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What are we responsible for?

When I first started offering Leadership Coaching I was aware of my role in offering a

supportive reflection space to help leaders work on their coaching goals and leadership shift.


A high percentage of the coaching issues, which I would be asked about, were a mixture of personal and professional development challenges that were being faced by my leaders working towards change in the VUCA world. The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) nature of their working lives and associated challenges led to conversations around coping with change, leading others through change and how to create a personal transition of some kind. By using a goal setting technique based around a From/To framework, I would help the client use their own resources and encourage them to apply some fresh thinking to arrive at the solutions they wanted to put in place. I will also be honest and state that when resources were low in their think tank, we would look at a theory, model or thought leadership piece around their topic as stimulus. In a VUCA world these toolkits would appear easier to share as we were ALL facing into learning new ways of coping with a VUCA world.


Working with individuals in this way meant that we coaches used our abilities to build and evoke awareness without having expertise in the solution. Over time, however, the non-directive coaching approach where we didn’t hold responsibility for the outcome has also been sold to clients as a way of solving bigger problems in the world beyond the individual. Our hope has always been that coaching can contribute to challenging systems and the ecosystems of the world, as we invited these topics to the profession. An example of my own belief is that in working with the topic of climate change I might make a difference not just to the client but also to the organisation and I have made a start with this intention. But yesterday I heard a phrase that stopped me in my tracks.


BANI is the new VUCA. A wonderful group of seasoned coaches is recognizing that ‘we’ the profession are still not doing enough to coach leaders to lead into BANI. This stands for Brittle, Anxious, Non-Linear and Incompetence. Leaders are dealing with the impact of the numerous world crises, as well as seeing BANI in their teams and BANI affecting their own resilience. My reaction to the need to do this work was a huge intake of breath and then a deep sense of trepidation. A leader who is facing into a world of BANI sounds like a troubled soul and not okay. When I am also a citizen of a BANI world, I felt instantly under resourced in being able to offer a coaching partnership for this need and feared that coaching is not enough to offer to work in this way. What would help me feel more comfortable would be to acknowledge that I need to relook at the boundary with coaching and therapy again and to check in with what I have in my toolkit to deal with working with the psychological theories when my clients and I may not be wholly ok.

Working through what I can offer my clients to feel more resilient and resourceful means not taking on the responsibility for their mental health but giving them support to find solutions for their coping mechanisms. It is also about checking in on my own mental health and not adding to it by trying to rescue everyone else. Knowing how much anxiety is healthy and manageable has been key to leaning into the fear around the new challenges being brought to my door. Listening to my instincts when I am feeling too responsible for helping that client is what I encourage all coaches to do before saying yes to the assignment. Whilst I love the thought that coaches can change the world, we also need to accept that we are not responsible for all of humanity’s problems and start with knowing what we do makes a difference to human health but not all human problems. Being clear on what resources I need to gather now for my health and that of my clients is essential before I move forward and cross the boundary - or stop and don’t cross it.


What I really want to prevent is coaching being further misunderstood and misused with the ethical understanding that not everyone is equipped to take on more than coaching and that this may mean that those trained in counselling and therapy take on the BANI topics. I also encourage Solopreneur coaches to think through their position and their ethics to support the sustainability of their work and business. Lastly, what we really all need to do is challenge the professional bodies again to explain to clients with more clarity what non directive coaching IS and IS NOT – isn’t this their responsibility?



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