The Resilience Illusion in the Volatility Apocalypse

We live in a world where change is constant.. Our society has become a place where uncertainty, change, agility, volatility, ambiguity is the new normal. Our leaders are required to develop resilience….

I don’t even know what this stuff means any more… if I ever did.

We bluster on about leadership like it’s A Thing. With traits. Is this true or simply driven by a whole industry devoted to codifying behaviour and selling stuff that might make you more effective in a leadership context… possibly?
If leadership is anything, it’s probably more an action, an intention, an experience.
Try making a qualification out of that.
Leadership is more often about power and circumstance. It’s sometimes earned, sometimes taken. It’s complicated and important…. not something to take lightly… and I’m damned if I could codify and sell it – but then this is why I’ll never be a rich woman.

Perhaps we are living in a volatile world but it’s richer than that…..am I alone in getting bored with the fear-mongering of this particular now-familiar rhetoric? It’s giving me nothing…. If I look around, I can see volatility, for sure… and if I looked for certainty, for routine and rhythm, for predictability and cause-and-effect – I can find that too… but that’s a lot less juicy, I guess.

The subtext to the “volatility and ambiguity” trope seems to be that in order to “survive” we need leaders to be more resilient and tough-minded – It seems these people alone can survive the uncertainty apocalypse…
Nice. Neat.
I’d like to buy that… only I really can’t…it feels cold.

Seemingly we need leaders with resilience – as in bounce-back-ability – What is valued is your ability to recover in the face of lifestuff, your ability to perform your duties without falling over, your ability to work within uncertainty, to navigate your way through and cope- I get that, get how it’s useful…. and good on you if you have it, or if/ as you develop it….
As one who sees herself as pretty resilient, I know there are times it is a good friend to me…But possibly less-so for the people around me……because…what about everyone else? Whilst we are busy being resilient and pushing through, what happens in our wake? To the folk around us? What about the thousands of employees these resilient power-rangers lead? What if non-leaders aren’t resilient?
Who cares?
Seriously… I’m asking…If leaders have built up their resilience and tolerance to uncertainty who cares or notices those who haven’t?
What if leadership decisions (from a place of being resilient and able to cope) are really really bad for most people?
What if decisions made by a bunch of people who have mental and emotional toughness are horribly skewed and inconsiderate?
What if this push for resilient leaders is actually causing some of the divisions we see within our organisations and society? What if our leaders are actually creating volatility and uncertainty, just in the way they are being?

What I can see as being valued in business circles, which concerns me greatly, is a slightly more complex version of the rough-tough Just F*cking Do It leader that we blatantly pointed at as an unreconstructed, damaging, command and control horror show quite some time ago. It was a lot about: cut through. Be Strong. Get It Done. Crash about a lot. Don’t stop. Don’t listen… and folk got hurt.
Now it’s a little more insidiously dressed up: be resilient, be mindful, cope….and is organisational life much better?
I’m not really sure about this.

Does “resilience” include valuing connection, relationship, generosity, empathy, compassion? Probably not, because surely being some of these things makes you less resilient? You become wide open to the full consequence of a massive restructure where folk lose jobs.. what that does to people, to the culture.. or you begin to notice the huge pay differences in your organisation. That realisation can be deeply deeply disturbing in a way … because what can you do? Your leadership power, your influence, your personal resilience suddenly has a limit…best to mindfully crack on, rather than address the mess fully?
It’s the red pill/ blue pill conundrum. Open up? or Close down?

If you are open, you are, typically, less resilient.. that makes sense, right?…. you feel…. you empathise… things hurt…it stops you in your tracks….it’s deeply human, very very disconcerting and takes a lot longer to work through than just cracking on..
And it is BLOODY inconvenient….. but the truth is from there – from a place of being humbled, a place of empathy and understanding, you see a way to look after you & yours AND work hard to offer the very best for the folk you lead and affect.. Things get simpler. You can get bigger.
I think a little less resilient is good.
Only you can’t tell folk that… they have to experience it…. it’s the most annoying Catch 22 of my professional life.

My favourite leaders are those who deploy their resilience to connect-not-distance. In the face of organisational bastardness they pile in and hold open spaces for ethical, social and relational debate. They challenge with heart and head. They put themselves in the picture, not remove themselves from it. Those are folk who look into themselves, hold themselves accountable, and they grow…. these are not leaders who wait for a Public Inquiry or the Shareholder meeting to rap them on the knuckles for being unfair, unethical or uninclusive. These are leaders who use their powers partly to personally crack on, but partly to stand within their Boards and decision-making spaces, saying “I know we can, but should we?” Or “I think we need to listen to the staff/ residents/ folk whose lives will be fundamentally shifted by this decision”
I genuinely think more of this would go some way to addressing some of the bonkers societal things we are currently witnessing… including volatility and uncertainty.

My favourite coaches and facilitators insist on leaders “showing up”… the best I know don’t sooth and calm and encourage their clients to ignore the gaping holes in front of them. They don’t encourage resilience, they insist on cracking the neat facades & pushing for the red-pill of personal honesty. They know that deep wisdom, proper resilience, comes from facing into the truth of a situation… and living with what lies beyond … they challenge clients to look, to listen, encouraging more honesty, courage, self-reflection and personal accountability.

Then there are the L&D / OD people who are prepared to take risks with Leadership Development and put leaders right INTO the consequences of their decisions, not shielding them from it… Often they get push-back. Often this means it’s good work. This is where we need to be resilient… where we need to equip ourselves and work on ourselves and be a positive part of a solution….

I guess what I’m saying is, there are multiple ways we can make a positive difference to our organisations and to wider society. It’s not about sealing ourselves off. It really really isn’t.
It’s resilience, not from a place of “it hurts and it’s gnarly and I don’t want to look at it” but from a place of – “this hurts and it’s gnarly and we face into it and contribute to it getting better”
Never have we more needed the tools and time for these conversations.

Surely this is leadership for volatile times..where the illusion of resilience is held lightly…. Where we value personal maturity, ethical conduct and an inability to just F*cking do it… where we don’t resist, but we yield and listen…..and we appreciate that uncertainty is certain, so at least that’s one less thing to concern ourselves with…

——

Addendum:
I’ve frequently facilitated conversations between Boards and the folk they are there to serve….it disturbs and inspires. After one recent session, a very cross Non-Exec approached me at the end and said he’d hated the process because “I really don’t like to have to listen to all of this…”
We didn’t get into conversation, but I rather hope he slept badly that night having heard what he did…I asked the Chair (who also didn’t particularly like to listen to all of this, but understood the need to and the poor decision-making that was happening, precisely because they weren’t listening) to talk to him later… to see if this listening thing had made an impact on the Non Exec.. or if he chose to be resilient to the dissent and crack on….

Facilitation: We Move Folk… or Try To…

Much of the work, when we are facilitating, is about moving people’s “states” – working to move their learning, how they see the world, their current story…. this isn’t something we talk about widely in the training of facilitators… but for me it’s a no-brainer. We move folk… or try to.

So Movement is an interesting one – as humans we can be as stubborn and immovable as donkeys. We can be deeply entrenched, utterly unable or unwilling to shift our position or thinking…. And yet we are predictable, persuadable, biddable, impressionable….so somewhere in here is possibility.

I’m clear, when I facilitate (and coach), that I mostly cannot move you if you are not open or able to be shifted. Your life experiences, your wiring, your world-view are there and if you choose to remain within those – if the defences are up – there is little I can do.
I can learn how to persuade and influence. I can make a good case, rationally and emotionally, for a shift. I can ask good questions. I can create experiences and conversations that compel. I can create a little smoke & put you in front of mirrors (not so much my style, but it’s out there, if you pay attention) I can set the environment and the “tone” which give you the opportunities to shift. I can set something up that is as enticing and beguiling as it is possible to make a thing… and still you have to meet me someplace toward it – you need to move.
(and even if you move.. you might move back… so long-term sustained states are better than short term fixes?)

I suspect when we design stuff, this shift of state is what we reach toward, consciously or otherwise.
I’ll come back to this in a bit….

I’m a social scientist by training. Sociology taught me a lot about understanding social systems. We as humans pull toward being interconnected, interacting, joined-up-in-more-ways-than-we-act, social. We influence each other – someone commits an act of terror in London, there is a wider social ripple that effects us all. Someone restructures the organisation… new team and power dynamics run….
We can’t live without cause and effect – movement is inherent in all of this – changed states, shifts and patterns.
Systems are, by their very nature, dynamic. They move and respond in order to survive and thrive. Bits waste and fall out of favour (atrophy) bits develop (emergence). It’s a dance of sorts.

When you facilitate, in the room, it is no different. You work the system, often dancing in the moment, whether you know it or not.

If you work with a group from a single Organisation, folk replicate the system the come from – they carry the rights/wrongs/ culture of the place they come from. It’s in their thinking and actions, in their behaviours and their energy – the system you work with in the room is an echo of a wider system. What is favoured one place, is a bit “meh” elsewhere.

For example, if you’ll forgive the broad-brush stuff, when I’m working in Oil & Gas sector in the Middle East, I might get a repetition of engineering thinking in the room, Sector thinking (lots of emphasis on safety), the cultural mix of Northern European liberalism, Ex-pat nomads and Middle Eastern conservatism, … brought under a shared purpose of pulling oil out of the Gulf safely, which is where the cultural differences must be dropped a little. What might be valued/ permitted in this room is expertise, proven theory, certainty, formal process and action – creativity and innovation might be viewed with a little scepticism… or flat fear.

In a UK Local Authority, the emphasis might be more on social thinking – systems, social care, social justice – what might be valued/ permitted in the room might be freedom to explore ideas, acknowledging complexity, collaboration, creativity and relationship-building… formal process and theory-based slide decks and definitive answers might just not work.

Or when working with a group from lots of different systems, an Unconference or a cross-sector workshop, I know that individuals tend to replicate the social system they know – the norms and behaviours from their world – and group work here can be more hectic, less settled for a while, especially if norms and permissions collide…..

None of this is right or wrong .. You mostly roll with it- but going back to the point above, if you are looking for the shift, if you want to successfully facilitate Movement (of learning, ideas etc) understanding the System & what it tolerates, values or rejects can greatly help your design & approach… and you can’t absent yourself from it – you will have an impact on the group you work with…

Movement & The Facilitation Shindig

we’re going to work with the theme of Movement at the May #FacilitationShindig. I’m going to use a couple of things to explore Movement in and around the system.  (If you don’t know about the Shindig yet, have a look at www.FacilitationShindig.com or follow @Shindiggery1 ) Broadly, a breakdown of what we’ll cover looks like this:

  1. As with every Shindig, one of the core principles is It Starts With You – we’ll look at what moves you and what keeps you grounded. The system is about to get mobile around you in the room – you need to be a stable point, not dragged about by others’ stuff – to be able to stand, relaxed, open, not-anxious, curious…
  2. Practical activities help you do that (be organised, understand your “flow” etc) and we will focus on physical elements which help – practices of physically centring and re-balancing. I’m drawing from Embodied Work from my teachers in this field, particularly Wendy Palmer and Amanda Ridings. Wendy looks at the physical, embodied nature of being in the world and asks how we can actively connect to our strength dignity, and warmth. In the room it is this: can you connect to the Good Stuff and extend it out, extending your personal space, creating a felt-sense of calm, inclusion etc ?
    You can find out more about Wendy’s work here:

  3. Beyond-self. Looking at understanding and moving the system. We’ll look at mapping – using 3D System Sculpting – and some stuff around movement in the room (what do we need to think about/ try when we move folk round? What happens if we are faced with physical restrictions?)
  4. Finally we’ll look in to and use Constellations – roughly speaking, this is about experiencing where we stand in relation to each other, to the sytem, to a situation or a pattern – looking at it from a number of perspectives.

So we are looking at Movement – in every sense of the word – and how that fits in our practice as facilitators and what more we can do with the dynamics we work with and are influenced by.

register your interest for the event on the 4th May click here

 buy a ticket for 4th May Movement session click here

 

 

 

Staying Upright

We are facing it again – the illness of a loved one – my family kicked in to an oddly known pattern, following a phonecall… bad news… information…response…. we gather in Scotland. We talk and speculate, we have terrible gallows humour about the grimness of the situation. We crumple. We recover. We hold each other. We separate and stay in touch – messages, phonecalls – we manage the conversations – medical, social, relatives, practical. It runs as it needs to – a strange stream – not a linear pathway – not a torrent of a river, but a small, determined stream, bubbling in a mostly-predictable direction – with sudden bursts of flow and then back to something steady.

I find myself slightly annoyed with the familiarity of it. Having been through something similar with Dad, this feels like de ja vu. The crappiest roller coaster in the park. I hated it first time round. This time it’s no party either, but somehow I have a sense of “ok… this is how this goes…” so somehow even the unpredictable parts are … partially expected. And somehow that saddens me more….That I can feel resigned and stoic. That I’m not raging against the dying of the light in the way I did before.

Emotions are complex beasts.

And in the midst of familiarity, I experience my own change, my own learning, the unfamiliar shifts in my responses. Where once I was laid flat by how I felt– worried and frightened and small and furious – I find I can now stand in the maelstrom a little better. It gets a little wobbly, but I’m definitely more upright…. Where once I ignored that I was completely flattened and attempted to crawl on regardless…I find I can’t do that now… I’m not prepared to do that now…
Whilst I’d still prefer not to be on the floor, I recognise that sometimes sitting there is right. I need to stop. To take stock. To write. To articulate: I feel this. It is this way for me. I’m struggling/ I’m surprisingly ok/ I need X – and then less is pinning me down… and I can stand… and walk outside and breathe.

In all of this, I have a sense of coming face to face with my mortality – turns out I don’t ACTUALLY have super powers. The irony of the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is not lost one me – I’m seeing her everywhere & I so love some of what she represents… and still, I don’t have super powers… This is old news… but it still never ceases to surprise me. My mode of being is one where I can affect change, I can create conversations, take action, have a plan B… in the world I create for myself, I have agency most of the time…
But in a situation where someone you love is dying, you have no agency. You can’t DO a damn thing. Circumstance dictates. Your phone becomes your friend and foe. The ringing brings a second of dread – what news? You are beholden.
These are lessons well learned…and I’m truculently thankful for them.

And in the face of no agency, I still need to feel I can choose. So I choose to continue working, to do good stuff that gives me pleasure and purpose – and to be realistic about what that means. And I choose to go do stuff that feels good – I choose to live, in the face of the alternative choice I think “live” is a good one. I choose to drive 4 hours for a visitation that is rationally pointless, but needed and nurturing. I choose to design team days that enable joy, creativity and thought-provocation and I choose to put stuff around me so I can deliver those well, and still be here and clear – and rest myself a bit after.

I choose who to talk to .. sometimes steering clear of folk who might help…or who might open me up – because I need to be not-open to function for a bit. I choose to lock down a little. I choose easy books and kids movies…I choose not to get political. I choose no sudden moves. I choose to go gently where I can.
You do what you do to get through. To survive and thrive.

I choose these things because I don’t want this to be the only thing. The arresting thing. The defining thing. The sole focus.

It’s the only way I know how to stay more upright.

Picture: Human condition by T Storm Halvorsen

Stories & Telling & Asking & More

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Yes – I’ll help set up a storytelling zone. In the exploration of the social age, I’ll happily find a place for folk to gather and talk and think and question and share. I’ll make a nook – a place to hang out and meet and mull. Laura will make a Newspaper office right next to it, handing out nips of whisky and chatting over typewriters…..stories created here & captured there…. That works.

Stories? Sure, that’s part of what life and work is about – your story, our story, the story of the organisation; tales of the unexpected and of the known – specific tales that bring hypothesis somewhere more understandable or tangible… the Theory is this: my Reality is that…. Ah.. this is helpful – I can see more clearly now.

If I coach you, we work with your story – your narrative of yourself. How you see yourself and tell yourself to others. How you know yourself. What you allow yourself to do.. or not do… or think… or say… I’ll offer counter narratives.. can we re-write this together? Can this be a different tale?

As the Safari unfolds, I hear metaphors & how useful these can be to work with. How a shared story helps people gather and understand. How the plea for Purpose in organisations is also a plea for a simple narrative – what do we stand for here? Will you stand for that with us?

I hear about working in small streams; river tributaries that might eddy or might flow out to the ocean; I hear of someone quilting – piecing odd fabrics together to create something beautiful and new and original.. the pieces becoming a whole different entity; we hear Social Media sharing not as an act of self-promotion, but as an act of generosity – sharing content and knowledge specifically to generate change… the self-lessness a thing I forget about at times in the midst of broadcasted cultivated messages….

And so much I don’t know about stories – what do we do with messy narratives that don’t follow a proper arc? The archetypes available… the questions you can ask: are we in an organisational tragedy? Comedy? Farce? So much still to learn, to ask, to discover.

Catherine and Selby work with creative voices. Poetry and music bring narratives to life – protest songs and lives spoken into being… lyrical, lilting riffs that are unexpectedly touching, moving and powerful. The words sung or spoken have a effect that cannot easily be expressed….articulated in emotions and sensation – beyond words in many ways… I enjoy the irony.

Later, I leave early, my own fairy tale of being able to push through a flu-like cold thing truly undermined by the very factual story of shivers and temperature, of sand-papered throat and woolly brain-function. As I find myself sitting on the floor of a packed train, feeling terribly sorry for myself and telling my woes on a Slack channel to my beloved friends, Amanda asks: Would you like a story?
And I relax – Yes. Tell me a tale from beyond this train – and she does… and it is beautiful and human and poignant… and then Fi shares her Tale from the Underground… and I’m elsewhere and warmer and more connected all at once and somehow it makes things better.

There is power in stories… and in those who tell them.

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Thanks to inspirers/ co creators Geoff Stead, Carol Read, Julian Stodd, Damian Corbett,  Sukh PabialJonathan Anthony  Johanna Wyers, Amy Burvall, Stephanie Morgan  SeaSalt Learning Crew including (but not exclusively) Laura Williams, Valerie De Pauw,  Hannah Moxom, Phillip Kingsbury, Paul Draper, Rich Stannard, David Jarrett & Emily Pykett

to Amanda Arrowsmith & Fiona McBride

seek out #socialAgeSafari

Check out Spoken Artist & Poet Joseph Selby & bluegrass/ folk musician Catherine Burke

Gearing up for the Learning Show

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This week is one of my favourite conference events of the year. The CIPD Learning & Development Show kicks off at London’s Olympia Conference Centre on Wednesday (see #CIPDLDShow)

The show is, in many ways, in its infancy – this is the third year the show has unabashedly focused on all things organisational learning and change, expanding the professional conversations about all things People in the workplace from an HR focus, to a broader platform.

I have the honour of being on the “Blog Squad” – attending seminars and sessions and reporting in real-time on much of what is being said (I usually report out on Twitter… colleagues @Kingfishercoach @Wildfigsolns & @PhilWillcox tend to be fast-fingered on the keyboard & do proper reporting blogs. My efforts are more of the tweet/storify sort). Over the last two years it has been a real source of learning, joy (and sometimes exhaustion after 2 days of listening and meeting folk) to be involved in these events. I’ve been privileged to hear some world class speakers, been party to case studies which have supported or challenged my thinking and had the chance to meet up with colleagues and friends within the profession. I’ve had the joy and camaraderie of working alongside some of the best practitioners in the UK, who Blog and report on their own time – and mostly meet to charge devices and eat cake in the Media Rooms.

So, in the esprit de corps, I’m going to do the thing where I bestow some hints & tips for those attending the upcoming show.. covered rather beautifully in the graphic above by the glorious Rachel Burnham @BurnhamLandD

Download the App – Trust me, if you have a day or two days, over 160 suppliers and 50 free learning sessions to choose from in the Exhibition alone.. an App telling you where you are, where others are and what time stuff is happening is just flat helpful.

• Go to the Exhibition & go to the free sessions You can pick up a lot from the short presentations and Case Studies. My own favourites include the Ignite sessions ( 5 minute presentations from a range of practitioners on a range of topics – 20 slides. 15 seconds per slide – see Wednesday Afternoon 15.55pm in the Topic Taster area) and if you are up for it & there alone – try Speed Networking as a means to get to know folk.

• Go counter to where your interest lies – Have a rough plan of who you want to see and why – but go for a couple of wild-cards too. It’s a Learning Show – go Learn new stuff. Push yourself to see something you don’t quite understand or believe in. You might be surprised at what you hear and find.

• Look after yourself – Take water, comfortable shoes and make sure you find some quiet time to reflect and check you are getting what you need from the Show.

• Follow the hashtag #CIPDLDshow / try to tweet a little if you haven’t before, or find someone who will help you do it.

• Speak to people – if you are feeling lost and like you are wandering aimlessly and somehow “everyone know what they are doing/ is having a better time than me” – go find someone friendly to talk to, even if it’s the good people who serve the coffee… or grab me if you see me wandering by looking lost myself. Conferences are made by the conversations they generate. Go have some.

On Wednesday evening, the (now annual) @LNDconnect aftershow meet up will happen – we have nearly 100 people booked to come. The @CIPDEvents team have very kindly sponsored some nibbles & generally being supportive of all things LNDconnect – huge thanks to them. We’ll be asking people to think of future #LDsight questions and mull on agile learning & the Conference for the CIPD team.

Follow @fuchsia_blue the #CIPDLDshow on Wednesday 11th & Thursday 12th May
I’ll see you there x

Designed to Last

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My Dad was, for a long time, an Estates Manager – managing large country Estates, usually for titled families. His job was to oversee and sustain the overall system – ensuring healthy livestock, the management of arable land, crop production, supporting families who lived on estate lands, maintenance of the estate…it was a complex job, a complex eco system.

On Saturday mornings, I would get up really early and he would make me a mug of tea and take me out “on the rounds” – basically driving around the boundaries of the estate, with a Dictaphone, and he would get out, inspect stuff, walk bits of fields, check fences and hedges, go see the Dairy Manager….During those “rounds” he talked to me a lot about the land and the decisions you make to nurture, sustain and maintain for the long-term. My Dad had a real sense of custodianship about the Estates – he & we were only here for a brief time – the land endured and what we did with it mattered. We needed to make a living from it. It needed to be cultivated carefully. It needed to be respected. He made short-term choices with the long-term consequence in mind.

I find some of his philosophy bubbling up in my design thinking these days. That management or leadership training could very well just be a short-term choice, but if you are looking to nurture and sustain, if you want the organisation to thrive and endure beyond your time in it, then longer-term thinking and actions help greatly.

Management training happens in almost every organisation I work with. What would happen if, rather than repeating the same training, the same messages, rearranged over 3- 4 days or 6 weeks or whatever, we looked at management skills as being life skills? That to plan stuff, to organise and galvanise folk to deliver anything, to have conversations and listen well and notice when others are struggling and support them through that, doing “the rounds” and checking the parameters, staying in touch with the wider system and community… this isn’t just Management… it’s just being a good person.
A good person in a particular context.
Which might change.
But the good person part endures.

So how about we run stuff that encourages good personship? Not codify it as management (much of the stuff we spew out about “management” is old hat and barely works outside a classroom – especially if there are more than 3 things to remember about it) let’s just work on the basics.

If you are currently designing management training content, stop for a second and have a look at what you are putting out into that organisation. Will it develop better people? Not skill sets or processes to follow. But people?

Keep it simple.
Listen. Talk.
Pay attention to the here an now.
Work with what is here and don’t pretend or wish it were other.
Understand what we do & why we do it & how we could do it better for the long term.
Look to the future.
Understand what nurtures and sustains.

That stuff is designed to last.

Coaching. Walking. Thinking. Changing

foot-prints-vector-176664The first time I met her, I was struck by her energy and boldness; her ambition and enthusiasm; her physical presence. She was direct and clear. She knew precisely what she wanted from coaching. She was organised and focussed. We met in a slightly grim, windowless, stuffy room in her Public Sector workplace and we more-than filled it. It could barely contain us. Halfway through the session, we had flip paper laid out across the table and she was showing me the inside of her head using big pen strokes and fast words.

I was grinning from ear to ear at times … She demanded to be heard and seen. She was quick and certain, pacey and knowledgeable. She was already doing a lot of reflective work. I noticed I was finding it easy to listen, encourage, agree… but I was there to coach… Repeat to self: don’t collude, but don’t crush. Agree and still question. Disagree and hold to the counter-view. Don’t get sucked in to the presenting narrative….what’s the different story that could be told?

And so I started to look for the different story. Under the certainty and lovely noise, where the pauses and silences emerged. Where the lack-of certainty might lie. What was underneath….?

In the aftermath of the first session, I felt kind of ecstatically knackered – the sense you get when you have been engaged full-on in some sort of creative process…. Sort of done, but in a really good way…. I remember sitting on the Tube heading to my next destination just a little bit spaced out…..

As I reflected on what was going on – there was something niggling me about doing the work in that small, confined room. She needed space – a LOT of space. I needed that to work with her too. And so, after some reflection, emailing and a phonecall, we agreed to try walking as part of our coaching process. I was curious about what a shift to a bigger landscape might do for the conversation and the coaching process – she was curious about the health benefits of getting out and walking.

The first time, we walked out from her place of work, steady paced and I was fearful that without my trusted notebook to note down the “what are we working on today” stuff, I would lose a thread or a topic or something…. It never happened. Over the next 4 sessions (not over Winter months, so we didn’t get any rain.. more about that anon) we walked out from an agreed fixed point (mostly Kings Cross .. once Piccadilly Circus) and we worked together.

So here’s some stuff about walking and coaching that I/ we noticed

Getting out of the room was useful. It unlocked and unblocked issues and ideas in ways I can’t fully explain. The motion and the lack-of-binding walls helped big things seem smaller and somehow more in proportion. There was inspiration to be found in the changing landscape, at times.

Speaking out into the air was freeing… and sometime scary: not having to look at another’s face and put your interpretation of what they think/ believe took away some inhibition and occasionally added some anxiety. Sometimes she needed to look at me, she felt. We sort of worked out this was for reassurance sometimes… when the unsayable came out – when she was at her boldest – she needed to see I was alongside her still.

The sense of “beside” needs a little attention, at times – “Walking alongside” could assume I was alongside her thinking – it wasn’t always so. I could be walking alongside her and still feel baffled or doubtful or delighted. I found walking meant it was sometimes easier for me to voice disquiet or a counter-view to something she was attached to. We weren’t intensely face-to-face. Discord could fall in to a bigger space. Her inherent “niceness” that so often shone through at work, could be muddied up a bit here.

Our pace varied. Sometimes we noticed we were walking slowly – carefully considering this or that. Other times, it picked up. We kept pace with each other. The physical rhythm was important, somehow… and yet rarely consciously expressed – it sort of just happened and we would notice it later.

Her ability to remember the conversation correlated with points in the walk. She remembered saying Y as we waited for at the traffic lights leaving Kings Cross. She could say to me: “when we were just a bit away from Upper Street, I said: X “ and I knew where, exactly, she meant – both verbally and geographically. If we had spent 2 hours in a teeny-tiny room, or a café or somewhere fixed, this wouldn’t have happened. We both remembered the route and the conversation as it happened along it… and at some point we would begin the walk back to where we started… and somehow in as we returned, she began to gather up her thoughts and plan some actions.

We walked in silence, at times – as she got lost in her thoughts and wandered the routes her mind took her to, I walked quietly beside her. It was generally a companionable silence. Not one weighted with expectation that I sometimes experience in a room – sitting waiting is different from walking and waiting, somehow. It’s a different quality.

We practiced with physical elements of her leadership – standing straighter, Walking with confidence, breathing more slowly, speaking at different paces, how it felt to be balanced or off-balance. In the context of walking, these elements were more easily, naturally perhaps, combined with the work. Again, if we were static, we would have had to move from sitting to standing to practice some of physical elements… and whilst sit-to-stand is not a big move… it’s somehow a big move, if you are used to the conversation being mostly without physical movement.

The weather mattered..and didn’t matter. In the hotter days, we did need to walk with water or coffee at times (the sessions were 2 hours long). We never walked in the rain – We could have of course. I have a notion the drumming of rain on an umbrella might be quite nice – or might bring in a element of physical discomfort that distracted. The practicalities of both our jobs meant we needed to be elsewhere after we saw each other. Soggy working didn’t appeal to either of us. Anyway, in the event of inclement weather, Plan B would have been to walk through a museum or art gallery….it would have been different again.

We got results:  I can’t say we got better results than if we had staying in the room, but I can say that the process was certainly more rewarding and physically better. The outcomes and the actions she chose & implemented were things that stuck.

The note-taking issue: I am curious about if I should have built in time for note-taking at the end. I took my own notes, usually 24 hours or so onward. She did too, but we didn’t close off the session with something more tangible. As I often use drawing, doodle, diagrams with my coachees – encouraging them to express or show me/themselves stuff in non-words… and we didn’t have that slightly more permanent record of the discussion and action, relying more on sensation and experience…

Walking and coaching worked. It demanded different things from “usual” coaching conversations, but on the whole I’d recommend it.

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Shout-out to people I’ve had conversations about walking & coaching with of late:
Jayne Harrison, Hilary Gallo & Euan Semple.

Shout out to Richard Martin for his Walking- Inspired Blog, Pace

artwork shout to SRNR

About me:

I’m a Organisational Consultant, Coach, Facilitator, Speaker, Blogger & Dialogue Guide. Working with people & organisations to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.

Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue

Contact fuchsiablue to find out more