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Turning The Tide: How Coaching Helped Me Enhance My Cross-Cultural Leadership for Community Change

By Sophia Kizilbashy

When I enrolled in the Coaching for Transformation program in 2012, I was excited to gain some great new skills in a diverse learning community. Halfway through the program, I exclaimed to my teacher, “This program is so powerful, it should have a warning label on it!” For starters, I realized I was spending a lot of time in a reactive place—I was living and leading at the top of the ocean, where the water is churning and waves are breaking from the winds and tide.

A few months before I started Coaching for Transformation, I felt stuck in my leadership as the Co-Director of the organization I co-founded, Native Youth Leadership Alliance (NYLA). We created NYLA to support young indigenous leaders to spark culturally based community change.

I realized that I was re-enacting forms of mentorship and leadership development that had the destination already mapped out. I had high pre-set expectations, and Type A ways to direct paths for young leaders. At my worst, I was controlling and reactive…and not living out our core values.

Power imbalance shows up in many impactful ways in our day-to-day leadership. For communities living with the active legacy of oppression, leadership is often diminished to be in reactive and survival mode, where we pass trauma around like a hot potato between one another. Coaching is so transformational because it supports us to pick up the integral pieces of ourselves that we (and our ancestors) have had to shed in order to survive in mainstream society. Coaching is a powerful call to be whole, to be fully rooted in our cultures, our value systems, our ways of life, making it a great tool for decolonization and the revitalization of our communities.

Coaching for Transformation’s emphasis on diverse cultures helped me to translate the impact of coaching on an individual level and also on an organizational level within NYLA. We more fully support young leaders to identify, nurture and express their unique visions and leadership gifts for their communities. Coaching tools allow me to be fully present and in tune with individuals and their special contributions, instead of pre-set expectations and outcomes.

On an organizational level, we were able to support our community to identify core values shared by young leaders from over 20 Tribal Nations. We then developed shared commitments and accountability of how we would live these values in practice. We are also re-introducing a restorative justice model of a circle process (similar to what has been utilized by many Tribal communities historically) to facilitate communication, build relationships and resolve conflict. With our values, commitments and circle process, we are on our way to expressing the power of coaching for community change. We are more fully living leadership from the inside out, where we lead collectively and our visions are not limited to our barriers within ourselves or in our relationships with others.

My journey to become a coach changed me from the inside out, and amplified my leadership for the communities I serve in profound ways. After what I call my “rites of passage” into my full adulthood, my Coaching for Transformation training, I find myself living and leading towards the bottom of the ocean, where the water is calm and I can be rooted. I’m less reactive and my actions come from a place of peace and inner knowing. Every day I step forward on the path to my highest self. Just by modeling this alone, I know I am transforming our world. I hope my story inspires you to share some of your own with the power of coaching.

About the author:
Sophia Kizilbash is a proud graduate of the 2012 Coaching for Transformation Bay Area Cohort. She co-founded the Native Youth Leadership Alliance in 2009, where she focuses her leadership on the intersections between youth leadership development, higher education, community organizing and the power of collaborating across cultures. She is very proud of her South Asian and Greek ancestry, and leads her own practice focusing on life and leadership coaching for South Asian women. Visit her at www.sophiajamal.com.

Sophia has deep gratitude for all her teachers, including Belma González and Kim Fowler (aka. Kelma and Bim), her mentor Dr. Teresa Makuakane-Drechsel (Aunty Teresa), her original coach, who is rooted in deep cultural knowledge and courageously expresses values in new ways for the younger generations.

To learn more about the Native Youth Leadership Alliance, visit their website, www.nativeyouthleadership.org, where you can also sign up for their e-newsletter and join the donor community. As a member of the NYLA Donor Community, you help ensure the power of coaching is accessible to young indigenous leaders who are on the frontlines of innovative community change for their generation and many more to come.


Coaching is life-changing, world-changing work. The coaching programs at Leadership that Works go beyond theories and models and work with clients on a deeper level. You learn how to coach the whole person: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Whole person Transformation.

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