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.”


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

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. Continue reading “Questionable Intentions – Intentional Questions “

A Year of Blessings


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. Continue reading “A Year of Blessings”

Help Others. Help yourself.

helping others

Many thanks to Sarah Dawkins  for this post. Sarah is a graduate of the Wise Goose Advanced Programme and  works as a Confidence Coach here in the South West.

If your confidence stopping you from taking those steps to getting where you want to be in your life or work then confidence coaching is a great opportunity for you to work towards overcoming areas that are being hit by lack of confidence, be it that interview, talking to people or making that speech.

Something has got to change.

That was the thought that had been buzzing around in my head for 2 years before I decided to actually take action with my life; before that, the nagging thought was just something to squirrel away in the back of my mind to revisit when I reached that magical state of having time to think about it. Continue reading “Help Others. Help yourself.”

From Therapist to Coach

In this month’s post Rachel Jewell,  a Wise Goose student, tells us about her journey from therapist to a coach specialising with working in the field of female empowerment.

women change



Facilitating Change, one way or another!


My passion has always been to facilitate change in others so that they can achieve their chosen outcomes for their lives. The methodology for achieving a successful outcomes has changed over time, however my purpose has remained clear. Continue reading “From Therapist to Coach”

Questions and coaching

In this month’s post Janet Kipling,  a Wise Goose student, tells us how training in coaching is impacting on her work.  Janet began her career as a journalist in newspapers, and as a BBC radio reporter, producer and presenter.  Twelve years ago she jumped the fence to work in public relation. She still does occasional radio presentation work, writing and media training as well as teaching yoga, and came to coaching wanting to develop a decluttering business. 


Questions, questions

I’ve made a pretty good career out of asking questions. As a newspaper journalist, radio reporter and then presenter, asking the right question to get the headline or soundbite was a key tool of the trade. Thanks Helen and the Wise Goose team for turning this all upside down! Continue reading “Questions and coaching”

Taking Time for Down Time


Sunday morning was definitely on the chilly side, bright and beautiful but with an unmistakable sense that autumn is elbowing summer out of the way.  As the equinox brings shorter days I feel an impulse to turn inwards and take some down time.

But I have to keep busy; I launched a new one year training programme over the weekend and tomorrow I travel to London, where I’ll be in back to back meetings and when I return to the office there’s plenty of admin to catch up with.  The pace of life and work doesn’t recognise that the seasons bring their own change of pace.  There is constant pressure to keep focussed, keep on doing, keep on achieving and attaining and keep the focus is relentlessly “out there”. Continue reading “Taking Time for Down Time”

Tackling silent bullying in the workplace



Have you ever been ignored, rejected or felt slighted by a colleague or a boss? Have you ever given someone the ‘silent treatment’?


Silent bullying is common and costly, I know a lovely woman who was so badly shunned by her boss she became depressed, burnt-out and left a career she loved.  I’ve also been a target –  in a  place where I’d felt liked, appreciated and respected. Because of the behaviour of one person, I felt I didn’t  matter, it was like I didn’t exist.  The good news:  it was limited to relatively a small project. Continue reading “Tackling silent bullying in the workplace”

“A Magnificent Profession” – The future of management?

shutterstock_109645829Management is out of fashion, not many people want to be called a manager, they might want their title to be leader, or entrepreneur, or even coach – but manager?

Executives have been getting bad press for years now, they are thought to lack integrity, a 2008 Gallup poll on honesty and ethics found that 37% rated executives low or very low. Things haven’t improved since then.  Is it possible that the way management is portrayed by ‘leadership’ gurus encourages ethical decline? Continue reading ““A Magnificent Profession” – The future of management?”