Friday 11 December 2020

Mental Mobilisation

 My colleagues and I in the Coaching Supervision Partnership had an excellent CPD workshop on Trauma, run by Alan Brice, a counsellor and supervisor with considerable experience, expertise and wisdom in this field.

It was a rich afternoon's learning, and one of the aspects I continue to reflect on is the notion of mental mobilisation. There seems to be growing evidence that the degree to which we are prepared for an experience that may be traumatic has a significant impact on how well we are able to deal with it.

Alan cited the example of ambulance crews, who are called to a category three (top priority) emergency. They know that they are likely to encounter a critical situation, that involves the possibility of dealing with death.  Whilst that is difficult, of course, they are ready for that, and that helps them to cope.  However, when called to a lower category of incident, and then unexpectedly having to deal with a fatality, it is very much harder to cope.

We also talked about some people who have higher base levels of anxiety than others, who are also sometimes particularly good at dealing with crises: we wondered if a degree of mental mobilisation may be in play here, too.

All of which raised the interesting question, is it possible to be mentally mobilised in the face of unknown threats and challenges, which may arise at unpredictable times? And further is that possible without stimulating a continuing sense of hyper-arousal that would be debilitating?

The answer is that we don't really know. I remember reading in HBR or somewhere similar, an article that claimed that executive teams that have done a lot of disaster simulation exercises were better at dealing with actual crises, even of a different nature; but I can't find the article and don't remember how robust the evidence was. It has a surface plausibility, but that's all I can vouch for.

But the question continues to fascinate me, and if I come across more research on the topic, I will return to it.  In the meantime, I think that the most useful preparation one can make for unforeseen challenges and changes (and we know they will come, we just don't know what or when) is the research-based approaches to personal resilience; investing time and care in putting in place the habits that will keep us fit for such challenges.


With thanks to Joe Kibria and Markus Winkler for sharing their photography on Unsplash

Thursday 26 November 2020

Continuing adventures online

 I have reported my journey with regard to online development workshops previously on this blog; a journey from scepticism to enthusiasm. But now I am beset by doubts.

My doubts are not about the efficacy or practicality of the medium. I remain convinced that online workshops that are well-designed and well-run can be very effective, and very efficient, too.

No, my doubts are much more personal. It was brought home to me this week, when I was delivering a second Time Management workshop. Both workshops went well: participants had engaged in the 6 pre-call modules and came willing and able to discuss the ideas raised, their own practice and so on, and to develop plans to work on improving their time management. All well and good.

However, I was reflecting on how different the experience was. In particular, the pre-call modules (which I made available as videos, podcasts and written material, so that participants could choose how to engage with them) were stripped of most of the anecdotes, humour and little interactive elements that feature when I run the workshop face-to-face. I think that is the right thing to do, because I think those things would not translate well into the new media. But, and this is where my doubts come in, I also think that it is those things that distinguish my approach from that of many others.

I believe that one of my skills as a facilitator, and possibly my most valuable one, is the ability to create a safe and engaging learning environment in the room; I can pace the presentation, the telling of an anecdote, the use of small interactive elements, and so forth in a way that engages people and that they find helpful and memorable. 

So my fear is that, moving my work into the online space, stripped back to a series of quick and clear modules of learning, may make it indistinguishable from any other competent trainer.

Perhaps the universe is telling me something and that my future lies in coaching and coaching supervision, and specialist facilitation; and the days of running standard workshops is behind me. Or perhaps good enough workshops are good enough.

I think I'll wait for the feedback forms to start rolling in, and see what the participants have to say about my efforts.


With thanks to  Christin HumeNathan Ansell and Joshua Ness for sharing their photography on Unsplash

Thursday 12 November 2020

Humour, humility and humanity

I made a note earlier this week, after a conversation I had with my wife, Jane, while we were out for a walk, that this week I'd blog about Humour, Humility and Humanity.

It's a great title, but now that I sit down to write it, I find that I have completely forgotten the exciting set of linkages that had sparked the title.  You've got to laugh...


I could, of course, write some plausible piece associating the three, and it would probably be all right, But somehow that would seem to dishonour the genius of the original idea (as I imagine it to have been). And for now, all I can remember is that we thought how interesting it was that all three words begin with Hum.

I think I'll leave it there. If it comes back to me, I may write further. In the meantime, feel free to laugh at this non-post.


With thanks to Aikomo Opeyemi for sharing this photo on Unsplash

Friday 6 November 2020

Philosophy, Purpose and Process

 A colleague and I were discussing 'hurt' the other day, and (it being a supervisory conversation) we drew on the model proposed by Jackson and Bachkirova, in Eve Turner’s Heart of Coaching Supervision.

So we started by discussing our philosophy of hurt; what we believe about it. We recognised hurt as part of the (fallen) human condition; and the fact that we can choose the power it has over us: we can feed it, or not. It may require us to forgive – both ourselves and others. We can support and hold others experiencing hurt but cannot rescue them from it. We may be able to help them to change the context. 

We also discussed the issue of attributing intentionality to it – which may make it worse. But recognised that meaningless suffering was also intense. So Viktor Frankl's ideas arose as so often… The opportunity for hurt to be transformative and redemptive, and for it to be an opportunity for learning and growth – the relevance of the famous Serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference...

In terms of our purpose in working with people in their hurt, we discussed awareness and learning: our common humanity and the associated responsibilities… compassion, improvement, action….

Awareness is foundational, perhaps; admitting and acknowledging hurt, using it to become more self-aware and to reflect on the impact of one’s own behaviours; becoming more compassionate in judgement of others; thinking about the power we are giving to hurt, and seeing the continuing impact on us and our relationships.

We moved on to discuss the processes we might use in working with hurt, and noted how well grounded in our philosophy and purpose these turned out to be – and how helpful it was to make those links explicit in this way.

We started by discussing the basics: being there, holding, listening, psychological safety; and then some of the other tools: stories, systemic visibility and understanding, re-building confidence and competence, time perspectives, resource anchors, resilience self audit, challenging binary (good/bad) thinking, picture cards to access feelings and futures, assumption hunting etc. And also the importance of the coach being the guardian of hope in the system, the issue of timing in all of this, and the importance of support, and how to encourage people to identify and access the support available to them.

All in all, we found the structure a very resourcing way of provoking a rich conversation on this theme, which left both of us with several practical ideas for ways in which we can better work with our clients.


With thanks to Tom Pumford,  jurien huggins and Marc-Olivier Jodoin for sharing their photos on Unsplash

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.

Friday 31 July 2020

More on Renwick and Bertelli

My regular reader will no doubt recall that I was boasting, a while back, about my grandfather Bill Renwick's illustrious role in Aston Martin, and the family legend, that proved wholly untrue, that his unscrupulous business partner, Bertelli, had defrauded him of his fortune.

So you will understand why this caught my eye (well my one of my sisters' eyes, who drew it to my attention).

The description (link here) not only mentions grandfather Bill, but also correspondence and photos relating to my mother Anne Scott, as part of the 'this is a really well-documented car' sales blurb. 

So if anyone is able to donate £280,000 to the Scott Heritage Fund (used tenners in a brown envelope probably easiest) it would be lovely to add this to the family collection (which currently stands at zero Aston Martins - but one has to start somewhere.)

Saturday 25 July 2020

From grumpy to enthusiastic...

It's always entertaining when we ourselves go through precisely the journey we discuss with our clients, with regard to change.

There are, of course, many such journeys; but not an infinite number. So one can discuss probable pathways for different people, and this is certainly one typical one...

At the start of lockdown, I was fairly clear in my own head that the one-to-one work I do could easily continue online.  Indeed, I have been doing telephone coaching for many years, and zoom/skype (other brands are available) coaching for quite a few.

But the group facilitation, and in particular skills training, was not really possible in that way. Indeed, I was clear that some of the key skills I see myself bringing to that process, such as the creation of a safe but rigorously challenging atmosphere, rely on physical presence; likewise, some of the benefits of the workshops I run, such as building connections and networks (and to some extent, I stand by that).

So it was with (well-disguised, I hope) ill grace that I agreed to run some online sessions for one of my clients; to continue at least to some extent, a programme that had started pre-lockdown, and to honour, as best we could, the commitment of the participants.

The first sessions were largely idea- and feeling-sharing; and were very well received.  And due to participants' enthusiasm, and because some of the topics we had on the agenda for later meetings were about behavioural skills, such as influencing, I decided to see what we could do in terms of skills practice in that environment.

My prejudice against doing this kind of work online was reinforced by some of the online CPD I was doing, which was presented in dull and unimaginative ways, and included little skills practice of any value.

However, that set me thinking about what I would do differently, to make online learning more engaging, and to what extent practice in the virtual environment is, in fact, possible.

So I have been experimenting with giving more information (about theories or models) in advance, of an online workshop, and with getting people to participate in small groups without me there to supervise or hold their hand - and that has gone really well.

So I am now, enthusiastically, working up a full negotiating skills programme, which will consist of: several short modules of learning, which can be either read as short handouts with some reflective questions at the end, watched as a series of short videos (and again with reference to the reflective questions at the end of each module), or listened to, as a podcast in short chapters (and ditto re questions). That will be followed by some demonstration negotiations: one that goes well, one that is tough but gets to a resolution, and one where there is no final agreement due to one party's intransigence - all with some commentary. 

Alongside that, we will have an a-synchronous online discussion, in which participants can discuss various questions posed by me, and also anything else arising from their study, reflection or experience. Finally, there will be a live online workshop, where participants can  ask questions about the work done so far, and then practice the skills in small groups with other participants.

I am fortunate enough to have a client who is equally excited about this approach, and we are looking to go live in September. If it works well, I will be making it available to other clients, and also developing a number of other workshops on the same basis.

So I have done a complete u-turn on this. I can see several benefits to this approach (as well as some disadvantages). People can engage at times that work for them, which can be as short as a few minutes, or more extended if they want. They can re-visit any parts they want to, or go back after the demo negotiations to deepen their theoretical understanding after seeing the process in practice, and so on.  It won't be the same as a live workshop, and it won't draw on the same skills from me; but it does rely on other skills I have acquired over the years, and perhaps take for granted.

And the meta-lesson is that this is so often how people progress through change - and one of the elements that most change models under-emphasise, in my view, is the effect of time. People need time to assimilate the new reality, to re-orientate themselves, and to make new understandings of their role and contribution. We need to be careful not to reinforce their initial grumpiness in our haste to make progress, or we can sabotage that natural process.


With thanks to Brooke CagleChristine Donaldson and Fabian Qunitero for sharing their photography via Unsplash.

Monday 20 July 2020

From the Other End...

I have blogged a few times about the work of Nancy Kline and her Thinking Environment; and how the quality of listening that she champions helps people who are listened to in that way to think at their very best.

But what I think has been neglected (or at least, I have seen and heard little about this) is the effect of listening in that way on the listener. So in this post, I consider the Thinking Environment - listening in that way - from the other end, as it were.

By 'listening in that way,' I mean embodying the ten components of a Thinking Environment: Attention, Ease, Equality, Difference, Appreciation, Information, Encouragement, Feelings, Incisive Questions and Place. See my post here for my earlier discussion of these.

My hypothesis is that, over time, the practice of listening in this way instils habits in the listener that become part of his or her character; and I am mindful here of Aristotle's view of virtues being habits of good behaviour.

My idea, therefore, is that these ten components are helping me (and others who follow this discipline, of course) to acquire and integrate certain good habits into our repertoire, and this blog post, as usual, is my thinking out loud, as it were, about this idea.

So what virtues do I think that it fosters? 

In the first place, generosity: the gift of full attention, laying aside one's own interests and concerns for a while and creating that sense of ease which is essential to this work, as well as making the effort to overcome our embarrassment and offer genuine appreciation of the other person, are all generous acts.

Linked to that, but separate, is an appropriate humility.  The component of equality reins in our ego, and any tendency that we may have to assume that we know best. And that is not merely an intellectual posture: the actual practice of listening in this way is often humbling. As people reveal their thinking I am frequently in awe of their qualities, not just in terms of the solutions they discover to the issues they are addressing, but also the values they bring to bear: vulnerability, compassion, tenacity and many others are frequently displayed.  Interestingly, that same component of equality helps us to guard against a false self-deprecation: whilst we are to see ourselves as no better than the other person, we are also to see ourselves as no worse; and for some of us, that is a healthy restorative.

And linked to humility is something about genuine interest in other people and their perspectives that will tend towards wisdom. The component of difference is relevant here: valuing other people's perspectives and seeking to learn from them, rather than simply discount them or over-ride them with our own. This is one path to learning, of course...

Finally, I think the practice of listening like this can lead to increased self-insight. In particular, that can arise from the openness to difference, already discussed, and also from the questioning of assumptions that underpins the formulation of Incisive Questions. The constant quest for assumptions that others make, and our critical engagement with them increases our ability to recognise our own.

Therefore, I continue to work in this way, where appropriate, not only because of the utilitarian reason, that it seems to work for my clients; but also because of the personal development imperative: it is helping me to become more the kind of person I aspire to be (from which my more perceptive readers will realise that I see myself as someone who needs to increase his generosity, humility, wisdom, and self-insight - not an unworthy project for the next few years).


With thanks to Mimi Thian, Iqx Azmi, Jordan McDonald and Markel Hall  for sharing their photography via Unsplash.

Sunday 5 July 2020

Still learning (after all these years...)

Someone recently quoted the (possibly apocryphal) answer that Pablo Casals gave, in his eighties, to the question: 'Why do you still practise for 6 or more hours a day, when you are the greatest cellist of the twentieth century?' He (is alleged to have) replied: "I think I am beginning to get the hang of it..."

Having written that, I am hesitant to continue with the post I had planned: I may be a good coach, but I am not the Casals of the coaching world.  Nonetheless, the anecdote does speak to the point I wished to write about, so I will swallow my misgivings and proceed.

On the practicum session for the Leadership Team programme I am currently studying, we were in small groups and had to role play a scenario in which we were coaching the leader of a team in a difficult situation that had filled her with despair. 

I did a good job, I thought, in helping her both to articulate her current situation, but also to think of the future, identify where she and the team needed to get to, and (most importantly) re-discover a sense of hope. That then enabled her to come back to the present, and work out the first actions she could take that would share her hope with the team, get clarity and support she needed from her boss and so on.  We only had 20 minutes or so for the role play, and I felt that we had done a lot in that time. The others in the small group agreed; but as we reviewed the session, I realised that I had missed the point.

The brief for the exercise had been to help the team leader to start to co-create a team development plan for the whole team - and to discuss how to engage the team in that co-creation. The idea is to gain common understanding and agreement about the current situation and challenges, and also to agree the way the team want to work on addressing it through their own development journey.  That is the necessary foundation for a truly engaged approach that will weather the inevitable difficulties that such a learning journey will encounter.

And I had known that - yet I colluded with the team leader in a rush to action, with insufficient diagnosis, and with no thought given either to the whole journey, or to engaging the rest of the leadership in the diagnosis and planning.

This made me reflect, once more, on the conscious competence model of learning. That is, I had learned, in my head (from the teaching and examples presented by Peter Hawkins and David Clutterbuck on the programme) about the importance of that stage of the process; yet in practice, my habitual approach had taken over: I had played to my strengths; and that had gone well, except that I was doing the wrong thing. And what the conscious competence model does so well is not merely illustrate the problem, but also point to the solution: and that is practice. In order to turn the intellectual understanding I have acquired on the course into a reliable skill, I need to try it out, over and over again, until I get good at it.

And I am trying not to be too annoyed at myself for having to learn that lesson (again) through experience... but I suppose that if Pablo Cassals still felt the need for practise at the age of eighty-something, then I am in good company.

Monday 22 June 2020

Pushing Myself and Pushing Them

I have been growing increasingly confident with my online workshops, and today took that to a new level. Previously, my online workshops had involved lots of discussion, and practicing using models and structures, to think about difficult topics; but in the last couple with professors from Cardiff University, I have been getting them to practice skills, which feels like a big step up, in terms of remote delivery.

To be quite honest, I wasn't confident how well this would work.  It was clear to me that I would have to get a few things right for this to work - and then trust the participants to work well together without me eavesdropping (as I usually do when we are working together in the same place).

So I had to be very clear in my own mind, both what they needed to know before the exercise, and precisely how I was going to instruct them to do it.

Today's session was particularly challenging.  We were looking influencing skills. I had to send them much longer pre-reading than I usually do, covering the major styles and the specific behaviours; and I also included the exercise brief as the final page. That was because there was simply too much information for me to explain it all from cold, and still have time for them to practice.

In the event, the session went very well. It was slightly unnerving to put them into groups and then simply wait, trusting them to make good use of the time. But I had decided not to go around the rooms, as I thought that would be disruptive and distracting.

So it was a great relief when they came back to the plenary session, and told me how valuable the exercise had been, and what they had learned from it. It is a great credit to the professors concerned that they were able to practice what is essentially a face-to-face skill in a virtual environment, give each other feedback, polish their skill, and generate and share learning.  I think that was a lot to expect of them, and they rose to the challenge really well.
I still think that this is not the same as spending the time together, not least because it is far harder to have the informal coffee-break conversations.  But I have to admit that it is a far better substitute than I had foreseen, and that it also has some advantages that mean I may well continue to work in this way (although not exclusively) even when it isn't the only option.

Now that I know that we can do serious skills practice, the benefits of relatively short (2 hour) modular sessions that people can do from their own office or home, and which I can facilitate without needing to travel and be put up in hotels, are very clear.  So not quite a complete Zoom convert, but at least a believer in richer approach to mixed delivery.

(images courtesy Chris Mongomery, Austin Distel and Bruno Cervera, respectively, from Unsplash)

Friday 5 June 2020

CPD during my Sabbatical...

One of the ways in which I am using my self-declared sabbatical is investing time in my own development. That includes a Leadership Team Coaching Programme, with Peter Hawkins and David Clutterbuck, a further Time to Think programme, with Laura Williams, and a Transformational Narrative Coaching programme, with Nick Isbister. And in addition to all that, I have also been working to improve my understanding of Trauma, in support of another project I am involved in.

All of these, of course, build on existing areas of interest and are intended to help me to work to an even higher standard with my clients.

The Leadership Team Coaching programme is proving very interesting. Hawkins and Clutterbuck are major figures in the coaching world, and have a wealth of experience as well as knowledge to share. Whilst the format (600+ people on a 90' webinar) was initially hard work, they have responded well to feedback and made the third (and most recent session) very much better. These webinars are supported by smaller online practicum sessions, as well as handout material etc.  I've also agreed to meet a colleague, who is also going through the programme, after each webinar to share insights and challenge each other to find ways to apply the learning, which has really helped to bring it alive.

People who know me will understand the appeal of doing a further Time to Think programme. Nancy Kline's Thinking Environment has proved very valuable in improving my practice over the last few years. So far, the training programmes I have attended with Nancy and with Shirley Wardell have focused very much on the one-to-one applications of the Thinking Environment. This programme, the Foundation Course, focuses on group applications, and is the precursor to the Facilitation Course, which I intend to do next. It will be particularly interesting to do this programme online, as that poses particular challenges to the Thinking Environment approach, particularly as it applies to groups. But, of course, at present, pushing the boundaries of what we can do remotely is particularly important, and I am confident that I will learn a lot from Laura, another expert in the field.

The appeal of Nick Isbister's programme should be equally clear. My own interest in narrative approaches goes back many years - Shifting Stories was in gestation (and procrastination) for many years before I published it in 2016. So when I found out that Nick was doing something similar but distinctively different, I was naturally intrigued.  So I bought his book, and booked a call. We had a fascinating chat, and I booked on to his programme. It's early days yet (I've only completed the first part of the programme, which has been very much about taking stock of my story (or stories) so far, and what I make of myself, as Actor, Agent and Author. But it has already proved a very rich and thought-provoking process, and I am looking forward to crafting my future story with Nick's help. Given how much the world is changing at the moment, this seems a particularly appropriate time to be investing in such thinking.

With regard to trauma, I have been reading Gordon Turnbull's account of his career: discovering the reality of post traumatic stress, and then pioneering approaches to help people to address it. I have also been reading some slightly more technical and academic books on the subject, recommended by colleagues. For me, this is not about developing the skills to work with those suffering from trauma - that would be crossing the line from coaching into therapy - but rather to understand better what the indicators are, so that I can make appropriate referrals, and be clearer about that boundary; and to support me in my work as a coaching supervisor, so that I can help the coaches I supervise to be equally clear about those boundaries and the limits of their appropriate support.