Front line community work in Redfern, NSW is a training ground for the uninitiated. Cultures clash and boundary lines are constantly redrawn – often documented in the national media. It is a space where morality is tested and, for better or worse, personal qualities are revealed. It is also a place where human restoration, reconstruction and reconnection occur, it is the birthplace of many Australian heroes, and where the COURAGE Coaching Model sprung into being from humble beginnings with Ken Zulumovski.
Ken’s tribal name is Kira-dhan, he is a Kubbi Kubbi man. He is also a former soldier of the Royal Australian Army and a qualified mental heath practitioner. He studied the application of Dadirri – a traditional, Indigenous contemplative practice of ‘deep listening and quiet stillness’ – for trauma recovery, and for health and wellbeing, with Professor Judy Atkinson. It involves an experiential process of generating acute awareness to the self, the present, and the task ahead by connecting to people and country, understanding circumstantial change, seeing what bonds us, and using tools to connect deeper with people. It respects ancestral lineages, which is particularly applicable to coaching in an Indigenous environment.
In 2007, Ken applied this knowledge to developing and delivering free community ‘Healing and Leadership’ programs to support his community-based, not-for-profit organisation, Gamarada Indigenous Healing and Life Training. Dadirri now forms the foundation of the programs that he and his team deliver free to the community, and it is now the longest continual, non-funded community leadership program in Australia. By bringing a deeper sense of peace and awareness into families, classrooms, sporting clubs, workplaces and social networks, the organisation is able to encourage growth in the professional and personal lives of their clients. While Ken has over 20 years of experience and has coached over 1,000 clients, he credits his successes to the leadership skills learned in the military and his studies and experience in mental health and resilience training. “Dadirri guided me to a realisation about my potential. I knew that with my experience and attitude I could have a huge impact on people who were ready to commit to growth in their professional and personal lives and had the ‘courage’ to try something outside the square. The Dadirri practice that I learned from my teachers was the missing key that unlocked my potential and now I am sharing it with the world.”
He was then able to apply his newly named ‘COURAGE’ model to the Australian workforce, providing a unique flexibility with peer support across culture in the workplace. It is influenced by mindfulness coaching – when in doubt, breathe! As for any front line worker, whether driving an ambulance driver or a surf lifesaver scanning the waves on the beach, self-care and self-preservation is a key skill. The techniques draw on mindfulness-based tools, which are provided to the coaches, to assist in cultivating clarity around interactions with each other to provide support and gently challenge. The coach and coachee can be from different backgrounds and interchangeable roles, depending on the context, staying in touch with the needs of the moment. Competition in the workplace can be productive, however it can also come at a cost, leaving staff at risk of depletion and burnout. Reciprocity helps us to keep our vulnerabilities in perspective, to give and receive feedback in healthy ways, staying balanced in the workplace.
COURAGE (Culture, Optimism, Understanding, Relationships, Acceptance, Gratitude, Encouragement) combines Wisdom Tradition with Western behavioral science and contemporary, evidence-based approaches to flexibility change and growth. It was developed from a cross-cultural therapeutic alliance between Indigenous and mainstream mental health practitioners as a sound structure for peer mentoring through the application of coaching in the workplace and community. The Gamarada program is forming the basis of a new approach to coaching training and peer support. ‘Gamarada’ means ‘friends’ in the Gadigal language.
A step-by-step guide to the COURAGE model:
We place culture first, valuing Indigenous culture and allowing clients from diverse backgrounds to benefit from becoming more aware of their own cultural baggage, giving permission to ‘un-pack’ and innovate, bringing forward tools that are effective in a cosmopolitan workforce. It means showing respect for our environment and our peers, acknowledging each other with acute awareness of history and attributes that everyone brings to the coaching experience. Indigenous cultural protocols provide a safe place for all cultures to be welcome, and for each participant to develop awareness of the aspects of culture that can create growth and support wellbeing for themselves. Exploring cultural safely allows for personal validation and creativity through being in touch with heritage and the legacy or our forebears.
Optimism is hugely important in knowing deep down that growth and transformation is possible, no matter what our circumstances are, holding a sense of faith and commitment to the coaching process even when an individual may not see the way. At this stage, goal setting is supported through allowing each person to articulate their values and the actions each person commits to in order to embody their values.
This stage is about being able and willing to listen, and to hear the perspectives of others. GUIR values knowledge, finding the right professional tool to get the job done, and learning to ‘back yourself’.
Human beings are social by nature. The foundation of our wellbeing depends on meaningful and purposeful relationships. In the workplace and in the classroom meaningful relationships contribute to our productivity our learning and our wellness. It involves knowing our relationship to the world to better ground us and help us plan for our future. Reciprocity for balance in relationships is a core practice in Dadirri. Workplace relationships can suffer when boundaries are not respected, or when boundaries are held so strictly that learning and mutual support cannot take place. Psychological flexibility and Dadirri awareness creates relationships based on creativity and respect, and forms the basis for effective peer support.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is Third Wave Psychology grounded in compassionate action. It works on assisting the client to clarify personal values and defining a valued direction through goal setting. The fundamental question ACT poses to us is: what do you value and what are you going to do about it?
Gratitude is a practice that is shared through the learning circles at each Gamarada session. We look at what has been given to us, what has been taken away and for what remains. It guides us toward positive perspective meaningful connections and helps us to see the way forward. John Shearer, a mindful coaching practice leader, puts it beautifully in his coaching guide “Mindful Actions”: “Gratitude helps make sense of your past, brings peace for the present moment and creates a vision for the future.”
Encouragement is about peer support, mentoring, acknowledging that everyone has bad days and no one has everything sorted out. We help each other to recognise our strengths, to see our value on days when it is difficult to see for ourselves.
COURAGE and Cultural Innovation
In 2013, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) World Conference held in Sydney provided an opportunity for a meeting of minds across cultures and disciplines. Carolyn Minchin stepped up to the challenge of inviting and establishing a dialogue between Gamarada and some of the key figures in the ACBS. The COURAGE coaching model was co-authored to meet the challenges we face integrating international best-practice and Indigenous cultural wisdom in modern society.
The program even has a component focusing on use of text and social media, inspired the UK ‘Mindful in School’ program where students are encouraged to text each other to remember to ‘pause and breathe’. The capacity to be in contact 24/7 is a reality in our working lives, and having effective skills to manage work/life boundaries to maintain health and wellbeing is a crucial workplace skill. The program builds our capacity to remain calm and de-escalate situations that could become an energy loss if not handled mindfully.