Helena Clayton Newsletter - View this email in your browser
Leadership Developer • Coach & Facilitator • Writer

Welcome to the June 2023 Newsletter

So May was a cracking month, all told. 

A week with Dom's grandkids while their mum was away (which meant I got to watch Pee-wee's Big Adventure ...); the surreal and extraordinary Coronation; 12 hours without water which was a sobering lesson in imagining a life without it; realising that blocking Fridays for no work really doesn't work for me and starting to experimenting instead with a half day each week blocked out for a specific walk/beach trip and that does seem to do the trick; a few trips to the sea for chilly swims plus my first visit of the season to the lido in Arundel... and last week, a week on Gower, my all-time happy place with daily swims and walks with the most gorgeous weather ...  and a month that also included some of the most interesting work I've done in a while. 

And this month, you have here:

  • a great podcast conversation with the wonderful Nigel Cutts about love and leadership.
  • how we might 'make the main thing, the main thing',  aka living life by living more, and fulfilling our obligations to other people a little less.
  • a reminder to include what often gets excluded and the power of that.
  • an invitation to live life as if 'the world is conspiring to shower you with blessings'.
  • and the importance of honouring the past and the shoulders we stand on in all our work. 

I hope you find something you like in there. 

Back with you in July, when I'll be able to tell how I found my experience with the storyteller Martin Shaw, on Dartmoor.  In the meantime, go well and I hope you find tenderness and light in amongst the stones. 

Helena x

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Love and leadership - with Nigel Cutts

I met Nigel Cutts years ago.  Someone had put us in touch when they learned I was  getting interested in exploring love in the workplace - because Nigel had written the wonderful Love at Work.  We had lunch in Petworth and he just couldn't have been more encouraging of where I was heading. I owe him a lot for that. 

We stayed in touch and only last week were both interviewed for a film being developed in the US exploring love, including from a leadership angle (more on that to come, I hope).

And so I don't know why it's taken until now to chat to him via my podcast. But it was worth the wait.  Here's our conversation, exploring how sitting still with ourselves is the place to start to cultivate love; that love doesn't exist outside of action; and that some of the core work we need to do these days is learn to increase our tolerance levels.

Take a listen - I think you'll like it.

What goes in first?

'One of my special talents, looking at my life so far, has been the amazing ability to turn any activity or opportunity – no matter how potentially delightful or exciting – into a burdensome obligation that I wish I didn’t have to fulfill. Truly: it’s a superpower!'

So begins the most recent Newsletter from Oliver Burkeman, who wrote the wonderful Four Thousand Weeks.  And from the question: 'and how's that working for you?' he goes on to explore how holding our obligations more lightly might help us put more of the things we like, and maybe even love, at the centre of our life.

This links to a previous Newsletter where he talks about 'operating from sanity' by which he means first doing some things you love to do and then fulfilling your obligations rather than getting through all your obligations in the (usually vain) hope that you'll then have space for what you really want to be doing.  It's a privilege, I realise, to do that.  But it's one I have and so I'm determined to use it. 

What's beneath the surface

Ran a lovely session with a group of leaders, about the things that don't get talked about and what could be different if we found ways to do that. 

Why does looking at ALL of what's happening matter?  Because as James Baldwin said: ‘not everything that is faced can be changed.  But nothing can be changed until it is faced’. 

And from Joanna Macy: 'the most radical thing any of us can do at this time is to be fully present to what is happening in the world'. 

And because: 'systems gain strength when difficult things are acknowledged – the truth is a turn on', from Deborah Rowland

Here are just some of the questions we explored in the session and I thought you might find them useful too:

  • What never or rarely gets talked about in your organisation? What are the taboos or elephants in the room? Write them down - you know there are things - get them down on paper.  What do you imagine might be possible / different / better etc if these things were named and even talked about?What's the most judgemental story and also the most compassionate story you can tell about why things are like that? 
  • What about you - within your organisation.  What don't you talk about.  And why is that? Confidence, fear of consequences, now knowing where to begin ...? 
  • And you more generally.  What do you find particularly tricky to explore with others?  What do you hate to have to talk about?  And how come - what might be in your culture or personal history that means this is difficult for you?  And if you chose one difficult thing to raise with someone, what might that be - and what might be one small step towards that?
We don't have to talk about all this stuff by the way.  But we do need to acknowledge it's there so that in time we can accept and even welcome it. 

And this gorgeous image I've used here is from Morgan Harper Nichols.



A  workshop for OD people and coaches - really, for anyone involved in complex problems in organisations -  where you can helpfully step back and look at a complex problem you have through a range of different lenses,  including embodied and systemic. 

There are still a couple of spaces.  And, sod it, we said - let's keep the Early Bird Price for everyone.  It's on 23 June and full details are here

You probably know that I am one of the people who think we're in catastrophic times, in times of collapse and heading towards a whole heap of trouble.  I'm with Jem Bendell, Meg Wheatley and many others.  

In spite of or maybe because of that, I'm aware of how important it is to stay connected to love, poetry and laughter, joy and wonder, awe and gratitude.  

One thought experiment I just adore is this one: what if you imaged that the world is conspiring to shower you with blessings?  What if you could see that the universe is basically friendly?  What if you knew are you surrounded by helpers in a friendly, enchanted universe that gives you challenges in order to make you smarter and wilder and kinder and trickier?

It was Tiu de Haan who introduced me to Rob Breszney's idea of 'pronoia'. the idea that the world is conspiring to shower you with blessings.  And It has tickled me and inspired me ever since.  I recently dug out his book and I dip into it from time to time. It never fails to bring me something I needed. 

What if, indeed ...
Honouring the past
This month, Matt Fairbrass and I ran a session with two founders of an organisation, who are starting to move it to a not-for-profit. We came together to explore ALL that that means - changes in mindset, assumptions, underpinning philosophy through to working practices, structures and roles. And the rest.

Even though the focus of the work was very much on the future it always feels important to start with looking back - at the origins of an organisation, key events in its growing up, the joys and the bumps in the road ...

Each of them did that, individually and together. And then they spoke out loud to the past: 'Thank you. I am grateful for all the gifts and all the lessons. I take those forward with me. And I leave behind those which no longer serves me'.

And then they bowed - to the past and to each other - to honour their collective history. And took a step towards their future.

Remembering, acknowledging and honouring what's happened is an important way to free up the future for what wants to happen next.

A small dragon

I've found a small dragon in the woodshed.  
Think it must have come from deep inside a forest
because it's damp and green and leaves
are still reflecting in its eyes. 

I fed it on many things, tried grass, 
the roots of stars, hazel-nut and dandelion, 
but it stared up at me as if yo say, I need
food you can't provide.

It made a nest among the coal, 
not unlike a bird's but larger, 
it is out of place here
and is quite silent.

If you believed in it I would come
hurrying to your house to let you share my wonder, 
but I want instead to see
if you yourself will pass this way.

Brian Patten

G00d reads
Not so much this month.  But one total cracker and that's Demon Copperhead from Barbara Kingsolver, who can't write a bad word, IMHO (there was a poem of hers in my May Newsletter, you might remember). This won the Women's Prize for Fiction and I can totally see why. I just didn't want it to end. 

And also Pod from Laline Paull which was on the shortlist for the same prize.  Sometimes felt like it was written for teens, but have to say it's stayed with me, so no bad thing, maybe.
And at work
As well as the pieces of work above, it's been a full and interesting month with:
  • a senior women's leadership programme in the Civil Service getting off to a fine start as we explore what's needed of a leader today and how can we start to influence a system by moving together.
  • putting in place a series of interviews with Residential Care Home managers in a County Council as part of helping them work more as a leadership team
  • presenting back the findings of some leadership discovery/diagnostic work with the Top 300 of a global car manufacturer
  • a gender allyship workshops for male Partners in a big law firm ...
June is a bit of a holiday month for me - and I feel more than ready for that! And I'll see you again in July. 

In the meantime, do get in touch and let me know how you're finding these Newsletters, of if you'd like to see more info on anything I include.   I love hearing from you.  You know where I am on Twitter and LinkedIn, or connect via Email. Or call me of course, whichever suits.

Helena x

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