression, which may be conscious or unconscious, intentional or unintentional, overt or subtle.

“As coach trainers, we are tasked with creating the future of the coaching profession. We commit to providing dialogue, learning and resources and to cultivating personal and organizational responsibility in alignment with this stand, at ACTO, for each of our students, members and member organizations.”

As an ICF member since 1996 and an ACTO member for about 10 years (first through coach training orgs and now as an individual member), I wholeheartedly endorse this stand. I look forward to seeing ICF address systemic racism–which is related to but not the same as cultural competency–with the same rigor, resources, and commitment that we have brought to credentialing and accreditation.

I encourage all coaches and coach trainers to consider deeply how our profession, however unwittingly, has enshrined the cultural norms of white supremacy. A good way to enter into that question is to download and study White Supremacy Culture by Tema Okun (building on work by the late Kenneth Jones). For example, in what ways are individualism, fear of open conflict, and a sense of urgency based into our competencies?

There is also an excellent Google doc, Scaffolded Anti-racist Resources, organized by stages of white identity development. You can use this with yourselves, your mentees, and your clients to identify appropriate learning tools.

Without concerted effort, coaching will unwittingly perpetuate the very things that ICF is taking a stand against in this statement. We have incredible breadth and depth in our ranks. We have hearts, minds, bodies, and souls that we are committed to using for the highest good. But most of us are working from and in systems that are inherently racist, and all our good intentions can cause incalculable damage if we do not challenge and support each other to make radical structural changes.

I know we can do this.

Will we?

Side note: As I looked for an image to go with this post, I noticed the layers of socialization and judgment that I carry about Black bodies and that I have been trained to anticipate in professional circles. I considered a photo of a Black woman working from home with a toddler at her knee and a baby on her lap. I thought about several that showed Black professional women with high heels, cleavage, or body-accentuating clothing. What images and associations come to mind as you read those sentences? What judgements do you form? Have you been trained to see certain styles of dress as unprofessional? Is natural hair professional? We need to become aware of these layers of meaning making and then be accountable for interrogating them and dismantling those that do not serve the wellbeing and worth of all beings.

Postcard from May 2020

take what you need give what you can by Nikki Crawford, Your Peaceful SpaceWelcome.

Welcome to friends, prospective clients, colleagues, and strangers.

Welcome to fellow human beings of all shapes, colors, sizes, gender expressions, and ability.

Welcome to engagement with the art of living, where messiness is a given, love is a verb, and humility nourishes us and prunes us by turns.

As you’ll see if you poke around this site and my social media accounts, reality is my playground but not my limit. Some days I muck about in the smellier and messier spaces of human experience; other days I soar with the divine. My commitment is to remembering both to the best of my ability.

For most of my life I’ve been devoted to growth and insight for myself and others. I have come to understand that this cannot be an individual pursuit. As my friend and teacher, Desiree Lynn Adaway frequently reminds me, “We get free together.”

As a human being I am committed to the liberation of all beings. The more progress I make, , the more clearly I see what a beginner I am. That’s good news: there is so much more possible for us all than we can imagine–so much more generosity, generativity, and freedom. Let us never accept that our momentary failure of vision or understanding accurately defines our limits.

As a coach I remain committed to training and developing truly masterful coaches. I want to better understand and articulate both the universal principles that undergird coaching mastery and the skills that express it. I am also clearer than ever that coaching as a means of advancing human potential has a profound and unrealized responsibility to address inequities at the individual and collective levels.

I have come to see that every misstep can break ground for radical connection, insight, and freedom. Sometimes we feel we ourselves are being broken in that process. It’s important to respect that, to exercise care with ourselves and each other.

I’m here for everyone who refuses to accept that our freedom and joy must be secured at the cost of anyone else’s.

Now, to work. ♥

Note: I wrote this as a new welcome message for my Facebook page as cities around the United States are burning in response to the ongoing oppression, torture, and murder of people of color in our country. It is a time of rising fascism and white supremacy worldwide. It is also the time of COVID19, and people of color, disabled people, and millions of “essential workers” laboring for less than a living wage (including many health care providers) are bearing the brunt of the virus. 

 

#MasteryIsNotWhite: An Open Letter to the Coaching Community

Banner with images of Essence of Mastery panelists.

 

 

Last week I withdrew from the Essence of Mastery Summit, a series of interviews with Master Certified Coaches designed to illuminate the path to achieving that credential from the International Coach Federation (ICF). Here’s the backstory.

I’m waking up to the depth, breadth, and ripples of the lack of diversity in the coaching world and to my own responsibility for maintaining or disrupting that status quo.

Last year, when links to the Essence of Mastery Summit filled  my social media timelines, I was simultaneously inspired and disheartened: I was inspired by the idea of making the path to and standards for coaching mastery less murky and mysterious, and I was disheartened to see that every single person on the panel was white. I shared my concern in comments calling for greater diversity in conversations about coaching mastery.

Fast forward one year.

This year, when Annie Gelfand invited me to be a speaker, I had no recollection of the lack of diversity in last year’s panel. I was touched by Annie’s vision of making mastery more accessible and understandable to coaches seeking an advanced credential. Caught up in my enthusiasm for the topic (and flattered to be invited to speak), I didn’t ask the right questions. I leapt at the chance to participate.

It wasn’t until promotional materials were released, including a banner featuring 14 white faces, that I had a “Holy sh*t, we’re all white!” moment. I contacted Annie to express my concern about the lack of diversity. She said she also was truly committed to diversity, had in fact set out to convene a diverse group for 2019, but that the persons of color she had attempted to invite either did not respond or were not comfortable speaking to the ICF Core Coaching Competencies.

I didn’t know what to do. I genuinely liked and respected Annie and valued her vision for the Summit.  Still, once I saw it, I could not ignore the fact that coaching mastery was being examined through an exclusively white, Eurocentric lens. Coaching is an international profession, yet there was not a single Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, or African coach among the presenters.

I made a deal with myself. I decided to use my place on the Summit as a means to bring awareness to the lack of diversity in the coach training and credentialing space. When I was tagged in a social media post about the Summit, I would comment that I was honored to be part of the discussion and concerned about the lack of diversity. In this way I hoped that I could support Annie while also advancing the cause of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Two things occurred that made it impossible for me to maintain this compromise.

First, on May 19th, I read that Trayvon Martin’s mother was running for a seat on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners. The next day I saw posts commemorating what would have been Michael Brown’s 23rd birthday. Suddenly, participating in an all-white Summit on coaching mastery looked like complicity in a system of white supremacy that was literally depriving people of color of their lives and liberty. Along with numerous other people of color, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown lost their lives because of the bias and oppression baked into our social order. As a beneficiary of that social order, I am responsible for redressing the evils it perpetuates.

Secondly, I learned that, in 2018, several people of color had called on Annie to address the lack of diversity on the Summit. At least one coach of color recommended two excellent courses, Hard Conversations: An Introduction to Racism and Diversity is an Asset. As far as I can tell, Annie did not take one of these courses, and lacking an education in the systemic nature of  bias and oppression and how to counteract it, Annie’s attempts to convene a diverse panel this year failed.

Having made the connection between an all-white panel on coaching mastery and the deaths of innocent young Black men and realizing that a friendly intervention last year had not been sufficient to effect change, I decided I needed to formally withdraw from the Essence of Mastery Summit.

To cultivate diversity, we need to actively examine and dismantle the system that prevents it. We must ask ourselves: What is it about coaching, coach training,  and mentoring, at least in the International Coach Federation (ICF) tradition, such that we see so little diversity in conversations about mastery?

I think there is a tendency to presume that the values, standards, and competencies we’ve developed in ICF are inherently right, complete, true. We’ve worked hard over the years to articulate them, and we are understandably protective of our work. But if you poke even a little around the edges of our in-group, you will find people of color who have been marginalized, overlooked, or excluded from the discourse about what coaching is, let alone what masterful coaching is. We created coaching and defined mastery in our own image, and now shake our heads sadly at the lack of diversity at the mastery level. We tell ourselves we would love to do better, but we just can’t because it’s too hard to find non-white master coaches.

I’ve heard from coaches of color who, surprise, surprise, have zero interest in jumping through hoops for a credential that (a) is not relevant to their clients and (b) was developed without their input and insight. Some would be up for it if there was any sense that the white majority was truly interested in what they (people of color) have to offer the profession. One of these coaches was quite advanced in the coach training and mentoring ranks before realizing that her employer (a coach training organization) did not think addressing the needs of people of color was relevant to their core mission. (This really happened. Wow.)

Changing this will require a fundamental re-examination of our claim in ICF to be arbiters of coaching excellence. To cultivate a truly diverse, inclusive, and equitable coaching community, we need to educate ourselves in the ways of systematic bias and actively work to dismantle it. It’s not enough to say, “Let’s open the doors so these other folks can be masterful coaches like us.” It’s patronizing AF to welcome people of color into coaching so that they can learn from us and not be at all curious about what they have to say that we need to hear.

Beyond diversity, equity, and inclusion to belonging. This linked post about belongingness resonated as I was reflecting on these issues. Here’s an excerpt from near the end: “The concept of belongingness goes beyond diversity and inclusion. Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance; and belongingness is being able to dance like no one is watching. Belongingness is an innate sense of psychological and emotional security that allows people to be their authentic selves and contribute in their own, unique way.”

What will it take to create a global coaching community in which every coach of every color, ability, tradition, or other dimension of human variability is challenged and supported to “coach like no one’s watching?” Because, much as I love the standards and distinctions we in the International Coach Federation (ICF) coaching community have developed over the past 25 years, to the extent that they are rooted in Whiteness rather than humanness, they do not and cannot define and contain the dance. #masteryisnotwhite

I’ll be saying more about this over the next few weeks. For now, thank you for reading. I welcome thoughtful, generative, forward looking comments and questions.

Beyond the door to coaching mastery

Beyond the door to coaching mastery

For the past several years I’ve been exploring, articulating, and deepening coaching mastery. While I’ve been coaching, training new coaches, and mentoring expert coaches on the path to greatness, I’ve reflected deeply on what makes coaching work (when it does), what makes it different from other modalities (when it is), and—most of all—what coaching reveals about being human and how we can more fully collaborate with the intelligence emergent in life to live wisely and well.

I’ve also been listening to other coaches. Some have become frustrated or jaded, even bored. Others are excited about coaching, but puzzled about how to integrate spiritual and psychological insights with what they’ve been taught they can and cannot do as coaches. In particular, coaches in the Three Principles community grapple with the “right” way to work in light of their new understanding. Do they “teach” (conventionally a no-no in ICF coaching circles) the Principles? Do they set the Principles aside at the risk of depriving clients of deeper engagement with their own wisdom? Can you be a “Three Principles Coach” and an “ICF coach” at the same time?

Rather than writing about these issues from the point of view of an expert, I’m going public with how I engage these questions in actual coaching sessions. You’re invited to join me for Without a Net, a series of three Zoom-based coaching demonstrations by yours truly followed by group reflection and discussion.

I approach these sessions as an explorer entering unknown territory, not an expert showing you what I discovered last week or last year. I’m interested in what we can see together at each fresh intersection of infinite formless possibility and finite choice. 

Dates and Times
#1: Wednesday, November 21, Noon-1:30PM PST
#2: Tuesday, November 27, Noon-1:30PM PST
#3: Wednesday, December 5, Noon-1:30PM PST

Click here to register for Without a Net. A limited number of half price tickets are available for those who cannot afford the $250 fee. Email me for a discount code.

Each Without a Net session will be 90 minutes long and will be recorded for the private use of participants. All participants are required to honor client confidentiality and to neither share nor discuss the coaching outside of the session. If you are interested in being a client for one of these sessions, email me at molly@shaboominc.com.

Love,

mollysig125

Where the heck have I been and what’s next?

Oh dear, I haven’t written a newsletter or blog post since June 3rd. That’s no way to stay connected, and I apologize if you have wondered what the heck was going on.

The simple truth is that, rather like a cat, I’ve been suiting myself, following my inclinations so long as they did not harm anyone (not that cats actually seem to worry about that), and for whatever reason, those inclinations didn’t include a newsletter or video.

It’s been a rich time filled with both work and play. I love coaching, teaching coaches, and developing coaches (aka mentoring) more than ever. I also love my life more than ever and have been blessed with deep appreciation of each moment most of the time.

How cool is that?
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I’m grateful to the readers who reached out recently to say, “what’s up? Where are you?” I feel incredibly fortunate that you are in my “reality web.” Please know that you are always welcome to reach out via email, Facebook, or any other channels that we have in common. I care about what you are up to and what you are up against. I welcome your questions, insights, and requests.

Mount Rainier seen from Sunrise

A few weeks ago The Charming Prince and I visited Sunrise Park on the slopes of Mount Rainier. This photo offers the merest glimpse of the majesty of that spectacular and holy place. I share it here as an image of the profound appreciation I feel these days for all of places in our lives and work. For whatever reason I find myself struck often by beauty and holiness, and not always in obvious places. One reason I’ve been silent these past months is that I’ve hesitated to in any way limit, constrain, or define this experience.
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Next week The Charming Prince and I are headed to Paris. I anticipate returning home with an even fuller heart and lots of energy for work. Perhaps that work will include expressing what has been unfolding in my heart through the summer and connecting it to the work we do as coaches and coach trainers. Stay tuned. ♥

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