Sustainability Inside-Out: the role of coaching

Can organisations move towards sustainability without coaching?

Arising and Article 13’s research reveals the critical role coaching can play in the shift towards sustainable and profitable business.

Most large organisations are making moves towards sustainability. Leading organisations are integrating ecological and social factors into strategy. Many factors constrain organisations progress, but the barriers of culture and values have so far received limited attention. And, coaching has not been widely used as a means of integrating sustainability into culture and strategy. Now values and culture, rather than technology or prices, are increasingly been seen as primary constraints, and coaching is emerging as a powerful and effective tool for transformation. At the leading edge, more organisations are making the connection between personal development and sustainable development, between a coaching culture and sustainable innovation.

In response to these emerging trends, we reviewed the literature, undertook surveys and interviewed respondents from large private, public and governmental organisations. The questions we were asking included:

  • What are current attitudes to coaching and sustainability?
  • Is coaching an appropriate tool for dealing with the challenges organisations will face in the next decade?
  • How can coaching and sustainability be linked for significant impact?
  • Which kinds of coaching (i.e. models and practices) are being used?

So what did we find?

Organisations at the leading edge are embracing the opportunity to drive innovation through shifting their culture, and the values and mindsets of employees. Those that are still focused purely on technical fixes and policies are missing an opportunity to leap ahead of their competition. The link between ‘inner’ (values, psychology, culture) and ‘outer’ (technical, structural, environmental) development is real and critical to organisational success. But, few organisations know how to effectively facilitate and benefit from those inner shifts. To achieve the transformational change that the current social, ecological and economic context demand, they need to go beyond just focusing on the ‘outer’, objective aspects of sustainability, and go deeper to also address the inner roots of their unsustainability.

Inter-subjective, dialogic processes like coaching are a powerful and effective way to accelerate leadership development and adoption of new values and culture. They foster innovation and adoption of behaviours and systems that can enable development of organisations and society towards sustainability. Organisations that aren’t encouraging this type of interaction with and between staff are missing a crucial piece of the sustainability puzzle.

New, peer-to-peer and collaborative approaches to coaching are being used to accelerate leadership development, enhance performance and embed sustainability. Choosing the right form of coaching is critical to realising the benefits of the activity at an organisational level, and our work includes an analysis of the appropriateness of different forms of coaching. Certainly, for executive coaching and leadership development, Sustainability provides a more compelling context for the coaching, and is likely to be increasingly adopted as an explicit guiding factor by many coaches.

What does this mean for you?

We have written subsequent articles and case studies for two audiences, coaches, and leaders and managers working in large organisations.In these articles we introduce key frameworks, provide illustrative cases and share practical guidance (see links below).

For coaches, we are advocating they be aware of the option to bring the sustainability challenges into their work with clients in leadership positions in large organisations. This research shows that there are numerous drivers for integration of coaching and sustainability, and that facilitating greater awareness of systemic issues is supportive of development of individuals and organisations.

For organisations, we advocate coaching as a means to link personal and sustainable development for better business and societal outcomes. Coaching can take many forms to support personal, team, business and sustainable development. Critically, coaching represents an already-common method for development that is not being used to its full potential to support organisation’s own success and contribution to societal ‘success’ i.e. Sustainability.


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