18 Feb 2021
It was a great question from a coach that provoked this thinking. Why, indeed, did Andrew Bunting and I want to set up an English-speaking network for coaches in Germany? What had inspired us to do this?
Starting with the broader context, last year was incredibly tough for most of us. We had to adapt to the new challenging circumstances brought on by the pandemic, which triggered feelings of anxiety for our health and our livelihoods. Along with the increased uncertainty, there was the stress induced by disconnection and isolation, as well as by change itself. By the end of 2020, we saw no let up in Germany; instead, a hard lockdown was imposed on us in December, and the New Year across the EU was looking rather bleak. Sure, exciting opportunities were beginning to emerge, but these we had to harness and nurture. This was when Andrew and I decided to kick off our initiative.
Throughout 2020, having had more space and time to reflect and take stock, I became increasingly aware of an inner call-to-action. I sensed the growing urgency for the work we collectively need to do towards solving our complex global problems, as a species and as engaged citizens on a local level. In becoming better acquainted with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, I learned that we have a long way to go to achieving them.
What can we do in an exceptional crisis? Boris Johnson told his compatriots to sit out the pandemic on the sofa watching Netflix. Believe me, this was sometimes a compelling option. But rather than retreating into our cocoons, scared and depressed, hoping someone else (our world leaders?) will sort things out, it made more sense to reach out to potential allies and get active. I asked myself: What is our contribution right now? How can we pull together to strengthen each other, and ourselves, and set about facing our challenges with a spirit of collaboration?
After all, isn’t this the work we do as coaches? We mobilize our clients to embrace change with initiative, resourcefulness and optimism.
Managing personal upheaval and change has been a large part of my life journey. Originally from Yorkshire in England, I’ve been an expat in different countries for over thirty years. (Andrew is also British, having lived in Germany for over 20 years). With a spirit of adventure and curiosity, excited by systemic change, I moved to Prague in 1990, just after the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. In 1992, still drawn to central Europe, I changed to Munich, where I stayed very happily for eight years, and where I met my husband. Together, we chose to live in Spain and later in China, before returning to Germany 15 years later, in 2015.
This time has been an immensely rich experience, providing me with the chance to develop a skill-set to deal with complex transitions and work with diversity. At the same time, such a life-path involves the hard task of repeatedly building a new life and new relationships, and creating new opportunities. Sometimes the pain of this challenge can seem overwhelming.
For this reason, I empathize with those global cosmopolitans and immigrants who have similarly uprooted themselves to experience a different culture. In China, beside my executive and leadership coaching work, I worked as a volunteer, in English, on a crisis helpline. In Germany, I’ve supported mentoring initiatives for refugees as well as humanitarian projects that help build effective leadership in developing countries.
Likewise, Andrew, a former ICF board member, also values serving through volunteering for a cause he’s passionate about. We met at the ICF CoachingTag in late 2019, and spoke briefly about our human need for community and a sense of belonging.
Perhaps back then I was searching for a new “home” in Germany with other coaches. As a small business owner, I’d been a member of a British coaching body whose members were mostly British living in the UK. Now, feeling more a global/European citizen, and having just gained German citizenship, I wanted to build alliances among coaches with an inclusive, global mindset, who might be cooperative rather than competitive.
One source of inspiration was NEST in Barcelona – the Network of English-Speaking Therapists – which I remembered from living there. While offering similar services, members had unique profiles and specialties. Meeting regularly to learn together, they remained mindful of being rivals in the same market. I imagined something similar for coaches, though less constrained by city boundaries.
Building on this, and Andrew’s experience with the ICF, our idea grew out of several exploratory conversations. We planned to reach out to those international coaches in Germany who shared an identity and had similar challenges. Despite the numerous established coaching groups for Germans, we sensed there might be a need for an alternative space.
Our intention has been less to impose a pre-conceived purpose and clear vision, and more to co-create a shared understanding of what we stand for and where we want to get to. It’s been interesting to see how we yearn, especially in times of instability and chaos, to have things mapped out for us and be directed by someone who’s doing the thinking for us. We’re learning how co-creating and collaborating are skills for us all to develop, as much as sharing ownership and responsibility for leadership.
At a time of grave crisis, I believe as coaches we have a valuable role to play as catalysts of societal, organizational and personal change. For this, we need dynamic coaching activism to offset the widespread complacency and inertia.
Something I’ve learned over the last decades is that getting involved on meaningful projects with like-minded souls, who share our enthusiasm and values, is both energizing and fulfilling. Above all, it builds individual and collective resilience and well-being, staving off feelings of loneliness and gloom.
Our work-in-progress requires perseverance as much as patience and goodwill. Perhaps, most of all, it emerged out of our sensing and responding to our own human need during a very challenging time – the need to connect, to belong, to cooperate and thrive together.