Category Archives: Coaching

When it’s time to stop doing and start dreaming

So, you’ve been trying to reach your goals.  Perhaps it’s your goal to find a new job. Or to attract new clients, new sales. It might be something personal, like finding a partner or conceiving a child.

But somehow, it isn’t quite happening.

If only you could push a little harder.

You think about what action you need to take next.  You identify and plan your next steps.  It all seems perfectly logical.  Easy even – just a half an hour here, a quick phone-call there.

Easy, yes, but somehow it isn’t quite happening.

You’re not taking the actions.  Or you’re taking action but not seeing the results.

The truth is, at the same time, you know you’re exhausted.  Your head is full of “shoulds” and some part of you is resisting the sense of obligation that comes with “should”.  The very thing you’re doing (or planning to do) precisely to make life easier, more comfortable, more joyful, more tailored to you is leaving you feeling exhausted, unable to rest, more joyless.

You feel the weight on your shoulders and you want to put it down.

Are you listening?

Recently, this was the experience of a client of mine.

Some part of her was pushing, assiduously, forward.  Some part of her was yearning for rest.  She wanted to make progress towards her goals but somehow she wasn’t taking action.  She was yearning for rest but never felt relaxed.  “On the one hand…” she was saying, “but on the other hand…”

Is this you, too?

We took time in our coaching to listen.  We wanted to connect with the needs she was trying to meet and to explore possibilities for meeting her needs.  The more we listened, the more we found that it is possible both to take steps to move forward and to take time to rest.

Actually, we found it was not only possible but also essential.

And there’s more.

As we found a way forward that she could sign up to – that all of her could sign up to – something else popped up.

“Maybe,” she told me, “I need to look at a larger question… not just my next career steps but also the whole of my life.”

In her struggle to carve out her next career move, a more fundamental need was not being heard.  It was time to step back from taking steps to make things happen and to ask “What is it that I really want in my life as a whole?”  This was a question about every aspect of her life – career, yes, but also leisure, family, location and more – as well as a question about the the weeks, months and years to come.

It was, in short, a time to stop doing and a time to start dreaming.

But how do you dream?

It may seem strange to some, but if you’re used to planning and taking action, it can be hard to know how to dream or even to know how to connect with the dreams you already have.  I’m writing this post today because I’d like to offer some simple ways to get started:

  • Learn from your past (or someone else’s):  Has there ever been a time in your past when you had a dream that came true?  If you have past experience of conceiving, pursuing and fulfilling your dreams, you already know what happened and can look for moments in the present that are similar to your experience in the past.  Did you see it in your mind’s eye?  Or have a feeling that something was coming your way?  Different people dream in different ways, so tapping into your own experience or getting curious about other people’s can be a valuable source of information about how you dream.  The suggestions below are a reflection of the ways in which different people envisage a new and different future;
  • Taking stock:  As a coach, I often begin a coaching assignment by helping clients to take stock using two “coaching-wheels“.  The coaching wheel supports self reflection and can help people get started who find dreaming difficult.  How content are you, for example, with your professional life?  Or your personal relationships?  A mark out of ten can be easy to assign and further reflection can help you to explore what’s working in your life and what more you want;
  • Tracking your emotions:  How are you responding to the events of your day, week, month?  When do you feel most joyful and alive?  When do your energies feel drained.  What possibilities excite you?  What ideas are joyless and laden with “shoulds” and “oughts”?  When you track your emotions in the here and now – when you really pay attention – you begin the process of understanding what you really want in your life;
  • Listening to the small voice within:  Often, when I talk with clients they already know something is off track but are pushing this message away.  They may even know what they really want but, because they don’t know how to make it happen, they carry on with life as it is.  Sometimes, listening to this inner voice is as simple as saying “yes, I’m ready to listen”.  Sometimes, it’s about carving out the kind of unscheduled downtime that allows these messages to come through.  A day with no agenda.  A walk in the countryside.  Time curled up in your arm chair with a notepad and pen;
  • Cultivating gratitude:  To cultivate gratitude is to notice those moments in your life when something meets your needs.  It might be something you do, or something someone else does or, simply, something that happens.  At first, you may want to dedicate a time to do this, keeping a gratitude diary, for example, which you write in at the end of the day.  In my experience, over time, this has morphed into a constant alertness to those things in my life which are most precious to me.  I say thank you to myself.  I say thank you to others.  My personal Facebook Page is now littered with status updates which reflect my gratitude.  (These are the ones my youngest nephew thinks are terribly long.)  To cultivate gratitude is to become more aware of those things that meet our needs and this, in turn, increases awareness of what we might want more of in future;
  • Visualise your dreams:  A notice board, a notebook or an online application can be a great place to build up a visual image of the things you dream of.  What do you see that catches your eye? It may be the different aspects of your life that you are starting to represent or more detail about a particular aspect of your life, from decorating the lounge all the way through to where you want to live or work.  It may be photos that catch your attention, or phrases… find a place to bring them together so you can build up a picture of the life you dream of;
  • Drawing inspiration from others:  Who do you most admire or envy?  Who – or what – inspires you?  Noticing your response to others can also help you to connect with everything that is important, inspiring, joyful or simply yes, that’s it! right for you.  This can be about the content of the dream (the thing they dreamt of and made happen) or about their capacity to dream (how they did the dreaming and how they realised their dream).

Why dream?  Conceiving the impossible

Right now, my client may not know what she really wants, or how to make it happen.  Nonetheless, realities start with a dream.  So, as I close, I think of those who have dreamt and whose dreams have come true.

Some of them are clients of mine, men and women who have made radical career changes, who have found the sweet spot where work and family can coexist, who have realised the life they were leading was not for them and moved towards something that was more congruent or fitting.

Some of them have held dreams for society at large – dreams of inclusion and social cohesion, dreams of justice or peace, dreams for the environment we live in, dreams for our health, wealth or well-being.

All of them made something happen because, first, they imagined its existence.

If, like my client, your struggling to make something happen, could it be your time, also, to stop doing and start dreaming?

The boys in the (wo)men who run things

Recently, and for the first time in my life, I walked into a betting shop.

I wanted to find out if I could place a bet, and at what odds, that Brexit will not go through. It was, after all a plebiscite – a non-binding, advisory referendum. And who in their right mind would implement a decision as complex and significant as leaving the European Union on the basis of such a tiny majority of votes to leave, particularly when the overall statistics suggest a broadly three thirds split between “leave”, “remain” and “didn’t vote”?

It seems we are not in our right mind

So many things about Brexit highlight that we are not in our right minds that I need not mention them all.

Perhaps, even, any.

From the safe distance of the US, a friend wrote on Facebook. First, he responded to the result of the referendum, by saying:

To all my friends and colleagues in the UK and the EU: the “Brexit” vote is a huge deal! My heart goes out to you in the instability and change, regardless of which way you were voting.

Sending hugs and fierce love today.

Then, he responded to David Cameron’s post referendum speech by saying:

Can someone explain the intricacies of UK politics to me around a prime minister resigning? I can’t tell, from what I’ve been reading, whether David Cameron is resigning on principle, or if there is a process in the way the prime minister loses his position when something… changes…? <confused>

After I get an answer to this, I’ll ask about the rules of cricket.

Of course, from the safe distance of the UK, the possibility that Donald Trump might become President of the United States also seems pretty off the wall.

Even so, we might still have to live with it.

Wounded Leaders

Everything about Brexit pointed to one thing for me. It was time to read Nick Duffell’s book, Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion.

For over twenty years, Duffell has been exploring a topic that came to my attention only because of conversations with a friend: the impact on men and women in adulthood of attending boarding schools in childhood.

Duffell’s thesis is that sending children away to board exposes them to the traumatic experience of being separated from their parents before they are ready. Then, as if this were not enough, they have to make sense of their parents’ reasons for doing it, raising fears that they were sent away because their parents didn’t love them or that the fact that they are not enjoying boarding school means there is something wrong with them. Finally, the experience throws up the need to find ways to survive in their new context. They become bullies or buffoons, or possibly both. In Nick Duffell’s language, they become Boarding School Survivors.

Duffell’s thesis is vividly reflected in a documentary film, made in 1994, entitled The Making of Them, which is still available to view.

As his book outlines, the results of boarding in the adult lives of boarders are also plain to see in the behaviours of our political elite.

You are not alone

You could think that this posting is directed only at people who have been to boarding school, or to people who work with former boarders. It’s not.

Reading Duffell’s book, I found parallels in my own experience both as a child transitioning over time into adulthood and also as someone who works with men and women in leadership roles.

If you, for example, are sometimes triggered in the work place… if, at times, you respond at a speed that can only come from some kind of automatic pilot to the events you face at work… if you sometimes regret your reaction but don’t begin to know what to do differently or if you seek to justify your response by finding fault with the person or people you are dealing with… if there are things you desire as if your very life depends upon it… if you are riddled with self-doubt unless you achieve X or Y or Z… you are not alone.

It is common for children to experience things in childhood that are beyond their capacity to understand. It is equally common for children, in finding ways to cope with difficult experiences, to develop strategies that, whilst far from effective, nonetheless get carried into adulthood. These are strategies that protect us – or attempt to protect us – from the worst fears of our inner child.

At the same time, in our adult lives, our inner child remains stuck unless and until we are able to recognise our pain (the “wounds” implied in the title of Duffell’s book), to understand the source of our pain and to seek out and embody the learning we need to move forward.

When your inner child is running the show

Early in his book, Duffell reminds us of David Cameron’s now (in)famous remark to Angela Eagle in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions: “Calm down, dear”, which he analyses in some detail as an example of the kind of strategies boarders adopt. It’s the kind of strategy that works in the moment, at least to some degree.

At the same time, as you may know from your own experience, strategies that come from your inner child can only work to a limited degree and may even be harmful.

What are the consequences of these strategies, of which we may or may not be aware?

  • Often, they are accompanied by high emotions, particularly anxiety, on the part of the inner child. We may look as elegant as swans on the surface, but maintaining appearances takes untold energy and can lead, over time, to exhaustion, stress and more;
  • Formed in childhood based on the thinking of our immature child, the harm to ourselves is self-perpetuating, because the thinking that drives them is taken as true. You think you have to work ten times as hard as your colleagues to be accepted? You think you have to be top of the corporate class in order to be liked? You will strive, constantly, in line with your inner belief. Worse still, because you fear, at some level, that you are not, fundamentally, okay, it can be hard for you to receive feedback that brings your hidden belief into awareness, lest it be proof of the flaws you fear so deeply;
  • Paradoxically, the very strategy that you adopted as a child may prevent you, in adulthood, from achieving the needs it was designed to achieve. This can become more and more apparent as your career progresses… when, for example, the attention to detail that made you an asset early in your career becomes a failure to see the larger picture in your role as a leader;
  • There may be consequences for those you lead. These are likely to be designed into your strategy but also unconscious. If you strive for perfection, for example, in order to prove you’re okay, you may be highly intolerant of any mistakes, wherever they come from. As a consequence, you will come down hard on the mistakes of others and may even try to make others responsible for your own;

If you’ve read this far, you may already be aware of some hidden anxiety or behavioural pattern that is running the show. You may even be aware of the implications for you and for others in your career.

You don’t need to be alone with it.

It’s not just that you’re one of many people who have one or more stress responses which date back to your childhood experiences.

No.

In addition, there are many ways – such as learning to pause before you act or learning to meditate – to begin the work of re-shaping your approach. In addition, professional support is available from highly skilled therapists, coaches and trainers. Far from being a sign that you’re flawed or failing in some way, the decision to seek professional support signals a step towards conscious self-awareness and making adult choices.

And Brexit?

Nick Duffell would, I think, propose that Brexit is the natural consequence of attempts to survive a boarding school education. In the prologue to Wounded Leaders, he writes presciently:

Having had to do without loving parents and being thrust into a false community – a single-sex institution with a narrow age-range – most ex boarders develop a very complex relationship with groups and communities, characterized by a mixture of suspicion and unfulfilled longing. Despite their intentions, those with an overriding thirst for power seem to end up suspicious of Continental values, backing self-reliance and prolonging a deep conservatism that keeps the old for the old’s sake and robs the country of the benefits of its natural dynamism. This, of course, affects the whole of society from top to bottom.

If Duffell is right, our decision, by a narrow majority of voters, to leave the European Union, is the result of unconscious survival strategies at the most senior levels of Britain’s political elite. In my view, it has also been met by similar survival responses across the electorate.

As for me, I did not get to place my bet.

I explained to the man who was serving me that I had not missed the result of the referendum (as he assumed) and talked about the process of invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. At the time, there were no odds on offer (and I missed the opportunity to place a bet on Theresa May.)

A fellow customer, standing next to me at the next counter, looked quizzically at me and told me that we’ve already left Europe.

Nothing I could say persuaded him that this was not, actually, true.

Keeping your best talent: lessons from the school playground

Working, as I do, on two sides of the leadership coin, there’s one thing that intrigues me.

I’ve yet to work with a client organisation in which the most senior leadership cadre complains about having too many talented leaders or aspiring leaders across the organisation.  This remains true even now, in the midst of painful down- (or right-) sizing, when the number of leadership jobs available is diminishing.

It seems that talent is in short supply.

At the same time, working with individual leaders in organisations or at my coaching clinic on a Sunday, I meet men and women who are clearly talented and yet who struggle to find the right next job. (Right now, as a result of these kinds of conversations, I’m recruiting members of a London-based coaching group called Kick start your next career move.  If you know anyone who might be interested, please forward this link to them.)

It seems that people with strong potential don’t always find it easy to find a job in which they can truly shine.

If you read my blog on a regular basis you’ll know that I don’t hold line managers responsible for the careers of their staff.  We all have a primary responsibility to meet our own needs.  Still, if you are a line manager to a talented and aspiring leader, I wonder if you relate to the dilemma faced by your colleagues.

Are you worried that coaching your staff will prepare them for a future in someone else’s organisation?

Learning to hold the reins
Learning to hold the reins

You know how it is.  You’ve made the case for a new member of your team, someone who can take some of the load off your shoulders.  Perhaps it took you a while to ask for help.  Maybe it was a long and painful approval process, so that by the time you get to recruit, you’re almost on your knees.

You advertise the post and get any number of recruits.  Maybe some of them look just right for the post, though your colleagues worry that these well-formed candidates are already ready for the next job and encourage you to take on someone who can benefit from some learning in this post.  You do.

You choose someone with potential and you spend time bringing them up to speed.  For a while, it seems as though you have more work as a result of recruiting them rather than less.  Perhaps you spend six months, eight… maybe even twelve months or eighteen teaching them to hold the reins.

Having delegated all sorts of tasks to your new team member, you’re starting to motor.  You are free now to handle an altogether more strategic agenda.  You enjoy stepping back from the detail to plan your forward path.

And then, just as your plan comes to fruition, they leave.

It may be that this is the reality of your situation.  Perhaps it’s something you worry about even though it hasn’t happened yet.  Is it wise to invest so much in support of members of your team if all it means is that they move on?

Building a learning organisation

In 1999, the UK’s Department for Education funded a major piece of research in order to understand what differentiated the most effective school teachers.  It followed hot on the heals of research into effective school leadership which underpinned the design of a national Leadership Programme for Serving Headteachers.

I was working at the time for the Hay Group, which carried out this work.  Although mostly I have worked with client organisations in the private sector, these projects heralded the beginning of my involvement in the education sector.  I was Director of Quality for the conduct and analysis of interviews with teachers across the country, for example, as part of the Hay Group’s research.  After I left the Hay Group, I served for ten years as a regional and then national judge for the Teaching Awards.

One year, it was my privilege to observe a head teacher who, already successful in leading her own school, had taken on the headship of a second school.   The second school was in some difficulty so her remit was to raise standards in the second school whilst maintaining standards in the first.  As others before her had already found out, parents’ fear that standards might drop can make them highly unwilling partners in such an endeavour.

Coaching new skills
Teaching new skills

Nonetheless, the head teacher’s approach was audacious.  She started to make strategic exchanges of personnel between the two schools.  A member of staff in one school would swap places with his or her peer in the other school.  Both would receive coaching and both would work with each other to exchange best practice with the aim of raising standards in both schools.  Hers was essentially a coaching approach.

It worked.

Standards improved across the failing school.  Teachers across both schools reported an enriching experience which had built their awareness of and confidence in their skills.  They improved existing skills and developed new ones.  The head teacher had created what some call a learning organisation, in both schools.  Coaching was woven into the culture and practices of both schools.

What “Miss” knew

What did this head teacher know that made her feel comfortable to take such audacious steps?  Two things.

Firstly, she knew that even without any changes of personnel, the school she was taking on had greater potential than it was currently fulfilling.  She had faith in the people in the new school – faith that they could learn and grow.  She also held the belief that staff in her existing school, already seen as high performers, had the potential to learn and grow.  She set out to make the experience a learning experience for everybody.

So far, so good.  But what about the risk of preparing people for a future in other people’s schools?

In truth, this head teacher positively wanted to prepare people for their next roles, whether or not it was in her school.  You could say that she wanted it because this was a reflection of who she was.  She was, at root, a coaching head teacher.

But in case you are not a coaching leader, you might still want to know why.  What thoughts and attitudes did she have that made her want to coach her staff even whilst knowing they might move on?

This head teacher’s approach was the manifestation of her belief that there are plenty of talented people in the world, people with potential to learn and grow.  She knew that there would always be people coming into her school with potential and with an appetite for learning.  In truth, experience had taught her that creating a learning environment for the adults in her school made the school an attractive place for precisely the kind of people she wanted to recruit – people with aspirations to learn and to work to high standards.  She had no concerns about losing good people because she felt confident of her ability to recruit more good people to the school.

Room to shine

As I draw this posting to a close, I remember that this head teacher’s school shone like a beacon in her area and was heavily over-subscribed.  It attracted parents and their children.  It attracted teaching and non-teaching staff.  What’s more, it attracted applications from precisely the kind of people she wanted to recruit.  I wonder what brand your organisation has in your marketplace, whatever it is.

It’s easy, too, to see that some people also have a personal charisma that makes them shine like a beacon within their organisations and beyond.  These are the people you recruit with confidence, if only you get the chance.

But if you’re not shining as an individual to your current or prospective employers, it doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer.  More likely, it means you don’t know what your talent is or how to describe it.  (If so, please think about joining me to Kick start your next career move.)

And if, as a leader, you want to attract staff who will make a real difference in your organisation, think about recruiting the very people you’d most like to keep, coaching them whilst they’re with you and accepting that, at some stage, they will move on.

When you’re wondering about your future career

Thinking about your future?

I’ve been fielding queries this week about availability at Harley Street. It’s a nice job to have.  One query made me think about the boundary between personal and executive coaching – coaching that is sponsored by your organisation and coaching that you pay for yourself.

Perhaps you recognise something of yourself in the description below (amended for anonymity):

“This is what I’m taking from John’s e-mail [who put us in touch]… just checking my understanding. You’re gifted. You bring an appetite for improvement and you’ve been able to bring this to bear in an area which is relatively stable. As you become more senior, you may well find an increasing tension between your vision for a better future and the readiness of those around you to embrace change. This has raised questions for you about how to influence and engage others. It may even be raising questions for you about whether your future is ultimately with your current employer or elsewhere”.

Without question, coaching can be timely for someone like this, as they work through a number of key questions. “How can you navigate the relative stability of your current job and still make a difference? How can you maximise your opportunities with your current employer? When might it be time to move on (and to what?) How can you stay present to you – to your values and motivations, to your skills and so on – so that you know just how long you can make your current employment work for you and when it might be time to look beyond your current organisation?”

But who pays?  In general terms, organisations do sponsor coaching for people at times – typically to help them to develop their career in-house, e.g. to acquire the skills they need at increasingly senior levels. When coaching is sponsored by an organisation, this is often the focus. Equally, there are times when an individual needs support away from his or her employing organisation to open up a wider question than “how do I make it work here at organisation X?”  Sometimes organisations do sponsor coaching with this agenda, because they recognise that with more clarity some individuals may choose to stay and indeed, that it can serve both individual and organisation to recognise when it’s time to leave. Equally, there are times when people like to sponsor this kind of coaching for themselves and to meet with their coach away from work.

I started the Sunday Coaching Clinic at Harley Street because I recognise that sometimes, people want to sponsor their own coaching as they explore the question of “what next?” and because I love working with clients for whom this question is timely. 

Harley Street – reaching out for your help to get started

Follow this link to find out about Sunday Coaching

On Wednesday, I announced on this blog that, beginning on 14th July, 2013, I shall be offering coaching at the Lewis clinic, 1, Harley Street, on Sundays.  My lead time – from my first announcement to my first clinic –  is short and I know I can’t do this all by myself.  I’ve been overwhelmed by offers of help.

Now, I must confess, I’m learning relatively late in time just how to ask for help and what to ask for.  It’s an ability I cherish all the more for being hard won.  I’ve also noticed just how much I love it when one person’s need meets another person’s natural gifts and warm heart.  I love it when I can do something easily for someone that makes a huge difference to them.  I love it when someone does something for me with ease and joy that supports me in a timely way.

So, I’ve been asking friends, family, colleagues and clients to help me get up and running with the Lewis Clinic.  I have made some very specific requests and, well, I’ve been deeply touched by their responses.  Here are the requests I’ve made – in case you can help and also in case they inspire you, too, to reach out for just the help and support you most need right now:

  • If you’re on Facebook, please follow this link and ‘like’ this page.  You’ll see details of any announcements I make and your friends will also see that you’ve liked the clinic.  I notice how much it has gladdened my heart just to see how many people have been willing to do this.  I am enjoying the sense of community – for me and for others – that is starting to build on this page;
  • I’ve made it financially very easy for anyone who wants coaching right now to become a client with a ‘pay what you want’ special offer which you’ll find on my Facebook page.  Maybe this is something that’s perfect for you right now.  Maybe you know someone else to whom this might be of interest.  One friend was so excited about this opportunity that she contacted two people she knows for whom it might be timely to let them know about the offer.  A client gave my details to someone who might be able to refer people to the Coaching Clinic on a regular basis – and, I should add, vice versa;
  • A third request I’ve made is for comments and testimonials from people who know me – and my coaching skills – well.  I know that some people who have read this blog on a regular basis have also become great supporters.  If you feel moved to say a few words by way of recommendation to potential clients, please do.  These could range from ‘congratulations, Dorothy, this is a great way for you to offer your skills in the world’ to ‘I really benefitted from coaching with Dorothy and I would really recommend the Coaching Clinic to anyone who would like help and support’.

I look forward to hearing from you and receiving your love and support.  Equally, I wonder what support could you request of others right now that would make your life easier or more joyful?

Coaching in Harley Street: a special offer for the summer

Look for the flower at
 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dorothy-Nesbit/484226844996761



Yesterday, I shared news of a new Sunday Coaching Clinic which I’ll be running at the Lewis Clinic at 1, Harley Street, beginning on 14th July 2013.

I’m excited about starting at the Lewis Clinic at 1, Harley Street, and want to get off to a flying start! For this reason, I’ve decided to extend a special ‘pay what you want’ offer for any coaching which takes place or is paid for in July, August and September 2013. This is how it works:

A minimum fee of £50.00 applies per 50- or 90-minute coaching session. To secure a session please contact me to arrange a time(s) and pay this minimum fee. I will hold a date and time provisionally for a maximum of 4 days and provide details of how you can pay. I will also confirm your session on receipt of payment.

The minimum fee is a contribution to the costs of running the clinic. I welcome any additional payment you would like to make either before or following your sessions. How much you pay and when you pay will be up to you. I am happy to discuss fee levels with you.

You can use this offer for a one-off session or for a longer term coaching relationship (up to a maximum of one year). In this case, I will ask you to confirm dates and times of each session and to make payment for each session as your way of confirming your coaching.

If you want to change dates and times I will be happy to do this, subject to availability. If you wish to draw your coaching to a close ahead of our agreement, I will refund your minimum fee payment provided I am able to fill your coaching slot or subject to one month’s notice.

This offer is subject to availability and applies only to coaching I provide at the Lewis Clinic, Harley Street on Sundays. If you want to take advantage of this offer please e-mail me in the first instance to signal your interest at Dorothy@learningforlifeconsulting.co.uk with the heading ‘Harley Street pay what you want offer’.

If you have any questions please post them here or contact me directly. I look forward to working with you.

Welcome… to Harley Street

Looking ahead

I’ve been in the midst of a decision in recent weeks and it’s been a test of my own decision-making.  You know the kind of thing… one part of me says x, another part of me says y…

In this posting, I want to put aside any discussion of making decisions per se (though I’ll come to that) and, instead, to let you know that, beginning on 14th July 2013, I will be offering a coaching clinic on Sundays at the Lewis Clinic, 1 Harley Street, London W1G 9DQ. This will be a place of help and support for people who want to release struggle and to find greater ease and joy in their personal and professional lives.

Over the years, working with men and women in leadership roles, I’ve often found that, beneath the surface agenda – whatever that might be – lie questions of personal and professional well-being.  The Lewis Clinic is a place where people can work with me who want to focus on questions of well-being away from their place of work.  I am expecting that some of my clients at the clinic will be those I am already working with:  leaders who want to take the hard work out of achieving results.  I am also expecting others to come to the clinic for personal and professional coaching who may not be in leadership roles.
In the months ahead I’ll be completing a project which is already in progress – revising my website to create a resource for past, present and potential clients, including clients of the coaching clinic.  I’ll let you know when the website is launched.  In the meantime, though, you can learn more about my work at the clinic via Facebook, where I have set up a Facebook page for my work at the clinic.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Working with Dorothy – a collaborative partnership

Sometimes, though not always, the way a client sees you is so similar to the way you see yourself or to the person you aspire to be that, on reading it, you have a sense of “coming home” – of stepping just a little bit more fully into who you really are.  This was the sense I had on reading the testimonial below.

This testimonial comes from Dave Eccleston, who recently left his job as Head of Integrated Talent Management, Europe with Pitney Bowes to embark on a new chapter of self employment.  I particularly value it because Dave speaks from the perspective of commissioning client – the person who, within his business, was responsible for sourcing the support needed by his colleagues across the business.  I am grateful to Dave for his permission to share it here on my blog:

I first met Dorothy after a colleague recommended her as a potential executive coach for a senior leader.  I really appreciated the way she took time to explain her approach to coaching in the context of the opportunity being discussed.  Her style is friendly, engaging and warm coupled with an ability to ask searching questions to get to the heart of the situation to identify the value she can bring to a coaching assignment.  My experience of working with her has been that of a collaborative partnership.  Subsequently Dorothy coached a number of leaders at various levels within the organisation.

The feedback received from those she has coached consistently focused on the depth of the relationship forged with Dorothy, and on how hard she made them think about their situation and what they wanted for the future.  One senior leader commented that he had never in his career faced so many searching questions in such a short space of time which had been posed in such a friendly manner to clarify the need.

On a personal note, Dorothy has been very generous with her time in helping me think through a couple of career challenges.  For me, working with Dorothy is always stimulating and a pleasure.

I have no hesitation in recommending Dorothy as an executive coach. 

Dave Eccleston
Formerly Head of Integrated Talent Management, Europe
Pitney Bowes

In the leadership shadow of Margaret Thatcher

On Monday, I returned to work after a wonderful break in Istanbul with family.  I was so grateful for the warmth of the sun as well as for the beauty of the city, including its mosques and palaces.  The photo above (of my mother, me, my sister-in-law and niece) may give you some sense of our sunshine and good cheer.

In between catching up in my office and generally getting stuck in, I found myself glued to radio and television following the death of Baroness Margaret Thatcher, a towering and iconic figure in British and indeed global politics, one who divided a nation – the Marmite of twentieth century politics in Britain.  The hurt that some people still feel, especially in Britain’s former mining communities, is so great that some have lost sight of the basic human experience of bereavement and have openly celebrated her death.

I wonder if Britain’s current generation of beleaguered CEOs feels some empathy for the challenges Thatcher faced when she took on the leadership of the Conservative Party in 1975 and became Prime Minister in 1979.  Many commentators in the last 48 hours have pointed to aspects of life in Britain in the 1970s as an important backdrop to understanding Thatcher’s role in British politics.  Thatcher came to power at a time of economic turmoil and industrial unrest – bitter disputes between government and unions.  In 1974, for example, having failed to win the battle with Britain’s coal-miners, the UK government imposed a three-day working week for commercial users of electricity.  In 1979, Thatcher’s rise to power followed Britain’s “Winter of Discontent”, when fresh industrial action included action by dustmen which left rubbish piling up in the streets of London.  The Conservative slogan Labour Isn’t Working struck a chord with voters who gave Thatcher a 44-seat majority in the 1979 general election.  In 1979 Thatcher herself said she couldn’t bear Britain in decline.

As I write, I feel humble in the face of any commentary on Thatcher’s leadership which was, itself, controversial.  Instead, I allow myself a few reflections on aspects of her leadership and compare them with what I see in some of today’s CEOs.

Vision and principles

As a leader, Thatcher’s approach was grounded in a vision of a more prosperous Britain and in her firm beliefs about what it might take to get there.  True to her roots, she was able to extrapolate from her childhood as a grocer’s daughter and to understand that Britain needed to balance the books – a lesson that politicians and businessmen and women all over the world are currently and painfully having to learn again.  Thatcher also took the view that the ideals of her socialist opponents were best fulfilled via prosperity for the country as a whole – that Britain could not fulfil its aspirations to care for those in need without, first, generating wealth.

Today, CEOs are having to refresh their vision for the organisations in their charge, stripping them back to a bare minimum.  For clients I work with, this bare minimum includes core aims of the organisation and activities which support those aims.  It also includes stripping away excess cost.  It also includes managing risk and ensuring compliance with core external requirements.  Stripping a vision back in this way creates clarity for organisations which have been or might otherwise be in crisis.  The message is not always welcome and, nonetheless, it is clear.

Personal transformation

Thatcher’s steadfast adherence to her vision and underlying principles were such that, when Captain Yuri Gavrilov described her as an Iron Lady in 1976, the nickname stuck.  At the same time, whilst steadfast in her political beliefs, Thatcher was the queen of personal transformation.  Famously, she received vocal coaching from the National Theatre’s voice coach, lowering her voice to achieve greater gravitas and authority.  Later, as aspiring leader and PM, Thatcher toned down her hair colour because she understood that her platinum blonde was too strident.  Later still, her wardrobe was transformed under the direction of Margaret King, who became her stylist in 1987.  

In the modern world of leadership, few CEOs would go to such lengths.  Even so, the most effective leaders understand that whilst they need to promote a clear vision, they need to be flexible about the means to achieve their vision, adjusting their approach in the light of new information or to meet the needs of a specific situation.  If their message is not getting across, they think about how to change their communication and influencing approach so that it can be more easily heard and understood.

Building a leadership team

Commentators note that when she became leader of the opposition in 1979, Thatcher’s cabinet was comprised entirely of the supporters of her exiled predecessor, Edward Heath.  Her response was to quietly replace them, creating a new cabinet.

The new CEO always faces the challenge of legacy and has to manage a tricky balance in order to create an effective leadership team.  The history that comes with the “old guard” can act as a barrier to change, even at the most senior levels.  There may also be questions of capability – does the inherited team have the capability needed to achieve important goals for the organisation?  At the same time, the old team often has a fair dose of organisational savvy – team members know how things get done around here.  Bringing in new team members can create a time delay whilst “newbies” get up to speed and poor recruitment decisions can also impede progress.  It takes great skill to proceed effectively as a new, incoming CEO.

Addressing the “enemy within”

Thatcher saw the unions as Britain’s “enemy within” and her most bitter opponents include many former miners and their relatives.  She was concerned about the power held by union leaders which she saw as anti-democratic.  She was also concerned about the impact on the nation’s economy of strike action.  Two years after winning the Falklands War she took on the miners – and won.

In 21st century Britain, CEOs who have set tough challenges for their staff nonetheless seek to work with them to achieve their aims.  Approaches like “LEAN” seek to maximise value whilst minimising waste.  At its best, this approach exemplifies the distribution of roles and responsibilities:  CEOs set targets for the organisation which are broken down for execution by leaders throughout the organisation.  Leaders, in turn, work with their staff to identify ways to meet these targets.  In the modern era the enemy within is more likely to be excess cost or bureaucracy than some powerful lobby of people.

Drawing on personal support

It’s lonely at the top.  This phrase is no less true for being a well-worn cliche.  Behind the scenes, Britain’s Prime Minister was supported by her loyal husband whom she described as “my Denis”.  An article in the Independent told how Thatcher once said of her husband:  “I couldn’t have done it without Denis.  He was a fund of shrewd advice and penetrating comment.  And he very sensibly saved these for me rather than the outside world.  I think the marvellous thing is that he gives me a sense of perspective.  If I am upset or think I have done something silly, we talk about it and he makes me see sense”.

In the modern era, people increasingly understand the need to have the right personal support.  The modern CEO may well be supported by husband or wife or by others in his or her life who have been tested in long relationships – former colleagues, for example.  Equally, support may come in the form of a well-chosen coach or mentor.

Leading by example

I may be wrong and still, “hypocrisy” is not a word I associate with Margaret Thatcher, nor one used by her detractors.  A proponent of sound financial management in the country as a whole she is said to have practised great frugality in her official residence – Wikipedia notes that she even insisted on paying for her own ironing board.  It is, perhaps, this congruity between speech and action that underlines the current fashion for “authentic leadership”.

In closing, I ask for your reflections on Margaret Thatcher’s leadership.  What do you see as her greatest strengths in the role of leader?  I also pause to remember with compassion the human being – the woman – who has been lost to her family.

Unintended consequences of our learning

Working as I do to support people to develop as leaders, I am often struck by the way coaching continues to add value long after it has finished.  I’m currently talking to a number of former clients about their experiences following coaching and I look forward to sharing what they have to say.

One conversation I had recently reminded me that the experiences that follow coaching are not all positive – at times there can be a bewildering array of side effects and unexpected consequences.  The same truth applies to all sorts of personal changes.  This is what I want to focus on today.

I want to preface my posting by adding that, over time, such challenges tend to “come good” and still, they can be hard to fathom at the time.  Here are just a few of the side-effects that I have experienced personally or observed in others over the years:

  • The “dramatic mistake” when trying something new:  Perhaps one of the greatest fears of someone who is making changes is that they will try something new and that it will go dramatically wrong.  This can range from sharing oneself – one’s opinions, feelings etc. – more fully with somebody close (our boss, spouse etc.), all the way to taking on a new role which constitutes a significant stretch.  In practice, it’s rare in my experience that the most feared outcome materialises and it’s even more rare that the world falls apart when it does.  More often, clients take small steps and discover that their fears were unfounded.  Even when something doesn’t pan out as expected it can be highly liberating to discover that we can make mistakes and still come through;
  • Relationship challenges:  A common challenge that we face when we make changes is difficulties in relationships, be they colleagues in the workplace or our loved ones at home.  I remember, for example, how one of my friends just fell away when I was in the midst of my professional coach training.  She stopped making contact and, when I commented on the change, sent me a letter saying how much I had changed and that she didn’t want to spend time with me any more.  I never knew what changes she was observing or what the impact was on her experience of our friendship.  There is, of course, a balance to be struck here.  At one end of the scale is what we might call the (insensitive) “zeal of the newly converted” – there’s nothing worse than having someone try to impose their new learning on us.  At the other end of the scale are the changes we make gently and slowly out of our growing awareness.  Sometimes the changes we make serve to deepen and strengthen our relationships.  The same changes serve to highlight those relationships that aren’t working.  Over time we may find ways to make them work.  Equally, we may be faced with the question, can this relationship be made to work – or is it time to step away?
  • Facing the truth about an untenable situation:  Coaching can support clients in finding ways to respond to challenging situations, whatever they are.  Perhaps we take steps to succeed in a role in which we were failing or to manage our relationship with a difficult boss.  Perhaps our sales go up dramatically or our profile in the business soars.  At the same time, we may become aware that our situation is untenable even whilst learning to handle it well.  We’re selling more of a product we don’t believe in, for example, or succeeding in a role at the same time as realising it’s not the right role for us.  The immediate joy of making progress can give way to doubts and uncertainty as we go beyond the challenges that brought us to coaching to face some deeper truth.  Coming to the right decision can take time and may happen long after coaching is completed;
  • The pain that comes with growing awareness:  Along the way we may experience feelings of pain and discomfort as we become more aware of things which, previously, were outside our awareness.  Sometimes, these may be the very things we needed to learn ourselves.  Having learnt to be effective in coaching those we lead, for example, our sensitivities are now heightened when we observe how our peers provide instruction without any support to staff.  Perhaps the pain we experience relates to our own unmet needs, especially when we are increasingly aware of them and have not yet found a way to meet them.

Have you experienced these or other unintended consequences of your learning?  It may be a time to get back in touch with your coach for a follow-up session.  It may a time to be attentive – to notice and to get under the skin of your thoughts and feelings to understand what’s going on.  It’s certainly a time for compassion – for yourself, for those around you, including those who stimulate the pain in you.