Peace, ease and fulfilment
Early every morning, on my walk, I see Dennis. Dennis sweeps the street and keeps it free of litter. This morning, I remarked to him that I didn’t know what we’d do without him. His face broke into a broad smile, and he responded that he loved his job. ‘What makes you love it?’ I asked. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘I’m not OCD, but I do like to see everything tidy. I meet nice people, I’m my own boss, and I’m trusted to get on with it’.
Purpose, peace and ease
As he spoke to me, he looked with pride at the surrounding pavements on the big junction where we stood. His clear sense of doing something meaningful, that met his purpose, and a sense of peace and ease about him, struck me forcefully.
He told me too that he’d been featured in the local community paper and highlighted for recognition. Local shopkeepers and residents acknowledge his effect on the environment that they all share.
Cognitive, emotional and somatic
It was a 2-minute conversation, and it’s had a noticeable impact for me, in terms of not only my cognitive experience, but also the emotional and the somatic experience.
As I left Dennis and walked on, I felt uplifted and changed. I saw and felt my surroundings with a slightly sharper clarity and presence, the blossom in its extraordinary beauty and abundance, and the clumps of bluebells with their distinctive shape and… well… blueness. I felt more grounded and balanced, and I had a sense of joyful energy. The world felt very good. Strangely, more people greeted me than usual, and I greeted more people myself too. I wondered if I may have been somehow passing on some of Dennis’s emotional impact.
At the same time I’m engaging with the concepts that this evokes for me contextually as an executive coach – and I’m wondering about the parallels between Dennis’s context and that of the senior leaders I coach (as bizarre as that may sound).
Purpose, autonomy, accountability and complexity
Dennis’s joy in his job comes from factors which are relatively simple to articulate, and are indeed fundamental, but whose presence is difficult to perceive in many of the contexts I work in. I’m thinking, for example, of the senior manager promoted for reasons he’s not clear about to a role whose expectations he’s distinctly unclear about, while being clearly held accountable by his line manager, and feeling like a misfit in his new team. These are all topics we can work on in his coaching: purpose, the balance of autonomy with accountability, acknowledgment, a sense of identity, and belonging and connection with those around him. It’s fortunate that he has coaching at all, to help equip him to make sense of the complexity of his environment, his relationships, and where he fits with his organisational and departmental strategy. But at the same time it feels to me like his boss could – and should – be doing a lot more to enable the ease and sense of safety that would very likely make a significant difference to my client’s wellbeing and effectiveness.
High stakes, relationships, complexity and safety
Another client is stepping his way round an infinite number of high-stakes situations and demands, and new, constantly-changing, very high-stakes relationships, all happening simultaneously, up down, across and diagonally, in a context of deep complexity. Unlike Dennis’s autonomy, my client is juggling multiple dependencies, much of the time he doesn’t feel trusting (rather he’s vigilant and on the alert), and he regularly reflects on how to manage the impacts of his and others’ behaviours with least fallout or risk. He says he’s happy, but he isn’t at ease, he works long hours and long weeks, and although he’s very senior, his sense of autonomy is always tempered by his testing the safety of his environment.
Leaders’ responsibility to enable peace, trust, ease and fulfilment
I accept that it may make no sense to juxtapose Dennis’s relatively simple situation with my clients’ complex roles and environments. On the other hand, I’m very curious about how leaders conceive of their responsibility (and opportunity) to design and embed working lives for themselves, their peers and their reports which release greater peace, trust, ease and fulfilment – and thus greater effectiveness. More than that, I worry about their health, their wellbeing and their longevity if leaders don’t take that responsibility.