The Power of Deep Democracy

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I recently experienced my first Deep Democracy workshop as a participant and it was a real eye-opener.  It is simple yet powerful, and has the potential to create real transformation, not just routine actions for improvement. It was born out of  South Africa’s transformation from apartheid to democracy, and is used by leaders and facilitators from all walks of life. The process enables voices to be heard that are often left unheard, and mines the inherent wisdom hidden within the system by resolving tension and conflict.  (see Deep Democracy).

The process invites people to step into different perspectives or roles, some of which they may not be in agreement with.  The conversations that emerge from these different perspectives are illuminating. New information is surfaced, new possibilities emerge and collective wisdom that has been buried within the system is given an opportunity to reveal itself.

At a time when people all around the world are questioning what is real, what is true and what is fake news, the very meaning of democracy is under challenge. Who runs things? Is it the politicians?  What is the role of the media? And what about the technology giants, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon?  Where do we go to seek our answers and who can we rely on to reveal the truth about what is most important for us?  Continue reading

Don’t give me bad news

A recent discussion with a client about a business problem they were facing prompted me to dig out this blog post that I wrote back in 2012. It would appear that the problems organisations face as a result of people ‘avoiding’ difficult conversations is as rife as ever. I should not be surprised. People do not like giving or hearing difficult messages, and even those who know that to be true, often lack the skills required to overcome their natural instinct to ‘avoid’, ‘deflect’, ‘normalise’ and ‘tolerate’ the unacceptable. More work is needed in this vital area to raise capability.

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Nancy Kline in her superb book Time to Think describes a conversation with a senior civil servant whose department was going through wave after wave of changes to the way work was done and how things were structured. When asked how his managers were coping  with all of this, he responded, ‘I have no idea.  I don’t ask them.’  When asked ‘Why?’, he said, ‘They might tell me. We couldn’t have that.’  As Nancy goes on to explain, what he was really saying was thathe couldn’t handle that”.


How common is it for managers to shy away from facing up to the reality of what is going on around them, particularly when it might involve a face-to-face conversation with someone?  Very common, in my experience.   Confronting bad news, delivering home truths, providing feedback on performance, addressing inappropriate behaviour, or challenging resistance to change.  All…

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Who Do You Think You Are?

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“Dad! Dad! Can I be an astronaut?”

“Don’t be stupid son. You come from Doncaster.” ~ Steve McDermott

Last month I published a post in the wake of the killings in Paris called Hands up if you’re scared. The thrust of the piece was about fear, and the natural (and adaptive) reactions we have to dangerous situations. It was also about the exploitation of that fear, by both terrorists and political hawks.

In addition to those external voices of doom, we also have to be on our guard against our own internal enemy. The voice from within plays into the hands of the arguments of external fear-mongers. Many people have studied and written about the many forms our internal voice takes. Sometimes we can think of it as our conscience, our guide, our fairy godmother, looking out for us and keeping us on the straight and narrow. Or it may manifest…

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Does Choice make us Happy?

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How can Choice be bad for us?  This surely goes against everything that we in the western world have taken for granted for decades, indeed hundreds of years. Choice is fundamental to freedom, and, for people who have no freedom, it makes total sense that increasing personal choice, will provide at least an illusion of freedom, and in turn enhance their welfare, satisfaction and happiness.

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What if people just don’t care?

You are a manager. You are responsible for getting the best from your team. You will be held to account if deliveries don’t happen, if deadlines are missed and if budgets overrun. But of course, you are a good manager and those things rarely happen.  You know how to engage, motivate and inspire your people. Don’t you?

We’ve all had those conversations with people where you’ve had to lay out what’s on the line.  Why it’s so important this time – again!  And, on the whole, those cosy chats work. People walk away from those sessions, and they get on with it. They pull out all the stops and you can all go down the pub and enjoy a few drinks to celebrate the team’s (and your!) success once again.

But, what if it just doesn’t matter to them that much? What if they don’t care?  Or, they just don’t care enough?  What’s the right conversation to be having with that person now?

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No Time to Think

Multi-tasking or Distractedness? Selective Attention or Divided Attention? Where do you stand on information overload? Are you in control of what you attend to, or has how you think and what you think about been taken over by the internet and social media? Think about it…..!!!

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Perhaps ‘the’ most tantalising allure of any advancement in engineering or technology through the ages has been the promise of saving us time. Cars, trains and planes certainly get us places faster than horses ever did. Bridges and tunnels allow us to take short-cuts over rivers and through mountains, saving us hours. Advances in IT and robotics mean that tasks previously handled manually have been automated with exponential levels of increased productivity.

Why, with so much technology and time-saving gadgetry at our fingertips, do people still present at coaching sessions with issues and concerns about their ability to manage their time? After all, our lives have never appeared to be more organised ~ or perhaps I should say digitised!   More and more of us are hooked up to the Net from morning to night.

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Our smartphones and tablets wake us up, we check our diary for appointments and read…

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Acceptance and Commitment

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As a coach, I have never been one to feel wedded to a particular philosophy or specific model. There are too many rich and interesting ways of thinking out there, and to ignore them because they don’t fit with ‘your model’ seems short-sighted. Also, no two clients are ever the same, and what works best for one person may not hit the mark for another. As such, I believe that having a deep tool-bag of coaching techniques is essential. That way, and with experience of using them, you can start to get a sense of what will work best for different clients.

One area that I have recently borrowed from, and found hugely powerful in coaching practice, is that of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). ACT is based upon a model of psychological flexibility (called the ACT hexaflex).  The principle being that healthy emotional functioning is achieved as a result of…

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Get Out Of Your Own Way

Every so often I have these moments.  It feels like a loss of focus, it gives rise to a dip in confidence, and an anxiety that the ‘clarity’ I had been experiencing has drifted away, perhaps never to return. As a coach, trainer and consultant I convince myself that I ‘need’ a solid and reliable platform from which to operate successfully. A base where I feel reassured by my own purpose. How, after all, can I be fully effective in what I do if I am seeking clarity as much, if not more, than my clients?

In these periods, my go-to instinct is to read.  To read and re-read passages from books that have in the past provided me with light-bulb moments. Flashes of light that put everything into perspective and allow me to get back on an even keel.

But this week it just wasn’t happening.  I was scanning some of my favourite books and papers.  Writers and commentators who have filled me with inspiration and energy. I was looking for the theory, or model, or piece of latest brain research that would sort me out.  And then, just as I was getting desperate, and thinking that my ‘mojo’ had departed me, I started to scan some of the highlights I had made, many years ago, in a book that I read when I was first in training.   Tim Gallwey’s “Inner Game of Work”.

And then the words jumped out of the page at me.  “We get in our own way.”

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How close are you to your ‘A’ game?

It is heartening to revisit old blog posts and find that they are still as relevant today as they were when they were first written. The Open golf championship is underway at Royal Birkdale this weekend, and, as always, Rory McIlroy is very much under the spotlight. He has come into the championship in rather patchy form, and after the first 9 holes on the first day he was virtually written off as a contender. He could not find his ‘A’ game and looked like he was as good as out of it. In the second half of the round he pulled himself together and put himself back in the frame. Afterwards he was interviewed and asked how far off playing at his best he felt he was. He has clearly learned much in the intervening years since the original post. He said that he felt it was ‘real close’ and ‘there was no reason he could not go out in the next few days and really put himself in a great position to be one of the main contenders for the championship’. We will wait and see how it unfolds, and watch with interest to see if Rory can find his ‘A’ game.

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I was intrigued by something that Rory McIlroy said recently in an  interview following his widely-reported ‘early exit’ from the Honda Golf Classic in Florida.  Clearly he has been going through a troubled time, with speculation bouncing between whether it is down to his new clubs deal, his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniaki, or, as he claimed in Florida, a troublesome wisdom tooth.

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He summed up how he feels when he is off his game in very simple terms.  “I always think when I’m playing bad that it’s further away than it is.”(meaning his best game). I sense this is true for many of us, in all walks of life.  Rory went on to say “….If I have a bad round, it’s sort of like the end of the world.”   This ‘catastrophizing’  form of thinking, is, I am sure, familiar to many of us…

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It’s the hope that kills you

It feels appropriate to dig out one of my posts from 2 years ago. To remind people, the subject related to “Hope”, and how, as a football fan, especially of the Scotland national team, it can play dreadful tricks with your mind.

Well, yesterday was an excellent case in point. As our boys in dark blue set about the task of tackling England, a nation 50 places higher in world ranking, my hope and expectations remained firmly on the floor. I’d been there too many times to let myself get carried away with fanciful notions of victory. Yes, I know if you look through the history books of this, the oldest international fixture in football, you’ll find that Scotland have held their own against the “Auld Enemy”. In fact, for a country with barely a tenth of the population of its southern neighbour it has a remarkable record of success. But, not so much in recent years. No victory in the 21st Century, and the last three encounters have all resulted in us leaking three goals per game.

The signs were not good, and I was ready. Ready for us to lose, ready for a plucky but not quite good enough performance, and ready not to be too disappointed. Realism at its best. I had tamed the beast. Only years of experience of handling disappointment can prepare you for this. There would be younger, more hopeful supporters dreaming of glory. Good luck to them, but they too will one day come to learn.

There I was, calm as can be. It was playing out just as I had expected. England weren’t playing brilliantly well, but they always looked the more likely team to score. And score they did. It was inevitable, it was fate, it was only a matter of time. I was right. Right to not let the beast take hold of me. Then it happened. In the cruellest of ways possible, it happened. Just when your guard drops, and you feel you have conquered your demons, the beast of “Hope” springs at you from behind the sofa. That’s right, Scotland, from nowhere, and with no warning, score TWO, NOT ONE BUT TWO, extraordinary goals. What strange form of madness was this? What do I do now? The game is finished. Only injury time to be played. My pledge to not allow the demons to take hold of me has been rocked. All was under control and now it is taunting me. Come on, it seems to say. Allow yourself to Dream, to Cheer, to Savour and, yes, to Hope. Only 90 seconds of injury time on the clock, what can possibly go wrong now. This is it. This is the moment. One of the greatest victories in Scotland’s history. The boys will be legends. They will be immortal. YES, YES, YES – you’re right – this is it! They have done it, what an amazing turnaround.

But, I should have known. It was a moment of weakness. I had dropped my guard for a second, and BOOM! That was it. I had let Hope enter, only for it to mock me and ridicule me once again. Yes, Scotland could not contain their emotions long enough to see the game out professionally. Excitement and Passion mixed to create a collective head-rush amongst the players and allowed England to sneak one final unchallenged touch on the ball to prod it into the empty Hampden net. For 3 minutes it had been a rush. People dreamed the unbelievable. People believed. People were already constructing their “I was there…” stories. I had been so careful. So cautious. So impregnable. But, what can you do. Hope is a cruel mistress.

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“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair.  It’s the hope I can’t stand. ~ John Cleese (as Brian Stimpson in the film Clockwise)

Those who know me well will know that I am a long-suffering Scotland football fan. I have followed the national team for more years than I care to remember. Anyone who knows anything about sport in general, and perhaps football in particular, will recognise the dilemma that most football fans face. That is, they cannot always ‘choose’ their team.  As a professional coach and a psychologist who spends most of his life spreading the message that we all have choice, this does not sit well with ‘what I know’.  Why don’t I simply support Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Argentina or whatever team is top of the division on any given week?  That would be easy. It would take away a lot of the pain and…

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