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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 song 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 the landscape is wrapped in a 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’, a sculpture by 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 boulder of granite is like many others along the river. 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 embeddedness, a vision of reciprocity, participation and belonging; 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 work from training venues where we have a relationship, that can provide opportunities for you 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 those in mansions set in pristine landscaped gardens often create a disconnect between actions taken  and the wider context of work –  they don’t nurture a sense of place.

Place can inspire a 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.  Nestled in the midst of King’s Cross Development site at the heart of national and international transport networks, the Skip Garden is a unique and quirky space.   It is a moveable, urban  garden where fruit and vegetables are farmed out of skips and reclaimed construction materials.  An initiative of educational charity Global Generation, built by young people, local business volunteers and families, it is developing a new and sustainable community contributing to ecological and social change.

We are delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with a charity whose values and approach so closely mirrors our own.  Global Generation brings together businesses, working alongside young people and the local community. Together they experiment with visions of leadership that make a positive difference to themselves and to our future, exploring ways to leave a positive impact on the planet and to grow new ways of connecting and giving back within their organisations and the communities in which they operate.

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.  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 by starting with themselves.

Our programme will be held at The Park, nestled amidst dunes and forest, bay and beach, it is an ecovillage that is home to many of their staff and a larger community of people living with shared values.   This is a collaboration with the Findhorn Foundation College which provides a vehicle for academic programmes and to host students and study groups from the local area and around the world, an induction to the Foundation will be included in the programme.

The Findhorn Foundation is an NGO associated with the United Nations Department of Public Information, holder of UN Habitat Best Practice designation and is co-founder of the Global Ecovillage Network and Holistic Centres Network.

At the heart of The Foundation is a community of more than 500 people living together and practising spiritual values to create a transformative environment where learning takes place naturally through the ordinary activities of daily life. All are linked by a shared positive vision for humanity and the earth.

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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Questionable Intentions – Intentional Questions 

trafficjamMany thanks to Mark Hunt for this post. Mark had recently finished his first training weekend with Wise Goose where we’d been looking at questions in coaching when he had real life opportunity to put the theory into practice!

Recently, after a visit to Wise Goose, I was travelling back to Exeter along narrow Dartmoor roads. I had an important meeting to get to and had allowed myself a whisker’s breadth of contingency to get there on time. It was mid afternoon and the roads would be quiet. What could possibly go wrong?

All was well until I tried to join the main road. In front of the junction was an enormous articulated lorry and in both directions cars as far as the eye could see. It was clear that the lorry was blocking the road, and my first thought questioned what the driver was thinking of bringing that great metal behemoth down these skinny lanes. And then – I realised it was an agricultural lorry and – tail between my legs – wondered who had more right to be there.

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A Year of Blessings

christmas-free-clip-art

As the nights draw in and another year draws to a close, its a natural time to pause and reflect.
I’ve been looking back and asking: Has this year brought me closer to the goals I’d imagined for Wise Goose this time last year? Have we made the most of the opportunities and the gifts that have come my way? Have we been true to our purpose and values?

I must admit I was feeling a bit low when I started, our son is in India on a gap year adventure and won’t be back until Spring, this will be the first Christmas without him. And I was feeling sad about losing a colleague who, for good personal reasons, decided to move on, but I’ll still miss working with her.

And 2016 has been a challenging year in other ways, Brexit and the long term uncertainty it brings and Donald Trump as the next US president is just plain scary!

But the more I reflected, the more I saw that this has been a really good year for Wise Goose. It’s all too easy to lose sight of this in the midst of the day-to-day challenges of life and running of a business.

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