Get Vulnerable and Get Curious.

I accept that my perception of what is going on the world is tinted by the lens through which I find myself viewing it.  Brexit, Trump, Knife Crime, The Wall, Gaza. The daily menu for rumination is endless.  But what worries me most are the reactions I see and hear around me; in the street, on the train, in the barbershop, on radio phone-ins, and on social media. People sound angry. Angrier, it feels to me, than just a few short years ago.  Not just a good old-fashioned straightforward type of anger. The anger that wells up in our chest when we observe an injustice only to dissipate soon after.  No, the current anger that is milling around among us is more impatient, more intolerant and much more pervasive.

What’s going on?  We hear the cry around us all the time for greater certainty.  I hear it everywhere.  People demand answers and they want them now. They want decisions and they don’t understand why decisions are not being made, now. They have had enough of politicians, they have dismissed experts, indeed they feel that the whole ‘establishment’ (whatever that actually is) has let them down and they have simply had enough.

This is unfortunate timing, as we are living in an era that is arguably the most volatile, uncertain, ambiguous and complex period in the history of the planet.  The term VUCA has been coined specifically to capture this and has become something of a trendy managerial acronym.  If there was ever a time when we humans need the capacity to live with, and cope with, VUCA conditions, then this is it.

image by Alexey Kljatov // creative commons

But this growing intolerance is not happening simply by chance or because the world has hit a particular high water mark of VUCA. It appears to me to be more sinister than that.  It is being fueled by politicians and governments, ably supported by elements of the media, to generate populism and simplistic thinking.   Arguments are reduced to ‘Yes versus No”. “Us versus Them”. “Right versus Left”. Social media often gets blamed for causing shallow analysis and lack of critical thinking, and I have some sympathy with that view. But, let’s be clear, social media has exaggerated and amplified things, it has not created the problem. When we are engaged in our social bubbles we get fed more of what we already believe. Information comes to us, not as conversations with arguments and rationale, but as  soundbites, as snippets, as shock headlines. We become more and more lazy in the way we consume data. Continue reading

Spark Inside

This blog has been copied from a blog written by Jack Merritt on The Exceptionals, an organisation that helps businesses employ ex-offenders by connecting them with relevant organisations who provide training, recruitment and ongoing support.  

“Sometimes when we talk about prisoners and prison, we forget that we’re talking about people. These are parents, siblings, children.” – Baillie Aaron, Spark Inside Founder and CEO

Spark Inside Founder Baillie Aaron: ‘Why we need to rethink England’s prison system.”

“Spark Inside’s work is vital and unique. It is the global pioneer in offering life coaching to young people in prison, enabling those facing the most significant life obstacles to have more fulfilling, purpose-driven futures. Spark Inside provides that rare antidote in today’s complex criminal justice climate: hope.” – Rt. Hon. David Lammy MP, Member of Parliament for Tottenham

According to Spark Inside, prison doesn’t work, because it isn’t effective in reducing crime. Although 97% of prisoners say they want to leave crime behind, 49% will go on to reoffend within one year. This figure increases to 65% for 15-18 year olds. Spark Inside wants to see people leaving prison break this cycle of reoffending. Founded by Baillie Aaron in 2012, Spark Inside aims to bring about a criminal justice system which prioritises rehabilitation.

How do they plan on doing this? Through two innovative and effective coaching interventions.

Continue reading

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

Choice, Happiness and the Quarter-Life Crisis

Last month’s post ~ Does Choice make us Happy? ~ attracted a lot of attention. Thank you for your excellent feedback. Some of the comments I received prompted me to consider this issue further, but this time from the point of view of the younger generation, particularly Generation Y.

Alice Stapleton writes sensitively and authoritatively about the phenomenon of the Quarter-Life Crisis. Unlike the well-documented mid-life crisis, which afflicts people in their forties or fifties, and is linked to feelings of stagnancy and a desire for radical change, the quarter-life crisis stems from anxiety about change, expectations, instability and identity.

Continue reading

Does Choice make us Happy?

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. Continue reading

How do you know when coaching has been successful?

As a professional coach, I regularly take coaching issues and dilemmas to supervision. These sessions are an essential part of every coach’s development, growth and emotional maintenance. I thought I’d share something important that came up for me in my most recent session with my coaching supervisor, in the hope that you may too get something from it.

courtesy: Maurizio Pesce, under Creative Commons, Flicker

courtesy: Maurizio Pesce, under Creative Commons, Flicker

The dilemma I expressed was around exploration of vision. Some of my clients move naturally towards vision. They are comfortable with the language and for them it is not a threatening or challenging conversation when we explore what it looks, feels or even smells like. Other clients struggle to talk in terms of vision. Even the concept of aspiration, dream or goal can be challenging. This is particularly true for some of my clients who find themselves in custody as young offenders. Many express the view that they do not like to think too much about dreams or visions as it only results in them becoming disappointed. They say that they do not want to build up their hopes only to be let down, and as a result they content themselves by living in a world of very low expectations.

When I put this issue on the table in my supervision session, the statement that my supervisor came back to me with was “It is not our job as coaches to breed optimism.”

I let this statement sink in, and my first instinct was to rail against it.  Some of the clients I work with have very low levels of hope or positivity, and I believe that people do their best work when positive neural circuits are switched on. My coaching often focuses on work around beliefs, particularly limiting beliefs, and how those give rise to thoughts, words and actions that generate negativity. Surely the work of the coach starts from the basis that people want to seek improvement, do ‘better’ than they are currently doing (whatever that means), and fulfil their potential? Why wouldn’t we encourage them to look toward alternative futures and choices?

Committing to New Year Resolutions

So, another year is about to begin. Who knows what it may hold? For some, they approach it with trepidation. Others can’t wait to get started and to grab the opportunities that the new year will generate. It is a time when many people make plans and resolve to make changes, yet so many of those dreams will be but memories before January is out.

resolutionsEvery call to adventure is acted upon by two opposing forces.  In one direction we can choose to embark on the adventure, to take the journey into the unknown and face the uncomfortable challenges that will inevitably lie ahead.  In order to make this choice, the force of reward must be sufficiently strong to overcome the opposing force of inertia, the appeal of the status quo or the comfort zone we have become used to.

I spend a lot of time in workshops and working one on one with people who know that they are in a bind.  They know that their current world is less than satisfactory. They recognise that changes would be positive and could make life better in so many ways. And yet, there is no guarantee that people will make the necessary commitment to move away from the world they inhabit, to make the journey that is necessary to gain the reward, the change, the life that they would prefer.

People know they would be healthier if they gave up smoking, that they drink a bit too much alcohol, that they don’t exercise as much as perhaps they could, or that they are in a dead-end job and a change would breathe new life into their career. They may even make a resolution each New Year to do something about it.  Some may even get as far as joining a gym, giving up smoking or drinking for a while, or actively seeking job vacancies on the internet. And that does demonstrate some level of recognition that change may be attractive. So, why are so many of these attempts aborted so early?  What is missing when people embark on these annual failed excursions, which rarely mature into fully fledged adventures resulting in transformation? Continue reading

Is The Appraisal System Dead?

If, as is reported, as many as one third of U.S. companies have abandoned the traditional appraisal system (ref:The Performance Management Revolution), and the signs are that more and more are joining the revolution, what is the future of performance management? How will companies ensure that people do what is expected of them in the future? How will managers know who’s good and who’s not? How will they advise on development, or decide who to sack and replace?

Major players such as Dell, Microsoft and IBM, as well as previous champions of the
forced ranking system such as GE, are at the vanguard of new approaches to retaining and developing talent.  These companies are responding to many issues and criticisms which have been levelled at traditional performance management systems. In some organisations they have become enormous consumers of people’s time. With  the move to
flatter organisational structures and virtual or globally dispersed teams, supervisors have had to contend with larger and larger teams. The answer to this problem in some companies has been to turn the job of performance management over to ‘specialist’ people creativitymanagers, who do little else other than manage the entire cycle, quarter after quarter. Ranking, levelling, forced distributions, identifying rising stars, identifying laggards, assessing delivery against stretch targets, calculating the distribution of the bonus pot, and starting the whole cycle again.  This has become an industry in its own right, and one that delivers no core benefit to the customer or the shareholder.

A number of factors have played a part in driving the shift we are now seeing.  Continue reading

Collusion of Confusion

People do not go out of their way to seek data that contradicts their existing beliefs. On the contrary, they will select any data they find that supports existing assumptions. We may like to believe that we are open to having our minds changed, but the reality is that we are quite fixed when it comes to our mental malleability.

Evidence for this assertion is being played out daily on our radios and televisions, as people debate the pros and cons of Brexit. There is an uncanny collective agreement amongst the public that they do not get enough facts to help them arrive at a logical and balanced position. We hear this refrain in panel discussions, question time and vox pops. “How are we supposed to know what the truth is? One lot give us a load of statistics, and then the other lot come along and tell us that is all wrong and hit us with another load of statistics.”

I watched one such programme recently, where a member of the public made exactly this
point. He levelled his accusation at one of the ‘experts’ on the panel. His complaint centred around the costs of running the EU along with an assertion that Britain should not be run by unelected bureaucrats. The expert spent a reasonable amount of time patiently 141201.unbiasedexplaining the facts. He explained that calling all of the EU machine unelected was not accurate.  He pointed out that the EU Parliament, which is made up of elected national representatives, does in fact have a veto over recommendations put forward by the EU Commission. And that the EU Council is also made up of one member from each state in the EU, each of whom will have been elected as part of their home nation’s general elections.  This was all delivered in a tone of neutrality, and with a genuine desire to help alleviate concerns and misunderstandings.  At the end, the person who had raised the original issue was asked if the information provided had helped. His response was not positive. Exasperated, he accused the ‘expert’ of simply adding to the confusion and misconceptions, and “just who was he supposed to believe?”

I suspect the data provided Continue reading

Get Personality Out Of Your Way

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance” ~ Confucius

Fundamentally, one of the main aims of coaching is to assist people to have a greater understanding of their self, to live a life that is congruent with their values, and ideally one that is both purposeful and fulfilling. Not much to ask, right?

One problem that lies in the way of fulfilling this quest is a little thing called ‘Personality’.  Prof. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic went so far as to say that “Coaching tries to inhibit the effects of personality on behaviour” (ref: ICF Advance 2015: Science of Coaching Conference).

What is it about personality that causes him to make that assertion? In many ways it sounds counter-intuitive. After all, surely the full discovery and expression of our personalities is something that we seek? The world is, after all, full of people trying to find themselves. According to Prof. Chamorro-Premuzic, the science tells us something different. It would appear that our personality operates in a number of ways, many of which make it tough for us to change our ‘typical’ ways of behaving.

Let’s look at some of the things he highlights about personality:- Continue reading