Vogel Wakefield blog

Vogel Wakefield blog

December
03
2014

Mindfulness plus narrative awareness equals critique

mindful revolution

Time for a mindful revolution?

 

This is the third and final part in my series on being and doing in coaching. In Part 1, I explained how I draw on mindfulness and narrative awareness in my work. In Part 2, I discussed the symbiotic link between being and doing, and the challenge to bring more of a sense of being to our doing.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the critique of organisations that we have developed here: the idea that organisations could be less toxic places to work and could play a more positive role in addressing society’s problems. I don’t want to rehearse those arguments again but instead look at how they come out of the approach to coaching that I have been describing in this series. If coaching is, as I maintain, a way of facilitating unfamiliarity, it follows that it is potentially disruptive of the received wisdom in organisations – the things that are so taken for granted that it’s otherwise almost impossible to question them. By putting a premium on connecting with our embodied wisdom, our gut instincts and nagging doubts, it creates space to acknowledge the ways in which the things organisations ask of us might make us uneasy.

Where does received wisdom come from? Narrative theory tells us that it is shaped by the dominant culture of the age. In our age, the common sense is defined by neoliberalism: the idea that the market is the natural way to do things and, if we live with the consequences of the market, this will be better for everyone in the long run. More than that – and more pertinent to this conversation – it’s a common sense characterised by hyper-rationality in which the insights that comes from emotion, values and embodied wisdom count for little.

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November
25
2014

An encounter with the spirit

Portrait of the soul

 

This is the first in a series of posts which has grown out of a talk I gave at the weekend. I was invited by a spiritual group, the Brahma Kumaris, to participate in a panel of coaches presenting to the BKs’ Spirit of Coaching programme. This didn’t seem an obvious platform for an atheist like me. But, as the theme of the afternoon was being versus doing and because I try to reach out wherever people find resonance in what I’m doing, I accepted the invitation. And what an interesting journey it turned out to be.

The BKs’ programme is premised on exploring the connections between spiritual practice and coaching development. They’ve created a space in which people of diverse backgrounds – spiritual, professional, non-professional, multicultural – can come together to learn about different approaches to supporting the soul. Not only did I have delightful encounters with people engaging deeply with what it is to be in the world and make it better, but the invitation to discuss my own orientation to the question To be or not to be? provided a space for me to push at the boundaries of what I consider myself to be trying to do when I coach. In particular, it clarified my thinking about how my coaching is informed by mindfulness. This is not something I write about much. I regard mindfulness meditation as a personal practice and I am by no means a coach who is proffering mindfulness as part of a toolkit of techniques for how I work with my clients. But over the years mindfulness has come to define my deeper orientation as a coach. It feels valuable to explore this here, not least so that prospective clients may get some sense of what it may feel like to work with me. But also as a contribution to the profession.

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February
05
2012

Story matters – how narrative awareness assists coaching

Coaches can learn from exploring how narratives unfold

Coaches can learn from exploring how narratives unfold

The findings of my academic research into the use of narrative in coaching have been published by the International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. I interviewed six coaches whose approach is informed by a sensitivity to stories.

The project was an opportunity for me to take further my life-long interest in narrative. My background to this was as a journalist who naturally makes sense of things through shaping events and information into stories. When I first experienced coaching, I was drawn to becoming a practitioner because I noticed an affinity with my earlier career as a reporter – asking challenging and open questions, cutting to the chase, synthesising and summarising on the fly. While my approach has changed since then, I realised that this story-driven frame of reference was still influencing my style as a coach, even though I wasn’t consciously nor explicitly make it a part of my coaching model. So I decided to use my research project to bring some rigour to my belief in the relevance of narrative to coaching.

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May
11
2011

The emotional context of business

A healthy emotional climate is a competitive advantage

A healthy emotional climate is a competitive advantage

 

Organisations are emotionally-charged places.  But little of this ever reaches the boardroom.  This means that directors cut themselves off from some of the most important knowledge they need to hear.

Some organisations have a knack for creating great places to work which get the best out of their people.

John Timpson, the chairman of the Timpson chain of shoe repair shops, swears by his system of “upside-down management”.  He believes the people in his shops have the best knowledge about the business and that it is his job is to get management out of their way.  He insists on as few rules as possible and gives staff the freedom to set prices, deal with complaints and decide their own training needs.

The John Lewis Partnership makes everyone in the company an owner, conferring on each of them a responsibility not just to do their jobs but to contribute to the leadership of the firm.  One John Lewis employee – quoted in The Guardian – speaks of:

The “passion and commitment” that come from “being engaged, because you have a vested interest in making sure it works, for you and for the people you work with.”

These companies – both doing well in difficult economic circumstances – are successful examples of what the writer, Bob Garratt, calls the emotional climate of an organisation.  They make the emotional climate a source of competitive advantage, by ensuring that employee behaviours deliver excellent customer experience.

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February
05
2010

Looking for coaches who work with stories

What’s the story?

Are you a coach whose practice draws on a narrative perspective, or explores how clients make and tell themselves stories? If so, can you help with my research project?

I’m doing a Masters dissertation on how an awareness of stories can help clients. I want to talk to coaches who work with a narrative perspective. I’d particularly like to hear from you if your approach resonates at all with what I describe below.

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April
16
2009

Learning from art: Gerhard Richter at the National Portrait Gallery

Ella, Gerhard Richter

Ella, Gerhard Richter

Gerhard Richter’s portraits are confusing. He paints from photographs – some taken from family albums, others found in newspapers and magazines – and strips away the context that provides meaning. He wants to confound interpretation. Yet time and again the viewer is drawn back to the original context – the story behind the picture. For me, it is this tension between the banal surface and the complex reality beneath that makes his work interesting. An exhibition of 35 of his works at the National Portrait Gallery tells us something about the importance of stories in how we make sense of the world.

Richter’s subjects at first glance are beguilingly mundane: a woman with an umbrella; a young girl with a baby boy. The detail is blurred away and the images seem like familiar, suburban scenes – reassuring representations of a world we think we know.

On closer inspection one realises that the woman with umbrella is Jackie Kennedy and the picture portrays her in mourning for her husband. The girl and baby boy turn out to be Richter’s Aunt Marianne and Richter himself as an infant. While the painting was made in 1965 it is from a family image taken before the war. Aunt Marianne had had a psychiatric disorder and had been murdered by the Nazis.

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