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THE COACH AS MIDWIFE

We know the power of metaphor to invoke change in the service of our coachees. Coaching for social change requires a new skill-set guided by new metaphors. Leadership coach Stanley Arumugam explores the question of which ones best describe our work and role as coaches.

SURVEY OF COACHING METAPHORS Elena Aguilar, in search of a metaphor for coaching, identified three coaching metaphors.i The first metaphor is of a farmer, who cultivates soil and nurtures growth, mindful of the readiness and ripeness for change while being patient with the process, allowing the plants (people) to grow at their own pace. Aguilar's second metaphor is that of the chiropractor, who pays attention to body misalignment and pressure points. As a coach, she finds misalignment and pressure points causing pain, bringing corrective healing through necessary adjustments. The third metaphor that resonates with Aguilar is the coach as tour guide, on a journey jointly planned and undertaken together. As the coach I have knowledge, tools and resources, encouragement and feedback that might help the client be more effective. As much as these metaphors resonate with Aguilar, she has doubts about them, saying, 'I worry that they place too much of the action of coaching on the coach. To me, coaching is a partnership that only works if both parties are equally engaged.' At the 2013 ICF European Conference in Italy, Robert Dilts ran a seminal session titled 'From Coach to Awakener'. He stated that coaching is the process of helping another person perform at the peak of his or her abilities. It doesn't assume people are broken and need fixing. On the contrary, it helps them identify and develop their strengths. It starts from the assumption that people have the answers. The coach's role is to help that person overcome internal resistances and interferences, give feedback on behaviour, and share tips and guidance.

Dilts says that a coach plays five other roles: Guiding and caretaking: the process of directing another person along the path from where they are to where they want to be. Teaching: helping a person develop cognitive skills and new strategies for thinking and acting. Mentoring: a teacher instructs, while a coach provides specific behavioural feedback to help a person learn or grow. Sponsorship: involves creating a context in which others can act, grow, and excel. Awakening: goes beyond coaching, teaching, mentoring and sponsorship to include the level of vision, mission and spirit. An awakener puts people in touch with their mission and vision, and thus the coach needs to know their own vision, mission and purpose. This last role, of 'awakening', moves beyond the traditional competency model of coaching into a not easily defined space, which requires intuitive presence and deep trust between coach and coachee. There is an element of risk, unpredictability and I dare say adventure in the coaching relationship. This metaphor for coaching offers more generative opportunities for diverse and in-depth coaching conversations.

COACH AS MIDWIFE As a coaching community of practice, we explored what coaching as a midwife means for us both conceptually and in practice. We thought we were novel in our use of this metaphor, only to discover that Socrates first introduced the midwife metaphor around 150 BC to describe the philosophical awakening he engaged in with his fellow male Athenians. As a midwife, he helped them give birth to the wisdom within them, as described in The Theaetetus, 150 BC. Maryellen Weimer picks up the midwife as a metaphor for teaching.ii Her description of the teacher as midwife offers valuable insights into our exploration of the coach as midwife. I have paraphrased her description below, transposing 'coach' for 'teacher'. The coach-midwife is there at the birth of insight. She has attended many births and been with many coachees as they have gone through the arduous change process. It is a joyful, exciting event, but not without pain – sometimes the pain is long and intense, causing the coachee to despair and lose hope. But the coach-midwife understands. She knows that sometimes progress is slow. She also knows how much more pain lies ahead and what the coachee might try to ease the discomfort and expedite the process. The coach-midwife offers encouragement; her presence is reassuring.


Although most births are similar, no two are identical. In the same way, the coachee's change journey follows patterns but is always unique. Sometimes problems arise. The coach-midwife knows what to do. She is prepared, not with a script, but with knowledge, a wealth of previous experience, generative questions and resources she can summon. It is when problems emerge that the midwife's presence is most needed and appreciated. The birthing event joins the midwife and mother in a shared quest. Midwives are not giving birth any more than coaches are there to do the work for their coachees. What the coachee is struggling to learn, the coach may already know. But midwives still struggle. They strive to figure out the best way to help, support, guide and encourage the mother. Birth and learning require both coach and mother to expend effort. They work together, but they tackle the problem in different ways. When the insight and change do finally arrive, credit for having given birth goes to the coachee. Just like the midwife, the coach's job now is to share in the joy and wonder.

Weimer's description of the teacher (coach) as midwife invokes a different language set. This language is less about performance than about transformation. It is less about effectiveness, efficiency, targets, alignment and achievements. Her language evokes a raw human experience described as pain, unpredictability, patience, unforeseen problems, trauma, joy and wonder. This metaphoric expression invites a different paradigm for coaching practice. It also invites coaches to prepare themselves for a different calling that is more sacred, powerful and potentially transformative.

Nicole Dickson, in her article The Midwife: A Narrative, Feminist Metaphor for Pastoral and Self-Care during Covid-19iii, explores her personal experience as a pastoral therapist. She identifies with the narrative work as a midwife accompanying her clients through often messy and painful journeys, leading through liminal spaces of uncertainty and new birth. The midwife in narrative therapy is similar to the coach who is working with sense-making, listening to unspoken stories that give ‘voice’ using the familiar language of pregnancy: namely ‘expectancy’, ‘labour pains’ and ‘birth’. The biblical story of the Israelites in bondage as slaves in Egypt provides a poignant perspective to the coach's role as a midwife in potentially complicated and dangerous contexts, as we see in the wake of anti-racism initiatives calling for decolonising coaching. I am part of a coaching community of practice (COP) in Johannesburg, South Africa, actively exploring alternative metaphors for coaches that can hold social transformation work. As a coaching community, most of our work addresses racial and gender justice in corporate and community contexts in post- apartheid South Africa. This article is both a conceptual reflection and an invitation to other coaching communities to amplify our exploration of metaphors for socially conscious coaching.

As a coaching COP of mostly white female coaches working with mostly black African female clients, we engaged in a series of conversations about our coaching relevance, especially on the back of Black Lives Matter demonstrations during the summer of 2020. What is the role of coaching and coaches as agents of social change? Do we continue to serve white male corporate capitalism or adopt a bolder, ethical and socially responsive approach to our work as coaches? In this light, as a COP, we explored the metaphor of the coach as midwife as one potentially powerful metaphor that can help us as transformative coaches to reframe what we are about and the responsibility attached to this new way of seeing.

IN SEARCH OF NEW METAPHORS Traditional metaphors of coaching include coach as thinking partner, facilitator, healer, guide, mentor. There is an implicit 'power over' relationship in all of these, where the coach becomes the more knowledgeable, experienced and responsible member inadvertently. However, we know as coaches that we are partners to our coachees and recognise that the real work is the coachee's. Are there different metaphors that better describe the work and role of the coach? That embody this genuine partnership, where each party has something valuable, diverse and necessary for the transformational process?

Our choice of metaphors becomes especially important when navigating new conversational spaces that business and leadership coaching have traditionally avoided. These topics include power dynamics about race and gender as manifest in racism and patriarchy (whether overt or systemic). In adopting a feminist lens to organisational coaching, we recognise that the real issues women and people of colour are dealing with are less about technical and leadership competence and more about navigating social and institutional systems set up to advantage one group over the other. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Stanley is based in Johannesburg, South Africa. He is the Director of LIMINAL LEADERSHIP, an executive coaching and leadership development consultancy serving NGOs, faith-based organisations and corporates. Stanley currently serves on the Coaching Perspectives editorial board. He was previously senior leadership advisor at Action Aid International, responsible for HR, OD and governance. He is a registered psychologist and professional coach. He has a deep interest in social justice, spirituality and community development in the role of coaching for social change. Stanley is an advisory member to Factor10. dr.stanley.arumugam@gmail.com i. blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coaching_teachers/2014/07/what_is_a_coachs_ role.html ii. facultyfocus.com/articles/philosophy-of-teaching/metaphor-for-teaching- the-teacher-as-midwife iii. The African Journal of Gender and Religion Vol. 26 No 1 (July 2020)


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Mimi Rothschild

Mimi Rothschild is the Founder and CEO of the Global Grief Institute which provides Certification training programs forGrief Coach, Trauma Coach, End of Life Coach, and Children's Grief Coach. She is a survivor who has buried 3 of her children and her husband of 33 years. She is available for speaking engagements and comments to the press on any issue surrounding thriving after catastrophic loss. MEDIA INQUIRIES: Info@GlobalGriefInstitute.com

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