“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”
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.
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!
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.
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.
This week the Mental Health Taskforce published a consultation report – its public engagement findings which aimed to collect stakeholder views to support the development of the 5 year national strategy for mental health.
The most important findings relate to improving access, reducing waiting times, better access to talking therapies, increased choice in treatments and prevention of mental health problems.
So far so good – given that this consultation gives voice to real people, in real places, with real problems, perhaps it will add to the impact of the other reports offering similar messages over the past two years but struggling to deliver due to staff capacity and reduced budgets.
Earlier this week Sir Simon Stevens announced a NHS staff health programme for NHS staff to improve their health – with improved access to physio and OT, exercise classes and healthier foods at work.
There are some synergies there with the MHTaskforce report. Is that surprising? NHS staff are innovative, energetic and human. As are people with mental health problems – some of whom will be NHS staff. Until workforce planning incorporates considerations about the impact on the mental health, physical health and capacity of individuals to do the impossible it is hard to see how the trade-off between the health of clients and patients and the staff that treat them might be addressed.
Be the change you want to see
I read the McKinsey report on women in leadership and I wondered whether the word ‘leader’ should really be defined as a noun. Isn’t a leader more about the act of promoting change and leading by example?
In which case the definition is underpinned by the activity and the behaviour, not the name.
There is still a long way to go before there are equal numbers of female and male leaders. But what is it about being a woman that could make leadership different? Not better, just different.
My observations of the best leaders who happen to be women have shown me that they frequently wear the title ‘leader’ very lightly. But their performance – their activity – the way they model the role? Nothing light about that!
Today the NSPCC published the Childline report on suicide and self-harm in children and young people ‘On the Edge. Childline offered 35,517 counselling sessions about suicide in 2013/14 – an increase of 116% on the previous year. It offered 5,846 counselling sessions with young people who said they had previously attempted suicide – a 43% increase on the previous years. Since 201/11 its counselling sessions for girls thinking about suicide have increased by 142% and boys 42%.
Children and young people tell us that we might think we are listening to them, but that listening is one thing. Hearing is quite different.
Read my blogspot on The Office of the Children’s Commissioner website, responding to the Childline report.
Although I welcome any news that drags children’s mental health up the agenda, I listened to Nick Clegg’s pledge to ‘shake up’ mental health services if his party is elected to govern in 2015 with a wry smile. Well. And there I was, thinking that he was actually Deputy Prime Minister of a Coalition Government. Perhaps I have been asleep for 4 years? Why this sudden surge of interest?
Might there have been a Damascene moment for him and for Norman Lamb?
To be fair, Mr Lamb has done a lot of work on raising the profile of mental health – supporting CYPIAPT, MindEd etc. But still, suicide remains the biggest killer of men aged 20-49 in the UK; Childline reported in its annual report this year that calls to them about self-harm and suicide increased by 41% last year; YoungMinds found 60% of Local Authorities cut or froze their CAMHS budgets in 2012/13; government funding for mental health under this government has fallen, showing cuts of 2% in real terms between 2011 and 2013; referrals to crisis and community mental health teams have risen by 16% in that time; the austerity cuts to mental health services are 20% greater than cuts to general hospitals budgets; there are 10% fewer mental health beds than in 2012 and the NHSEngland 2014 CAMHS Tier 4 report recommended an increase in the number of CAMHS beds to prevent admissions to adult mental health wards. Admissions that were made illegal in the amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983, in 2007 and to the Code of Practice.
The “desperately over-due” debate on mental health services proposed by Mr Clegg has actually been going on for years. Except now, it appears to be politically expedient to pull it out of the hat again, as if it is something new.
Well for those of us who have stood on the sidelines, watching with fear and with despair the rapid dismantling of our work to champion the rights of people with mental health problems and improve mental health outcomes; for those who have wisdom and organisational memory – who contain the anxiety of less experienced mental health practitioners and clinicians and in doing so mentor them, and safely sustain children, young people, patients in the community and prevent admission – this ‘new’ announcement that mental health patients deserve more, deserve better isn’t news to them. We have been actively engaged in responding to various versions of the Clegg/Lamb plan for decades. We have been developing new ways of working, championing the right to health and parity, promoting the voice of the experts by experience (our patients and service users), and propping up the crumbling edifice of best practice that is undermined by drastic cuts, low staff morale and ‘radical re-designs’ for many years.
Announcements about reviews, targets, injections of ‘new’ funding are not news to us. They come around and go around. Print and broadcast journalists would do well to look back only 5, 10, 15 years to spot the patterns. The sadness is that there is little genuine engagement with what has been learned, nor a commitment to acknowledge that change takes time to embed. Another announcement of something ‘new and shiny’ might appear to be exciting, and I don’t doubt it is genuine. ~The opportunities have been there for the past 4 years – why were they not taken then? We know why.