Monday 24 April 2017


One of the issues that has come up for me, reflecting on the Daring Way workshop I attended a while ago, is the question of humility. BrenĂ© Brown's work seems to me to ask two things of us; the first is to believe that we are wonderful, and the second is to attend to how we are being wonderful (and how we could be more wonderful) all the time. 

Yet I still set great store by humility; not of the unctuous Uriah Heep type; but the genuine humility that recognises that I am not perfect, that I am not more important than anyone else, that I should not be the sole focus of my interest and attention.

I love this C S Lewis quotation on the subject of a truly humble man: He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. 

I have mentioned before my interest in the work of C W Metcalfe (Humour, Risk and Change) and in particular the moment when he draws a quick map of the Universe on a flipchart, explaining solemnly that it is expanding in all directions.  He then marks a point in the middle and explains it is the Center of the Universe (sic: he is American, after all). He then marks another point, and says: 'That's you - and when you confuse the two, you have lost the plot!'

It gets a laugh: the joke is good, and his delivery and timing are excellent - and it touches a nerve.  Because we all know that we frequently react as though we are in fact the centre of the Universe (because we are the centre of our own...) So we say: 'How could they do this to me?' when in fact we weren't in their thoughts at all...

So that is my problem with this kind of work: it not only encourages us to look searchingly at ourself, which, I think is a good thing from time to time (we all know how difficult it is when we encounter someone with absolutely no self-awareness or insight); but it also encourages to judge ourselves in the most positive light possible (and when I see others doing that, it seems problematic to me); and also to keep looking searchingly at ourself, all the time. And that I think is also problematic (and again, we can all think of people who are so consumed with working on themselves...)

So there is a balance to be struck, I would argue, between a regular self-examination, which is essential (the unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates is said to have observed) and maintaining attention on other people and the world outside us, as though they too are important and worthy of our consideration and attention...

Work in progress...

Friday 7 April 2017

Team Coaching

One of the fascinating areas of my work is team coaching. At its best, this is very rich and powerful. It consists of working with the team collectively, and also coaching individual team members.

I mentioned this at a meeting with some other coaches recently, and a couple expressed some surprise, and said that they would never work in that way. Their view is that coaching both the leader and people reporting to that leader is very risky: it can set up conflicts of interest for the coach. I was surprised by that, and have been reflecting on it since. And then this morning I had a very interesting conversation with another coach, whom I respect and admire, who took just the opposite view.

She often works like that, and believes it to be highly effective: one can build a richer picture, help the team, and individuals within it, to see and understand some of the dynamics going on, and generally support and challenge both the team and individual team members more effectively.

That tallies with my view (so of course I think she is wise...) but further she said that some years ago she had raised this with another very experienced coach, who advises the ICF on ethics and good practice, who had said that she, too, thinks this not only an appropriate but a very powerful and helpful way to work.

The coach has to be confident in managing the boundaries, of course. And all team members, likewise, have to have confidence that the coach can do so. But with those conditions in place, it seems to me to be a very productive approach.

As ever, I am interested in others' views, pro and contra, so do let me know what you think.

Sunday 2 April 2017

Why I don't own Aston Martin

My grandfather, Bill Renwick was a  brilliant engineer. In the 1920s he sold the family estate in Scotland, and with his business partner ‘Bert’ Bertelli, bought Aston Martin. He designed a revolutionary engine (with a wedge-shaped combustion chamber, which gave it some advantage I don’t understand) but was swindled out of his money by the perfidious Bertelli, and had to leave the country in ignominy (he rode the railroads of America as a travelling bum for many years.)

1937 Aston Martin featuring a Bill Renwick engine
Or so I was told.

In fact, it was not true. Most of it was; but he was not swindled by Bertelli at all. That bit was family legend. We discovered the truth of it when my nephew Joe wrote to Aston Martin to ask why Bill Renwick didn’t feature in a book about the history of the marque. That prompted an enthusiastic answer from the Aston Martin archivist, Alan Archer, to say that they knew little of the Bill Renwick story, and would like to meet Joe and learn what he could tell them.

Joe, of course, knew little too; but my mother (Joe’s grandmother and Bill Renwick’s daughter) did know some bits of the jigsaw. So Joe and my mother were invited to Aston Martin at Newport Pagnall to meet Alan Archer the archivist; and as neither of them had a car, I drove them there and crashed the party.

We were treated like royalty: given a tour of the factory, and taken to lunch. The head of the plant sent his apologies; he was in a meeting elsewhere or he’d have loved to meet us…  And my mother and Mr Archer swapped what information they had about Bill Renwick. He was fascinated by the story of Bertelli’s swindling my grandfather, and thought it most unlikely.

Crucially, my mother was able to tell him the name of my grandfather’s estate in Scotland (Langgarth, near Stirling). So after the meeting, Mr Archer did some investigation and was able to establish when it was sold and for how much. He then went though the Aston Martin books, and was able to demonstrate that all the money had been invested in developing racing cars.

The prosaic truth was that my grandfather had never been swindled; it was simply that he was a great engineer and a poor businessman, and had sunk the family fortune in racing fast cars.

Where the legend of the Bertelli swindle came from, I do not know. However, he was divorced from my grandmother (in an age when such a thing was scandalous) so it may have been a face-saving story of some sort...

The only other story about him is that he liked, when stopped by a policeman on point duty in London, to grind his gears in such a way that they played God save the king. I do not know if that story is true, either.

But I love such stories - and found it fascinating to watch the truth that I had grown up with as a child disintegrate when the facts were put together.