My much beloved big brother sits opposite me in his house near Brighton, glass of shiraz close to hand and he’s in full flow:
“..I mean, you’re my sister and people ask me what you do and….[hands waving vaguely in the air].. I don’t know. I don’t know what you do.”
To which I say “I know” and then try to explain what I do… and trip over myself horribly in tangled, wretched sentences that involve consultancy and organisations and dialogue and teams and people and conversations.
He says HR. I say – no – I don’t do that. It’s more L&D….well… OD really…
He is a dental surgeon in a small, successful practice – they don’t have HR or OD. We’re getting nowhere.
As the conversation continues, we move to what would be my “elevator pitch” (my response “I live in the Scottish Borders. There ARE no elevators. Think I’m safe on that front.” – not that I’m being a smart arse or anything.) .
My job title is Director. Managing Director when I’m feeling grandiose – no clues there about what I really do. Coach? Yes. I will lay claim to the coach title, that’s in there. Facilitator? Yes. That too. I do that. Organisational Consultant? Yes. I work with individuals and teams, typically to generate better conversations. Yes. I encourage potential and performance…but most of the very good people I know working in this field (and some of the not-so-great, if I’m being honest) can lay claim to these things too… Are we all saying the same things in elevators, I wonder?
And here’s the thing for me. The paradox. The crux-y stuff. I resist putting myself ( and others) in a 30 second box…. (think of trying to get a cat in a bath……..it’s THAT response) … yet I move in a world that would have me believe this box is (partly) where I need to be and promises to reward me for it…. How curious.
And I get it. I get that it’s only fair to others if I can distill my work and fuchsiablue to an essence. On some level I understand that is a legitimate thing to ask. And yet I still want to push back against that request…. Partly my response is inner teenager: “why should I conform?” and partly it’s a very real, live inquiry for me “Well, now… what happens if I don’t do as expected? What happens if I refuse to label or distill? Where does that take me? Where does that take the business?”
It’s just… well it strikes me that what we DO as a job is kind of less important, less interesting, potentially, than HOW we do it – how we are being? acting? showing up in between the lines of the job description?… and I can barely work out how anyone’s DOING can be shunted into a 30 second conversation in a fast-moving tin box; never-mind their marvellous Being….. Nope. Sorry. That’s not working for me as a concept.
I don’t see myself as particularly rebellious or provocative, just really rather questioning about the organisational world where something as messy as change or as complex as coaching a person is asked for in the same breath as a tidy, short elevator pitch. Really? You want me to do this?
Four weeks after a conversation with my big brother: should we be in an elevator and you ask me what I do… (after I’ve looked at you strangely for a second for striking up a conversation in a lift) I may say that my job is to get people to say things they feel they can’t easily say… or then again… I might not….