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Dear Professor David Clutterbuck,

No one will ask me, an irreverent infant in the coaching profession compared to you, to decide which of your many seminal and highly influential works – books, articles, podcasts, interviews and more – is the most important. Nor do I think a thought leader of your stature and calibre needs or desires any validation from me.

Yet, I am writing this letter to you. I am a son of the periphery, specifically of Africa. The African people, in fitting tribute to democratic culture and the place of the importance of all human beings, long before the first European contact with the continent was recorded in the 15th Century, were known to say: “For as long as I have a tongue in my mouth, I can participate in the debate.” I live in the stream of my ancestors therefore, in joining this conversation at the very top of the profession. So, I suggest that your thoughts on managed eclecticism, may yet be the most important contribution of the many you have already made to the profession.

There are several paradoxes involved in what I try to do in this letter. Like you, I am deeply grateful for, and appreciative of, the wide range of tools, techniques, models, processes and approaches, that the coaching profession has evolved over time. The simplicity and power of the T-GROW model and the Rolfe model, for example, impress me deeply. Indeed this morning, in a conversation about the place of critical reflection in the coaching profession, I was effusive with praise about the perspicacity that your own “Seven Conversations Model” enables.

As you rightly point out, the problem is not that models and tools exist. The problem lies potentially with their rigid, dogmatic and doctrinaire misuse. And it is on this point, that your ideas on how managed eclecticism can liberate coaches and coaching, will remain forever relevantl. At least, in my view.

Only yesterday, in another conversation on coaching, I registered my appreciation for your efforts to trace the origins of coaching into antiquity. By pointing out that coaching and mentoring can trace their historical roots to the Greek myth or account of the Odyssey, you forcefully exploded the fiction paraded by many of the construction agents of neoliberalism in their books. The assertion by some that coaching originated in America in the 1950s, or 60s or even 70s, depending on which book or article you are referencing, is a fiction that need not detain us.

That said, I was intrigued that you too only looked at the Greek civilisation and stopped there. That suggested a certain linearity in your read of coaching history. What about the cultures that predated the Greeks in the Periphery? Are you unaware of mentoring modes in the ancient civilisations of Asia, Latin America and Africa? Long before the Greeks emerged? This omission is nonetheless forgiven, we should not get distracted by it. I am permitted a little mischief at the expense of a true great, I suspect.

Philosophers seem agreed, at least so it seems to me, that philosophy began in wonder. That thought process expresses something very important about the nature and relationship between learning and human experience. One every profession on earth, coaching included, must pay attention to.

There are aspects of coaching literature, in which – perhaps unintentionally – the profession seems caught in figurative rigor mortis, the palpable stiffness of death. Coaching is sometimes presented as a mechanistic and robotic adherence to processes. Rigid compliance to templates and process sequences is counselled. All to impress tutors, supervisors and accreditors. Where is the human coachee in that list?

For every human activity, when we forget that it should in the end centre on making society better and not become absorbed by its own arcane insularity, the risk is run that it becomes calcified and eventually irrelevant to meaningful human progress. True creativity dries up. The coaching profession would then face a vicious desiccation that will dry up its humanity. And, sure as night follows day, the profession will lose relevance and significance, risking the fate of a mere historical recollection – rich in potential but better forgotten in the present. Your advocacy of managed eclecticism could not have come a second too soon.

Asked to comment on the sophistication of his literary technique by critics, and the danger that this could make his works inaccessible to many readers, one of the greatest writers to ever emerge from the African continent (in my view, at least), Christopher Okigbo, trenchantly refused to be dragged down. The great man thundered in response to his critics: “I write poetry for poets. Art is not always a contest for the popular vote. Sometimes art is a vehicle for the expression of the souls deepest urgings.” For me, these words of Christopher Okigbo and the spirit they sort to convey, are immortal. They make him a celebrated ancestor of the global community.

I think of coaching as part dance, part wrestle. The coach and the coachee must wrestle with the real topic(s) brought for coaching till they find a common understanding and rhythm. From there a dance takes place, using a wide range of skills and competencies and approaches that ensure coachee dignity is respected, in a well facilitated and systematic conversation. This continues till breakthrough and new realisations are arrived at. The coachee arriving at a better place is what the objective is. Not the coach ticking a long checklist of techniques to be deployed. This is a human – not a robotic process. And your article, dear Professor, so vividly illustrates this.

As I said in the beginning, I am a son of the periphery, of Africa in particular. When we dance in my part of the world, we celebrate life – sometimes, even death. We absorb the rhythm and the beats of the music with intensity, and we liberate our physical beings to move in sync with the deepest urgings of our soul. Dance for us is liberation and we do it as we like. As though our very existence depends on it. Coaching must become like a dance of Africans.

Coaching will always need tools and techniques and processes and metrics and accreditation. Of that there is no doubt. But we must always remember that the profession exists to serve humanity not itself. It is a profession not a religion. The boundaries of learning and experience are not finite, the thought leaders are not deities. We must all continue to inquire critically in order to advance. As practitioners, we must never forget our humanity.

By making this point, you truly offer liberation. Managed eclecticism is an empowering way to look at coaching. And I am delighted that it is a thought leader of your stature and authority that is saying so. When it comes from you, many must listen. This is certainly the kind of coach I hope I am. And if I am not, it is the kind of coach I and all other coaches, will be fortunate to be, in my view. So we must work to become that.

A luta continua.

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.