I was struck listening to Gordon Brown last month quietly sharing his respect and thanks for the life of Keir Hardy, Labour’s first leader who during his life summoned immense courage and focus. Life was tough for Keir who like many others of his class, started work at a very young age and was working down the mines by the age of 10. His early experiences shaped the political persona he was to become: without Keir Hardie fighting for the rights of ordinary working people, there might not have been the radical post-war reforms that led to free health care and a universal welfare state.
What stuck with me was Brown’s deep resonance with Keir Hardy’s undoubted bravery and integrity. This seemed like ‘the magic combination’: a passion for one’s work, a resilience to see things through and above all, what US civil rights leader Bayard Rustin called “speak[ing] truth to power” – the ability to focus passion and resilience in the search for sometimes radical alternatives to the world’s ills and injustices.
“So what?” you might well ask, “how does ‘the magic combination’ manifest in the world of professional coaching?” And the answer is, more often than you might think possible in that we sometimes need to turn the “speak truth to power” voice inwards and challenge what we are doing with our own lives.
Very often I am approached by folks who describe themselves as ‘being at a crossroads’, or a ‘fork in the road’, or ‘at the edge of something yet unseen’. And this isn’t about what is sometimes deemed slightly fluffy life coaching; these are highly talented career-driven individuals in challenging business roles – trying to do their professional best in difficult circumstances whilst often balancing their parental duties and ambitions.
Helping individuals navigate through tricky career and business waters is what I do, and as leaders are intrinsically role models for their peers and teams, it becomes even more urgent to explore what might ‘the magic combination’ mean to them:
Passion – Resilience – Focus – Truth (to our innermost power)
Very often the analogy of Plato’s Cave works wonders: we mostly feel comfortable inside our warm cave thinking that everything we know and have access to is ‘everything there is’. With our backs to the fire in the mouth of the cave, we watch the flickering images on the wall of the comfort zone (with all its trials and tribulations) that is our life, unaware that beyond the mouth of the cave is a whole new world and universe wheeling over our heads. I often think that the ‘at a crossroads’ feeling is our inner selves driving us to take a look outside and beyond our usual comfort zones in order to seek new possibilities and solutions to the sometimes murky unknown which beckons us.
But as we all suspect, this can be a very scary, lonely journey but one that us humans have been on for millennia. For you Dear Reader, it might also resonate. And of course this is where coaching comes in: bringing an unconditional regard and often catching a spooky glimpse into a coachee’s possible future(s) helps to at least lift the curtain and bring some understanding of what your particular crossroad, or murky uncertainty, or fork in the road, might really mean for you.
And instead of talking about paradigm shifts unfolding, here’s a lovely diagram that one of my coachees emailed me recently, c/o a LinkedIn blog. I have used a very similar framework myself in order to ‘see beyond the cave’ and out into a more enchanting and authentically ‘me’ existence.
Finally, what better than the final verse of the poem by Robert Frost – “The Road Not Taken” to describe how brave choices can lead to a form of redemption:
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”