Your work between coaching sessions

How to work with a coach, part 8

The work you do between coaching sessions is as important as the work you do when you’re with your coach.

Coaching can be conceived as a staging post for the stuff, in the world beyond the sessions, that the client wants to work on. It’s a safe place to try out different ways of being. Coach and client reflect together on what the client brings and might formulate ideas for action. There may be an opportunity to rehearse in the session. But it’s not like learning a musical instrument, where the pupil practises in private before performing publicly on the stage. For the most part, the client practises on stage as they put the ideas into practice directly in their everyday life.

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Abstract nouns are rarely the solution in organisations. But they could be.

Some years ago, I was happy to make the acquaintance of Valerie Iles, a leadership consultant whose domain is healthcare. Like me, she brings an interest in mindfulness. But she has a great ability to draw on a diverse range of other ideas. This year, she held a seminar to hand over her body of thinking. I was already running with it. But, in the months since, I’ve enjoyed re-reading some of her articles.

One that stands out is Valerie’s admonishment against reaching for abstract nouns. This is not the usual tirade against meaningless management coinages but a philosophical challenge to how leaders conceive their strategies.

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18th Century insight on 21st Century complexity

Who, these days, speaks for conservatism, the philosophical orientation that is cautious of change? We have an answer in the small band of Tory rebels, led by Dominic Grieve, who have won for Parliament a right to decide on the final Brexit deal. But the very fact of their struggle against their own party shows that cautious conservatism is not much in vogue.

My question is prompted by reading Jesse Norman’s 2013 biography of Edmund Burke, one of the founding thinkers of conservatism. Jesse Norman is a Conservative MP and current government minister. But I imagine he might be out of sorts with his party since the philosophy he describes is not much reflected in current Conservative practice. His book demonstrates, though, that even if Burke is out of fashion with the Tories, he still has much to say to contemporary Britain.

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Who will lead democratic renewal from the left?

Labour was founded as a party when its first MPs were elected in 1906.
Labour was founded as a party when its first MPs were elected in 1906.

Opposition politics in the UK are in a sorry state. The Labour Party is in the grip of a far-left cult which is not much interested in parliamentary democracy. Since the General Election, those in the Labour Party who don’t favour Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership have gone quiet – perhaps buying into the myth that by not losing the election as disastrously as everyone expected, he somehow won it instead. Because the moderates expressed their lack of confidence in Corbyn on the grounds of his unelectability, they are now shouted down by those who crow about Corbyn’s apparent popularity. What has been lacking is a principled critique of what he stands for.

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Brexit complexity

uk ireland eu

Brexit is shaping up to be the object lesson par excellence in how not to lead in complexity. First this week we have seen the Government’s negotiating strategy (if one can call it that) for getting to Phase 2 of the Brexit talks blown to pieces by its negligence of the Irish border issue. Then the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, admitted that the Government had made no assessment of the impact of Brexit on the various sectors of the economy, despite having previously insisted on several occasions that such assessments were in hand. So the Government is navigating what is the biggest peacetime challenge that the UK has faced in generations, not just with no real understanding of what its impact will be but no attempt to understand. It’s almost as if the truth would be too frightening for ministers to know.

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The modest antidote to fanaticism

The New York Times columnist, David Brooks, wrote a series of columns this year on the subject of moderation. He was responding to the increasing prevalence of fanaticism in the United States, which stretches from Trump’s “conspiracy mongering” to the neo-Nazis. We have our own problems with fanaticism in the UK, ranging from the hard-line Brexiteers who will have no compromise with reality to the misogynistic and anti-semitic left.

The problem with fanaticism is that it provokes righteous anger in those who oppose it. So a perfect storm of rage encompasses civic life. The last sentence of my previous paragraph might even have contributed to it.

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On being the best you can be given the circumstances

Here’s a passage from The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert:

“When I was younger and training to become a therapist, trying to help people who were very distressed, I used to say to my supervisor that my patients would be so much better off having somebody with far more experience than I had. To some extent, that was clearly true. However, my supervisor, who was a wise and gentle older lady, pointed out that this was the essence of life. We can live life in the ‘if only’ lane or make the best of it and appreciate where we are right now. So the question for me was not ‘How can I have 20 years’ experience on Day 1?’ because that wasn’t possible. Everyone has to walk exactly the same road as I was walking, from being inexperienced to experienced. There is no other way. Rather the question she wanted me to ask myself was ‘How can I be the best young, inexperienced therapist I can be, given my limitations?’ Because that was all there was for these individuals – there was no one else. It was a harsh lesson in some ways but it helped me confront the reality of my limitations: I could only be what I could be.”

One of the best things I’ve done this year is to help convene a group of coaches who share an interest in mindfulness. I needed to take to the group a reading that we could reflect on together and alighted on this passage. For some years, it has informed my thinking not just about who I am as a practitioner but who my clients might think they are as leaders.

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Networked populism: the defining leadership style of our era

New model leaders?
New model leaders?

If, as I wondered in my earlier post, eco-leader is not the defining leadership discourse of our age, then what is?

If you look at the actually existing leadership narratives that are currently to the fore, you might label the dominant discourse networked-populist rather than eco-leader.

Trump and Farage are its most eloquent symbols. Both worked outside established structures, with seemingly outlandish agendas which, against the odds, they brought to fruition using networks of influence. (Jeremy Corbyn shows similar characteristics – though, in his case, the mastery of networks that brought him to prominence seemed to be his backers’ rather than his own.)

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The cultural influences that shape how we lead (and follow)

messiah therapistLeadership is often viewed as a static or neutral concept – perhaps rooted in the traits of a particularly capable individual, or determined by the situation in which leadership is required. In fact, how we lead is profoundly influenced by our culture and it changes over time. The best evidence for this that I know comes in Simon Western’s Leadership: A Critical Text – a survey of the concept and practice leadership from the early 20th Century on.

Simon identifies four discourses of leadership that have been influential over the period: controller, therapist, messiah and eco-leader.

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Vogel Wakefield: the movie

We often get asked, “What’s it like to work with you?” So we’ve attempted to answer that question in this video, showcasing our work in universities.

Thanks to contributors Professor Frank Finlay, Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of Leeds, and Katherine Bond, Director of the Cultural Institute at King’s College London. And to our friends at the production company, Impact Video.