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Peace is the opposite of discomfort. So how do leaders apply peace to their coaching and team leadership? Joining Whitney Lauritsen to talk about this is Diana Cutaia. Diana is the president/founder of Coaching Peace, a company focused on using the power of play and connection to empower organizations and teams to create cultures of care, belonging, and peace. She underscores the importance of belongingness versus inclusion when cultivating a welcoming environment for employees and people in general. The two chat about what inclusion looks like in sports and how it impacts relationships and professional careers. Tune in for more insights from their insightful conversation on creating space for people to be who they are and feel like they belong.
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Putting Peace Into Coaching And Team Leadership With Diana Cutaia
I feel like I have this grin from ear to ear. Do you know when your cheeks hurt because you’ve enjoyed somebody’s company so much? That’s how I feel with this episode’s guest, Diana. I love that feeling. It’s something that must feel rare given that it’s very poignant at this moment.
Diana, one thing that I didn’t share with you before we started recording because I wanted to share it now was that when I first saw the photo that you submitted for your bio for the show, I felt this warm, fuzzy feeling from you. You have this energy that emits from you even in that one-dimensional photo experience of who you are. It made me so excited. That to me is very remarkable and rare for someone to have that impact.
I also felt that when we first started talking, you put me at ease. You really embody so much of the work that you do. It makes sense that you have a career based around empathy, inclusion and making people feel that we’re in this together and connected. Your work is about diversity and equity. I’m thrilled to talk about that especially in the context of team building and sports, which is your specialty.
It hits me on a number of levels. One is the curiosity I have from the sports side of things because I’ve never been that into sports as a player or a viewer. I’ll watch the Super Bowl trying to figure out how football works. I still don’t fully get it. In basketball, I have a better idea. I would say that baseball is the one sport that I feel pretty confident about. It makes more sense to me. Football is on the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m like, “What is going on?”
With the Olympics, they’ve already wrapped up by now. I didn’t even watch the Olympics, which made me a little sad. I usually enjoy watching ice skating but it didn’t draw me in. I’m very curious to hear you speak about that but before we get to it, I’m also very interested in what you do with team building.
One thing you had written on your website that hit me was this line that corporate team building is vital to the success of your company. When your employees feel comfortable, they’re more likely to perform better. Those two lines felt so important because when I used to work in corporate environments or even less corporate but more structured 9:00 AM to 5:00 type of work, it didn’t feel like it was for me because I didn’t always feel comfortable. I didn’t always feel like it was about the team.
There were so many environments where I felt like I was not being seen as a human being. I was seen as the cog in the wheel, which is incredibly common. Hopefully, it is becoming less so and perhaps this great resignation that we’re going through, this shift that we’ve seen with the pandemic and people working from home have helped people rethink it. That’s a good place to start. Do you see a lot of shifts happening in the past couple of years with your work and how corporations and businesses, in general, are managing their teams? Do you feel like they finally recognize how important it is to value each individual but also understand how they can work together as a team?Repairing harm feels uncomfortable, and that is valuable. Click To Tweet
First of all, after your three-minute intro of me, I wanted to be like, “Thanks for coming to the show. I appreciate everything. I’m done. There’s nothing else. I can only go downhill from here.” Thank you so much for that and for capturing the way that I hope I come across but also that I work hard to make sure that I’m connecting with people in real, authentic ways.
I often feel sometimes that the energy that I have is too much. I’m almost 50 and I’ve gotten to a place where I embraced that. I’m like, “This is who I am.” If people accept that then I can bring something that’s wonderful. I’m also not going to shy away from who I am and what I’m about so I appreciate that and appreciate the recognition of it. I’m glad that it’s positive for you.
I feel the same way in this fence of the few minutes that we got to connect. I feel that same energy. I feel like I’ve talked to you before in some other capacity some other life or some other time. As I said, I’m almost 50 and that shouldn’t be an excuse for not understanding technology. I don’t know what happened but I was really good at technology.
When America Online came out many years ago, I was the first one with one of those little disks. I had a screen name. I was a little chat moderator. I knew all the things somehow. I don’t know what it was but about a year into the pandemic, I woke up one morning took my mouse and I was like, “Hello? Is this thing on?” I can’t figure out how to use technology at all. Needless to say, I haven’t done much with my website. When you read that quote, the first thing that came to my mind is, “I should change that,” because feeling comfortable is something that is important but I also think that feeling uncomfortable is something that’s important too.
Much of the work that we do is getting people to a place of discomfort. I don’t mean that in the sense of I don’t want anyone to walk into work every day wherever they are and feel uncomfortable every day. That is not a space where you need to be but there are times when we are growing, learning, developing or repairing harm, that feel uncomfortable. To be in those spaces is valuable to connect as human beings. We learn when we’re in those spaces.
I do want folks to feel like they belong and that that space was there for them. You started saying like, “I don’t know the sport. I haven’t done the sports thing.” When I hear folks say that, I often think that it is because, in our society, we’ve created a very narrow lens of who gets to sport, as I like to say and that very narrow lens of who gets to sport doesn’t just exclude people right from participation but it excludes them from ever making sport, movement or activity part of their identity. It makes me sad because there are so many wonderful, valuable things about sport, movement or activity and when we deny someone that ability to do that, it’s something that stays with them the rest of their lives.
There was a statistic many years ago. I believe that it’s probably still the same. It said that if girls, in particular, don’t participate in physical activity or sport in a meaningful and safe way, by the time they’re ten years old, they only have a 10% chance of that ever becoming part of their identity and for them to engage in it as they become adults. Our bodies matter. One of the things that we think about in the pandemic. What did everybody do in the pandemic? They started to buy their weight equipment, create their home gyms if they had the privilege to have that space or do walking groups or socially distanced walks.
All of a sudden, when we stopped being able to connect and we were forced at home, we focused on our bodies, what we can do and how we take care of our bodies. That’s a lot why I do the work. A lot of businesses have to understand that we are a very individualistic society. We’re very outcome-focused as well. When we focus on the outcome, we often forget the people in that process. Whether it’s coaching, building a product, giving service or whatever it might be, your outcome will be better if you focus on the people and the process that produce it. How do we create an opportunity to do that?
I was writing it down in the background and now, I’m trying to take it in because you’re right. That’s something I’ve felt more sensitive to. I’ve noticed for some reason that I’m very sensitive to feeling overlooked, not taken seriously, not respected, not feeling like I belong or discarded. The more that I understand myself, the more I want to be understood by others.
I’ve been examining neurodivergence, when I learned about where I fall on the spectrum, things like autism and ADHD, which had never even occurred to me but I have a lot of the traits and I didn’t know that. Once I had that understanding and awareness, I almost felt this sadness of all the times I didn’t feel like I belonged, that I didn’t feel understood, that I felt looked over and also, people that didn’t respect the fact that my brain worked differently, I suppose and I didn’t even have the awareness to speak up for myself.
I found myself in a lot of work and team environments to this day where it was this energy of, “Come on, Whitney. Do it like the rest of us. Everybody else is doing it this way. Why can’t you do it too?” That’s a huge story of my life. It brings me pain even to share that. I imagine so many people have experienced that in their own ways whether it’s a gender issue, sexuality, race or whatever things that they feel make them different or people perceive them as different so they want them to become more like “everybody else.”
The more that I studied these things, the more I recognize that everybody else’s mindset seems to be dominated by a patriarchal viewpoint. It’s this masculine White energy. You have to make your brain work the way that men’s brains work, for example or you have to operate in this street edge or linear way. If you fall anywhere outside of that box, you’re seen as coloring outside the lines and then you’re shamed for that. That’s heartbreaking. I imagine you see that all the time.
I think about it in the context of your work. First of all, you’ve got me thinking about why sports haven’t felt that appealing to me. Going back to high school, I remember being forced into playing football. I didn’t like football. Did I develop this like, “I don’t like football so I’m not going to understand it?” That is why I don’t understand what’s going on in the Super Bowl because of that childhood trauma before that I should do something I didn’t want to do. I also remember knowing more about my brain. I didn’t like a lot of sports because as much as I enjoy teamwork, I would have this memory of soccer being something that I simultaneously liked but didn’t like because of the way that it was being coached.Your outcome will be better if you focus on the people. Click To Tweet
Often, with young people, we talk about this idea of the team over self. You have to give up yourself to be part of a team and that’s erroneous, traumatic and detrimental. I don’t think we have to do that. I don’t think we should do that. I don’t think we have to deny who we are. Oftentimes, we do that to assimilate, to feel like we belong or to be one of the team. In doing that, we harm ourselves but we’re also creating an environment where we can’t be our best selves. We can’t show up in the ways that we need to.
When you tell me that story about it, even in your words now and you may be many years away from that experience, I still feel that pain for you. It’s palpable. When we think about those injuries that we experience from society, from individuals, from a coach, from a teacher or from whomever it may be that did that, we have to recognize and understand that we carry that. We bring that to our work environment and our relationships. It’s those simple things of all the culminating places we didn’t feel like we belong.
If we think about Corporate America and sport now, they were designed mostly by cis-gender White men for cis-gender White men. We’ve done a lot. Title IX is coming up on their 50-year anniversary where you have a law that dictates equal opportunities within sport and other educational programs. We have access but have we achieved a place where we belong yet?
We’re still struggling in that area because we’ve talked about inclusion. I have a love-hate with the word inclusion and here’s why. I think inclusion means, “I didn’t design this for you. I never thought you’d be part of it but you know what? I’ll make a little space for you and you can come in but there are still some things you’re going to have to assimilate because we’re not going to change everything. We won’t change the equipment, the language and the schedule.”
There are some things that we codify and institutionalize the discrimination and oppression, especially in sport by calling it pure. We don’t want to ruin the purity of the sport so if we’re going to stay true to the sport then there are things we cannot change. I’ve been shouting from the rooftops for a long time. I’m like, “Let’s change things. Let’s bring in all those that have been marginalized, oppressed, excluded and have them redesign the space so that the space is truly theirs.” It’s not like I should walk in and be grateful for an opportunity because you’ve decided now that you’ve included me because the very nature of that says I have no power.
We have to create different ways in order to do that. Folks within businesses and corporations are saying the same thing like, “I don’t want to come to this space and try to assimilate into the environment that I feel grateful for being here. I want to feel like I belong.” I’ll give you an example that my wife uses a lot. She’s smarter than me. Back in my day, we had desks that were right-handed or left-handed. For those of you that it sounds weird and you’re like, “What are you talking about?” Google it.
Most of the desks that were in our very industrial era rows were right-handed because the assumption was that the norm is right-handed. If someone who is left-handed walked into the room, even the nuns at my school would come in very well and be like, “You’re left-handed. We’ll go get you a left-handed desk,” but then, that left-handed desk has to be in a certain space in the room. You can’t pick anywhere that you can sit. We have to put it in a certain place because your elbow is going to be out in the row or something along those lines. It’s like, “We included you but we didn’t make you feel like we were waiting for you.”
One of the things that businesses need to think about is how are we creating space where people feel like we were waiting for them or we knew they were coming. That, to me is what belonging is. It’s that you knew I was coming and that you’ve set up an environment. That could be you knew I was coming so you spent the time to address your bias. You knew I was coming so you spent the time to make sure that there was a space for me. You knew I was coming so you set the schedule that also includes my cultural or religious beliefs. It’s all of the different ways. That’s how people feel like they belong.
I love the way that you phrased it. It’s the natural tendency of trying to think of these moments in life where you can relate. It reminds me a bit of how I felt as a vegan. Since a lot of my audience is vegan, this is a simple way to reflect as well. Dietary preferences are a great thing. I’m not only vegan but I’m also gluten-free. I have all these food sensitivities.
Anytime I go out to eat, I have to think about what’s the menu going to be and what’s being served or if I’m going to someone’s party, do I eat ahead of time or do I eat after? Much of my life is dictated by food and I’m used to it so it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. To your point, Diana, there’s a big difference in when I go somewhere and first of all, they ask me ahead of time what my dietary preferences are. I belong there. When I get there, they are doing it in a way that I don’t want to be in the spotlight. I don’t want it to be a separate section.
Every vegan has been to a wedding and the best option they have is plain pasta and if you’re gluten-free too then you’re completely left out. That’s a huge issue if you’re stacked. The people that give you a plate of boring vegetables are like, “Here,” and then even worse, they laugh at you. They point it out and say, “You’re the vegan.” You want to laugh at yourself to make light of it but deep down, you don’t feel that inclusion versus I’ve been to places where they go above and beyond. They ask me questions. They know all my dietary restrictions. They not only provide for me but they do it in a way where I feel included and my food is just as good as everybody else’s. I’ve never thought about it in that context of belonging as you stated so thank you so much for phrasing it that way.
In 2021, my wife, for her birthday, wanted to do this prefixed menu at this place on the Oregon Coast that we wanted to go to. It was once in a lifetime. You set up the reservation and you let them know. I too, have to be gluten-free as well, which for an Italian, we’ll talk about later, has some trauma to it as well. We walked in and they were bringing around bread. There were only fifteen tables so you had tons of service. They bring around bread, I turned to the woman and said, “I’m sorry. I’m gluten-free.” She said, “This is gluten-free bread. We knew you were gluten-free. I don’t know why but that moment stuck with me for the rest of the meal. I felt like we were family. I was like, “You know me and we’re here.”Putting team above yourself is detrimental. Click To Tweet
I grew up in a very Italian family. When I come home, my mother would first be like, “Are you hungry? Do you want an olive?” I’d be like, “No.” She’s like, “Do you want some cheese?” I’d be like, “No. I don’t want cheese.” She’s like, “Do you want a piece of bread?” I’d be like, “No, I’m good,” then she’d be like, “I can make you a meatball. Do you want me to heat you up some meatballs?” I’d be like, “No, I think I’m all right.” Then, she’s like, “How about I make you lasagna?” It’s this ever-growing like, “You want something. You’re going to eat something. What is it?” “I’ll give you all the options so that you feel like you have them.”
Food is important to us. Even that idea, when you go into a business, they have a cafeteria and are like, “How are you?” Is it the ancillary thought over here? Is it something that you feel like, “We put the same effort into your food? We put the same effort into your experience that we put into everybody else’s. Even though it’s different, you’re going to get the same exact treatment that everybody else gets,” and that’s a big effing deal. That matters. That makes me feel important.
It’s bringing up a lot. Maybe this ties into the conversation too where if you do something that’s culturally outside of the box or out of the norms as a coping mechanism, you start to expect that you’re not going to be treated equally. You start to expect that you don’t belong. When I go into a cafe, I expect they’re not going to have the milk that I need for my dietary choices or preferences. I expect that they might make a face. I went to an Italian restaurant and I did not mention that I was vegan or gluten-free. Instead, before I went there, I looked up the menu, called ahead, asked a few questions and went in prepared. I ordered my food, ate it and enjoyed it. It wasn’t the greatest thing because I was picking off of the sides menu.
At the end of the meal, the waitress was talking about dessert. I said, “Are any of the desserts vegan?” She said, “Yeah,” then she paused and said, “Wait a second. Did you order that food earlier because you’re vegan?” I said, “Yeah.” She’s like, “We had a lot more of other items on the menu I could have told you about. They just aren’t well-marked.” I realized that I was trying to minimize my needs. I wouldn’t want to speak up for myself. I have before but at that moment I was like, “It’s not worth it. I’m not going to ask.” If I had asked or if I had said at the beginning like, “I’m vegan and gluten-free. Do you have some options for me?” She would have said yes and it turned out they had gluten-free pasta and vegan options but I assumed that they didn’t because it wasn’t on the menu.
There are two levels that if you don’t mark things on there some people might not state their preferences because they’re assuming that if it’s not on the menu, they don’t have it. You don’t want to be that burden sometimes of asking. The other level is, “Why do I feel like a burden for asking for what I need at a restaurant where I’m paying?”
It’s also the idea that when I have to diminish a part of myself that matters to me and is important to me, I never get the full experience of where I’m at. When people have to show up and diminish parts of themselves whether they have to change their hairstyle, the way they talk or the way they dress because they have to fit in and they diminish and make themselves small or hide a part of themselves, they’re not showing up completely and they will never be fully immersed in the experience.
We’re then like, “I don’t understand why Whitney doesn’t fully engage.” Whitney is only able to bring 75% of herself so you’re only going to get 75% of that. How do we create a space where we allow people to be who they are? If that makes us uncomfortable or if we feel like that goes against norms, that’s not your issue. That’s my issue. That’s for me to fix. I have to figure out why I feel that way. I don’t have to make somebody else change or be different in that and that’s the thing that folks are struggling with.
What’s interesting is that I find that in Corporate America and even nonprofit space, that’s an easier conversation to have than it is in sport. In sport, it is this protection that everybody doesn’t want you to change the sport because somehow if we change the sport, we change America. Somehow, we change the whole institution. There was a study that came out several years ago. It said that 80% of women who were in positions of power in Fortune 500 companies identified as being an athlete when they were younger. Everyone was like, “See how important being an athlete is?” I thought, “No. See how much sport trains us for the patriarchy and how easy it is for us to assimilate into the patriarchy because we are learning it through sport?”
How would we ever change our whole economic systems and the way that we operate within our corporate or nonprofit structures if we are training even those that are disrupters in that or could be disruptors in that space to assimilate without even knowing it? I’m party to that as well. I find myself with the same ideas and that same mindset at times. It is way too easy to take it and say, “Throw it all away,” because what we do is that we forget all the tiny little changes of things that people brought to the sport or other systems that are good and how do we take from those systems the good? We use those to potentially rebuild in a space that looks different.
On the college or pro level within the sport, I’m not going to get colleges to decide like, “We’re doing this differently.” Even at the pro level, it’s more challenging although we see a team like Angel City, a women’s professional soccer team that is owned by women investors. You have women who are running the operations. They’re in the C-Suites and you have women that are designing, being consultants and women who are playing. When you see that, you will see things are different but that’s an exception to the rule and I hope it becomes more of the rule where we can make the changes on the youth level.
We’re so unwilling to do that. We don’t want to change the game. We don’t want to do things differently in any way because somehow, that then disrupts an entire system. You’re like, “That’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re disrupting an entire system. I’m in. I want to do it. Sign me up for that,” because I want little elementary school Whitney to be like, “Sport? Yes. That’s a space where I get to bring my unique self and I get to do that.”
As a coach, my responsibility is not just to win games. My responsibility isn’t to win games at all. My responsibility is to make sure that you have a positive, safe experience and that you learn, develop and grow. That’s what matters to me. If we can change that system then I feel like I’ve been a success in some ways. I have four siblings and I am the middle of the four. I’ve taken on every characteristic of a middle child that you possibly can. In fact, my sister always says that I should have named my consulting company Middle Child Consulting because that is the idea of how do we create spaces where people feel safe, how do we create spaces where people feel like they belong and in the process, can I make you laugh? It’s all it is.
I’m very grateful for that because I’m not a middle child. I’m the eldest. I have a younger sister. It’s just the two of us. I can’t relate from a middle child standpoint but I can relate to that deep desire to feel like I belong. As I mentioned, I’ve recognized the places where I didn’t feel like I belonged. It’s interesting to go back to that little Whitney in elementary school and think about how much we are shaped back then on levels that we may never even realize unless we are doing that deep inquiry.See how much sport trains us for the patriarchy? Click To Tweet
I remember my elementary gym teacher and I have mixed feelings about her but I do have this vague memory of her always being annoyed with me. I don’t know if I was acting up or if I felt like she didn’t understand me. That’s what I think it was like. She wanted me to “be in line.” This comes into a question for you. How do you lead a team as a coach, as a manager or as a boss and simultaneously create order so that things don’t get out of hand but also recognize how each person is different instead of the traditional way of doing things in sports, school and work environments that in order to create order, everybody has to do things the same way. We can’t make exceptions.
Also, going back to your point about like, “Maybe we’ll make an exception if you’re left-handed. We’ll do that for you but you’re going to feel lucky that we’re doing it for you. We’re going to make you feel like you were so fortunate that we did you a big favor for your way to accommodate you.” It creates that guilt and I know you do a lot of work around shame and that lasting feeling of, “I don’t want to speak up for my differences because I don’t want to feel guilty for making someone accommodate me. I don’t want to feel shamed for pointing out my differences.
Maybe I should just pretend like I’m the same as everybody else because I don’t want to get in trouble. I don’t want to stand out. I don’t want to feel those negative emotions so I’m going to quiet down.” I’m curious how does a leader of any type of balance in terms of making things work, getting the job done, making it through the game or finishing the school day. It’s all these different environments but also acknowledging that each person in that environment is going to be different and have different needs.
There are a couple of different angles to this. We’re social animals. Our humanity is contagious. What I mean by that is most people want to fit in and do things together. I would say that generally, especially with young people, when they are stepping outside of the norm, it’s because there’s a need that’s not being met there. They’re challenged in some way, they are struggling and most of the time, children do want to be in the group in some way and oftentimes, they can. As leaders, educators, coaches or teachers, we have to recognize and understand there are rules for power and for safety.
There are sometimes when we have to say, “These are the rules. You might be struggling with them but these are the rules.” If you think about this grid of accountability and support, oftentimes we want to still have high accountability in some ways but you cannot have high accountability and low support. You have to have high accountability and high support like, “I see you’re struggling with this. Talk to me about the ways in which we can support you in that.”
Oftentimes, what I find is that leaders believe that 100% compliance is what they are responsible for. You must do it and you must do it this way as opposed to thinking like, “What are we trying to achieve here? What are the ways in which we can still achieve that where you don’t necessarily have to do it in this one very specific way? How do we think outside the box and create spaces for us to do that?” When we think about it in the context of right and left-handed desks, how do we solve that problem? We solved it by universal design. We sit at tables now. If we design again with all the folks who could be at the party then it is a much different conversation that we’re having.
The other thing to recognize and understand as far as leaders is we think about leaders as very paternalistic patriarchal like, “I am ahead of you and you are following me. I have the knowledge. I have the power and you must follow me and comply.” That is not leadership in my eyes at all. Leadership is about, “I see you. I get to know you. I understand you and I support you. I am the facilitator. I am your greatest champion. I am the person who will coach you. I’m the person who will correct you when needed, show and provide feedback in those ways.”
My responsibility as a leader is to make sure that you are successful and if you are struggling with that, it is not mine to come in with that wagging finger and be like, “Get it together,” but it’s like, “What’s happening? What’s going on? What’s going on in the environment? What’s going on in your life? What are the ways in which I can support you to do that?” Most of the time when you do that, folks do find ways to work together without diminishing who they are but also finding a commonality that then draws them all together. Is it easy? Not at all.
It’s like when you talk about motivation with coaches. You can motivate by making kids run. You’re like, “If you don’t do this, you’re going to do sprints.” You’ll get compliance but what you will never get is an internalization of confidence. What you will never get is getting them to recognize and understand the potential. You’re like, “If I say to you run to this line right here and if you don’t get here, I’ll punish you but if I inspire, facilitate and support you, you may run way past the line.” I’ve now prevented you to do that. The more you put your finger on someone, the more you force them into one way of looking at things and doing things. The more you limit their potential thus you limit the potential of your entire team and that is not something that I would ever want any team to engage in at all.
When you’re talking about running, I thought of something we had to do in school called the mile run. Did you have that too? Do they still do that at schools?
Yeah. Most adults use the Presidential Fitness which I believe was started by Kennedy in response to the fact that we did not have enough people in shape for the draft. There’s some truth to what I said in some contexts. I may have the wrong president.
I vaguely remember something like that. I brought that up because there’s that cliché of the mile run that I not only saw in my school but I’ve seen other people and even television shows showing that there are people that run fast because maybe they like running. Maybe they run outside of school or maybe it comes naturally to them and then, there are the rest of the students who are just doing it to be in compliance because they had to do it. There would always be somebody who would walk the entire way and take their time. It’s almost like a rebellious act of like, “I’m not going to run but I will do the mile because I’m being forced to.” There is that dread I would feel because it was being forced upon me.”
That ties back into this question of leadership where there are going to be things that we dread but that may feel important or good for us and then, there are things that we dread because we’re not in alignment with them. One thing that I recognized about myself a few years ago was how I need to know the why behind something in order for me to do it and the element of compliance that probably bothers me the most is when someone says, “Don’t ask any questions, just do it.”Our humanity is contagious. Click To Tweet
A lot of our leadership feels like it’s based around the Military, which comes back around to this presidential thing. It’s like, how much of the way that we’ve been conditioned is designed to mimic that Military way of acting where you don’t ask the sergeant or whoever questions? You do what the sergeant says. Even if you’re in a ton of pain, you have to grin and bear it. You have to force yourself to do these things and you have to condition your brain to act without thinking and that goes completely against who I am at the core where I love questions
I want to question everything. I want to understand it. I want to observe it. I don’t like to do any action until I feel like I’ve examined at first, which may not always serve me but for the majority of cases, it serves me greatly because then I can choose the path that is best for my skillset. To your point too, I can run farther if I can do it on my own terms or feel forced to do it. I can enjoy it thus push myself in a greater way than if I had someone shouting in my ear the whole time.
You feel like it’s your accomplishment. I was doing observation in a PE class. The teacher was going overthrowing. It was in a fifth-grade class and there was a young girl that was off to the side. She took herself out of the activity. I said, “What’s going on? Are you okay?” She said, “I don’t know why we’re doing this.” I was like, “I don’t know either. Why would you want to do it?” She said, “I want to do it because it’s fun.” I was like, “Do it because it’s fun.” Find your own why as to why you show up.
I worked with a big corporation. It was a tech firm. The folks in the firm had some critical work that they were doing that was pretty high pressure. I said to one gentleman, “Why do you come to work every day? Do you have a passion for this? What are you doing?” He was like, “No. I don’t like this work at all but I love the people I work with. I love figuring out problems with this team. This is a fun team and that’s what I love doing.” Some might say, “You shouldn’t do work you don’t love.” For him, his why was, “I like these people and I want to be here with these people. I get to spend my days with people I enjoy and that’s what matters to me.” That’s their why. Let them have their why.
I want to go back to something important to me because it’s the title of my company. When we think about sport, we’ve tied sport very much into the Military in a variety of different ways. I won’t take up too much time talking about that. The name of my company is called Coaching Peace. It originally started because I was writing my Master’s thesis years ago. We invaded Afghanistan and we were a nation at war. I remember that not being lost on me by any means. It was something I woke up with every day thinking about that experience.
I was in a gym and there was a fifth-grade girls’ basketball game going on. One team was up significantly. They had far more points than the other team. The other team who was down was trying to get the ball over half-court and they couldn’t. I was watching this and I started to listen to the coaches. I started to hear words like defeat, attack and opponent. All of a sudden, sport became a war for me in my mind in all the language that we use and all the ways. “We’re in enemy territory. We’re in the opponent’s ten-yard line. We are attacking. We have to go on offense. We have to go defense.”
It was all of this and I thought, “This is by design. It’s not by accident that we constructed sport and used this language like that.” Why? For whatever reasons and we could probably do an entire dissertation on that. I thought, “We’re a nation at war,” and we’re somewhat desensitized to it. We’ve been at war in the United States more than we haven’t in our short history.
I was like, “Of course, we haven’t because we’re coaching war.” Every day, we’re coaching that. We’re coaching the violence. We’re coaching all of those things. I’m not making a statement on the Military being good or bad by any means but what I do believe is that if our ultimate goal is peace and to create spaces where people feel safe and where people feel like they belong then let’s start coaching that.
Let’s start thinking about the process. Let’s start thinking about the language that we use. One of the things that we always say is peace is not the absence of conflict. I can imagine what that would be. Conflict is necessary and important in every aspect and it will happen. It is the absence of violence whether that violence is direct cultural, systemic, structural or whatever it is. How do we remove that violence? When I think about homophobia, racism or sexism, that’s cultural violence. The ways in which we create peace are eradicating those. Those are the things that matter. How do we coach peace every day? How do we do that with our young kids? How do we do that with our employees, our relationships and one-on-ones? What are the ways in which we do that?
That means that even in conflict, we recognize that we do harm. How do we repair that harm? How do we take ownership for the harm that we do and acknowledge that? Oftentimes, we think about leadership where you don’t admit when you’re wrong. We don’t invite critique and feedback. I’m like, “We have to change that.” I’ve said this a lot of times. It’s my favorite example. As you get older, you have very few examples that you keep a good repertoire. I started coaching very young. I remember walking into the locker room. If we had a good game, I’d be like, “You did a great job, everybody.” If we had a terrible game, I’d be like, “You all didn’t show up.” I thought, “What an awful way to think that as a coach, I have no responsibility and you have no ability to critique me.”
I thought, “What if you walk into a locker room and you said, ‘We struggled. What are the ways in which I could have supported you better? Do you think we prepared? Could I have called a timeout in a different place? Where are the ways that I could’ve supported you?” Listen to that feedback as hard as that might be.
What if you went into your annual review with your boss and your boss says to you, “Before I talk about some of the things I’d love to see you improve, I’d love to know, what are the ways in which I supported you or could’ve done a better job supporting you,” and made changes based on that feedback? It was not like, “Thanks for sharing. Also, you did X, Y and Z,” but I was like, “You needed better communication from me? Let’s talk about that. I’m going to set a meeting with you next week. I’m going to think about it and I’m going to come with some ideas.”You cannot have high accountability and low support. Click To Tweet
What if I did some work in that process? When we talk about repairing harm, we talk about creating those spaces. Reciprocity becomes important. This generation does not want to be told what to do. They want to be inspired to do something and that is our response. The Great Resignation is about the lack of inspiration. “I don’t know why I’m doing this anymore. Inspire me to be here. Make me feel like I matter. Make me feel like I’m important in this space and not gratuitously,” not just in this way that you’re going to get a good 360 evaluation but because I matter. Even if I frustrate the living bejesus out of you, still find the way because this is your role.” You’re a leader, a coach, an educator or whatever it might be. I am not saying that’s easy but that’s why there’s us, my consulting company so we can help you.
I have to ask you what you think about the show Ted Lasso because it seems like a lot of what you’re sharing embodies that.
I have so much about Ted Lasso.
We got to spend some time on that because it is such a fascinating show to examine from so many levels and one of which is how many people, including someone like me, who’s not into sports watches that show because of that coach and because of how he does things differently but sometimes, I look at him and think, “The fact that is different is a little sad because why does his behavior as a coach stand out so much? Why is that seen as unique? Shouldn’t that be the norm based on everything that you’re sharing?”
You’ve hit my hot button. Someone said to me, “You’re the female Ted Lasso,” and I said, “There are a lot of females that have been Ted Lasso-ing for way longer than Ted Lasso. If we are now using that, we should have paid for it. I see folks post on their LinkedIn. They’ll do a Ted Lasso quote and I’ll think, “You love something that you would never allow to exist in our society.” That, to me is the self-reflection that people need to have. If you love Ted Lasso then I want you to think about whether or not you’d allow Ted Lasso to coach your kids or your favorite professional team. If you say, “Sure, I guess,” or, “No but that’s different,” then I want you to think about why.
We have a system now that Ted Lasso wouldn’t exist. It’s impossible for that to happen. I love the fact that we have made an entire show highlighting a coach who does things so differently so much through a human lens. I am all for that show but what frustrates me is the number of people that will quote Ted Lasso who won’t necessarily embody that. If you want to learn how to embody Ted Lasso, we can teach you the ways in which you take that character. To infuse that into your everyday life and the work that you do would be pretty interesting for people to think about. I would love an entire pro league. I would love every youth league to have those Ted Lassos. That’s what we want. We want coaches that do that. The little head games and manipulation we don’t want necessarily but it’s a great space for sure.
I love what you’re saying there. I feel like maybe if you haven’t yet, you could teach a whole class around that with what you’re sharing. I would be so fascinated to hear more about that. Maybe that’s your future podcast.
On an airplane ride back from Boston, I heard somebody behind me in the plane talking about Ted Lasso and I got all fired up. I wrote an entire article about it. It’s still sitting on my iPad. I’ve done nothing with it. I was like, “The ten reasons why Ted Lasso could never exist in our sports culture and the ten things that we should do.” It was like my own BuzzFeed list.
I hope you post that. There’s one final thing I wanted to make sure we touch upon. I’m sure that we could talk about this so much at length but it does tie into this whole idea of Ted Lasso in a way where you’re saying how we’re not set up to accept that type of coach. One thing that I would love to know more about and I’m trying to educate myself on is non-binary language. It was in the podcast pitch. You had written how to coach using non-binary language and being inclusive. I lit up when I read that because I feel pretty ignorant around it. I want to see that happen more in sports and leadership roles because it feels like we’re in this time of fogginess.
I think about the use of pronouns, for example, which I’m getting better at navigating but there are times when I’m not sure if it is always appropriate to write she/her as my pronouns. I’ve been very intentional about placing that. I’ll even do it at my Zoom meetings. I’ll change my name so it says, “Whitney Lauritsen She/Her,” but I’m usually the only one and then I think like, “Is this necessary or is the fact that I’m the only one saying something about society?” It feels very confusing. I’m curious about this in terms of how I can be a better ally but also, I want to know where things are at and where you would like things to be for coaches, leaders, teachers, etc. in terms of embracing the non-binary language and acceptance within the teams.
There are a couple of things. I too am always learning and listening to determine what are the best ways to ensure that everybody feels like this space is for them. Several years ago, we used to talk to coaches to stop saying, “Hey, guys. We’re going to do X, Y and Z.” I remember back then getting a lot of pushback from coaches saying, “Come on. Guys is a universal term. Do we need to think about that?” I said, “It’s just words. The next time you’re in a group of mostly folks who identify as male, I want you to say, “Hey, gals. What’s going on,” and see how folks respond and react.
The very nature of language is to communicate and to make sure that in that communication, we’re also honoring and respecting people. It’s okay to make a mistake. What’s not okay is to not either acknowledge that mistake or to make someone else responsible for taking care of you in that mistake. There are times when I will misgender someone by accident and they will correct me. I will say, “Thank you for correcting me. I appreciate it.” They’ll say something like, “It’s okay.” I’m like, “It’s not okay.” I don’t critique someone at that moment but in my mind, I’m like, “It’s not okay and you don’t have to take care of me. I’m the one that did some harm and my comfort is not what’s valuable. It’s the repair of that harm that’s valuable and to make sure that I do that in that space.”
We, as coaches, need to recognize and understand that we’re changing. The world has been changing for a long time and we need to change with it. That means that while we will get things wrong, we also have to do a lot of work ahead of time to make sure that our only education isn’t coming from those people that are most marginalized. My responsibility is to learn, take care of the folks that are in my community and I interact with on a daily basis. Whatever it might be is my responsibility. I need to go and do the work. I need to go do reading. I need to do some reflection and if I am only waiting at this moment for those that are marginalized, oppressed or excluded to educate me and then to be defensive even in that education, I’m not doing the work.The great resignation is about the lack of inspiration. Click To Tweet
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about self-care over the last couple of years. I think self-care is wonderful. I don’t think self-care is the conversation that we necessarily need to have. Community care is the conversation that we need to have. If I am creating a space for you then you can engage in self-care. If I’m not then it makes it more challenging to do that. I also believe that if we are focusing on community care, we don’t need self-care in the same way.
If we are creating a space where I am not so hyper-focused on the outcome or I am not creating a toxic environment, you don’t need two weeks off to go and catch your breath so that you can regain because we haven’t stressed you out to that point. If we are doing our job in creating community care then we can take our vacations to take a vacation as opposed to, “I’m taking a vacation to calm my nervous system because it has been on overload for so long,” and it’s not until Friday that I get the opportunity to sit back, think and be like, “I finally can catch my breath and now, I got to go back to it. I have 7,000 emails in my inbox.” Where’s the community care in that and how do we create cultures of care within our organizations to do that? I took your question and took a hard right turn, went off the exit ramp, went into a parking garage, made a phone call and came back out running in shorts.
If we had started there, there are so many places we could go because community is one of my favorite words and also being very clear about what that means and not using it as a buzzword. Do you how authenticity became such a buzzword that authenticity wasn’t even authentic anymore? I don’t even want to use that word. It became performative.
This is the issue. I’m afraid that community is going to become very performative. Community is the next authenticity in terms of what I’m seeing develop in marketing and digital work. It’s like Ted Lasso. There’s that intention and hope but unfortunately, it gets corrupted by capitalism and maybe even the patriarchy. How can we use community to make more money? How can we use community to have more control? How can we make people feel better from the panic from the Great Resignation?
It reminds me of something that I saw that felt horrifying but important at the same time. Somebody that worked at Google made this TikTok video saying Google offers all of these things. They have a shuttle that takes you into the office with Wi-Fi on it but that’s there so that you’ll work on your way to work. They have food and every meal taken care of but that’s there so that you’ll stay there breakfast through dinner. They let you bring your dog to work, which sounds great but that’s there so that you won’t leave to go take care of your dog before finishing your work for the day. They have all of this stuff set up that looks like self-care but it’s ultimately designed to keep you working for as long as possible. It feels so depressing because what is self-care? What is community? We have to become very educated to spot when that’s being used to manipulate us.
It’s like the mile run. Are we training for ourselves or are we training so that we can go enlist in the Military and fight in a war? It becomes a little disturbing when we dissect some of this. To leave on a very positive note, I’m curious where your optimism is for the present and the future in terms of all of this work. It seems like you’re very hopeful because your work is so incredibly important but do you still feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle? Do you feel like it’s always going to be turned into something capitalistic if that’s a word or a patriarchal benefit in order to become peaceful or masquerade as peaceful? Do you think that we can move into a place where it truly is about peace and community?
There are a couple of things. Being human means that we will experience pain in our lives. There are billion-dollar industries that are telling us that if we do this and that, we’ll be happy. Our goal should be happiness. If we’re not happy, there’s something wrong. I’ve come to recognize and understand that sadness and struggle happens in life. Our goal is to understand it, accept it at times, honor those spaces that we’re at and find small moments of joy and experience joy. Happiness is fleeting and it’s something that happens in a moment. Joy is something that stays with us. It’s internal because we feel it. Those moments of joy become important.
To answer your question, I think that hope is an action word. Hope is something that we do. When I think about optimism, optimism is the idea that with effort, commitment and persistence, things can be different. Are there days that I wake up and it feels like Sisyphus and I feel like, “Didn’t I bring that boulder up the hill? Why is it down here again? We’ve got to do this again? We’re going to do that one more time?” I have to remind myself that I woke up and if I wake up in the morning, there is another day to potentially make a difference to make an impact in that. As long as that keeps happening, I’m going to keep trying to do that.
It’s not this idea of toxic positivity that’s like, “Overcome everything. Keep being grateful,” but I do believe that the dark informs the light. When we see and confront the ugly, the oppression and the violence and we see that, we do appreciate the light but we also strive for it more and want to make it something that everybody gets to experience. I don’t know if that’s too existential but that’s my focus. I don’t ever talk poorly about myself. I critique myself sometimes and say, “You could’ve said that better,” or, “You could have done that better. What are the ways that you might do it differently?”
I never say anything to myself that isn’t kind because, at the end of the day, I believe everybody needs to hear kind words and if the only kind words you hear are the ones that you speak yourself, you’re still hearing kind words. If you can speak kind words to someone else, that’s wonderful and continue to do that but also speak those same kind words to yourself.
That reminds me of something I saw in a newsletter and shared on Twitter which is a quote that says, “You can accomplish by kindness what you cannot by force.”
That is much better than anything that I said.
Not at all. I feel like it’s the theme of everything you shared, which is that kindness at the core of coaching and leadership may be so much more effective than the forceful ways that we have been used to operating. It’s something that I’m grateful to reflect on. I’m thinking about all the coaches, leaders and bosses. At times during our talk, I’m feeling emotional over how that has impacted me but by reflecting on it, I can think about the boundaries I set, the people I choose to be with but also my own actions.Hope is an action word. It is something that we do. Click To Tweet
Whenever I feel like I’m in a position as a student or as a team member and there’s somebody “above me” as a leader, manager, coach, teacher, etc., I’m very sensitive to when I don’t feel like their style is working for me. One of my coping mechanisms is to think like, “This is triggering me.” I’m going to observe but also use it as a way to think about how I interact with others too and how I can become a better teacher, leader, coach, etc. because many of us have that opportunity whether we’re parents, family members or in relationships.
All of the things that you spoke about in this episode show up in our personal and professional lives. It gives us the power to lead in whatever that means for us but also to choose or to be mindful of our communication and our relationships with other leaders in our lives. We can stand up for ourselves and recognize when we’re not being treated the way that works for us and if we have the opportunity to speak up and ask for it to be different. You did a beautiful job of giving that why that I often seek for. You’ve made it clear for me and I imagine you’ve made it clear for my audience too.
I appreciate that and I appreciate you very much for doing this not just with me now but in general. The conversations that you have are valuable and important and also help us connect with each other. The more we get to know each other and those that are different from us, the more we recognize and understand our own humanity and our connection to each other and that’s important.
Thank you. There’s a lot of mutual appreciation here. Diana, what is the number one thing that you want to leave people with in terms of your work? What’s your big passion project? What excites you when somebody is like, “I’m interested in what you’re doing, Diana.” What is the next best step that brings you joy to connect with another person?
The biggest thing is how we create communities of care and the ways in which we create communities where people can show up, be who they are, feel safe, be vulnerable, not have that vulnerability weaponized against them and all the creative ways that we can take care of each other because we need to. We’re all in this together. We’re all living life. We’re all on the same planet. We need to figure out a way to do this together and connect with each other. That would be my thing. How are you contributing to that community of care and the ways in which you can do that?
What is your favorite method of communication with you? It can be social media, email, your website and events. If someone’s eager to connect with you, where should I send them?
If somebody wants to get to know the work that we do then they can go to our website, which is CoachingPeace.com but I invite folks to email me. It’s [email protected]. If you have a challenge, you want to talk about something, learn about how we can support or if there’s something that you did now or any day really well that you’re proud of and you’re ashamed or embarrassed to share that because you think it’s going to be bragging, I would like to be the recipient of that. I love to hear other people’s joy and successes. We live in a society where we often don’t give people the ability to do that as much so if there’s something that you’re proud of, send it along. I will be the one that will celebrate with you.
I hope I’m CC’d in that email. You can CC me if you would like or put us both in the to field for your email because I love that too. That’s such a beautiful way to end this. We have so much shame and shame has conditioned us to shrink ourselves down in so many ways. I hope that at least one reader takes up on that offer to email Diana and maybe CC me too so we can both celebrate your accomplishment without you feeling any sort of shame. Thank you so much. I appreciate you endlessly.
Likewise. Thank you.
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About Diana Cutaia
Diana Cutaia founded Coaching Peace in 2012, a company focused on using the power of play and connection to empower organizations and teams to create cultures of care, belonging, and peace.
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