Friday, 23 October 2020


This morning, a fellow coach, Christina Gates, posted a very personal entry on her Linked In feed. I commented on how good it was, and she replied that it had been hard (and important) to write.  I really felt for her, as it was a very vulnerable expression of her feelings. And I reflected on the different emotions that accompany vulnerability. When we are considering making ourselves vulnerable, we often feel fearful: as Christina said, it is a difficult thing to do. Yet when I read a post like that, I am almost always left feeling greater admiration for the person who wrote it than I had done previously. And I suspect that is true for many people. There is a curious power to vulnerability; not least because we recognise the bravery that sits behind it.

My thinking then went on to some of the feedback I got from the EI 180 I did recently, and to which I have referred in previous posts. One of the messages was that I could use less self-deprecating humour.  My justification for such humour is that I hate arrogance (and I am aware that is a risk for me: that I can be quite proud, and that could easily translate as arrogance). Self-deprecating humour, I would maintain, prevents that.

But now I am wondering. Is it perhaps, in my case at least, a defence against feeling vulnerable. If I have named and laughed at my own foibles or inadequacies, I suspect that it makes it much harder for others to give me feedback on them: it is disarming in a rather self-serving way.

I was reflecting on this with a colleague this afternoon, and at the end of the conversation, she paid me a compliment. I responded with some self-deprecating humour - even though I had been discussing with her just minutes previously my intention not to use it. And she was good enough to call me out on it, which was extremely helpful.

And I am interested in reflecting on that, too. It suggests that not only am I uncomfortable with criticism, I am uncomfortable with praise, and use self-deprecation to address that discomfort too. Is it intimacy that makes me feel vulnerable, then?

Yet I am aware, too, that I do make myself vulnerable on occasion. So there is something about context that I need to understand further.  And I need to keep a close watch on that self-deprecating humour, too!


Thanks to Ava Sol and Nik Shuliahin for sharing their photography on Unsplash

Friday, 16 October 2020

Emotional Intelligence - a Behavioural Approach


At the start of lockdown, I declared a sabbatical, and embarked on a number of CPD projects. In addition to those I planned at that stage, and in part because of a recommendation by David Clutterbuck, with whom I was studying Leadership Team Coaching, I signed up for a programme with Genos, to become proficient in, and qualified to use, their range of Emotional Intelligence assessments, feedback reports, and development programmes. I have just completed that, and (subject to a practical next week - update: undertaken and passed..) will soon have  (update: now have) the badge. There were a few things I particularly liked about the Genos approach. One was the chap leading the programme, Deiric McCann who was credible and entertaining.  

A second was their model of EI:

This is more comprehensive than many, having six core competences, each underpinned by seven specific behaviours. And that is the other thing I really like: the assessments are behavioural. They ask those giving feedback on an individual about specific observable behaviours. Not only that, but they ask both how important each behaviour is, and also how frequently they see it demonstrated. That gives participants very specific feedback. On the one hand, they learn what they are doing that works, that people find valuable; and on the other, what they could do more of, in order to increase the quality of their interactions with others. And that is all backed up with benchmarking data, and of course with written comments by those completing the feedback.

So I am looking forward to working with this assessment - which is available both in a leadership and a workplace version (ie for those without leadership responsibilities).  I certainly found it useful when I went through the process myself, and got some very helpful and specific pointers both about my strengths and a few things to try differently or more frequently.

For example, one of the behaviours in the Positive Influence competence is 'Responds effectively to others' inappropriate behaviour.' My colleagues who completed the feedback rated this as highly important, but rated my level of demonstrated behaviour rather lower (still high, and within the benchmark, I should add, not that I'm feeling at all sensitive or defensive, you understand...).  That is really helpful to know, and prompted some real reflection.  And I realise that there is some truth in it: I do tend to be a bit laissez-faire, and to see where something is going, rather than intervene early and clearly when someone does or says something inappropriate. And the feedback from my colleagues is that they would prefer it if I intervened; so I will be seeking opportunities to do so. (You have been warned!).  But I hope that makes it clear why I like this particular approach compared to some of the other assessments out there: it gives such specific behavioural feedback, that it is easy to develop a plan of action (putting the plan into action may be more difficult, but that's another story...)

The remaining question, of course, is whether behaving in a more emotionally intelligent way actually increases one's emotional intelligence. It seems clear that it will certainly increase one's demonstrated Emotional Intelligence, and that is surely what the development process is supposed to achieve.  But further, the process of engaging in this way will also lead to greater self awareness, which is one of the foundations of EI, and also self management (which is another EI competence).  Beyond that I refer you to Aristotle on Virtues: we acquire them by practicing them. 

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Getting into my stride...

I have posted previously about my initial reservations about, and slow conversion to, online development workshops.

This week I delivered the final workshop in a Negotiating Skills programme I have developed, that required participants to work through six short online modules, before attending. And it worked! They had done the modules and learned the model. So they came to the workshop with intelligent questions about it and ready to engage in practicing the thinking and skills that they had been studying.  It wasn't free of glitches, of course, but we have learned a lot that will make the next iteration better.  

The online modules were offered in three formats - videos, podcasts and written documents; and there was a reflective learning log for participants to record their learning in after each module.  We'll be following up with a proper evaluative survey after a few weeks, when they have had the chance to apply their learning in the workplace (or forget it) and I will be fascinated to read their feedback.

In the meantime, you can count me as a full convert. And with a convert's evangelical zeal, I thought it might be helpful to share a few of the things I am learning about making online sessions effective - and in particular some of the tools I am finding helpful.

Clearly, the key thing is to be really clear about content, and deliver that in helpful, accessible and engaging ways.  And in terms of engaging, there are some neat things you can do. Zoom breakout rooms (other brands are available, here and throughout this post) are invaluable; and there's a couple of things I've learned about using them. 

One is the need to be really clear about what people are required to do in the break out and how they can go about it (my instructions normally start with 'share the time fairly...').  I give people the brief verbally, and also put a link in the chatbox to an online word doc with the brief in writing.  I have also taken to assigning people to go to the rooms automatically, rather than waiting for them to click on the 'take me to the room' option - it just speeds things up and simplifies them. I also broadcast time checks to them in the rooms at the half way point, and when time is nearly up. And I don't go into the rooms to check up on them - I have found that interrupts their work whereas I prefer to give them the responsibility to use the time wisely; and in my experience, they do.

Other tools I have found helpful include Jamboard which is a virtual online whiteboard.  You can pre-prepare these for subgroups in the breakout rooms, and put the links in the chatbox; or for plenary sharing of ideas after a breakout; for action planning, as well as idea generation etc.  Participants can add virtual post-it notes (or pictures, draw etc) simultaneously, and you (and they) can keep the link to have a record of their work afterwards.


I also like the look of Slido, which I have yet to use as a facilitator (I have been on the receiving end, as it were...).  Slido allows polling, quizzes, question sorting, wordcloud generation etc. You can also pre-prepare things like team action planning sheets in Excel, (saved online) and include names, dates, accountabilities etc, and put the link in the chat, to get the team to complete the sheet in live time - and of course have a usable record of the action plan.

The final thing I want to comment on, is the value of investing in a decent microphone and camera. For what it's worth (and based, as is most of this learning, on colleagues' sharing their experience and recommendations,) I have a Rode NT microphone (which we cheerfully refer to as the rodent, for obvious reasons) and a Razer Kiyo camera. These mean that I can be confident that I can be seen and heard clearly - a huge improvement on the built-in mike and camera in my laptop.

As ever, I'm interested in others' experiences, ideas and recommendations, so do let me know what is working well for you in this virtual world.

Friday, 25 September 2020

The Coaching Supervision Partnership

For the past few years, as I have been developing myself as a Coaching Supervisor, I have worked with a small group of coaches who were on the same journey. Initially some of us knew each other through a supervision group where we came together to practice supervision and be supervised; and eventually we formed a learning cohort and designed our own learning journey to meet both our own needs and interests, and also the standard of the ILM at Level 7. Not all of us were seeking ILM qualification, but most were, and some of us (including me) have also completed our practical and written work and got through the first-marking process, awaiting only external second-marking to claim our certificates.

Having worked so well together and realised how our different skills, approaches and experiences provided a real richness to our joint learning, we decided to continue to work together. So we have established the Coaching Supervision Partnership, both as a continuing learning alliance, and as a vehicle to offer supervision, and eventually training in supervision, to organisations and individuals.

A number of us are currently working on a pro bono basis as supervisors of coaches who are (also pro bono) supporting senior NHS leaders addressing the COVID crisis, which is proving particularly interesting, challenging and rewarding. In between all of that, we have also started putting together a website to describe our offering and introduce us to the world.

Naturally, I'll be very interested in any feedback on the site as we develop it; and also in any introductions to organisations who have started to develop their internal coaching resource, but have yet to address how they are organising supervision for their coaches.

We all believe strongly in the importance and value of supervision, mainly because we have all experienced the significant benefits it has brought to our own practice as coaches, and of course, to our individual and organisational clients. 

Friday, 4 September 2020

Leadership in Lockdown

I have been very interested to hear how leaders have been reacting to the COVID crisis and the strains it has placed on their organisations.  Two leaders, in particular, have interesting stories: one the CEO of a small charity, the other a leader of a significant health and education organisation.

The charity CEO did a few things that struck me as very impressive. Like many charities, their funding was extremely curtailed as many of their normal fundraising opportunities were closed down. The CEO's strategy was to take a dramatic paycut himself, to gather the team and ask them to consider what drop in pay they (individually) could afford to take for a while and then commit to that, to focus as many of the team as possible of grant-seeking/application activities; and (and this was particularly interesting) to reduce staffing by having all senior staff work two weeks on and two weeks off, in an overlapping pattern.  That resulted in a balanced approach that contrasted strongly with other organisations I know, where some staff were worked to exhaustion and beyond, whilst others were stuck at home unable to do anything - and both groups resenting the other... Then, they landed a large grant, and all were immediately reinstated to their previous pay levels, and the team's commitment and mutual solidarity is considerably enhanced.

The other leader expanded his leadership team, to include more and younger members, in the face of an overwhelming increase in demands for decisions and complexity of issues to consider. He delegated more than he has ever done before - he is the first to admit that he likes a hands-on leadership approach, and to know  what is going on; but that proved impossible. Team members really stepped up, and some of the younger ones in particular far exceeded his expectations. The wider community's trust in the leadership team was enhanced by their competent handling of the crisis, and the leader has now convened a team workshop to examine how and why they were so successful during the crisis, and how to take that learning forward. One of the lessons he knows that he has to apply is to maintain his new-found ability to delegate much more significantly, even though that is against his personal habits and preferences.

All of which raises the interesting question: how do we ensure that the lessons learned during this crisis are learned and shared widely, so that we get what good we can from it?


Thanks to Dylan Gillis and Nick Fewings for sharing their work on Unsplash.

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Crafty Leadership and a Crafty Coach

One of my coaching clients said something a few weeks ago that has been rattling around in my head ever since. He was talking about some aspect of his skill set that he was working on, and said 'I think of it as a craft: something that I have to keep working on, and improve through practice.' 

That struck me as a very wise observation. One of the ways in which I think many academics get frustrated, when it comes to leadership and interpersonal skills development, is to think that knowing how to do something confers the ability to do it. Of course, they don't express it quite like that; indeed I think that it is more an implicit assumption, than a well-formed opinion of belief.  It is also, I realise on reflection, the assumption that I find most problematic in the (otherwise excellent) work of Nancy Kline, about which I have regularly enthused in previous posts.

And what concerns me is the degree to which I collude with that. I often assume, for example during a coaching or training session, that once someone has 'got it' (intellectually) that is my job done. Yet I know from my own experience  that it is not that simple.

So one of the things I am going to focus on, in the coming months, is to keep my attention on supporting the leaders I work with in becoming crafty leaders: leaders who are working to develop habits of good practice by repeated practice and reflection. And for me, part of that is not to get so excited to move onto the next interesting topic for exploration and forget the last thing we discussed.

And in a slightly sad circular fashion, I recognise that this is no new insight for me, either. Indeed, my ManyStory approach has a significant section that is dedicated to this: Enriching the Plot of the new and more helpful story.

So the meta-learning here, of course, is that I need to be a crafty coach, and keep working on those aspects of my craft that I am fully aware of intellectually, but don't always have as habitual behaviours.  Aristotle would be pleased with me...

With thanks to Dominik Scythe, Alexander Andrews and Daniil Kuzelev for sharing their photography on Unsplash

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

How to be Smarter Than Sherlock Holmes

In The Adventure of the Priory School, Sherlock Holmes famously makes a false deduction: 

“This track, as you perceive, was made by a rider who was going from the direction of the school.” “Or towards it?” “No, no, my dear Watson. The more deeply sunk impression is, of course, the hind wheel, upon which the weight rests. You perceive several places where it has passed across and obliterated the more shallow mark of the front one. It was undoubtedly heading away from the school.” 

That, of course, does not work. Whichever direction the bike was travelling in, the rear wheel will over-ride the marks left by the front wheel.

However, with that unique combination of genius and superficiality (I had nearly said, frivolity) that is, perhaps, the hallmark of my thinking, I realised, this morning as I cycled over the fells, how Conan Doyle could have made this clue work.

For I observed that bicycle tracks leading up to an obstacle or a hazard give very definite clues about the direction of travel. That is because the obstacle or hazard appears differently, depending on the direction from which one is approaching it, and therefore the cyclist will steer a different path accordingly. For example, I saw a cycle track that went into a puddle over a steep lip, and emerged on a gentle gradient on the other side. That makes perfect sense if the cyclist had approached from one direction, from which the steep lip was invisible, but was implausible from the other direction - indeed riding a bike up that lip would have been not only an odd course to pick, but also almost impossible.  From the other direction, the lip would have been very obvious, as would a slight deviation to the right that would have avoided it.

Why blog about this? There are, of course several reasons (my late father always maintained that there were always two reasons for any course of action: the good reason and the real reason...). The real reasons, in this case are my inherent superficiality (or even frivolity, see above) and the fact that I have to blog about something (I have set myself a target), so whatever comes to mind is grist to that particular mill.

The good reason is that this is an elegant metaphor for understanding other people. When someone approaches an obstacle or hazard, the course they steer can tell us a lot about their approach.  For example, I am rather gung-ho with a low level of risk aversion. I am unlikely to notice many hazards, until I am almost on top of them. I may well be the archetype envisioned by whoever created the aphorism 'Fools rush in...' And my point is that someone observing me, who did not know me, could quickly learn that about me, simply by watching my headlong rush towards a potentially risky situation.

Whereas a wiser person might start planning for contingencies a bit earlier; and a highly risk-averse person might avoid embarking on the journey altogether. 

The way in which we typically perceive hazards or obstacles can be revealing, too. As we enter a recession, some people are concerned about the macro-economic picture, others are concerned about the organisations that may go under, others about are excited about the political opportunity this gives them, whilst others are lamenting the job losses and the plight of young people entering a shrinking job market. Each of these is a perfectly understandable reaction (though not all equally laudable, of course). But each reaction also tells us something about how someone is seeing the situation, and may well shed light on what their biases and values are.

Which reminds me of something I learned many years ago, on a writing workshop run by Bob McKee (which also featured a fascinating scene-by-scene analysis of Casablanca, but that's another story).  Bob said: True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure - the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character's essential nature.

So if you want to be smarter than Sherlock Holmes, avoid deducing anything from clues that don't work; but do pay attention to how the cyclist approaches a hazard: it may tell you a lot about his or her direction of travel.

With thanks to Felix Hanspach, Patrick Hendry and Tim Collins for sharing their photography via Unsplash.