“I am not just prepared to participate in the status quo”

1st November by Lee Robertson

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Johnny Parks is founder and director of TOWARD Ltd and chief strategy officer at coaching platform Hoolr. Working with clients in team coaching, one-to-one coaching, culture programmes and leadership, his aim is to provoke a commitment to a greater purpose and an appreciation of the potential for good. We were delighted when he agreed to share his experience of taking part in the pilot of the Coaching in the Climate Crisis: A Certificate in Climate Coaching programme.

What did it mean to you to do the Coaching in the Climate Crisis: A Certificate in Climate Coaching programme?

I participated on the programme for various reasons and partly because I feel like I have been on a journey myself with the clients that we are working with. That has provoked me into thinking about what is the most profound impact that we can have as a business, and I can have as a coach, with the senior leaders we are working with.

It is a good place to process your own concerns, worries and anxieties in relation to climate, and having a little bit of the sisterhood and brotherhood that was created on the programme was a good space to be able to do that. It is designed in such a way that gives airtime for that. It has had an impact on me mentally and emotionally, and for me as a coach to be able to process and discuss my concerns in a safe enough space felt like that was important. It was also about equipping me, giving me a little bit of additional confidence around different models, and techniques that can be used in the space that was also incredibly important.

It gave me an opportunity to start to pinpoint and reflect upon what is my purpose. I know that is quite a broad conceptual question, but the programme allowed me to step into that question and spend some time there. I run my own coaching business and act as a coach and if I am delivering that work successfully, what am I contributing to; what part am I playing; what is my purpose in this? It gave me time to reflect upon that and narrow it down and come away with some additional clarity.

How are you using/going to use the learnings from the programme?

I’ve come away with two specific things which are going to be helpful.

Firstly, contracting…in one part of the programme there was a conversation we had around contracting. Contracting was already on our minds as a business in relation to team coaching, and what we are hoping to do around provoking these types of conversations in relation to climate. So, how do we contract in a slightly different way both for one-to-one coaching and team coaching provision? This programme has helped us and me personally to think about that.

For example, there is one client I am working with who is a senior leader in a business that in some regard I am ethically opposed to in terms of the impact they have upon climate. The programme gave me the opportunity to have conversations with him and the sponsor around what I wanted to bring into the coaching session and declare it a little bit for me. I was able to invite their participation at an early stage around the topic of climate.

That resulted in them sending me a ton of additional information around their view on their business, the impact it is having and what they are doing to mitigate it, which was very informative. How do we elevate this in our contracting processes both with teams and one-to-ones?

The second thing which has been helpful for us is that we have now organised a day where we are inviting all our third-party suppliers, associates, staff and a selection of clients that we are currently working with to discuss what our purpose is as a business (including climate).

These are very important stakeholders for us and getting them all in a room to discuss our purpose and the role we are playing in our company toward provoking conversations about climate will prove to be a very informative conversation. We are on a journey ourselves and we want to do that with our partners and the people in our ecosystem and bring them on the journey too. That might result in some changes that we need to make, for example with suppliers, but the course gave me a real opportunity to think of that as an output, something tangible that we need to do to change the way we set ourselves up as a business.

Why do you think it is important for coaches to bring the climate into coaching conversations?

Sometimes when I hear questions like that, another way of me reframing that in my mind is how much do I care about my family? How much do I care about my three boys’ lives? That probably is an indicator of where I am at and how importantly I view the topic. I want to go to the great big cloud in the sky at the end of my life, not just feeling a sense of peace with myself, but feeling that I have been prepared to act on the things that feel critically and urgently important for the generations beyond me.

My coaching work and the business I run, sits in the context of the future we are going to experience, and I am not just prepared to participate in the status quo. I think we have a fantastic opportunity with certain clients we work with to really influence the trajectories that they are on, and I feel like that is important for us to be able to do that.

I also think that coaching by essence is about awareness raising and greater responsibility. Not just bringing awareness of self, an awareness of the impact of relationships upon others in your ecosystem, but awareness of what exists beyond that and with other stakeholders who are invisible. I think it is important as coaches, we feel equipped to invite those invisible stakeholders into the room to engage them in the conversations that we are hoping to have with the coachees.

What advice would you share with prospective participants so they can maximise the learning experience for themselves?

I would encourage you to prepare in advance. Tune in to various articles, threads, forums, read any books, if you have the time and energy to digest them. Books like David Attenborough’s ‘A Life on Our Planet’ are helpful around bringing some quite complex, scientific issues into easily digestible thoughts and ideas. What he is very good at doing in this book is promoting hopeful solutions. It is quite easy in this type of topic to feel overwhelmed by the immensity of it. So, preparing in advance with things that give you a handle on what can be done, I think can be quite helpful because it will give you a handrail to hold on to once you get into the magnitude of the problem.

Combined with that and connected to it, is maybe just having a few friendlies outside the course who are willing to listen. I am fortunate in that I have a team of people in our company who are interested in it as a subject. I found it helpful to finish the sessions and have an opportunity maybe the next day or later in the week, to just download a little bit around my experience. I would encourage people to think about their network because it sort of has an impact upon you mentally and emotionally and having a network around you to help you through that can be great.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would encourage anyone reading this to take the leap. It is an easily manageable course from a time commitment perspective to allow you to build a network and get immersed in a topic which feels like it is number one on the list for me.

Jump in if you can and commit! We need as many people as possible in the coaching world switched on to this as a topic. Not just switched on intellectually, but capable, skilled, and connected to a big enough network to find the resources and energy they need to be able to continue the drive for change - so go for it!