“I wrote my first article on LinkedIn today. I’ve come a long way since I first came to you for coaching! Thanks for all the support and helpful challenge”
This morning I was talking to a colleague about the different methods I use for coaching. The standard ones – but also using art, narrative discourse. And walking.
There is something about walking that is incredibly grounding. There is a rhythm. There are natural silences. There are opportunities to re-boot ideas and boot out redundant ones. On a coaching walk we cover new ground, new routes. This resonates with fundamental coaching goals that are about only repeating habits when they work, aiming to be more conscious of when they don’t work and then finding good habits to replace them.
Walking the Talk generates a different sort of coaching dynamic. It makes silence easier, it slows down the thought processes and leaves a natural space for reflection. That kinetic energy is rhythmic and soothing and means your head is up and you are scanning the horizon, not simply plodding along one foot in front of the other. You can see where you are going, you have a purpose.
Steve Jobs was known for talking a long walk when there were serious conversations to be had. With himself and with others. Walking the Talk sessions with my clients always end positively – partly because it is a novelty but mostly because we never tread the same path. We find new routes to resolve old problems. And we are in an environment where the horizon is way beyond the metaphorical confines of a room. You should try it!
It is tempting to stay on the same road and inhabit the same spaces. We feel comfortable. Others feel comfortable. There is benefit in not changing and we are hard-wired not to discomfort others and ourselves.
In the past twelve months I have actively chosen to inhabit and embrace discomfort. Recognising that I was in a stage of transition (age, stage of life, what-do-I-want-to-do-with-my-life etc) I was intrigued by how doing the same things in the same way had become habits. Now some habits are good. They reinforce a sense of self-efficacy and predictability. But that has never been my style. In other words I had become comfortable and maybe a bit complacent.
Running a business, being self-employed and having a life full of activity is my stock-in-trade. But I became more conscious of the little habits that might prevent me from seeing what else is out there; I had created invisible walls for myself; I was still active but not necessarily creative.
So I decided to do an experiment. For 12 months I have consciously worked fewer hours and undertaken less networking activity in my usual groups. My goal was to touch other parts of parallel worlds and to see what else was going on out there.
What have I found? The world doesn’t stop if you consciously change. It keeps on turning. The work keeps coming in but it comes from new places and new people. What I have learned in my 40-0dd years of employment and self-employment does not become redundant just because I change direction. In many ways the direction of travel remains the same, in fact. It’s just that the route is different.
What new avenues have emerged in the last 12 months as a result of taking the road less travelled?
- I have worked less but enjoyed myself more
- I have tested new work possibilities – kept some and rejected some and felt ok about that
- I have become a better coach because I am thinking differently
- I’ve been nominated for a coaching and a supervision award
- I have trained to be a Humanist celebrant
- I am no longer concerned about saying ‘no’ to work that does not fit my values
- In becoming more open to possibilities I have found new possibilities that I never knew existed
The learning is that in creating empty spaces and being prepared to stay in an empty space rather than actively create momentum and ‘noise’, new thoughts and new opportunities arise. Not a bad bit of learning as I reach the end of the year.
It’s great to see the new edition of Tim McDougall’s Children and Young People’s Mental Health published today.
Tim’s always on top of his game and is widely published, and this edition is thoroughly updated – all you need to know about the mental health of children and young people and how it is delivered in a contemporary and fluid environment.
I was hugely flattered when Tim invited me to contribute a chapter to this latest edition. My chapter – The Nurse as Entrepreneur – challenges us to think about the role of nurses and the part they play in innovation and developing good practice. In particular it looks at what drives nurses, what gets them up in the morning, what are the characteristics of entrepreneurship that are evident in the nursing profession, and how systems need to change in order to support innovative practice within the NHS. In other words – considering the nurse as an intrepreneur – with entrepreneurial characteristics and the ability to contribute to change within large systems.
It also examines the wider ‘market’ for both intrepreneurial and entrepreneurial skills and challenges the standard NHS environment to step up to the plate and become more flexible – more fleet-of-foot – in how not only demands change, but how it embeds change and innovation in standard environments. Asking nurses to develop new models of practice requires the nursing environment to acquire, internalise and embed its understanding of their role in determining the impact of innovation on the system as well as the patient. For it is only when the characteristics of entrepreneurship are supported within systems that we can be sure that short term change will impact on long-term and improved outcomes for our patients. In other words there must be a natural fit between the characteristics of innovation and entrepreneurship in nurses and the systems that support good practice. To ignore this is to risk losing our skilled intrepreneurs to the wider market that is less risk-averse.
Years ago when I did my social work training I read Social Work as Art by Martin Davies. At the time I couldn’t quite key into the concept.
Now, I offer supervision to consultants in practice. Supervision is the one thing I really missed when I started working for myself – the opportunity to explore ideas, the meaning of the work, the impact of methods on outcomes. Doing it well is an art I have come to understand.
I’ve been developing the concept of ‘supervision as art’ over the past couple of years, combining supervision with coaching and adding more discursive elements to the mix where it fits the client’s needs and preferences. Recently after an hour and a half session with a client, we de-camped to a local gallery and wandered round an exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography. Having ‘got into the zone’ in the supervision session itself, we then extended the concepts that had emerged in supervision and linked them to the images we were looking at. Not in a self-conscious way, but naturally and spontaneously. It really enriched the session for my client, and for me.
It made me remember my experience on The King’s Fund Top Manager Programme, when we were taken to The National Portrait Gallery and asked to look at four different pictures, on our own and then in small groups, and then discuss them. This was a significant swing away from the normal ‘taught’ elements in previous experience of leadership programmes. This one led you into places you hadn’t been; asked questions that had never been asked; requested our patience when our experience made us feel uncomfortable; asked us to dig deeper for meaning and insight.
These are the elements of supervision and coaching that I love to explore, and so do my clients. Moving out of the ‘normal’ supervision and coaching zone is not for the faint-hearted and should always be undertaken with care and planning. But for some clients it heightens their experience and strengthens their self-knowledge. And for me, it offers another dimension to the experience of offering supervision and coaching.
This week has been a great week and I have been moved and motivated by magnificent women. Some are new acquaintances. Some I have known for years. Some I know through work. Some through friendship or kin.
All seem to possess an innate wisdom that carries them through. That wisdom seems to have grown through a commitment – in the best and the hardest of times – to knowing their own value and being the best that they can be. They have an unforgettable impact on those with whom they connect. Their greatest attributes are authenticity, a generous spirit and a strong commitment to never to catch what is thrown at them unless they choose to do so. A commitment to let what is thrown, fall, if it is of no value; a commitment to only hold on to what will nourish and strengthen them. To open the correct drawer and take out the correct object, because only that object will do.
These women are thinkers, they shine a light on their own thoughts and ignite sparks that illuminate their own journey. Without knowing that they do so, those sparks show others what is possible. In doing this they are living proof that love is our best gift, that we can endure, are authentic. We are able to integrate the meaning of the most beautiful and the most bitter of life’s lessons, yet still flourish and remain intensely human. You know who you are! I salute you!
Yesterday I chaired 61% and Smiling, the culmination of five Arts and Wellbeing projects in Norfolk, funded through The Arts Council and driven through Creative Arts East. One of the findings was that 61% of all who participated, said that their wellbeing had improved through participating in Arts activity – this might have been singing, reminiscence and community reporting, making things, photography, making music. As I was chairing the conference it set me thinking about the impact that art – in all its forms – has had on my life, and how I instinctively draw on it when words just don’t do the business. This was my introduction to the conference:
I am interested in people – not just what they do, what job they have, where they work, how many children they have or don’t have. I like the whole of people. The sum of people. The warts and the holes, the light and the ‘thing’ of people.
In my work – as a business consultant and coach working with large and small organisation, public and private, individuals and teams – I like to find the things that light people up; get them going in the morning. I like to locate the spark, the friction, the optimism. When they tell me how grim it is and how no one seems to care, I ask them – what’s your favourite memory? Where is your favourite place? They look surprised.
I often ask – what do you do when you are on your own? Where is your secret place? What do you wish you could do right now? It’s not just that I am nosey – it is because we are more than what we show. We are more than what we know. Sometimes we have to go and find ourselves again, and art in all its forms helps us to do that.
When I ask those questions, all sorts of answers come back:
- I wish I was on top of a London bus at night watching the reflections in the shop fronts
- I wish I could sing out loud, in tune, so everyone can hear
- I wish I could go and see that Alexander McQueen exhibition just one more time
- I wish I could pick up a pencil and draw my child
- I wish I was on top of Helvelyn looking down the valley
- I wish I could sit down and play the piano right now
- I wish I was in Venice
Why ask those questions? Why not? These memories, accessed through the senses, are the things that make us human. These are the things that nourish our souls. These are the things that make us resilient, help us through the minute, the hour, the day – they are the stuff that our dreams are made of. They give us respite when things feel impossible. They remind us of the skills we have but do not use. They kindle a spark that is waiting to be lit.
I remember some dark times a few years ago. What was it that sustained me? Love. Yes – always love. But also picture books when I could not read, music when I could not speak, the view of the trees from my window looking up at Lion Wood. And the art of friendship because that too is an art – the art of listening, just being there. The art of being human.
So what is the link between art and wellbeing? It is that indefinable thing, a wisp, an essence, a temporary rest from pain, a temporary balm or a surging roaring chorus. It is the link between the outside and the in. It is the part that binds me to the world and the world to me, that reveals the world to me and the world that I finally reveal to myself – so that I can be the whole of me. It reaches the parts that medicine does not reach. It is the crack through which the light shines. ‘Anthem’ by Leonard Cohen sums it up for me.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
61% and Smiling was an uplifting day with so many examples of how art in all its forms can transform the lives of people, offer a new perspective, shine a light when we are in a dark place, make connections with people and create new possibilities that medicine alone cannot.
Today is world suicide prevention day.
What can we say to make it better? Nothing.
What can we do? Plenty.
Suicide is the leading cause of death between the ages of 15 – 29. A stunning and a terrifying statistic. In England hospitals see over 200,000 self-harm episodes per year, making it one of the commonest reasons to seek urgent health care.
Mental Elf provides a number of brilliant blogs and reviews about suicide and self-harm, if you want to know more.
Many words will be written about suicide this week – but so often the impact is unexplainable, the reasons inexplicable and the rest of our lives feel unbearable. Hopeless. Guilty. Meaningless. Our friends or family members who have taken their own lives have left but a frail trailing remnant of their mood, and we stand there feeling alone – stricken and powerless in our unknowing. It is hard to move on from there.
So we must act – in the here and now – speak, and move and act. We should be ready to respond when we see there is a problem, and not hide behind our embarrassment, or turn away when just one word could make a difference.
In a helpful posting on a government website today, Prof Louis Appleby (Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Prevention Group) suggests:
Don’t see people who self-harm as having caused their own problems – they are often victims of abuse, depressed or in family crisis.
Don’t dismiss them as time-wasters, even when they keep coming back – suicide risk goes up, not down, with repeated self-harm.
And remember that self-harm starts to drop off in the mid-20s – support people into early adulthood and many will put their traumas behind them.
We are amazed and delighted to be finalists in the European Mentoring and Coaching Council annual awards which will be announced at its annual conference in Istanbul in November 2015. And we find we have been nominated not only for coaching, but also as a coaching company and for leadership mentoring.
This feels like an embarrassment of riches but we are very proud of what we do.
For us, the language of coaching has become the lingua franca of our engagement with all our business clients. We know it works because they tell us it does. Our business style has evolved and become a mixture of mindfulness, coaching, mentoring and leadership development. We didn’t plan it that way but it is clear that it works. We believe in the power of coaching, but people often approach us not knowing what it is or how it works. We are quite clear about what it is . It is a method of working with individuals and teams where rigour, empathy, honesty, challenge, clarity, reflection and feedback are combined to enable clients and teams to be clear about their intentions, their language and their actions. We work with clients to help them clear the decks, examine the evidence, make a plan for change and then to implement it. Whatever the problem.
Our clients say that coaching is a little bit of magic, but we don’t agree. We work with clients so they understand themselves and acquire self-knowledge and power over the things that block their progress. The fact is that clients are the real agents for change, not the coach.
Mentoring is not coaching. Our mentoring programme has a different intention and serves a different client group. Mentoring is a development activity. At its core is the relationship between the mentor and the mentee, and the development and progress of the mentee is the key focus and the focus of the conversation is determined by the mentee. They lead in identifying issues and, with guidance from the mentor, resolving them whose role is to facilitate a breadth of thinking that leads them towards the answer that is right for them.
We mentor senior leaders in organisations, particularly in their first 100 days. But the main focus of our mentoring activity is our pro-bono work with charities, The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women – working with women setting up new businesses in developing countries; supporting the Student Enterprise and Employability Unit at the University of East Anglia and our work with the leaders of ambitious and progressive national and local charities. Our pro-bono work is funded through our fee-based consultancy, and accounts for about 15% of our annual turnover. It is our way of paying forward the experience and skills learned with clients, patients and business partners over the past 40 years.
And so, in a slight state of disbelief at being finalists again in the EMCC awards (last year won by the brilliant Coacharya), we are looking forward to the next stage and have had to do a little bit of ‘self-coaching’ and to acknowledge that we have worked hard to build a business to which people confidently return as they develop and encounter new challenges. Life is a continual process of renewal and learning never stops!
You might be wondering what is the EMCC? It is the professional body for coach and mentoring organisations that are bound by its code of conduct and ethics. It sets the standard for quality coaching and mentoring in Europe.
Experts might be experts but they still have room to grow and to learn. We are all travelling – we never arrive. It’s like being in a car with passengers….. ‘how far is it……. are we getting closer……… how many more minutes……… are we there yet’?
After many requests we now offer regular supervision to self-employed consultants to help them keep on top of optimum performance.
The number of small businesses offering consultancy has grown, but often in the absence of a clear framework of practice governance and external challenge. How many consultants – particularly those who have worked in the public sector – find that they miss the supervision sessions which have played such an important and regular role in their professional development for so many years?
Most consultancy work is based on relationship building, whilst challenging fixed ideas, unpicking and re-framing evidence. At the same time the process of providing consultancy involves conceptual frameworks involving emotions, identity, conflict, trust, difference, values and ethics. When we work in teams we often work through these concepts with our colleagues.
As independent consultants we frequently work alone or in very small teams and are often driven by tight schedules and we prioritise generating new business at the expense of our own professional development.
This set us thinking – and as a direct response to conversations with a number of independent consultants who have enquired about supervision, and having explored it in our own supervision (yes, we seek it out too!) – we now offer supervision as a method of helping freelance consultants to:
- formally reflect on their practice
- consider the impact of the work they are doing – on themselves and on their clients
- consider the opportunities that might be hidden in plain sight
- discover what are the blocks to excellent performance
- provide a regular opportunity to reflect on business growth and direction
- strengthen professional practice
- consider options for professional development.
Contact us if you think this will be helpful.