3 coaching steps necessary to take a lead on the climate crisis


Following on from our previous blogs exploring leadership in the context of the climate emergency, TPC Leadership’s founder, Charles Brook is exploring the coaching steps necessary to tackle the climate crisis.

The climate emergency is not new. At times, it can even feel like old news. The danger of that is that business leaders lose any sense of urgency about the matter. And if we do act, our contribution can seem like turning up to the scene of an earthquake with a dustpan and brush.

The national – and international – feeling is changing however, largely due to the rise of radically active, informed and articulate activists and leaders. In an interview with Dr Gabrielle Walker, Extinction Rebellion founder Dr Gail Bradbrook said they are addressing “deep trauma, scarcity, powerlessness and separation from one another,” with a message of “connection and togetherness.” Although Extinction Rebellion’s non-violent civil disobedience has made them unpopular with a few of the old guard, the “spirit of mischief” within the movement has generated an unprecedented level of national conversation.

If, as business leaders, we are to catch more than the conversation, and instead catch the spirit of willingness to act, we need to pay attention to our underlying drivers. There is undoubtedly a part of us that is affected by the global ‘deep trauma’ that Dr Bradbrook describes, even if we might not articulate it in those words. Our thinking as leaders has – to one extent or another – been directed by feelings of scarcity, of powerlessness, and of isolation. But there is a window now, a time-limited opportunity, for us to come together to create real impact. We need to subject ourselves to serious introspection. And leadership coaching is going to be more important than ever. The TGROW model is back on the table, and the ‘T’ topic now is the climate crisis.

Step 1: Awareness

“The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate.” Douglas Engelbart, engineer and inventor

If our TGROW topic is climate change, our ‘G’ goal is act to tackle the crisis in a meaningful way, our ‘R’ reality is where we are now and what is holding us back. Because something has indeed held us back. To deny that is to stunt any chance of growth from the outset. Instead we need the attitude of Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, who every day asks himself, “How many things am I dead wrong about?”

There is a measure to which we can self-examine our underlying drivers as leaders. But the process is accelerated when we allow someone with coaching expertise to ask us the right questions. Questions we would never think to ask ourselves. The line of inquiry will no doubt reveal things about us that make us uncomfortable, because it is certain that imperfect actions and faulty unconscious thinking will be uncovered. But it is far better to confront these self-sabotaging attitudes early. As Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, says in Creativity Inc, “To be wrong as fast as you can is to sign up for aggressive, rapid learning.”

Step 2: Responsibility

“Telling someone to be responsible for something doesn’t make them feel responsible for it. They may fear failure and feel guilty if they do fail, but that is not the same as feeling responsible. That comes with choice, which in turn demands a question.” – John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance

It can be easy, without coaching, to let our values slip into second place. As problems keep arising and competing demands crowd our thoughts, we can end up with, “a dim or even inaccurate view of what’s really important to us.”

We need coaching to keep us returning to the core of ourselves. To step outside the noise of ‘what’s happening’ and remind us of the values we have neglected, forgotten about, or even never truly acknowledged. If leaders are going to act upon climate change, we will need those values to inspire our thinking and drive our actions. When we operationalise our values, we will start changing the world.

Step 3: Exercising your will to take action

“The moment we decide to fulfil something, we can do anything” – Greta Thunberg, addressing UK parliament

We have likely tried to exercise our will before on issues of global importance, but it is easy to get discouraged, especially if we have not truly examined ourselves, or received coaching to support us. Often this is because we have tried to skip through the first few TGROW steps, launching ourselves into identifying ‘O’ options and planning a ‘W’ way forward. Such action can feel effective in the moment, but rarely contains the staying power to be sustainably implemented, because we are not acting from our core.

As Robert Assagioli outlines, “it is necessary, both for the general welfare and our own, that our will should be good, as well as strong and skilful. Only this is the true – the whole – will; only such a will can give us both practical success and the highest inner satisfaction.”

Ultimately, if we have not harnessed our will to our core values found through serious introspection, our will will remain fractured, incomplete. Our actions will not land as intended, blown off course by competing priorities. We might find our will needs retraining. Robert Assaigioli says, “as we make choices and consistently follow them through, the one exercising that will gradually evolves an ever-increasing fund of volitional energy.” And it is that momentum, alongside the continual internal inquiry of what holds us back, that can turn the tide on climate change.

Anything less won’t last. This time, if we do the work, we can operationalise real change – as business leaders and activists. We’ll need leadership coaches, and we’ll need emerging and experienced leaders who can think and act as coaches alongside their current responsibilities. 

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