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Weaving Climate into the Agenda

Can coaches help their clients and the earth as well?

One of the most fundamental tenets of ethical coaching that any coach-in-training learns is that the client’s agenda matters. Big time. The coach’s role is not to tell clients what to do or how to be, but to support clients in developing their visions, achieving their goals.

So how does this square with the reality of the more than 1,000 coaches like myself who have joined the nascent Climate Coaching Alliance and believe that in this profession, we have not only an opportunity, but an obligation, to address the climate crisis through our work?

“Is it OK, or even ethical, to bring up the climate emergency if your client hasn’t already mentioned it?”

Last week, I hosted a conversation as part of the Climate Coaching Alliance’s third global 24-hour Conversation. Twenty or so coaches from around the world joined in, and together, we sought to develop answers to a common conundrum: Sure, it’s one thing when a client brings up the climate crisis as a focus of their coaching work. But what do you do when climate isn’t on the client’s agenda? 

Is it OK, or even ethical, to bring up the climate emergency if your client hasn’t already mentioned it? If so, how do you do that without being… weird? Pushy? Totally random? Without throwing their agenda out the window?

Here are a few of the takeaways from that engaging and thought-provoking conversation:

1. Be transparent about your values

You stand for values and beliefs all the time in your coaching. Perhaps you believe that everyone is naturally creative. That body awareness matters in creating meaningful change. In our conversation, relationship and emotion coach Alice Turpin-Johnson shared her bias that if a client has to stop being who they truly are in order to make a relationship work, it's probably not a relationship worth participating in.

None of us is entirely neutral in the lens we bring to coaching. Rather than squash what's really there for you to try to be completely neutral, what opportunities do you think would open up if you were honest and transparent about the beliefs you hold at the outset, including your beliefs about the climate emergency? How would your coaching relationships change if you embraced these throughout?

In my experience, sharing my values around sustainability (along with my commitment to racial equity and other issues) is an invitation to clients to reflect on their own priorities and beliefs. Whether clients fully agree with my values or not, sharing them creates a transparency, lightness, and trust I hadn’t realized was missing. Rather than secretly noticing and navigating around them in an effort to be neutral (which, of course, clients pick up on!), the values become part of the container of the coaching relationship itself.

Some ideas we discussed for sharing your values publicly were:

🌱 On your website

🌱 In your chemistry / fit calls

🌱 In your coaching agreement/contract

🌱 In a “My Beliefs as your Coach” document you share with every new client (I've been using one the past few months, and it's been a breath of fresh air in my practice!)

2. Focus on awareness > agenda

I’ve got a cartoonish image in my head of an executive coach working with a CEO in his office sometime in the mid-1970’s (in my mind, he's a white, middle-aged man in a suit and tie). The CEO’s agenda in hiring the coach is to improve his performance at work and successfully grow his business. In one of their sessions, the coach senses the CEO’s distraction and asks: “And how are things at home right now?”

To any coach today, it’s obvious that this coach isn’t doing something radical in asking about the CEO’s personal life. We know that our clients are whole people, and to raise the CEO’s awareness about the fact that his home environment could be impacting his performance at work isn’t a crazy stretch. In fact, it’s just plain good coaching.

I’d say the same applies to the climate emergency. Few of us today are unaware of the environmental destruction and looming collapse around us. I’d posit that it’s lingering, there in the background, for most of us… just like the cartoon CEO’s argument with his teenager is there in the back of his mind, limiting and influencing his thinking, as he tries to make a critical business decision with his coach.

It may or may not be in service of your client's agenda to pursue this topic, head-on, then and there in your session. Raising awareness is an invitation to look more broadly and deeply, and it's up to the client whether and when to accept it. But in acknowledging the reality surrounding us all, or in pointing out the cognitive dissonance you observe between their actions and the values they may have shared in initial conversations, trust you're serving both the client and our earth.

Some questions you might use include:

☀️ In opening greetings: "And how is [insert news of fires/flooding/storms] impacting you, really?"

☀️ In exploring vision/values: "What do you want your legacy on future generations and the earth to be?"

☀️ In perspective work or while making decisions: "What other stakeholders aren't here in the room but nonetheless matter?" or "How does your value of nature/sustainability/outdoors play into this topic?"

3. Make it natural

There are so many small ways to bring climate awareness into your coaching in a way that is easy, natural, and integrated into your regular tools. Here’s some ideas:

🦋 Include climate-related questions in discovery questionnaire / discovery conversation

🦋 Make climate/earth explicit in your Wheel of Life

🦋 Create structures or rituals: Plant a tree for each session, start each call with a grounding in noticing nature, etc.

🦋 Use climate and natural world as inspiration in perspective work

Coaches, what other tips do you have for bringing climate into the agenda? Clients, is there anything you wish your coaches would consider when it comes to this topic? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Note: In addition to last week's conversation with fellow coaches, these ideas have been influenced and inspired by the work, writings, and talks of coaches not present at the conversation, including Kathleen Allen, Zoe Cohen, Peter Hawkins, Hany Shoukry, John Whitmore, Alison Whybrow, and many others.

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