I coached someone today who has a personally very important
speech to deliver and wanted to get it as right as possible.
As I listened to him speak I was struck by the demonstration of leadership that he was embodying in both what he said and how he said it. For me, it also was a brilliant example of how to solve the strategy/execution conundrum that is the source of so much leadership scholarship.
I had been waiting for this opportunity for some time. To meet up
face-to-face with Blog Guest Author Charlie Walker-Wise and get his first-hand
account of how attention to Space and Time can create more effective
Charlie had written two articles a year ago on this Blog about space and
time – the links are in ‘further reading’ below. Since then I have referred my
coaching clients a number of times to Charlie’s wisdom on this subject. When
they needed to make a landmark presentation to a number of people. Or when they
had a forthcoming significant one-to-one discussion – a so called ‘moment of
truth’ or ‘crucial conversation’. Either way, Charlie’s articles kept bouncing
back to me as part of my coach’s toolkit.
For me the space was on Tuesday last week at Balthazar’s French Bistro in London’s Covent Garden. The time was lunch time. I originally intended to call this article ‘Lunch with Charlie Walker-Wise’, but didn’t think it would really grab your attention dear reader!
I have known Charlie since he was 12. His parents had a home in our village when we moved in 28 years ago (you do the maths). It’s so very gratifying to see him now. Married with two young children. A successful career as Client Director with RADA Business. It’s this combination of acting and business that fuels my imagination and drives me to seek out his views.
So here we are meeting for lunch and I announce to Charlie I have an agenda.
I want to pick his brains about space and time.
I’m not sure about you but I’m better at giving advice than receiving
it. My privilege as a trainer and performance coach is to be able to fall back
on “do as I say, not as I do”. This is not something I’m particularly proud of
and nor is it something I want to admit to those I work with. I console myself,
professionally at least, with the fact that my diagnostic skills lie in helping
others and not myself. It also can’t be very helpful for anyone with the unenviable
task of being my coach.
Recently, however, I was offered some advice and in spite of
my habit, I took it. Surprisingly, to me anyway, the shift in awareness it
provoked has rippled through my whole life. My own coach is a mindfulness expert
and while we don’t spend too much time on this topic she set me a related task.
I was to take an everyday activity and be fully in it as I perform it, noticing
the sensations provoked by the experience.
Now, I’m not good at doing what I’m told. I will find ingenious ways not to do the homework I’ve been set (the French “devoir” always seemed a much more appropriate name). But over the Christmas break I had little excuse not to do one of the two very simple requests made of me.
With the end of the year approaching fast, I’m sure I’m not alone in taking a moment to reflect on the past 12 months and what it’s meant to me both personally and professionally.
Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those terrible articles titled “10 things you need to do to be a success in 2019” but I did want to share something that’s helped me, with the hope that it will help you too.
By way of context, 2018 has been a challenge. I work in a traditional industry, that faces a severe skills shortage and, if I’m honest, a distinct lack of imagination about how to solve it.
My own organisation is not without its frustrations, and our own attempts to be creative and innovative in the way that we approach the development of our people – I’m Head of Learning – can often feel like they just aren’t impacting quickly enough. It always feels like we should be doing more.
And on a personal note, earlier in the year my mum was diagnosed, quite unexpectedly, with an aggressive form of brain cancer. After a short illness she passed away in May.
As the year continued I think it’s fair to say that all the above started to take a toll. I began to “leak” as a result of my frustrations.
I was resting before my next fight during my latest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament when a mother of one of the kids, who was competing in the children’s competition, approached me, looking quite desperate, looking for feedback she told me that she needed my help. Her son had just lost his first fight against a more skillful kid and she insisted on showing me the video of her son’s fight to see if I could give her tips on how to improve his technique. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a sport that does not believe in talent. One improves by training constantly. There is no secret formula for overnight improvement, just like life. I looked at her and noticed that she was very concerned and recommended that she should have a talk with her son’s coach to understand the process and let him take care of his progress. She replied, “I want to help him but I do not know how”. I am also a father and completely understood her position. We do not want our kids to go through unnecessary hardship.
This week is a big week for me. We are moving house, have said goodbye to builders who have been preparing our new place and are expecting our second child in less than two weeks. All the things you’re told not to do together, we’re doing them.
This has led me to reflect on resilience and leadership. With a heavily pregnant wife much of the heavy lifting (literal and metaphoric) has fallen to me. At times I haven’t held up as robustly as I would like to think I would be able to.
The dread of delivering a presentation dogs many of us. There are few who actually relish the prospect of public speaking. Nevertheless, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be brilliant. We mustn’t mess up, must be the expert, must be impervious to doubt, and meet any challenge with a flawless response. Intellectually we recognise that these are unrealistic aims but we still pressure ourselves to be perfect. This striving for perfection is not helpful for myriad reasons, not least because it puts you at the centre of every situation; and guess what? You’re not.
Whenever you’re delivering a presentation you are the least important person in the room.
What is it that gives other people confidence in you?
What is it that defines you as a credible, confident, authoritative communicator of ideas and vision? Gives you gravitas? Says to people that they should take you seriously?
It’s pretty simple really. It’s all about space and time.
In (not quite) the same way physics brings space and time together to form the space-time continuum, so it is that how we bring together our personal relationship to space and time will define our impact as communicators. A Communication Continuum, if you like.
There are books, poems and articles that stay with you throughout your adult life. In my case I can cite one of each and recall the person – in all cases A family member – who originally brought them to my attention. When I look back I realise these were the people that influenced me in my early years. They set me on a path in pursuit of happiness and success.
A Book. As far as books go for me it has been ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie that set me on my path. I have a 1977 paperback edition. The subtitle on the front cover says: ‘The phenomenal bestseller that is helping millions find success and happiness’. It’s well used, marked up with pencil and has post-it notes sticking out to draw me back to things I must have thought were important to me in the 1970s and beyond. I was introduced to this book by my late father-in-law Ken Smith. What’s even more exciting for me is that I now have Ken’s 1936 hardback imprint of the same book. And it has his pencil marks ups, which give me a great insight to what was important to him in the 1940s and 50s as he started out on his path to happiness and success in his life and in his career. The inside front cover of Ken’s book quotes Carnegie’s ‘Twelve things this book will help you achieve‘.
A Poem. The poem that influenced me was ‘If‘ by Rudyard Kipling which my mother Peggy sent me in 1968 when I had left home to go to University. I believe at that time she was offering me a pattern for my future life.
An Article. We have to wait until the new millennium for the article that has influenced both my wife and I ever since that time. It was my father-in-law Ken again who sent us a clipping from The Sunday Times of 30 January 2000 entitled ‘How to be Happy’. It was an article by Gyles Brandreth in which he interviewed the eminent Irish psychiatrist Dr Anthony Clare who offered his seven point plan for happiness. We have followed Dr Clare’s prescription ever since. And just last month my wife Sue introduced me to a new article in the Independent about a ten year research programme by ‘Happiness Expert’ Eric Barker. In the article the Indy’s lifestyle writer Kashmira Gander summarises “Eric Barker has spent almost a decade uncovering why some people seem more happy and successful than others, but his findings don’t always make for comfortable reading“.
There is a surprising fourth source of inspiration from a family member – a Document of State – but more of that later!
What can we learn about the Pursuit of Happiness and Successfrom these publications?