Helena Clayton | April: 3 Good Things



April: 3 Good Things

08 May 2018, Posted by Helena Clayton in Monthly Blog
April - 3 Good Things

A monthly post where I share what I’m doing, learning and loving … and hope you do too …

  1.    Experiments

This month has featured serious play. The context is a new piece of work – designing and then launching the first module of a 12 month leadership programme for 100 young high potential managers in a global accounting firm.

We have 5 face to face modules with some group coaching in between, and rather than work on an action plan, participants play with experiments.

Actions are about ticking off what’s clear and known and likely to move us towards a known outcome, making progressive improvements. Experiments are about trying something out and seeing what we learn from it, with no sense of a predictable outcome.

Actions are linear and move us towards a predictable end point. Experiments invite us to be playful, and to meander and to follow our curiosity . They invite failure – with a knowing and welcoming smile – and the learning that comes from that. They are the first step in an unfamiliar direction, with no expectation other than seeing what happens. Being an explorer in your own land. Seeing with new eyes.


Here’s Professor Herminia Ibarra, of London Business School, a fan of experiments, in her book Act Like a Leader:

  • · ‘We only increase our self knowledge in the process of making changes’.
  • · ‘We try something new and then observe the results – and then reflect on it and eventually internalise what our experience taught us’
  • · ‘The only way to think like a leader is first to act: to plunge yourself into new projects and activities, interact with very different kinds of people and experiment with unfamiliar ways of getting things done’
  • · ‘New experiences not only change how you think – your perspective on what’s important and worth doing – but also change who you become.
  • · ‘They help you let go of old sources of self esteem, old goals and old habits, not only because the old ways no longer fit the situation at hand but because you have discovered new purposes and more relevant and valuable things to do’.

Her work on identity is also great. She encourages us to ‘flirt with our future possible selves’  Let’s see if we can’t be a bit more playful with who we are and let’s see if we can move away from ‘this is me/this not me’ . Her work puts an interesting spin on authenticity. I am only me because I’m the sum of all my actions. As Aristotle says, ‘we are what we repeatedly do’. So let’s try doing something different and see who we become in response.

Getting the balance right

I used to think that the deep-dive-self awareness part of development was the key to change and transformation. That if we understood ourselves well enough then we’d be able to change – of that change would automatically happen. A psychological approach to development, if you like. And here comes my arrogance.  I also used to think that working on the behavioural change side wasn’t sophisticated enough (I know, yes, I can hear myself …) and I was more than a bit sniffy and a bit of a snob about working with behavioural change approaches.

I have SO changed. While I will always work at depth with people and groups, my work today has a lot more focus on the doing as well as the knowing as I’ve come to see the truth in what Herminia and others say. That we learn about who we are by testing reality, that we come to know things by doing things.

Serious play

As serious kind of gal. I like the underpinning attitude of experiments too – they invite us to engage in ‘serious play’ and hold things more lightly, to laugh at ourselves. It helps engender an attitude of curiosity. Mmm, what might happen if I press THIS button’? And then not be attached at all to what happens next. Simply to smile or laugh at it. very aligned to mediation practice for that matter.

What does that Hopi Indian prayer say, the one called ‘This could be a good time’? It says ‘we should take nothing personally, least of all ourselves’.   That’s a great message for me – and one that I’m hoping my 100 participants can adopt as they work on their personal leadership experiments over the coming year.  A counterbalance to their very serious jobs, maybe

Academic roots

And for those of you with an academic bent, the root of this can also be found in Action Research or Action Inquiry. Do something. And then see what you learn from that. Bill Torbert puts it like this:

‘Action inquiry is a way of learning anew, in the aliveness of each moment, how best to act now. The source of both its difficulty and its potential is that action inquiry requires making ourselves, not just others, vulnerable to inquiry and to transformation’.

So we are asking our 100 participants to identify personal experiments to work on and play with for the coming year. Supported by coaching groups and facilitation, they’re already reporting feeling excited at the prospect of what might emerge. So am I. And I’ll let you know what they thought of it all as their programme progresses.

And two other good things for you:

2. A podcast

Some of you already know the inspiring work of Justin Wise and Lizzie Winn from thirdspace coaching. But do you know that they do a Sunday morning podcast called Turning Towards Life (which they then record) on Facebook and YouTube? The format is a piece of inspirational writing each week that Lizzie and Justin then talk about together. Wise and deep, humbling and candid, inspiring and imaginative. Take look at their conversation about one of my favourite poems, Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese. I think you might just love it.

3. And an inspiration

As part of the leadership programme I mentioned, we invited a senior leader to come and talk to the group about ‘my leadership story’. Sanjay Bhandari, a Partner at EY, was the guy who came and he knocked our socks off. My brief had been for someone who would be open about who they were – both light and shade – and how that showed up in their role as a leader. We were blessed. Never have I heard someone senior in corporate life talk so openly and candidly about who they were, where they’d come from and what they grapple with inside their heads on a daily basis. This man modelled the balance of a fierce intellect with a huge heart and I would work for him in a heartbeat. And , as ever, a reminder that every one of us has a story…

Enjoy May. I’ll be back in June and you can find me on @HelenaClayton on Twitter in the meantime.

H x

  • Helena Clayton | May: 3 Good Things

    […] please do share this post if you think others in your network might be interested. And here’s April and March, if you want to see more of what I’ve been sharing […]


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