Leading in schools and business

Actually, this entry is mainly just a link to an article on the Guardian website where I get a mention as a leadership coach.  Read all about it here.

Matt’s right, in that leaders in all sectors are isolated: it comes with the territory.  And one way of dealing with that is to have someone with some skills ‘offline’ to reflect with.  One reason coaching works is because of the professional boundary: when I’m meeting with a client, my only agenda is his or her development: it’s not what s/he thinks of me, or if s/he’s happy.

A Change in the Weather

Almost overnight, everyone else has turned brown.  Suddenly there are shorts and tee-shirts, sunglasses.  Everyone moves more slowly.  It feels like a holiday.  Outside my window in the centre of Bristol, you can hear desultory chat, the chink of glasses, music turned up, the slap of sandals walking by.

A change in the system (in this case, the weather system) produces a change in behavior, a change in priorities, a change in feelings.

I know there are some hardy souls who just start wearing shorts at the beginning of April even if it’s still snowing (no, there ARE – I saw one guy earlier in the year), but they are the exception.  It is hard to do one thing when the system is telling you to do something else.

I’m coming to realize that as a coach, I’m never coaching an individual – I’m always coaching the system.  It’s extremely hard for a naturally receptive person to become assertive at the best of times.  But when his boss is aggressive and full of initiatives of his own, it’s almost impossible.  Somehow the boss has to change to make the space for the other guy to assert himself.  It’s all very well for a CEO to have a compelling  vision and pull together a team to implement it – but if the Board gets too anxious too quickly about the bottom line, she may not be given the chance to get there.

You have to change the system.  And if you want one of your direct reports to develop, you have to get out of the way.  And to do that you may have to change even more than the person who’d being coached.  Or you may have to see how the system can be changed at an even more fundamental level.

Sometimes we need to change the weather.

Learned Optimism

Have you ever given up?

What makes a person resilient?  Why does one person buckle under a challenge, and another find the resources within to push through to a successful conclusion?

In his book, Learned Optimism’, Martin Seligman gives us at least part of the answer: it’s down to the way we explain success and failure.  There are two explanatory styles.  The pessimistic style looks at the event – let’s say the failure to hit a particular sales target – and says one of three things –

  • I’ll never be able to do this
  • I’m not good at this sort of thing
  • It’s my fault

In other words, the pessimist assumptions are that a failure is permanent; that it affects a whole larger area of life, and that she (and she alone) is responsible for this failure.  Likewise, when a pessimist succeeds against the odds, he’ll probably end up saying something like:

  • I’ll never be able to do that again
  • That was a fluke
  • I got lucky

These kinds of reaction are common enough – we’ve probably all said at least two or three of these six statements.  But contrast them with the reactions of an optimist to failure:

  • I failed this time – I wonder what this teaches me?
  • I can do lots of similar things- I wonder why not this?
  • There are loads of reasons why: it wasn’t all my fault

And to success:

  • How can I find an opportunity to do this again?
  • I worked for that
  • I know what I did to make this happen

The key thing is the effect that explanatory style has on us.  It doesn’t take a huge leap to realise that the pessimistic style can stop us even trying, and the optimistic one encourages confidence.

Optimism isn’t like extraversion – it’s not inborn, it’s learned.  And we can learn it, no matter how pessimistic our explanatory style.

Why put off until tomorrow what you could put off until the day after?

There are things that I put off doing; and just like everyone else, these are the things I imagine I don’t like doing.  Networking is one of them.  This is what happened towards the end of last year – I was simply so busy that I didn’t have time to do anything more than prepare for the next coaching meeting or facilitation, and then go and deliver.  So I stopped thinking about making any new contacts and looking for new opportunities.  I imagined that what I’d need to do would be to ring up lots of people I didn’t know and ask them to meet me, and so of course, as someone with a preference for introversion (see the previous blog entry), I didn’t do it.  That task had three things I dislike in it – phone, unknown people, and asking.

So – come the new year, and I realise that I need to get back to this.  But by then, the thought that networking was something that involved three of my ‘dislikes’ was firmly embedded in my head, so I put it off until I really felt I had to do something.

And here’s the surprise – I really like networking.  I still don’t like ringing up lots of new people and asking them to meet me.  But for me, networking is not that – it’s contacting a few people I already know and asking them to put me in touch with one or two people I don’t know, who I might have something in common with.  That’s great – I get to meet people who want to meet me, I do it through making contact with people I already know and like, and it’s bite-sized.  The fact that I enjoy it makes me much more relaxed about meeting new people in general, and so I’ve started to network better at larger meetings as well – because the pressure’s off.

Moral: if there are things you avoid doing, find ways of doing them that make them more approachable and friendly to you.  Don’t try and do them the way that seems natural to others.  Take the pressure off.  Do them your way.

Anyone there?

The first blog post… Perhaps this is a bit like going to a party that I’m a bit nervous about?  I put it off as long as I can and then turn up as people are leaving, and see all sorts of interesting faces going in the opposite direction.  Nothing I do can make it seem that they are the ones who got the time wrong…

So I enter the blogosphere – quite possibly just as everyone else is leaving.  Hello!  Anyone there?

This is weird.  In theory there are several billion people out here, but my voice echoes as if in one of those otherworldly (yet clearly cardboard) Doctor Who sets from the sixties and I worry that the only person who’s going to jump out is an alien, whose response I won’t be able to understand anyway (unless it shoots me).

A few facts: I’m Jerry Gilpin, and I run a coaching and development business called ‘perception’, in the wonderful city of Bristol UK.  Before this I worked as a chaplain in an Oxford University College (St Hugh’s), and before that I was a fulltime Christian minister in the Church of England.  More bits of history will no doubt come out as we go along.

What’s the blog for?  Well my friendly web-designer Christophe said it would be good for my SEO ratings; but more than that, I’ve had a sneaking feeling for ages that it might be a good way to discipline myself to reflect on the work I’m doing, and that some other people out there on the scary alien uninhabited planet might be interested – maybe people I’ve worked with… maybe my friends… maybe you, unknown person!  So I’m giving it a go, along with Twitter (when I get round t’wit – sorry – and a tutorial from my son).

So how was it for you?  Was this a good blog post?  How will I find out?  Will I measure my success on the numbers of responses I get, or simply on the number of posts I make?  Because I know that I tend to judge my success on the basis of what others say and do, even though I can’t control that.  We all do it.  Maybe I should stick to what I can control personally – a minimum of one post every two weeks should be achievable, and I might do more.  And if it echoes around an empty corner of cyberspace… well, it won’t be annoying the aliens.