Is leadership coaching an expression of revolutionary love?
Love? That isn’t something we express at work, right? Julia Nickless says maybe we should...
The word 'love' hasn’t often come into my mind during the average working day, I must admit. That is, unless I’m working with my absolute favourite colleagues and clients, of course… Or, when I hear someone at an interview gushingly say, 'I just love the work I do.'
Then I read the book 'See No Stranger: A memoir and manifesto of revolutionary love' by the wise and utterly magnetic Valarie Kaur. Across the 416 pages, Kaur invites us into her world – her upbringing, education, religion, discrimination, campaigning, advocacy, career as a lawyer and her journey into motherhood.
As she describes the way her own eyes were opened through her experiences, so my eyes opened as I joined her on her journey.
Kaur is clearly a woman who has strived to continue educating and bettering herself, seeking to reach beyond the relatively narrow view of life, society and human relationships that we each have, given our limited individual experiences. She has studied human science and travelled across the world to hear human experiences of persecution, grief, personal growth and ambition.
Despite feeling incredibly humbled and, quite frankly, inferior in terms of my lack of world knowledge and human experiences compared to this lady, I was struck by her ability to self-critique, recognise where her actions were helpful and change her perspectives or behaviour when she realised they weren’t doing good.
Coaching is about giving someone else the space to express who they truly are – in grief and in hope.
In fact, what Valarie Kaur has clearly demonstrated through her life is phenomenal leadership – clear vision and purpose, curiosity and passion for learning, empathy for others and (eventually) herself, a wonderful ability to communicate and to have positive impact on those around her.
And, as a great leader, she points out the importance of love.
So, why love? One of Kaur’s core beliefs is that hate springs when we stop wondering about one another. And, conversely, she says “When we wonder about people, we can build the kind of solidarity the world needs.”
Now, if someone had simply shared this snippet with me before I read the book, I may have thought 'This all sounds a bit too ‘feely’ to me.' (EMOTIONAL BEGINNER ALERT!). However, as I greedily consumed page after page, I started to realise that the approach Kaur was advocating perfectly described coaching.
And, there came my revelation: Coaching = revolutionary love. So, undoubtedly, this must mean leadership coaching is a way of expressing love too.
Coaching is about giving someone else the space to express who they truly are – in grief and in hope. It is about creating a safe space, without judgment. It is sitting with someone – alongside them, not above ‘above’ them. It is about being curious – remaining in a place of wonder about the person sat across from you. And that, folks, is love. Surely?
Since this moment of realisation, it has only served to connect me even more deeply and passionately with my role as a coach (which I hadn’t even thought possible).
And now, realising that I am coaching through love gives it a whole new dynamic for me. Not only does it deepen its meaning, but it also envelops the whole coaching relationship in a deeper sense of purpose and gives it the firmest of foundations.
It got me thinking – Where else could (and should) we bring love into the workplace to help others achieve great things, grow, perform and expand their confidence? Can we bring love into CEO training, perhaps? Imagine that! Our day-to-day management of others? What about appraisals?
Who knows, maybe Valarie Kaur can help us bring revolutionary love to places we never imagined. Through your leadership coaching, manager development, leadership development, appraisals, one-to-ones, CEO training and, quite frankly, any work scenario where you want to bring out the best in yourself and others.
And finally, I’d like to leave you with one of my favourite paragraphs that captures the essence of coaching perfectly. Enjoy!
“Deep listening is an act of surrender. We risk being changed by what we hear. When I really want to hear another person's story, I try to leave my preconceptions at the door and draw close to their telling. I am always partially listening to the thoughts in my own head when others are speaking, so I consciously quiet my thoughts and begin to listen with my senses.
"Empathy is cognitive and emotional—to inhabit another person's view of the world is to feel the world with them. But I also know that it's okay if I don't feel very much for them at all. I just need to feel safe enough to stay curious. The most critical part of listening is asking what is at stake for the other person. I try to understand what matters to them, not what I think matters.
"Sometimes I start to lose myself in their story. As soon as I notice feeling unmoored, I try to pull myself back into my body, like returning home. As Hannah Arendt says, 'One trains one's imagination to go visiting.' When the story is done, we must return to our skin, our own worldview, and notice how we have been changed by our visit.
"So I ask myself, What is this story demanding of me? What will I do now that I know this?”
Julia Nickless is director of people development at Connor.
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