The challenge of events for coach and client.
‘We live with acres of the past, the merry lies of the present and the furious cascade of the future.’
These are the extraordinary words of French poet René Char, and how relevant they seem as we often awake to find that the future has indeed cascaded furiously into the world as many of us sleep, recently in the shape of atrocities and extreme weather. We are suddenly faced with an incursion of the Real – in many cases, the drama of life and death. (And soon, with all the predictability of a train coming down the track, the not-so-merry lies emerge as interested parties seek to explain what happened, sequester uncomfortable realities, and spin events to their advantage.)
Even if we are not directly caught up in horrifying events, we are affected nonetheless, and moreover often endure and cope with sudden reversals at work and home. And we can’t avoid our own ‘merry lies’: self-serving distortions and fictions about ourselves get us through the day, and can even be seen as helpful defenses, enabling us to deal with the sheer impossibility of being. Yet we must, at times, touch some ‘truth’ about ourselves, try to find out what we are up to and why, understand the culture, events and personalities that constitute the context; all this in order to make sense of events and gather ourselves for the next step forward.
We need help in dealing with events, environments, other people. To help us climb out of self-defeating internal monologues (which frequently manifest themselves in clichéd hypotheses and responses), we often have to allow our experience to be refracted through another: a friend, therapist or coach, with the latter two having the advantage of being more objective, less emotionally invested.
Just as national leaders require aid in steering their countries past the rocks and eddies of an often hostile world, coaching helps clients as social beings trying to make headway in sometimes toxic organisations, and helps them understand and navigate the historical and contextual factors that may be shaping their responses and interpretations. Yes, the contract with the client may have to pay lip-service to the fantasy of the rational organisation, and thus could be about ‘performance’ and ‘behaviour’ but true coaching from the Tavistock Institute’s perspective has to journey through the existential and the unconscious: out of the process better relationships emerge and primary tasks and objectives are clearer – as by-products performance and behavior change and improve.
If we, as coaches, can draw a lesson from René Char’s words, it is that as clients face the ‘furious cascade’ of challenging events, we can help them to find the acreage of the past in which so much of their behaviour, perceptions and attitudes are rooted, and walk with them through and past the thicket of useful fictions, ‘merry lies’ and fantasy which hinder their progress and lead them astray. At this time of writing in particular, one hopes that our national leaders and our countries are able to follow a similar journey.
James Mackay, is Director and Founder of the Tavistock Institute’s courses in Coaching for Leadership and Professional Development and in Supervision for Coaching and Consultancy.
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