I am a member of the International Coaching Federation and have been for nearly 20 years. Our training programs at Coach Approach Ministries are approved by the ICF. But even with my fondness for ICF, I have some beef with certain aspects of the ICF. One of my beefs relates to how the ICF echoes one of our society’s most taboo subjects: diversity.
Diversity is almost universally seen as an unquestionable good. Questioning the value of diversity is practically akin to questioning the value of goodness itself. Raising such a question is met with horror on par with suggesting we should eat Goldendoodles for dinner.
The ICF echoes this sentiment in many ways, including in their DEIB statement (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging), which outlines the ICF’s commitment to these “values.” Of course, we at CAM cannot get the ICF to review our application for Level One program accreditation, and now I know that maybe it’s because they are too busy chasing diversity: “Each day we are working towards creating a more diverse, equitable, inclusive and just coaching profession for all professional coaches and clients worldwide.” I wish they’d leverage just part of one day to work toward reviewing that application. Okay, now I’m getting snarky.
What’s my problem with diversity? Haven’t I read the words of Jesus and his followers in the New Testament that confirm the fact that heaven welcomes everyone and will be as diverse as the nations of the earth? I have, and I have also reasoned that hell will be just as diverse as heaven.
My problem is not with diversity, per se, but that diversity is an unquestionable good. Keyword: unquestionable. Not being permitted to question something creates blind spots at the least and establishes idols at worst.
To be clear, I am not against diversity. I don’t consider it a bad thing. I don’t consider it as much of a good thing, either. It’s not something to be pursued or avoided as we journey in pursuit of good and avoidance of bad.
Okay, so why a blog post on Chad’s nuanced and slightly autistic disdain for the conversation surrounding the faux virtue of diversity? I lead with diversity because it’s a great example of that which cannot be questioned. And it troubles me deeply that the ICF, of all organizations, has carved out a set of topics that must be unquestionably affirmed.
I think coaching (and life in general) works best when we give ourselves the freedom, permission, and even duty to question things. To question something is not a pre-determined rejection of the thing being questioned. Instead, to question is to be on a quest, to be curious, to be open to change, and to be open to not changing.
If questioning diversity doesn’t poke the bear enough, let’s take a jab at gender identity and sexual orientation. As I understand it, the American Psychological Association has pretty much mandated that counselors and therapists affirm a client’s inclination toward non-traditional gender identity and same-sex attraction. In other words, if a client is “on the fence” about being a lesbian, the counselor pushes her off the fence in the direction of “Yes you are.” The APA provides similar “guidance” in cases where, for example, a man identifies as a woman. The ICF provides similar, albeit vaguer, recommendations in their definitions of core coaching competencies. Their less formal publications and promotions are more explicit about this bias.
Why shouldn’t we invite questions on these matters? Again, to question is not to disagree. Coaches (and counselors) should strive to create a safe place to explore, to consider, to question.
Recently I invited a client to question his commitment to his wife. Unlike diversity (which I believe to be neutral) or progressive approaches to gender/sexuality (which I believe to be morally suspect), marriage is something I personally affirm about as much as I can affirm anything. So why invite a question about marriage when I certainly hope my client doesn’t decide to opt out of his marriage? Because only in allowing the question can the truth come out. And this is the case with so many topics, issues, and complexities in life.
Coaches are not in the affirmation business; we are in the improvement business. I’m assuming my client should stay married and should want to stay married, but in that instance, it was worthwhile and valuable to bring his commitment to his marriage into question. The question doesn’t create truth, it reveals truth.
Let me share a different example. I have frequently invited coaching clients who are business owners to question the value of financial profits. Talk about something that goes unquestioned! But when they are invited to explore honestly the value of greater profits, they often uncover truths that are challenging, freeing, and unexpected. I’ve witnessed clients come away with a greater value on profits and more determination to earn greater profits. I’ve also witnessed times when that question led the client to demote profits as a priority, both personally and professionally. How could different clients come away with different conclusions? Because they are different clients! When we create no-go zones in coaching, we refute the obvious truth that people are different.
Do you want to take a risk on behalf of your clients? Question the unquestionable. In doing so, sometimes you’ll meet resistance; other times you’ll facilitate a conversation the client could have only hoped to have. Don’t come into those conversations with biases and agendas; just come with fierce curiosity and kind determination.
PS – The more progressive reader might have an apples-to-oranges complaint. Is it fair to compare issues of progress and issues of tradition since progressive issues tend to, by nature, focus on questioning and finding freedom from historical and rigid norms? Such a reader might contend that we should advocate for that which has not been traditionally affirmed since that which has been traditionally affirmed is in a position of power, privilege, etc. I’ve read Foucault, et al, and I understand and appreciate some aspects of that perspective.
However, after many years in elite institutions of higher education and unashamed progressive values, I can say I have tasted the progressive mindset and find it no less biased than the religious fundamentalism that I have also experienced deeply. Both biases carve out topics that cannot be questioned. And I question such bias!