Hello there, lovely people, and I hope you’re well and handling the transition out of summer with ease ...
I usually take all of August off but this year I chose to keep some work in. But there were still so many wonderful things the biggest being a 7 day residential course at West Dean College.
I do nothing at all that's creative. Nothing with my hands. But I always thought that if I did, it would be collage of some sort. So when my dad died and I had a bit of spare cash, I spent a chunk of it on a week-long 'mixed media with textiles' course at West Dean. I thought I'd spend the week rocking in a corner and crying with frustration at my lack of skill. But it truly was set up for complete beginners as promised, and I had the most wonderful time.
A whole week spent making 'marks on a page' by writing, monoprinting and botanical contacting printing using natural dyes we made - all with natural materials foraged from the West Dean gardens.
It was wholly absorbing and it connected me deeply and forensically to nature. But there were times when I wondered what the heck I was going... fiddling with a leaf or two while the Taliban took Kabul. It felt so pointless and self indulgent. So much more so than my Netflix habit. And while I love art and culture, it was the value of the 'craft' nature of this course I wondered about.
But I remembered what Jenny Odell says about spending time doing nothing - and doing nothing in nature - can be a political act. A radical stand against the oppressive capitalist culture of achievement, constant striving for more and better that we currently operate in, and help perpetuate in the way we keep so busy. That helped a bit! As did discovering that Picasso said: 'art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.'
And this lovely Wendell Berry poem, The Peace of Wild Things, took me back to the importance of finding ways to deeply connect with nature:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
And so I settled back into absorbing myself in nature and craft, let some of the dust of everyday life just be washed away, and discovered I was ok with it all.
Dom and I also fitted in a lovely weekend on the isle of Wight finally meeting Stefan from the Freshwater Coffee House - who I'd met on Twitter during lockdown and have been buying his (fab) coffee online ever since. Plus crab pasties at Steephill Cove, the Julian Cameron museum, fish and chips at the Blue Crab in Yarmouth and a couple of wonderful sea swims.
The start of September sees me gearing up for an autumn of work but this year feels different - I'm determined to work more part-time than full-time so I have space to read and write more. Wish me luck with that!
One thing I always talk about that resonates with many people is Boarding School Survivor Syndrome. Typically associated more with boys, this refers to the impact that being sent to Boarding school early - as your at 8 yrs old - has. And when we look at many of our senior leadership populations, we can see that there may be many who experienced this.
According to Joy Shaverein in her book on the subject, a natural and almost inevitable protection against the trauma of having the childhood attachments severed in this way is to cut ourselves off from these deeply painful feelings. And, as far as I understand it, because of the way we are wired, when we cauterise one set of feelings it has an all-round impact. We can’t choose to suppress one feeling without suppressing all. So, many senior leaders have had to, in order to keep themselves safe and sane, cut themselves off from their natural feelings. Sometimes this is such a clear and powerful act, that the literature uses the term ‘cauterise’. Wow. And while these studies are very specific around the impact of early boarding (around 7-8yrs old) , I imagine a milder version of this might be true for many, many more of us.
A recent Guardian article taps into some of this cultural context we're all swimming in. And, in this podcast episode, the wonderful Anni Townend talks to Thurstine Basset, a boarding school survivor, author and mental health champion. and also includes her own experiences of being affected by her Boarding School experiences.
It's a fascinating topic and one that's worth exploring if you're involved in cultural change at all - and the links between individual, organisational and societal levels.
I'm adding this new section each month so that I keep bringing you stuff / people / resources about love you might find interesting. It will also keep me focused too, as the work I do with love is sometimes put aside to focus more on mortgage-paying work.
So here are two very different people whose work you might like. The first is a powerful TED Talk from the Sikh activist Valarie Kaur. She talks with heat and focus about the importance of not only 'the love for a stranger' but also for those who have hurt us.
And for those of us who want to explore ways to bring love more directly into our working worlds, here's the work that Renee Smith does. You'll see she leads with 'being more human' but it only takes you a breath to see that she also has no qualms about claiming the word love for us in our work. I'm delighted to say that Renee and I will be running a session together at a Conference in October ... and you'll find details below in Events.
A Podcast with Marcel Schwantes
From time to time I get to meet wonderful people in others parts of the world who are interested in exploring love and leadership. Back in the early summer, I did a podcast with Marcel Schwantes. Such an inspiring and engaging guy to talk with and someone who's doing great work on putting the human right at the centre of work and how we do it.
We're talking about running an event together soon as a way to explore if we might do some joint research into love and so I'll let you know as and when that happens.
Otherwise, you can get a taste of his approach as he explores with me the role that love might play in leadership. We talk about how we might define love in a work context, the value of intentionally talking about love if we want something to change and how important love is as a force to counteract the fear and toxicity in many organisations today.
You can listen to that episode here. And for more wonderful conversations, Marcel's podcast site is here.
Some good reads
A year or so ago, I wrote a piece on how my busyness and my constant hurry got in the way of me being loving. It resonated with many people. It was based on a quote from US pastor John Mark Comer who claimed 'you can't be a hurried person AND a loving person'. I finally got around to reading his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. His lens as a Christian is not my lens, but I found the way he explores how Jesus's life was a slow one and not a fast one, meant there was plenty I could take from it. The chapters on Silence and Solitude, Sabbath, Simplicity and Slowing were much needed.
I often don't read books about love in organisations. I'll be honest, it's because I get jealous and envious if I feel they're covering 'my' territory. Not helpful, nor qualities I like in myself, obviously! But I seem to have got over myself enough to read this one, Leading with Love: Rehumanising the Workplace from Karen Blakeley and Mark Blakeley, which I'm delighted about because it's absolutely in 'my' territory. I'm only part-way in and I can really recommend it. It takes the capacity for love in leaders to be one of of 'spiritual and psychological maturity' (which reminds me of this post) and considers this in the wider context of the toxically performative organisational culture that so many of us work in (and contort ourselves to fit into) today. Through stories and examples it ends up painting a rich picture of how 'small things done with great love' can build into a culture where we all care more, including for distant strangers.
Fiction-wise, The Night Watchman from Louise Erdrich was great. A new author to me and also a new context - the lives of American Indians in a modern world that denies their rights, identity and sovereignty. So I learned a lot about distant strangers. And the characters and plot were ones I couldn't wait to get back to - always a sign of a good book, for me. I've just ordered a few more of hers.
A conference session at Evolve 2021 running 20-22 October sees me pairing up with the wonderful Renee Smith of Make Work More Human to talk about love and the role it could play in collaborative change. We're basing our session on the belief that if people who are joined together because of their love for a cause also develop love for each other, then their power for change will be greater. We'll take people through a 'mapping the field of love' activity and also an experience designed to see how you can grow love with a stranger. Tickets have just gone on sale and you can get them via the conference link above.
Working with me
You can find out more about the work I do on my website and you'll see more on how I:
design and run leadership and organisational development programmes
coach at all levels, especially senior and Board level
develop organisational culture through a focus on deep humanity and love.
My current work focus is:
Lots of Exec level coaching, including at Board level. And it's reminding me that the sort of time and attention given to people in a coaching relationship is time and attention that leaders and managers just don't have the space to give. And so the organisation finds them someone who can provide it. It feels like much coaching is a form of out-sourcing the human, relational aspect of leadership.
I've also been spending the last couple of weeks deep in the culture of global car manufacturer, in preparation to facilitate the thinking of a Design Team as they scope out a new leadership/culture/change programme . It's complex. With some fascinating polarities to work with, as you'd imagine. And it's just so good to be involved at such an early stage. Exciting stuff.
And if you think a conversation about how I might support you in any of those areas might be useful, please do get in touch. You know where I am on TwitterandLinkedIn, or connect viaEmail. Or call me of course, whichever suits.
And if you found something useful in this Newsletter, I'd really appreciate it if you could share on social or forward it to someone in your network so that it can reach more people.