Unlocking sustainability

through the four greatest coaching conversations

Published on: February 2020

Written by: Karim Hirani and Emily Lawrence

Sustainability is one of today’s buzzwords. We all have it on our minds, individually and collectively.

It is the issue of our time. It is the issue of businesses and organizations, ensuring that their strategy and culture balance people, planet, and profit. At its core, sustainability is about empowering all life within our ecosphere, human, animal and plant, to coexist, sustain and thrive. Organizations play a significant role as key contributors and participants in society. Addressing sustainability is on the agenda, but we know our pace of change is simply not fast enough to meet the timelines needed to truly turn things around.

Some argue that we are already too late. This week, Sir David Attenborough said, “It’s up to us to put before the nations of the world what needs to be done. Now is the moment” (BBC News). However, at this moment, the sustainability strategy is simply not being executed at the level we need. And for a while now, this word – sustainability, and what it represents, has been on my mind.

The Four Greatest Coaching Conversations can be read in many ways. It carries insights that prevail and transcend arguably all contexts. One that needs to be acknowledged right now is sustainability. This book isn’t the answer to the world’s sustainability issues, but it does provide the fundamental insights necessary to find an answer, your answer, to shifting mindsets that will successfully drive sustainability in your world.

At BTS, whilst we have a sustainability agenda, I am guilty of ignoring it in my day-to-day work. Most recently, one of my direct reports asked me if she could deliver a pro-bono workshop, which she previously ran for our team at a local school during work time. I remember my immediate reactive thoughts: “aah, that is a good cause. But this is going to cost time and money. It is going to be too hard to sign this off. It will set a precedent for the rest of the team. I need time to think this through.” It was too easy to simply ignore the heart and mind in front of me, wishing to express her social responsibility. Our social responsibility. Why was this happening?

Taking a step back, many organizations are still working out their sustainability strategy. Others have one, like we do. It doesn’t seep through all levels of the business at all times. To deliver a strategy successfully, we believe that an organization must consider each of the following elements of the equation:

Execution of strategy = Alignment x Mindset x Capability

To create a sustainable business culture, we need to align the business at all levels (people, structures, processes, including aligning with outside institutions and influencing the political arena). In speaking with our clients, when the sustainability agenda is not aligned nor embedded into the business strategy across all levels, it fails to have any concrete impact. We must shift mindsets, individually and culturally. We must develop the capabilities (the roles and skills needed to make it happen).

But how do we shift these mindsets, both on an individual and cultural level?

Well, this is the heart of The 4 Greatest Coaching Conversations. Based on research from thousands of coaching conversations, we identified the four types of mindsets that are the most important for unlocking leadership and action:

  • Be-mindsets: These are conversations about getting over your limiting beliefs and acting from an empowered place
  • Inspire-mindsets: These are conversations about releasing your sense of meaning, values and purpose
  • Relate-mindsets: These are coaching conversations about empathizing and connecting, in order to overcome barriers that stop you from engaging hearts and minds
  • Think-mindsets: These are coaching conversations about releasing your creativity when adapting to and solving business challenges that you face today

When researching the mindsets that can inhibit a sustainable strategy within businesses, we found these mindsets appearing most often (and in brackets, some truths from current studies):

  • Apathy – I feel like giving up when experiencing the reality, a sense of powerlessness (instead of owning your power to influence change within and beyond)
  • Abdication of responsibility – the real responsibility belongs to others, other leaders in the business, other organizations or other countries (as opposed to each person and organization taking their responsibility as a citizen of the world)
  • Uninspired – I don’t feel I can make a difference, demotivated, especially when I see the real solutions are not in my capacity to solve (as opposed to seeing the reality that ‘no one person can solve it all, but a significant amount could be solved if each person were inspired to do at least one thing’)
  • Meaningless – there’s no point (as opposed to seeing the change we can meaningfully make)
  • Avoidance or denial – it’s too much/overwhelming when I think about it or it’s not really that bad, and I end up avoiding (instead of allowing your heart to be impacted and touched, and acting on your compassion)
  • Separation – I see myself or the business as separate from the environment (as opposed to seeing them as an interconnected participant)
  • Too busy – I haven’t got time/it’s too much effort, my job is already at risk (instead of thinking how the job can sustainably adapt to the changes and how to create win-win)
  • Too costly – it’s too costly to seriously consider (as opposed to thinking about creative solutions that already exist that reduce cost)

Each one of these mindsets above falls into the four groupings that we refer to in the book: Be, Inspire, Relate and Think. For each mindset, we share researched and tested coaching methodologies that help you to shift your mindset and release leadership. The intention of the book is to share this research and methodology with the world, which is targeted towards line managers, businesses and coaches, who can then unlock leadership in a variety of contexts: sustainability, diversity, and work-life balance.

In the example with my direct report, my Think mindset got in the way – my limiting ‘cost’ mindset didn’t see the creative win-win for business and people. Thankfully I caught it. My direct report is delivering the workshop. The cost to the business? Three hours of time. The benefit? We impact a local school with some of our work, we touch their hearts and minds, our people are inspired by the difference that one person can make, my direct report will develop her skills, we honor our responsibility and act on our care for the society we operate in and are part of…the list goes on. A true win-win-win for people, planet and profit.

We can bring change, just one conversation at a time.