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Nick Cave as coach

Nick Cave has initiated an interesting project answering questions sent in from his fans. The questions are searching. The meditations Nick Cave composes in reply are works of artistry in their own right.

Last year, I wrote about the transcendent experience of the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concerts that followed the death of his son. The first of his epistles addresses this very theme. He describes how immersion in work and – in so doing – recovering a sense of wonder helped him find community and accept his grief:

“I kind of realised that work was the key to get back to my life, but I also realised that I was not alone in my grief and that many of you were, in one way or another, suffering your own sorrows, your own griefs. I felt this in our live performances. I felt very acutely that a sense of suffering was the connective tissue that held us all together.”

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Feedback without tears

How to give feedback is an issue that comes up with increasing frequency in my coaching work. It reflects, I suspect, a normative advocacy of feedback cultures in organisations. This arouses considerable anxiety among people who feel themselves under pressure to provide feedback left, right and centre. They often hold a belief that, if only they could get the recipe right, they could learn how to transmit feedback and move on.

There are some well-meaning intentions behind feedback culture. In particular, it draws on Carol Dweck’s idea of a growth mindset – whereby people welcome corrective feedback as a platform for their development. But the espousal of feedback can also be oppressive because the linear and mechanistic assumptions around “delivering feedback” ignore the complex feelings it can arouse.

While models of providing feedback have their place, the problem with the “recipe” view of feedback is that it ignores how the “delivery” of feedback will be received by the other party. People are not automatons and the difficulty for people providing feedback is that they can really have no idea in advance how it will land. Simply understanding this can relieve some of the stress for those anticipating getting the feedback process wrong.

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From toolkits to relationships: getting real about what happens in coaching

The practice of coaching has many antecedents. But one that most eased its way into the corporate world was the analogy between sports coaching and leadership development. Corporations are susceptible to narratives of being world class and winning. So learning from methodologies fine-tuned to get the best out of athletes can be appealing to the corporate leader’s world view. This, for a long while, created an emphasis in the development of coaches on the acquisition of skills and techniques. Coaches would turn up with their “toolkits” and fine tune their clients’ performance in the pursuit of specified goals.

The Theory and Practice of Relational Coaching by Simon Cavicchia and Maria Gilbert proposes a different perspective. It views coaching as a dialogue of discovery between coach and client, one which calls on the practitioner to cultivate awareness and empathic attunement more than it demands technical accomplishment. It’s an approach which is grounded in the insight that all of our experience is socially constructed. There is no fixed thing called an organisation which provides a predictable environment for our working lives. It is enacted every day by its participants and shaped by the different world views that each of them brings by virtue of their biography.

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The serious business of playing the Fool

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It’s a shame that Hetty Einzig’s The Future of Coaching is so-called. Its concerns spread much wider than its title implies. It’s a radical and thoughtful book which holds before us the chaotic nuttiness of the world as it is now and asks what kind of leadership should coaching call forth.

Hetty Einzig takes it as axiomatic that the big challenges we humans face demand committed and creative interventions by leaders. Never mind present concerns such as Brexit or Trump, Hetty reminds us that the broader context is that of a trajectory to environmental catastrophe. She has no truck with the notion that coaches should be neutral facilitators of whatever goals their corporate clients might pursue. Nor does she believe leaders should collude with such ideas. Coaches and leaders alike are citizens in wider society as well as servants of the organisations that employ them. It is the legitimate task of all of us to try to influence organisations to play a constructive role in addressing society’s problems.

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The benefits of dual nationality

Daniel Finkelstein writes in The Times about why he won’t be joining the rush for dual nationality (£) among those Britons who fear for their country’s future. Like me, he is the son of a refugee from the Nazis and perhaps this explains why he is able to define clearly, while not sharing them, the motivations of those – like me – who are exercising their right to another nationality:

“Their application is a sort of protest against Brexit and an insurance policy in case Brexit presages a less tolerant Britain or a calamitously poor one. And there are also some Jews who worry about a Corbyn government.”

He recalls in his childhood reading with his mother about the kings and queens of England:

“Only as an adult have I reflected that when the Tudor monarchs reigned, or even the Georgians, my family wasn’t here. We lived under distant emperors. But still, I reflect, we chose these great Britons and they chose us. Their countrymen gave us a home and our liberty and peace. And I’m never going to be part of something else.”

I can certainly relate to this sentiment. My father recalls his arrival at Dover in 1939 when he was eleven years old and had escaped with his parents from Czechoslovakia after it was occupied by the Nazis:

“There were no inquisitions into whether we had any rights to be entering Britain, or the type of unwelcoming unpleasantness present-day refugees and immigrants have to experience. There was no waiting about while officials decided whether we were to be allowed to enter the country. Quite simply: we were welcomed and that was that, and we were very, very grateful to be in England.”

That gratitude to the UK has stuck with him to this day and certainly informs my own attachment to this country.

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On bringing your whole self to work

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Pilita Clark seems to have taken up a role in the FT, previously occupied by Lucy Kellaway, debunking fashionable corporate nonsense. Her latest piece takes issue with the trend to encourage employees to “bring your whole self to work”:

“This fatuous phrase has blossomed into ever wider use in offices around the world, where it masterfully suggests a company … is so anxious to please its workers it is happy to have them behave at work as they would at home. This is patently untrue. Companies want workers who are industrious and easy to manage. Workers, for that matter, are generally looking for companionable, civil colleagues who get on with the job at hand.”

Part of the problem that Pilita identifies is that nobody really know what bringing your whole self to work means: it covers everything from sharing your personal life with colleagues to bringing your dog into work. If her interpretation is true, it suggests that the notion of bringing your whole self to work has become so devalued through overuse as to be worthless.

This would be a shame since it has honourable roots in the human potential movement.

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Looking for senior leaders or coaches who want a fresh approach to their development

Are you a coach or a leader who needs a reflective space to think creatively about how you work with others? If so, we may be able to help each other. I’ve just started a one-year diploma and I’m offering discounted access to leadership or coaching supervision to people willing to be practice clients.

This is an opportunity to experience a rich and creative space for developing yourself. Your part of the bargain is to show up in a spirit of experimentation and to be prepared to give me feedback on your experience. I’m looking to try out new approaches, in particular to facilitate ways of reflecting that get beyond the constraints of language and cognitive thinking. So there might be, for instance, drawing, imaginative work, mindfulness or reflecting while walking outside. There’ll also be observation in the moment on how our work unfolds and what this might say about your work with other people. You’ll need an appetite to learn in ways that are possibly unfamiliar. The point, as I see it, is to take you beyond the habitual routines of your working life so that you can access aspects of yourself that might sometimes be bracketed out of how you normally approach your work.

I’m taking my diploma with the Coaching Supervision Academy, the top international provider of supervision training. As part of my assessment, I need to work with a number of practice clients over the coming nine months. Although I’ll be trying some new methods and approaches, I’m an experienced professional. I’m an APECS-accredited executive coach who has been practising for 12 years and already provides supervision. For more on my background, please check out my coaching profile and testimonials.

Supervision can be thought of as supporting people who support other people. It grew up as a discipline to help professionals such as psychotherapists, teachers and social workers. Many coaches work with a supervisor to get quality assurance of their work. (I always recommend to prospective coachees that they only work with a coach who is supervised). Applied to leaders, supervision offers a thinking partner who can engage dispassionately with your challenges and help you find new perspectives. Good supervision should help you maintain your energy, or regain it when depleted, and make you feel someone has your back even as you are challenged to think afresh. It’s a connection of heart and intuition as much as of the mind; one that might leave you stirred, but not shaken.

If this sounds like it might interest you, let’s talk. I can offer five one-hour sessions between now and next summer. I’m looking for a mixture of senior executives, coaches and perhaps one small group. I’m open to working both by videoconference and – for those within reach of London – face to face.

If you’re paying your own way, the cost would be £50 (GBP) per hour. If your company is paying, the cost is £100 (GBP) per hour. In addition, VAT is chargeable for those in the EU. There may be some occasional ad hoc additional cost, such as venue hire when a private room is needed for face-to-face work. But, given the aforementioned spirit of experimentation, it may not always be necessary to use a private venue – for instance, if we choose to meet and walk. If you are familiar with costs in the executive coaching market, you will appreciate that this is very good deal.

To find out more, please email supervision@vogelwakefield.com or message me via LinkedIn.

Image courtesy Stewart Baird.

Blackkklansman’s bleak conclusion offers a glimmer of hope in dark times

Can compromised organisations be turned into a force for good in society, and can individuals exert positive impacts in organisations whose dark side overshadows their light? These questions are put by Spike Lee’s compelling film Blackkklansman.

A dramatisation of the story of Ron Stallworth, a black Colorado police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, the film zeros in on the intersection between the two organisations, the Colorado Police Department and the Klan, in the late 1970s

Both are responding in their way to the liberalising forces that have swept through America in the preceding years. The police are encouraging the recruitment of ethic minorities. The Klan are donning suits and attempting to sanitise their rhetoric, in order to take their hateful message mainstream. There are elements within both organisations which resent the liberal turn. Beyond the police, a third organisational player, the network of black power activists, poses awkward questions about the rationale for liberalising. Stallworth strikes up a relationship with the leader of the local activists. She categorically dismisses the idea that a racist police force can be reformed from within.

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The betrayal of purpose: reflections inspired by The Lehman Trilogy

Ann Treneman’s review in The Times of The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre concludes: “It ends badly in 2008, of course, but you knew that.” When I read the review, I took this to be a flippant comment. Having seen the play, I realise that her observation is more salient than I grasped. Stefano Massini’s saga runs for nearly three and a half hours in Sam Mendes’ production and only the opening and closing seconds deal directly with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. The playwright’s interest is in the preceding century and a half as he interweaves the related threads of the evolution over three generations of the Lehman family from immigrant arrivals to scions of the establishment, the transformation of the company they founded as a shop in Alabama into a dynamo of American capitalism, and the shifting sands of the Lehman family’s relationship to their Jewish heritage. It’s a tale of our times, told from the past.

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The insurgency of decency

The march for a people’s vote on Brexit was a heartwarming occasion with 100,000 radical moderates quietly expressing their outrage with characteristic British understatement, self-deprecation and civility. Unlike the demonstrations of my younger years, there wasn’t a Trotskyist in sight to subvert the decency of protestors to their own ends. For a brief, glorious summer afternoon, it was possible to believe that Britain could find a way through the chaos it has brought upon itself and heal its wounds. People speculated whether the movement would be sufficient to bring about a change in course. I suspect not, at least not in the time left before Brexit is effected as a matter of law.

But in any case, there can be no going back to the world before 23 June 2016. Britain is already changed by the referendum, divided against itself and with the disinvestment plans of major employers at an advanced stage. More pertinently, there are other players in this drama. The EU shows every sign of wanting to cauterise its Brexit wound so that it can turn its attention to more pressing concerns. And the wider outlook for democracy and international solidarity has never looked so precarious in my lifetime. The Brexit referendum result, it turns out, was by no means an outlier but a precursor of a nationalistic and populist impulse which has swept through Western countries. Were we to decide against glorious isolation after all, and advocate once again for the rules-based order, it’s by no means clear that the world would want to listen.

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