We've written these blogs to encourage and inspire you to think about how coaching could be incorporated into your work life. Please post comments, and if you'd like to become a guest blogger do contact us.

At the still point of the turning year – solstice reflections…

I’m writing this at the Winter Solstice. It’s one of those still Dartmoor winter afternoons, there’s a blanket of motionless grey clouds and not a breath of wind.  Earlier a buzzard wheeled lazily over our rooftop, the only movement in a sky where even the ubiquitous rooks were still and silent. Though it’s only 4:15pm it’s twilight, that intermediate, in-between state of not light and not yet dark. By the time I finish writing it will be deep dark.

It’s a day that feels like a pause, an in-breath, a still point, an ambiguous and paradoxical turning point in time. Slivers of lines from T.S Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton have been flickering in and out of my mind, like minnows barely visible in peaty amber streams that flow off the moor  “the light is still at the still point of the turning world…”

This year, I almost didn’t send a Christmas post, too many have been popping into my in-box and I felt like I didn’t want to add to the busyness and clutter.  But then at the last minute, I realise there is something I want to share…

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a local young man, not much more than a boy. Nineteen years old – the same age as my son.  The sudden random death of one so young, with so much to look forward to shakes a community. He was ‘one of ours’ a lovely, bright boy. It’s just not how things are meant to be.  It can’t be reconciled.

In the church, mourners squeezed into pews, packed themselves into the back and overflowed down the aisles in silent solidarity.  Being part of a  congregation, brought together to witness the loss and celebrate his life was a first attempt towards reconciling the unreconcilable, a leaning towards an eventual return of the light. It’s easy to say that there is no light without dark, no life without death and no dance without a still point.  It’s easy to say that buried inside polarity and the clash of opposites is always a relationship between two elements. It’s easy to say that the challenge is to hold the tension and find a place to stand that can hold both sides of a paradox, stepping forward into life from there. But it is not easy to live from there and if I am totally honest, as a mother, I don’t know if I’d survive such a loss, I don’t know if or how I’d find my way through.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that on this longest of nights, after a year that’s had more than its fair share of clashing opposites and political polarity I turn to Eliot’s poem and find inspiration and comfort as it edges towards reconciling the irreconcilable.   Here’s a few lines …
 

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

So as the year turns and the light begins its return, with gratitude for all of your good wishes and support over the past year, I wish you the gifts of the season  peace, joy, light, hope and love.

The Climbing Wall – A new way of looking at our working lives

Many thanks to Wise Goose graduate Lucy Weldon for this post.  Lucy is a career coach who specialises in the development of sustainable careers.

Have you thought about what living to a hundred will be like?  It will soon be unremarkable to live that long.  Many societies, including the UK, are rapidly ageing.  There’s lots of discussion about the funding challenge but not enough about the decades that precede our twilight years and what we do with our longer lives.

In the book, The 100-year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, the authors talk about this extended life and working life as being a gift.  It’s certainly a positive way of looking at it.  However, it depends on your individual circumstances.  If you live in the USA without health insurance or you depend solely on the UK government pension with little personal savings, the extended working life is a worrying and onerous necessity.

We’re seeing already that the simple career path of a ‘job for life’ is losing its currency.  The vertical career ladder of ‘onwards and upwards’ needs to change to what I call a multi-staged climbing wall model.  Now, more than ever, we need to look at our working lives differently and to manage them more proactively.   Luck will always play its part, but it won’t necessarily get you to where you want or need to get to.

My focus with clients is on having a ‘sustainable career’; by that I mean having a working life that brings in the required financial reward as well as fulfilment, purpose and balance.  How do we achieve this?  It won’t just happen.

Here are some aspects of career management to think about.  They are not necessarily age specific.  Responses to them will be rooted much more in life stage:

  • Re-framing the working life. Given extended lives, the potential exists to look at our careers differently.  Experts now talk about the career as being a marathon, a long journey, a series of short sprints with essential holding patterns in between. I see it more as a climbing wall.
  • Multiple careers. Because the choices exist and the imperative is growing, we will have a number of careers or career paths. This will require us to be flexible, resilient and creative. And to keep on learning and investing in ourselves and our working lives.
  • Re-thinking your working identity.  ‘I’ve always been a ……’.  That may change and may have to change.  What you will also need is a clear understanding of your skills and strengths as well as the kind of work that you find enjoyable and stimulating as you go through your working life.
  • Work life balance. It’s critical to talk about work life balance.  Will we be like the Japanese and have a word that sums up the worst extreme of this imbalance?  ‘Karoshi’ is a Japanese word that means death through overwork.  The UK is known for its long working hours.
  • Financial reward to fit your life stage and lifestyle. Unsurprisingly, money can dictate conversations about working lives.  It is an important
  • consideration.  Whilst money can be a short-term motivator, poor financial reward is a sure fire demotivator that sets in quickly.  Establishing what you want and need is vital, and it typically changes with lifestyle and life stage.
  • On-going personal development within your current role and the future direction of your career. Finishing your education in your younger years reflects the old working life model.  Investing in you, your future working life and a different career direction may well depend on a period of acquiring new knowledge, skills, credentials and qualifications.  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?  Yes, you can!

It’s the ‘whole you’ not just the ‘working you’ that needs to be looked at and considered.  It’s also about making our extended lives more a voyage of discovery than a haphazard, hoping for the best kind of experience.  When you have choices, when you can get on the front foot, why wouldn’t you?

Find out more about Lucy’s work at www.lucyweldoncoaching.com or contact her at lucy@lucyweldoncoaching.com

 

A Sense of Place -Coaching in Context

 

 

Granite. A glittering, resilient rock. The Barefoot Barn where we hold our Wise Goose Devon training programmes stands upon granite, the house I live in is built from it.  Both overlook the huge granite plug of Dartmoor. Granite is one of the defining characteristics of this place.

 

The moaning, whistling, howling or whispering of wind is another; it’s usually south westerly – you can tell the direction by the lean of stunted hawthorn and oak. Water is another element of this place, drizzling or pouring, to be soaked up by the spongy ground that is our watershed; as I write this the landscape is wrapped in a gentle Dartmoor mizzle. The song of moving water is never far away, sometimes quietly dripping or gurgling, sometimes running off the tors in amber torrents, nudging the granite clitter downslope into streams which run away to meet the sea at Teignmouth.

‘Granite Song’, by local sculptor Peter Randall-Page, rests unlabelled, a secret waiting to be chanced upon, on a small island on the river Teign.  At first glance this egg-like granite boulder is like many others nearby. Embedded in the landscape, it could have been tossed there by the river. But it has been split in two like a walnut, revealing carved organic, labyrinthine patterns. The sculptor has taken granite and made it a living part of a tradition of the moors with its standing stones, reaves and hut circles, knitting together a relationship and resonance between the people of this place and time and the land.  In this simple sculpture there’s a sense of belonging, a vision of participation; a sense of place.

Here at Wise Goose we believe place matters in coaching, it can shape, inform and sustain us, place is both geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness.   That’s why, whether in the wilds of the countryside or the midst of the capital city, we do our best to find venues where we have a relationship, that provide opportunities to reflect and renew, connect with context and draw out a networked perspective.  Most professional development courses are held in rootless, sterile and bland conference centres. Even mansions set in pristine landscaped gardens there’s often a disconnect between the content taught and the wider context of work –  they don’t nurture a sense of place.

A sense of place weaves together the physical characteristics of the land with memory, art, story, metaphor and history. The inexplicable feel, sight, sound and smell places leave on the skin and mind affect how we approach our work and our lives.  Connecting beyond our self in this way can inspire an embodied, systemic, networked, holistic approach to coaching that places human persons, organisations and communities as part of their world, co-creating their world, in service to a vision of a better future.

Our Space in the City:  In the midst of King’s Cross Development site close to national and international transport networks, the Skip Garden is a unique and quirky space.

It is a movable, urban  garden where fruit and vegetables are farmed out of skips.  An initiative of the charity Global Generation, it  brings together businesses who work alongside young people and the local residents to create healthy, integrated and environmentally responsible communities   We are delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with a charity whose values and approach so closely mirrors our ow

Amongst the lettuce leaves , blossom trees and open fires are unique indoor spaces, purpose built for all kinds of learning and personal development opportunities.  The venue also boasts a thriving café serving food from the garden.

Our Scottish Collaboration.  It is a real privilege  to be working with the Findhorn Foundation to deliver a residential, intensive Foundations course in Core Coaching and Mentoring Skills in Scotland.

Nestled amidst dunes and forest, bay and beach, the Findhorn Foundation is an internationally respected ecovillage community and spiritual learning centre dedicated to inspired action and a vision of creating a better world.

The Barefoot Barn is our original venue and ‘home’.  Set in six acres of woodland, glades and ponds with views across the atmospheric and spectacular ancient landscape of Dartmoor.   An ideal location from which to practice outdoor walking coaching and widen perspectives.  The Barn was initially created for the local community of Chagford, 20+ years ago, for the teaching and practice of meditation and yoga and is a few minutes walk from the centre of Chagford  a historic and vibrant town, in an area of outstanding beauty, on the edge of Dartmoor and within easy reach of the M5, Exeter airport and the national railway network.

 

The Books That Shaped Me

leadership fo disillusioned

 

On ancient maps of the world cartographers, perhaps believing the world was flat, would write: ‘beyond here be monsters’. Fear of what lay beyond the edge of the known world kept their world small.  Today we smile at how wrong this perspective is; we know that over that imagined rim lay whole new worlds.

In Leadership for the Disillusioned Amanda Sinclair takes us to an edge. She challenges traditional views of leadership, exposing some of the monsters created by values that run through most leadership development: compulsive growth, conquest, materialism, individualism and relentless focus on future targets.

Hopeful, bold and challenging, it was recommended to me ten years ago, when I embarked on a Masters in Responsibility & Business Practice.  Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Northern Rock and RBS were collapsing, I’d become disillusioned with leadership, mine and others.  I felt sure there was a different way to do the work of leading but I felt shackled by prevailing practices.

It’s still one of the most exciting leadership books I’ve read, an antidote to pompous, ‘do it my way’ tomes, with their ‘heroic performances, impoverished theories and oversimplified templates.’  With a critical, systemic perspective Sinclair asks fundamental questions about the discourses that frame or limit what we think leadership is, or could be: What is leadership for? What are the purposes to which leadership is being put? Who benefits from these purposes? What are its unintended harmful consequences?

At times, it’s an uncomfortable read. It exposed my assumptions and less-than-wonderful practices as a leader.  Asking ‘What’s wrong with leadership?’ she explores how leadership is often achieved through a leader’s self-inflation and ‘collusive seduction.’  She examines how the cult of adoration surrounding unassailable CEOs and leaders needs followers who are searching for a someone to fix things and make hard problems simple. She shows how the dependency of these followers, their surrender, suspension of critical faculties and abdication of responsibility leads to moral failure in companies and ultimately, failure of trust in leadership. Since the Brexit campaign and rise of Trump this analysis is more relevant than ever.

Central to the book is a call for leadership that ‘liberates’. She argues that good leaders seek to free themselves, organisations, teams and individuals from oppressive structures or practices and a create flourishing workplaces.

Leading that liberates is not just a job or position, but a way of being in relationship, anchored in self-awareness, mindful of others and wider systems. It’s an invitation to lead with less ego, to extend our sense of identity, be more fluid, porous and freer.  This involves bringing unconscious assumptions about leadership, often laid down in childhood, to light, as well as developing more awareness of power dynamics and the responsibility to use power ethically.  Sinclair argues that the way to do this is through being reflective and embodied, working experientially and thinking critically.

As a trainer, coach, mentor and developer of leaders this book was a place that encouraged me to explore ‘edges’ in my work.  It helped clarify key questions as I developed training courses for coaches: How to create a programme that is reflective and thoughtful, that values relationship, connects to others and the wider world?  How can I develop coaches who have the confidence and competencies to challenge the status quo? What would a coaching course look like that doesn’t ‘feed’ narrow individualistic striving, that is liberating – contributing to valuable, worthwhile purposes?

It shaped my thinking and the way I’ve build my business; I worked on creating assessment processes with power in mind; balanced theory and practice; wove together reflective practice with a critical perspective.  I thought about how groups are recruited, and alongside those from corporate backgrounds, decided to offer sponsored places to charities or social enterprises to include a range of experience and aspirations. By inviting alternative worldviews into the room, I hoped to avoid slipping into ‘executive-coach groupthink’.  These questions are reflected in the Wise Goose ‘brand’, an identity that’s less shiny and glossy than many coach training providers.  I talk about ‘success with a soul’. Making these choices isn’t always easy, I need to maintain credibility with corporate customers, to keep one foot in the world leaders and organisations inhabit while holding a wider context and reframing spirit. I’ve needed to attend to the part of me wants to belong, to quietly follow, not rock the boat and be an insider.

Sinclair is not a comfortable insider defending the status quo.  Neither is she an outsider throwing rocks, she’s a professor at Australia’s foremost business school.  She occupies a precarious space between worlds, the ‘wild margins’. There’s a tension and energy at the places where edges meet, Leadership for the Disillusioned creatively negotiates the gap between hard realities of ‘leadership as usual’ and everyday practices of a liberating leader.  It’s a book that inspired me to explore those edges for myself and in doing so shaped me.

 

 

“The present is not a time for desperation but for hopeful activity.”

crocus

I have the quote above from Thomas Berry, scribbled on a post-it on my desk. Some days it brings out a smile and a sense of purpose. Some days it feels like a bad joke. I am a ‘glass half full’ person but as I look at many of the changes currently sweeping through the world my hopefulness for the future can be put to the test.

I’m not alone, the 2017 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER reveals the largest-ever drop in trust across the institutions of government, business, media and NGOs. The credibility of leaders has also collapsed globally to an all-time low, with government leaders seen as least credible.

More than half respondents, including elites believe the system is unfair and offers little hope for the future. The result is toxic populism and nationalism fuelled by lack of trust in the system, fear of immigration, globalization, corruption as well as economic fears.

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