Prime Numbers and Incurable Deviants

Prime NumbersHere we are at the beginning of 2011 – a special year: 2011 is a prime number (divisible only by one and itself) – a ‘one off’ number.

According to the psychologist Steven Gilligan we are all ‘one offs’. He says that we are all “incurable deviants” -using the merry phrase to celebrate our individuality as people. However much we might attempt to fit in to an environment that may not suit us, he suggests that our health and happiness depend on our being able to express our individuality as the “incurable deviants” that we all are.

So one good New Year resolution might be to be more ourselves – in all our individual ‘one off’ness.

But thinking back to the Christmas holiday, I often didn’t feel like a ‘one off’ or one anything. It seemed that there were different parts of me that turned up to different occasions. I don’t know if you share this sensation of being different people with different colleagues, friends and family? A friend tells me that when she and her adult siblings meet with their parents back in the family home at Christmas they slip back into the way they used to relate as children. “It’s so weird,” she says. “Here I am – a middle-aged responsible professional, but back in that context I’m a child again with all the old competitive pressures and resentments.”

You may have noticed these different parts of yourself in other contexts – you are asked to present yourself to the head of your organisation, and suddenly you feel like a schoolboy summoned to the headmaster’s office and your voice becomes uncertain and your shoulders shrink. Or you are at a celebration where all are loudly and rowdily enjoying themselves and you suddenly feel like a stiff spare part with no sense of humour and not a single interesting thought funny or otherwise in your head.

“One man in his time plays many parts”, pronounces Shakespeare’s Jaques in As You Like It. Most of us are this way. I have occasionally met a person who can assert stoutly, “Take me the way you find me. I call a spade a spade. No nonsense about me, I never change;” but that’s usually because they have so perfected that role that they are unwilling to hazard any other. The rest of us find that particular contexts bring out specific parts of our make up – and not always the parts that would be most helpful. In one context we sparkle and feel interesting, in another we feel lumpish and inadequate.

One of the brilliant things I learned from NLP was that we have a choice in the matter. We can actually learn the skills to summon the parts of ourselves that are going to be most useful in a particular context. For instance, we can bottle our sparkling, interesting self to open at the very time we feel most inadequate.

– in the spirit of which, let me make some new year resolutions:

Use the following this year:

When next faced with a household disaster perpetrated by one of my elderly relatives, let go of the sarcastic crone within and access that part that used to laugh spontaneously at my 10 year old’s jokes. (Did I really? That’s amazing!) 

When next faced with a self-important professional using obfuscatory business language, abandon the attempt to look intelligent, and use the 20-year-old part of myself  that sweetly, smilingly failed to understand anything at all when shouted at by an Italian traffic policeman.

The next time something fails to work on my computer, instead of hurting my vocal cords with cries of frustration, tune into the part of myself that enjoys a 1000 piece jigsaw (even if only at Christmas!) and loves nothing more than a really slow challenge.

What follows from the discovery that you can choose which parts of yourself to employ in different contexts is the earth-shaking realisation that you can simply choose how to be

– and the limit is merely the limit of your imagination.

One-offs we certainly are, but we can also choose to be just the way we want to be. So prime year number, prime year of your life, what can you imagine for this year? How bold might you be?!

NLP DIPLOMA
confidence, composure and effectiveness

The ability to choose your response described above is one of the competences offered to you in the NLP Diploma. You will learn fundamental (not simplistic) skills of relationship and influence which will impact positively on all aspects of your life.  You’ll make a step change in your ability to make things happen and to steer your life in the direction of success and fulfilment. If you are looking for one self-development course that will enable you to step up to the next level, raise your profile and radically build your self confidence then this is the one.

Modules and dates – sign up today at www.voiceofinfluence.co.uk 

Communication & Relationships          17-18 Feb
Leadership & Influence               17-18 Mar
Coaching & Change                           14-15 Apr
– all at Hammersmith, London

VOICE OF INFLUENCE
– brighten up the room, delight your audience

The two-day Voice of Influence Workshop will give you the tools to give an accomplished formal public speech and beyond that the confidence to speak out spontaneously in any context of your life – whether in a meeting, a negotiation or a ‘difficult’ conversation with colleague or boss. If you look at any successful person in business you will find that they have excellent speaking skills, and you can have them too. It’s not about being someone different either – you will find the way to be powerful and authentic in your own way in this supportive small-group course.

Dates – sign up today at www.voiceofinfluence.co.uk.    

4-5 Feb 2011         – Hammersmith, London
30 Mar–1 Apr 2011 – Hammersmith, London

1 TO 1 COACHING 
– fast positive change

Skype, telephone, face-to-face – great for growing in your job and growing into the next one, wonderful for an emergency, brilliant for general self confidence, balance and control. Speak to me about it today – it’s a fast way to learn. Try one session at reasonable cost to experience its benefits at first hand

Lots more information on my website, www.voiceofinfluence.co.uk – or contact me for a chat.

Happy New Year 2011!

Warmly

Judy

Focusing on the extraordinary

Never underestimate…

bowerbirdHave you come across the bowerbird of Australia? It’s a dull-looking species, fawn-brown in colour. The male bowerbird builds a nest surrounded with a variety of brightly coloured objects he has collected which may include hundreds of shells, leaves, flowers, feathers, stones, berries, and even coins, nails or pieces of glass. But the most remarkable part of the construction is a grand avenue of sticks leading to the nest. The sticks are arranged with precise care so that those closest to the nest are the smallest and those farthest away are the tallest, which gives a false sense of perspective so that when the bowerbird stands at the entrance to his nest he looks enormous and impressive to the female. Researchers have tried interfering to change the order of the stick heights, but when that happens the bowerbird painstakingly over several days restores its original configuration. Does the bird understand perspective?!

Never underestimate nature!

Eileen NearneAnd humans? I read about Eileen Nearne who died at 89 this month. You’d never heard of her? Neither had I.

Eileen Nearne was just an old lady who lived alone in Torquay. The most that neighbours had to say about her was that she used to enjoy talking about her cat.

Yet after her death officials found in her flat an amazing treasure trove of war-time papers and medals, including the MBE and the Croix de Guerre. It turns out that she had an extraordinary history no one knew about.

In 1944, aged 23, as a member of Winston Churchill’s secret Special Operations Executive she was parachuted into occupied France, where she passed on intelligence and arranged arms drops as the only British agent with an operating transmitter in the Paris area. She operated during that crucial period until she was arrested by the Nazis in July 1944. She was tortured, then sent to the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp where thousands were executed or died. But she managed to escape and was able with help from a French priest to stay in hiding until rescued by the advancing allies. Her bravery contributed importantly to the war effort. Not ‘just an old lady’ after all!

Never underestimate people!

 Tim Gallwey, often called the ‘father of coaching’ by those in the profession, talks about his profound belief in the inner intelligence and wisdom in each one of us, in human life itself.  He says that a person is much bigger than what you see. As coaches we believe in the existence of potential beyond what presents itself.  We may see withdrawal or the sense of something shut down but we do not believe it. We manage to see through and beyond the acts that people put on either to seem less capable than they are or to make us believe they’re wonderful but which actually cover up their true ‘wonderfulness’. 

I have been surprised more often than I can say by how people can be unexpectedly extraordinary. And it tends to happen when you don’t criticise them internally or consider them small.

 The other side of this is:

Never underestimate yourself!

It is so easy to ignore and deny what is in us. We are capable of being exceptional. The skill lies in discovering how to allow that to happen …

“The whole point of being alive is to evolve into the complete person you were intended to be.” says Oprah Winfrey

Curiosity and playful experimentation are effective approaches. Criticism, self-labelling and a rigid outlook block it. The best place to learn is in interacting with people – which is why workshops where you have the freedom to interact, investigate and explore with others are so productive and energising. They are often the place that gives birth to the extraordinary in people.

Sometimes it just takes someone else to see the exceptional in us before we can see it ourselves. They ‘know’ it is there and that becomes our realisation of a truth. As the pianist Claudio Arrau once explained about his performances, “I don’t know what’s going to happen but I know it’s going to be something wonderful.”

So, what are you underestimating about yourself?

Carmen Herrera

Carmen1Carmen Herrera is a highly successful minimalist artist. Her radiant geometric paintings are on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC and the Tate Modern in London as well as commanding high prices all over the world.

Originally from Cuba where she studied architecture, she moved after her marriage to New York where she took a course in art. Subsequently she and her husband spent some time in Paris and it was here that she discovered geometric art at an exhibition. She was immediately consumed with passion for this kind of painting and knew it was the path she wanted to take. It meant changing her whole way of thinking and learning how to paint again. Gradually she refined and distilled her art, paring things down to their essence; she began to find her unique voice.

Her big break came when a friend put her name forward as a replacement when one of the artists in a New York exhibition of female geometric painters suddenly had to drop out. A collector bought five of her paintings and word quickly spread to other collectors. Before long her work was being snapped up all over the globe.

It’s the kind of rags to riches story you are probably familiar with …

… until we fill in some of the dates.

Carmen Herrera was born in 1915. She started to paint seriously in her late twenties. Her lucky break came just five years ago at the age of 89.

89! So what happened in the intervening 60 – 60! – years?

– Looked at from the outside, not much. She didn’t sell a single painting. Most days her husband would go off to work in the morning and she would get the housework out of the way and then paint; for hours and hours. Every now and then they would move to cheaper neighbourhoods so that she could continue to paint. Year after year she struggled with her art and her own limitations and found the way to move her passion forward.

Now Carmen Herrera is not your typical leader – a solitary woman artist, an immigrant, someone born before her time – but there is much about her that teaches me about the art of leadership:

–        she focused on what mattered

–        she started again when she needed to

–        she showed considerable personal strength

–        she displayed strong self belief

–        she worked extremely hard

–        she found her own voice and was finally heard by the world

–        and she is a magnificent example of the sheer indomitability of the human spirit!

We often think it’s all ‘out there’ – the challenges, difficulties, blocks, stuff to get done. But time after time history shows us that the real struggle is internal. The leader finds their true voice deep inside and is thus able to walk their talk on the outside.

Can you learn leadership and self-leadership? Certainly, though it will be different for everyone. It’s important to build your own awareness and find the space to look at your own practice. It doesn’t always take 94 years!

Leatherback Turtle

Training and coaching is often about possibility. What is possible for you?

I have come to the conclusion that the answer is “almost certainly much, much more than you realise.”

In this context I was interested to read about the leatherback turtle – we happened to spot one off the coast of Turkey last summer, and this is the photo we took then.

The leatherback turtle possesses an impressive set of statistics:

It is the largest turtle on earth – it grows up to 7 feet long.

It can dive deeper than any other turtle – up to depths of 4,200 feet.

It has been around on earth since the time of the dinosaurs more than 100 million years ago.

And the leatherback turtle travelling between its breeding beach and its main feeding area covers an average of 6,000 kilometres – each way!

But at what speed? (the fact that pleases me most)

Less than 1 mile per hour!

You can imagine what the teacher would say when the turtle joined the class: “Look, Leatherback, you’re not really built for breaking records are you? I mean, less than one mile per hour swimming speed doesn’t give much hope for ambition does it? But don’t worry, you’ll be fine, you’ll be average. Just keep on pottering along – we can’t all be winners.”

And you can imagine the anthropomorphic turtle hearing this and smiling a turtle-like smile to itself. “Yup, I guess I’ll just keep pottering along …!

“Costa Rica here I come!”

Coaching in Companies

What’s the effect of coaching in companies?

What a tricky question!

But researchers attempt to answer it from time to time. N2growth, a leading venture growth consultancy, released in 2006 the results of a study quantifying the business impact of executive coaching. The study included 100 executives – mostly from Fortune 1000 companies – who received coaching.

The coaching delivered an average return on investment of 5.7 times the initial investment in a typical executive coaching assignment according to executives who estimated the monetary value of the results achieved through coaching.

The study included data on executive behaviour change, organizational improvements achieved, and the return on investment (ROI). Participating companies realised improvements in

  • Productivity (reported by 53% of the executives who estimated the monetary value of the results)
  • Quality (48%)
  • Organizational strength (48%)
  • Customer service (39%)
  • Reducing customer complaints (34%)
  • Retaining executives who received coaching (32%)
  • Cost reductions (23%)
  • Bottom-line profitability (22%)

Other benefits to executives who received coaching were

  • Improved working relationships with direct reports (reported by 77% of executives)
  • Improved working relationships with immediate supervisors (71%)
  • Improved teamwork (67%)
  • Improved working relationships with peers (63%)
  • Increased job satisfaction (61%)
  • Reduction of conflict (52%)
  • Increased organizational commitment (44%)
  • Improved working relationships with clients (37%)

An excellent thing then…

However – as Einstein had written on his wall – “Not everything that counts can be counted; not everything that can be counted counts.”

A coaching culture is not always a straightforward or comfortable environment – it requires a courageous approach, and a certain amount of letting go. Leaders sometimes talk about a coaching climate, magnetic leadership and empowerment – and then use command and control to impose a new coaching paradigm  – which doesn’t exactly align with the spirit of coaching!

Here’s a little domestic story:

I used to walk my son to school when he was very young. His favourite day in the summer was Tuesday – swimming day – when the whole class would troop down to the local leisure centre. Most early mornings I would shout up to him from the kitchen, “Remember your swimming things!” Sometimes I forgot to remind him and he forgot too. On those days after depositing him at school I would rush home for the forgotten items and deliver them to the school.

That is – until I went back to work. One Tuesday we reached school and he suddenly remembered that it was swimming day. But that day I had to tell him that I was off to work and did not have the time to go home for the swimming stuff. Tears and pleas were in vain. There was no swimming for him that day. He was bitterly disappointed.

The result? From that day on, he always remembered his swimming things on a Tuesday – for himself. It was an important bit of growing into responsibility for him.

For me it was a revelation: that bringing people into full responsibility is not always about controlling or leading or teaching – sometimes it’s even about letting go.

Now translate that to a business context in which I am the team leader and my son is the team member. At a certain point I hand over responsibility for something – which means I let it go and allow the person to grow. If I actually let go – and here’s the rub – mistakes may happen: letting go means giving up control over results. But the approach allows the team member to take charge and in doing so they step into greater capability and sense of responsibility – not only for now but for life.

Of course, coaching is not all about letting go. The coach needs a whole tool bag of different tools. But it is about the coachee being in charge of their life and the coach believing the coachee to be creative, resourceful, whole and extraordinary – and to be trusted.

Much ‘strong’ leadership keeps people small.

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and
you help them become what they are capable of”
Joseph Wolfgang Von Goethe

Coaching is about encouraging people to step into their greatness – what a gift to the organisation – and yes to the ROI too …

Coaching has many different tools for helping people as you walk beside them on their journey. Learning to be an excellent coach will help your organisation and is also a great development tool for yourself. You learn what you teach; you teach what you learn.