blog: news and opinion


The Art of Reflection - part 1

30th January 2023

The key benefits of executive coaching are learning, development and change. Not only a coach enables those benefits, but a leader does too if they’re to get the most from their people and to enable, and boost, the delivery of results. Single Loop Learning is about enlarging the size of the toolbox. Executive coaching can produce results in this context, but they are likely to be limited in scope and over time. Double Loop Learning involves identifying and understanding causality, and then taking action to fix the problem. It’s about doing the right things. Reflection on why we're doing what we're doing is a critical first step, not only for executive coaching to be most effective, but also for leaders to be most effective. Triple Loop Learning explores the reasons why we even have our systems and processes, and why we set our desired results in the way we do in the first place. This is the space in which we can enquire into how complexity works in our environments. It’s a critical contributor to both impactful executive coaching and effective leadership, and can be transformational. And it only happens in the presence of reflection.

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Thoughts on entanglement

31st December 2022

It’s so easy to get tangled up as we race through our lives, as a crisis, or even simply the demands of the moment, grasp our attention.  In the process the plot – our purpose and our place - of our lives might get completely lost, and we lose sight of the bigger picture. Responsibility matters.  Leaders have a responsibility to themselves, to their people, to the healthy co-design and fulfilment of the missions of their organisations, and ultimately to the wider world. In the view of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (2013), where what we want to do meets what is crying out to be done, that is where we should be.  And that demands being in healthy relationship with ourselves, with others, and with the systems we are part of.  I’m exploring what becomes possible when I’m not tangled up in the backdrop, by stepping back from what seem to be the immediate imperatives.

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Coaching through COVID and Beyond drawing to a close

30th November 2022

Coaching through COVID was born out of a compassionate response to what NHS and care workers were going through when COVID hit the UK in March 2020, and intended most of all to serve, rather than help or fix.  It was set up spontaneously by a small group of executive coaches (including myself), and began to offer coaching within days of being launched.  After 2½ years, what started as Coaching through COVID, and became Coaching through COVID and Beyond, has drawn to a close, having offered coaching to 650 people, through 250 experienced and qualified coaches, culminating in a final, celebratory (virtual) conference at which we marked the ending.

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Power, voice and the relational nature of work

31st October 2022

He was a C-suite leader in a multinational company, fulfilling a demanding, multi-faceted role. His CEO wanted staff in the office four days a week, and he was beginning to feel peripheral to his family. He knew that for his own and his family’s wellbeing he wanted to be in the office only three days a week. He was, however, very hesitant to raise his dilemma with his CEO: he felt out on a limb, risking his sense of belonging. It struck me that the predominant dynamic was an imbalance of power, in contrast to the possibility of creative collaboration, and he didn’t seem to be hopeful that he would be heard. How might leaders enable their people to step into, and leverage, more of their own power? How might both leader and led transform their perceptions of their roles and their places into something less atomised and individualised and something more relational?

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A journey through risk

31st August 2022

An emergency admission to hospital..... Until the surgery had been completed and pronounced successful, and the biopsy showed there was no ongoing problem, the nature of what my life was to be was at the extreme end of uncertainty, with a possible threat to it. Being present to my own experience without resisting it, and accepting both the experience and the situation on a moment-by-moment basis, have, I realise, been central. I feel sure that my years of mindfulness practice accounted for my capacity to accept, and to face in to all the available facts and the possible outcomes. During my hospital stay and afterwards I’ve been struck by how many people remarked on my effect on them. For leaders every action, every tone of voice, every conversation has an impact. The leader who accepts mindfully that things are as they are will be realistic and very likely have more insight than the leader who resists a situation they wish was otherwise. They’ll feel calmer too, and that will be viral. The leader who’s appreciative, supportive and caring (and who encourages that sort of culture) will have a workforce with high levels of engagement, discretionary effort, effectivenes and customer satisfaction.

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Slowing down to speed up

22nd June 2022

A potential client, ‘a man in a hurry’, was looking for answers.  Now.   Another prospective client slowed down long enough to engage with the notion of the challenge – and the benefits – to him of that very slowing down, because he was interested in ‘exploring the hidden in order to grow’.  The nature of organisational life frequently means that leaders are pressured to achieve clear, ‘correct’ outcomes – fast and with urgency.  While this is standard, it militates against the possibility of achieving richer, wider, more sustainable outcomes because space hasn’t been made for reflection and for experimenting. A leader  might consider becoming aware of when speed is the lived priority, and reflecting on the impact and outcomes of that priority. They might also consider putting in place processes, approaches and forums in which people can honestly express what’s going on for them, be truly heard without being offered opinions or judgments, and be acknowledged for who they are rather than what they do. 

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The horse, leadership and me

29th May 2022

I’m with a group of colleagues, learning about experiential leadership with executive coach and developer of leaders and teams, Jude Jennison, and her herd of horses.  With a horse it’s critical to be in relationship (and useful to be able to identify how that manifests in your body), to be curious, to be present, to respect the horse’s freedom to choose and to offer clear direction.  What won’t work is to be concerned about your competence or performance, because the horse will instantly pick up on your insecurity and will feel unsafe.  And it’s hard to be in relationship when lack of safety is there.   Jude’s insight about the importance of allowing the horse space and freedom so that together we can fulfil the task feels like an important illumination.  We learn that the whole team needs to be in sync. Communication up and down the line is essential if the team is to stay cohesive.  And the horse needs confidence in the clarity, intention, direction, energy and trust of both the leader and the whole team.

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What’s love got to do with it?

28th April 2022

Client A is close to burnout.  He constantly over-stretches himself to meet other people’s requests for help and for task fulfilment.  As a child, he felt neither loved nor lovable: the only way he ever felt approved of or accepted was through his intellectual ability and achievements.  Client B alienates others with her ‘honest’ but brutal and judgmental behaviour, has very high and unforgiving expectations of herself and of others, and is never satisfied with her own performance.  These behaviours are getting seriously in the way of their leadership, and they both want to understand how to manage themselves differently.  Besides the negative impact on their wellbeing, each is also damaging their career prospects.  The coaching enquiry means they each experience a freedom in an awareness that gives them choices that they hadn’t offered themselves before.  They learn, each in their own way, that there is strength and safety and a new-found sense of wellbeing in learning self-love, learning how to listen to their own needs, and self-acceptance.  Love has everything to do with it.

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Endings and leavings

31st March 2022

The primary emotions that arise from losing a sense of belonging need to be attended to, just as much as organisations need to acknowledge the contributions made by those who have left. Endings (and the associated feelings) that aren’t resolved or aren’t fully integrated into a system somehow ‘hang about’ and leave their impact to be felt, sometimes for decades, in the form of burdened roles. A particularly impactful ending is represented by death. There’s value in accepting ‘what is’, and being alert to what may be emerging: experiencing it as a state of being rather than thinking or doing. Loss or ending might actually be, above all, a fertile space – the Gestalt notion of the Fertile Void. Good endings allow for good beginnings.

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Are you being heard?

28th February 2022

Voice matters because it is a channel for the self-expression that people need in order to feel acknowledged and seen, and – more broadly – because it can have a significant impact for a team or organisation when judgment, uncertainty, ideas and innovation, collaboration, communication and coordination are in the mix.  An absence of voice may mean compliance or obedience, but it isn’t territory for sustainable engagement - and sustainable engagement is essential for the flexibility and adaptability that characterises resilient, robust, flourishing teams and organisations.  What enables voice is psychological safety: believing that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.  That belief means the leader, in the first instance, consistently modelling behaviours that authentically welcome inclusiveness and diversity (including diversity of thought), that mean that help is offered and requested freely, that engage without judgment in taking risks and failing, and that make open conversations the norm – all this without fear of judgment, penalty or exclusion.

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