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Ilaretok

NOVEMBER 2012

No, that's not a spelling mistake. The word comes from a little known Tanzanian dialect. Let me explain.

I've been reading recently about the Masai tribes of the Great Rift Valley of East Africa, a people who until only a few decades ago, we would have patronisingly called primitive.

In the language of the Masai, there are several words to indicate a person in an influential or leadership role.

Laibon or witch doctor; Legwanan, meaning Chief; Olkaris, powerful or influential one and Ol Kitok, which can be translated the head one, the main one of the first one.

We can see similar leadership roles within our own culture — we'd perhaps call them Priest, CEO, Magnate and Prime Minister.

But was there, I wondered, a Masai word for the kind of role I perform as a consultant?

I discovered that, in Masai culture, within every tribe there was a very important person, separate and distinct from the leadership roles above. This special person was considered essential to the life of the community and was interested in and involved with all aspects of that life.

He or she was called Ilaretok, a word which literally means helper. The Ilaretok was a person who anyone in the tribe could turn to if they needed help with exceptional difficulties. They would come alongside that person and help them to learn for themselves what they needed to do to overcome their obstacle or trouble.

It struck me that this person was exactly like our modern coach!

In my daily work life, I do exactly what the Ilaretok does. I help my clients to take that difficult, yet important, step to overcoming their difficulties and making their lives better as a result. And of course, the most important aspect of effective coaching is to ensure the person on the receiving end learns for themselves, rather than being lectured or coerced.

My name's Andonella, but from now on, you can call me Ilaretok.

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