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

Welcome to the December 2023 Newsletter

Wow, December already.  And I'm definitely noticing a pull to hibernation.  More this year than previous years, I think.     

That might be because Dom is off work and will be for a while, waiting for his adrenal system to come back to life as he comes off steroids after more than 20 years.  It's a very slow process and he's had to slow down to almost stopping so I'm pretty sure that's having an impact on me too (and, my own experience of CFS about 12 years ago is really helping me understand what he's going through).

We're doing a lot of wintering - lots of great food  - a LOT of roasted squash - but also plenty of good TV from the soothing Bake Off to the distinctly less so Boat Story.  And I'm seeking out winter walks on the Downs, regular trips to the pool and heaps of yoga to counterbalance all that. 

I also managed to draft a book proposal this month.  And I veer between feeling proud and sure I have something important to say, and feeling small and naive in thinking that it will ever be written, let alone published!  But nothing is ever wasted, and so the work is all part of Something.

This month, I'm sharing some gems:

  • an amazing opportunity to join me with poet Tom Hirons in a workshop exploring poetry for tough times in Jan.  Not one to miss, I'd say! Full details below. 
  • a podcast exploring 'existential insecurity'  that really got me thinking
  • the importance of place - the local communities, economy, the built environment - as part of the context for leadership development
  • using freefall writing in our work

I stop work on 20 Dec and am not planning any client contact until 15 Jan.  That's longer than previous years and feels just what's needed. 

So I'll see you in Jan and hope you can keep finding your way back to your breath and your heart in the middle of whatever's happening. 

With love
Helena x

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Workshop with Tom Hirons

Poetry lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.

Audre Lorde

When times are so challenging and so confusing and we don’t know what to do or think or feel, sometimes it’s helpful to look to other people’s words to help us make sense of the chaos.  And at a time when we’ve likely  heard enough from politicians and pundits, how about we listen to what the poets have to say?

I’ve been using poetry as part of leadership development workshops for some time now – and in my work exploring love - sometimes reading poems and sometimes asking people to write their own. 

And Tom Hirons is a poet.  He’s also a storyteller and writer, a teacher, a publisher and an activist.  He knows both the feather-touch and the gut-punch of words and what poetry can bring us.  I've mentioned his Sometimes a Wild God here before and I have the great good fortune to know him.
At this pay-what-you-can workshop, we’ll be reading and discussing 6 poems that we feel offer us something important in these chaotic and complex times. Whether it’s hope in the dark, a galvanizing force for action, a reminder of the small joys and delights that co-exist with terror, a witness to what’s happening, expressing things we didn’t even realised we thought or felt, helping us see the bigger picture and smallest detail, allowing us to grieve  … poetry can often act as strong and essential medicine for us.

The (online) workshop is on Monday Jan 29 between 7 and 9pm and full details with the booking link is here.

Tom and I would LOVE you to join us.  And we're already starting to notice what poems we're itching to include ...

Acts of Love for Tough Times

The (free) Acts of Love for Tough Times sessions are almost fully booked but there are still a couple of spaces on the session on 20 December between 0800-1000 and details and booking is here.   

There's another session the day before on 19 Dec between 4-6pm.  And here's the link to book that one. 

The question that frames these sessions is some thing like this: when the world is on fire, how might we gather together to talk about how we feel about what's happening in the world - and explore the ways that different forms of love, whether anger and activism, grief, compassion or joy, might support us.  Someone asked in a LI post recently 'how are you updating your work in light of the way the world is changing?'.  I thinking this sort of exploration is one of those ways for me. 

And if you're interested but can't book because the sessions are full, please do email me at helena@helenaclayton.co.uk and I'll add your name to a waiting list.  When it's a free event there are always people who cancel or don't turn up and so I'm pretty certain there will be space for you.

'Escaping from joyless urgency'

A few years ago, I found my way to Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks, a cracking read that puts most approaches to time management into a their rightful places (ie quite useful but hold them lightly) focusing instead on the 'what matters most' principle to guide our lives and our choices.

So when I saw that he had turned that book into an online course over on BBC Maestro, I paid my £47 and bought it.  It seems that I can't be reminded enough that the approach of 'clearing the decks' before starting any more important or meaningful work or activity is one that never works.  So I'm enjoying Oliver reminding me to make the main thing the main thing and everything else will either find its place - or else maybe it doesn't matter enough to warrant a place. 

'Our task is is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events,
as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places'.

Donna Haraway
Existential insecurity

Spending a week at home to get some writing done, I had a bit more time for diving into a new podcast or two to support what I was writing about.

I'm not a massive fan of podcasts, I get easily impatient.  But I discovered Astra Taylor, Canadian writer and filmmaker (and big thinker) and this first episode of her Massey lectures was excellent.  Using the Greek myth of the goddess Cura as her starting point, she explores the idea of security and our core human need for it - while recognising the bind were in because we're hardwired for existential insecurity - it's just part of being human.

Writing bursts
Often when I go a poetry workshop, one of the activities we do is a short writing burst, using a sentence stem and then free-writing for a short time, usually around 3 minutes.  I love these bursts and am always amazed by how generative and creative they are.

So I've started using them in my leadership development work including my coaching practice. For example, the other day, I was running a session on complexity and ambiguity and so asked the group to do 2 writing bursts on the following:

 - in confusion, I long for ...
 - when I am grounded, I can ...

It's a great way to have people do some highly individual reflection and it always produces deeper shares and contributions back in the whole group afterwards.

Some guidelines for doing this can be found in freefall writing, from Barbara Vasselago and finding 'the courage to fall without a parachute, into the words as they come, into the thoughts before they have fully formed in the mind, into the unplanned structures that take shape, without prompting, to contain them'. 
The Power of Place
When starting a leadership programme, I often begin with an exploration of the context for that leadership, the bigger picture.  If my work mostly focuses on the practice of leadership, and sometimes the micro practices of leadership  - what do we do each day and how do we do that - then in order to work out what's needed we need to understand this moment in its context.  We need to map the concentric circles of what else is happening - wider and higher and further out - that will have an impact on what we do here, now, today.

One element in those concentric circles is the idea of place.  What's the physical environment - including the built environment -  that we're operating in, having an impact on - and that it is having an impact on us?  How can we lead in a way that considers the economy we're in, the communities that we are part of? To what extent might we consider the city, the town, the county as being significant to our leadership decisions?  How might the physical place you operate as a business inspire and guide your business decisions? 

If the idea of place-based leadership is resonating with you, then do take a look at The Power of Place, a 9 month programme with Jenny Andersson, that explores this and more in a rich and connected community of learning. 


'The biggest distraction from finding our path of dedication is the way we are overborne by the flitting movements of our own restless mind'. 

David Whyte

Red Brocade

The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.
No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armour everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.
I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

Naomi Shahib Nye

Good reads
Some great reads this month. Ben Myers's The Perfect Golden Circle.  I love his writing.  Also Ann Patchett's latest one, Tom Lake, that I treated myself to in hardback.  And A Wizard of Earthsea.  I decided it was time i read some Ursula K. Le Guin and started with this one, only to find it was a children's book - but read it anyway and loved it. 

And non-fiction,  working my way through Rest is Resistance, from Tricia Hersey reclaiming rest to take power back from grind culture, capitalism and white supremacy.  We don't need to be exhausted in order to feel we deserve rest, she says, and we also need to let go of the belief that we only rest now in order to be more productive later.   And then the lovely Wanderland, from Jini Reddy, who explores her relationship with the natural world and 'seeks the wild unseen'. 

(For Jan's Newsletter, I'll pick my best reads of 2023)
And at work
Ooh, I thought it had been a quiet month for client work, but when I looked back at my diary, there was a lot!  It included:
  • working with a global Board who 'arrived as Board members and left as people'.  Deeply enjoyable and satisfying. 
  • the launch of the second cohort of a women's leadership programme in the MoD
  • a session on 'what to so when we don't know what to do' for the King's Fund, for women leaders in health and care.  As part of that we did a table-top mapping of a complex issue as well as some writing bursts
  • a Leading from Love workshop with 60 people from a global charity, many from a range of African countries, which made for some good conversation about what love means and what leadership means in their particular cultures.
  • and some Action Learning sets for a Civil Service programme.
I'm hoping, with my long break, there really won't be much to report on in next month's Newsletter!
Do get in touch and let me know how you're finding these Newsletters, or if you'd like to see more info on anything I could include.   I love hearing from you.  You know where I am on LinkedIn, or connect via Email. Or call me of course, whichever suits.

Helena x

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