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.