Have you ever lost it?
I’ve just been to Stratford to see Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale – a great treat for an English graduate! It’s a weird play, and almost completely unbelievable… but still…
King Leontes runs a pretty loose ship of a kingdom: lots of wine and ‘informal’ relationships. He has a lovely wife whom he idolises; but then he starts to think she’s having an affair with his best friend. It was a chance remark and a glimpse of contact – really, there was nothing to it. But he fixes on it; and jealousy and rage turn him inwards. He lashes out at his wife; her unborn child; his best friend; his chief counsellor, his kingdom… in the current setting at Stratford, he ends the first part of the play alone on top of a huge physical tower of jealousy, fear and grief, where no-one can reach him.
It’s what pressure can do to leaders. It can be just one thing that goes wrong; but we lose perspective, and focus on that alone, and the world gets warped and twisted and remote; and the people around us stop trusting us, we turn inwards, become remote…
Of course, I think he could have done with a leadership coach. Maybe if he’d thought a bit more about how he was leading when times were good, he’d have had a better perspective.
I’m just back from a brilliant three day course on coach supervision. It was a real privilege to work with Peter Hawkins and Nick Smith of the Bath Consultancy, who are real thought-leaders in this area.
There was so much to learn, and one of the things I reflected on was how you should always learn from and with the best people you can, because you soak up not only their knowledge and wisdom, but also their skills and presence and energy. Having the right people in the room with you makes a huge difference.
But the real thing I’ve come back with is the challenge to get the right people in the room when I’m coaching and supervising. That may sound foolish: surely I’m there and the client is there? Well, yes, but that is almost never the full cast. What about the client’s boss? What about the business leader’s key customers? What about the team leader’s team?
If they all had to be there physically, it would be a crowded room. But they don’t: the challenge is to make sure that the client is engaging with the real challenges that these people put before them, in the way that they talk and act and react and pound the table or yawn or whatever it is that they do in a meeting with my client.
Unless we spend real time making sure these people are there, too, we won’t make any progress on the issues. Because it’s these people who will oppose or support my client, and these people who will work with him or her to help them succeed.
We need the right people in the room.
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.
If you’re expected to lead, you must take time to think.
I recently met a couple of senior leaders who work in huge open-plan offices. They both mentioned that they are expected to take responsibility for developing and overseeing teams, and to lead through taking new initiatives in their areas of work. But both reported that it is impossible to get time to work through a leadership issue at their place of work. They are surrounded by desks, by conversations, by demands – bosses walk over and ask something; helpful direct reports pitch up in the middle of a train of thought. However tidy their desks may be, their minds are cluttered; both of them reported not having the space to do the really important stuff they needed to do.
Open-plan offices are designed to encourage togetherness, shared responsibility, team spirit. But if they stop leaders leading, they are counterproductive. This is not about being introvert or extravert; it’s about space to think. If you haven’t got that space, you need to make it – get permission to work from home, or to book a room away from the crowd for a couple of hours, or get a free room designated a ‘quiet zone’ that can be booked and used solely for leadership thinking. Otherwise you’ll end up doing all the things that don’t really matter, and none of the things that do.
Of course, maybe you prefer doing the things that don’t matter, in which case, leave things as they are…
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.