blog

Doing

Getting things done.  Achieving the goals we set ourselves or that are set for us through our organisations.  Surpassing previous performance levels.  And simply dealing with the administrative and logistical demands of everyday life.

It’s so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of ‘doing’ in order just to get through every day, forgetting engagement with the bigger picture – what it’s about,  where we’re really going, what our guiding principles are, and – so importantly – the interconnecting, systemic and interdependent factors and features that underpin any given situation and that circumscribe inevitable complexity.  Because complexity, turbulence and multiple pressures and perspectives are a constant in both our professional and personal lives, we ignore them at our peril.

 

Skills and techniques

Like many coaches, my original training emphasised ‘doing’, from the point of view of both the coach and the coaching client (often called the ‘coachee’ – which always suggests to me something being ‘done to’ them rather than their being in any sense a partner in a collaborative relationship of equals).  I recognise that’s a sensible place to start with novices: skills, techniques, tools and prescribed processes.

 

Profound reflection

Over the last 12 years or so – as I’ve engaged at depth with what my executive coaching clients really need – I’ve become not only increasingly orientated towards their development, but also more conscious, particularly of the power of profound reflection.

I’m an executive coach who enables developmental reflection.  Coaching clients who may have started off with a specific question, or indeed who didn’t know at the start of their coaching programmes how to articulate their questions or needs in terms of clear objectives, but simply knew that something needed to be different or more meaningful, have ended their programmes realising that they have been able to become more of who they really were, and, as part of the journey, to discover how important ‘being’ was to them.  That ‘being’ has ultimately translated itself into change and into more effective leadership.  During the journey many clients have found a personal peace that was new for them.

 

Clients’ comments

One client remarked: “Each session was very insightful and helped me to look for my self worth and identity within myself. You helped me make a paradigm shift  in just being: self care with small steps and seeing that my value and right of existence is not derived from affirmations, external to me. ‘Just being’ is something I learned from you, building ‘do nothing’ time with journaling made me see the lessons and opportunities in every challenge”.

Another client commented: “[Lindsay] is astute in applying a laser focus to what is truly being said, drawing equally on what is not said in order to co-create new thinking and potential change interventions….. reflecting on the whole experience, I have been able to effect a paradigm shift in those areas identified at the beginning as well as those areas which emerged through our time together.”

 

A relational process, leading to transformation

Needless to say, what’s been going on for me helps explain what’s been going for my clients: executive coaching has at its heart the relationship between the client and myself: a relational process in which we each respond moment-by-moment to the other and to the impact of the other on our own experience, processes and patterns.

A central part of this relational process is the expansion of awareness beyond thinking alone: moving into a space where both client and I let go of knowing, and experience the emergence of different types of awareness that can bring deep insights on which they can then act.

That’s real change – real transformation.

 

How I ‘be’

These processes and patterns, converting themselves constantly into my experience at cognitive, emotional, somatic and intuitive levels, underpin the way I ‘be’ with clients.  That ‘being’ shows up not in a high profile for ‘right and wrong’ or specific techniques, but rather for connecting, relating and listening at a deep level.  This is facilitated by the influence of a number of ways of being that have had – and continue to have – particular impact for me and indeed for the way I live my personal and professional life: deep presence and attunement, compassion, awareness of psychological safety, systemic awareness and curiosity, self-awareness, trauma awareness  and, most recently, engagement with focussing through the felt sense – a profound connection with my own somatic and emotional experience and with the experience of my focussing partner.

 

Clients’ outcomes

My own development in these ways is allowing me to engage with my clients, their preoccupations and their contexts, in ways which enable a new quality of reflective awareness for them that invariably means they relate to their situations, their possibilities and their options from new, expanded perspectives.  They  realise they have resources they never dreamed of, which offer them a new level of versatility, breadth of vision and creativity, and a resulting sense of calm yet alert confidence, capability and capacity to take on with greater equanimity their complex and constantly-changing challenges.

 

 

Photo by Flash Dantz on Unsplash

Being before doing

It’s so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of ‘doing’ in order just to get through every day, forgetting engagement with the bigger picture - what it’s about, where we’re really going, what our guiding principles are, and – so importantly – the interconnecting, systemic and interdependent factors and features that underpin any given situation and that circumscribe inevitable complexity. Coaching clients have ended their programmes realising that they have been able to become more of who they really were, and, as part of the journey, to discover how important ‘being’ was to them. Executive coaching has at its heart the relationship between the client and myself: a relational process. A central part of this relational process is the expansion of awareness beyond thinking alone: moving into a space where both client and I let go of knowing, and experience the emergence of different types of awareness that can bring deep insights on which they can then act. They relate to their situations, their possibilities and their options from new, expanded perspectives. That’s real change – real transformation.

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Being different - and vertical development

We are living in times of unprecedented, and growing, complexity, which it is the leader’s role to manage, negotiate and enable their people to flourish in.   Vertical development recognises that adults develop, from childhood onwards, through stages of cognitive, attitudinal and emotional development which research over decades has shown to be definable and predictable.  As leaders move through the stages they can develop their capacities to deal with com­plexity, ambiguity, uncertainty and volatility.  Children mature, and, as adults, they become capable of doing more complex tasks through further stages of development and new capabilities and perspectives. When leaders have a sense of not fitting in, the reason can be a dislocation between their individual stage of development and the stage of development of their peers, their seniors or the organisational culture as a whole.  The leader at a later stage can feel lonely and isolated, but they may find that they can relate more easily by, on the one hand using concepts and language that will be meaningful to their colleagues at the stage those colleagues are at, and by finding or creating outlets for themselves – new, interesting activities, especially with others at a similar developmental stage.

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The leader's profile

There’s a common perception that the effective leader is the leader with an imposing presence. It can be easy to assume that the expressive, obvious character in the room is also the most obvious leader.  Introverts have a particular challenge when they need to raise their profiles, especially when it comes to developing their careers and strengthening their network connections of stakeholders.  Introverts can find engaging with others in meetings tiring and costly in terms of energy.  There are endless practical tips on raising profile.  However, this ignores an important – and arguably more powerful - area: how to ‘just be’.  To find comfort and safety in the authenticity, ease and truth of being yourself without trying to match anyone else, and without trying to match the imagined expectations or assumptions of other people.  That comfort with being yourself – being happy in your own skin - conveys natural confidence and gravitas.

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Conflict

Conflict is usually costly, painful and damaging.  What are the alternatives?  Some might say compassion.  Others might say community, cohesion, or connection.  Others might opt for peace or safety or kindness.  Or collaboration or cooperation. Conflicts can pass in a moment and leave no apparent trace, or they can leave deep and long-lasting physical, emotional, mental, social, or economic wounds – and at its worst, individual or collective trauma.  Not being in conflict brings a greater chance of wellbeing, of efficiency, of a sense of safety and of organisational or societal health.  Besides needing emotional intelligence, not being in conflict, or defusing conflict, can take humility, a willingness to be vulnerable, and psychological safety.  We can do worse than be guided by Marshal Rosenberg’s principles of non-violent communication, and a shift in thinking and conceptualisation from ‘you and I’ to ‘we’.

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Time as gift or tyranny?

The author of ‘Time Shelter’, Georgi Gospodinov, treats time as a gift to the sufferer of memory loss, rather than the enemy it so often seems to be as a factor in our working lives. This perception of time as something we can have power over contrasts strikingly with the relationship that many leaders and managers – and indeed organisational cultures – seem to have with it: a perception that treats time almost as a ‘thing’, and that sees us as victims of it. Our relationship with time enshrines an intimate connection with achievement. In turn, achievement is connected to a sense of self-worth. We can feel like we are at the mercy of time, in contrast to a sense of emergence, but there is a richness in the emergence, enabling the capacity to perceive, accommodate and integrate a broader perspective. This is important for the task of leadership: to step back and see more interdependencies and more viewpoints.

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Responsibility - and hedgehogs

Imbalance in the way responsibility is used (and not used) in systems of all sorts, including organisations, is large-scale and widespread. Too much responsibility may be assumed (albeit unconsciously). This shows up with leaders who work hard to make sure that everything that needs doing is done, typically to a high standard, no matter whose responsibility it actually is. Inappropriate responsibility may be imposed in childhood, and taken on into work, via an expectation from one or other parent. When leaders fail to take on responsibility that is theirs, it may be that they feel inadequate to the task or may fear failing, and may persuade themselves that by not acting they don’t risk failure. Like the hedgehog who freezes in the middle of the road, they are likely to incur failure rather than avoid it. One of the classic situations in which appropriate responsibility is not given is represented by the micromanaging boss. In all these scenarios, both the team and the leader are weakened and become brittle: they lack resilience and the capacity to learn, develop and change as much as they could, and/or as much as they need to.

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The Right Kind of Wrong

Amy Edmondson's new book 'Right Kind of Wrong: Why Learning to Fail Can Teach Us to Thrive' explains how we get failure (a potentially invaluable learning opportunity) wrong, and how to get it right, highlighting that the most successful organisational cultures are those in which you can fail openly, without your mistakes being held against you. We're living in turbulent times, and, as Amy Edmondson points out, failure is both more likely than ever – but if it’s the right kind of failure, it’s also more valuable than ever. While most failures in organisations are treated as blameworthy – and there are failures we should definitely work hard to prevent – there are others we should welcome. The latter are the intelligent failures.

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David Hockney, painting, and coaching

I recently had the opportunity to visit the stunning David Hockney exhibition in London (‘David Hockney: Bigger & Closer (not smaller & further away)’. It prompted reflection for me both on what it offers to my conceptualisation of coaching and what I can learn that might enhance my clients’ experience of coaching with me. I found the exhibition nourishing, exciting, inspiring, refreshing, perspective-opening and deeply calming. It stimulated my thinking on how I might raise my awareness and challenge myself to look in more depth, and call on more perspectives and insights, with clients. Is there any sense in which I currently satisfy myself with looking partially, on a relatively small scale, or only in one perspective? Besides widening our perspective, the artist also highlights the rewards of looking in every direction at the same time, all the time. He characterises water as illusive, because all the patterns you see are on the surface. If, as coach, I take those patterns as the only patterns, then I’m only seeing part of the person I’m working with, and only some of the influences they’re subject to.

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Who do you think you are?

I often hear leaders characterising themselves and their styles by reference to a set of behaviours, or a set of beliefs or values, or a combination of behaviours and beliefs.  It's in this territory that the idealised self resides. The idealised self is the subject of quest, but probably not what is here now. And yet what is (and who is) now is, in a sense, the most powerful self we can be. However, I don’t often hear leaders describe their style by reference to their sense of who they are when they are truly present to themselves.  Leaders I work with who discover and accept who they are tell me that the self- and system-awareness that is part of the discovery give them a palpable sense of acceptance, self-acceptance, peace and freedom. And from that emerge sustainable awareness of perspective, clear-sightedness about the ‘what’ and the ‘how’, compelling and engaging leadership, and capacity to relate healthily, learn and develop self, others and the organisation.

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Where am I going? Achievement, development and transformation

Objective-orientated - directional - coaching will be appropriate for certain clients with certain types of coaching need. However, such coaching isn’t developmental coaching, or indeed transformational coaching. Development and transformation tend to be emergent: just because a client doesn’t appear to be going somewhere doesn’t mean nothing is happening. On the contrary, a great deal might be happening. A lack of structure in the emergence shouldn’t be confused with a lack of something valuable. There’s another aspect too to this kind of emergent coaching: not just acceptance, but radical acceptance. This, in turn, relates both to radical inclusion and to ‘weak signals’. All are important underpinnings of outstanding leadership.

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