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

Welcome to the December 2023 Newsletter

Happy New Year to you!  Yes, I know, I might seem a bit late.  But increasingly for me, the new year needs a decent runway before I feel it's properly begun. If fact, I increasingly feel like I want to lay low until the tulips appear...

It felt like a long break this year and the Twixtmas period went on for ages.  I didn't like it much.  I felt lost and aimless.  But  it passed, and soon I was heading down the M4 to what's become a new year ritual for me - a blissful 4 days away off grid, with no wifi and no phone signal.  Just me and my boots and my books, up a remote valley in the Black Mountains.  Deeply restorative. 

And now we're in January.  For you, you might be raring to go, getting ready to make this your best year yet or 'smash your targets'.  Me, not so much.  Not one for new resolutions, I tend to roll my resolutions over from year to year.  Pretty much the same ones. Get out in nature, and down to the sea.  Read a lot.  Write a bit. Go back to bed for a snooze when I can.  Find the best of Netflix.  Try and aim for good work. And slow down a bit.  And I have no idea of any of these will come to pass.  Let see.

And so to this month's Newsletter.  This month, we have:

- how the 'angel of alternate history' might be a helpful and hopeful perspective for us
- poetry and how it's essential medicine for these difficult times
- a podcast to support our coaching supervision
- the links between the mundane and the extraordinary when it comes to leadership and what gets valued
- what stories about planting trees might move in you
- a roundup of my best books of 2023
- a short burst of Lucille Clifton

Do let me know wat you make of it and I'll be back with you in Feb.  Between now and then remember that you are loving, your are loveable and you are loved.  You really are. 

Helena x



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Poetry to get us through

In the dark times, 
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.


Bertolt Brecht


If you could do with some inspiration or solace to help you walk towards (or just sit with) what's happening in the world - that's the big world or our own little worlds - then you might like to spend some time with Tom Hirons and me on 29 Jan.

Through the words of the poets we'll be reading and talking about the poems that keep us going in tough times.  Some that soothe us and offer us hope in the dark - and some that give us a kick up the arse.  Some that offer a new perspective and others that remind us of what we might have forgotten. 

That's all to say that we think poetry really matters. Perhaps especially in darker times. Because, as Audre Lorde said: poetry lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.

You might already know poet Tom Hirons. 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.

The workshop is online, and is a pay-what-you-can workshop (use the Donate button in the link below). It's on Monday Jan 29 between 7 and 9pm and full details with the booking link is here.  It's already becoming a wonderfully rich group of people gathering - some who know me well and others who know Tom well.  And we're SO looking forward to it. 
Acts of Love for Tough Times

Back in December, I ran two Acts of Love for Tough Times workshops.  We talked about the hard times that we are looking at and experiencing - and how talking about it might be in itself an act of love.  Then we explored - through discussion, some input from me and a few poems, how joy, anger and hope can all be forms of love that serve us well. 

I have the next one booked for 27 Feb and you can find booking details here.  As ever, it's free.  And this time we'll be looking at how forgiveness, activism and seeing the bigger picture are forms of love.

Do come along.  Participants who came in December said:

  • 'Thank you so much for opening-up and facilitating such a lovely space for conversation and connection. I loved the questions and quiet moments for writing and reflection together with the conversations'. 
  • 'There is so much to process. It was a truly enriching and encouraging experience'. 
  • 'I left with lots of insights and feeling much more joyful about the world so thank you to you and all the other participants'.
  • 'Enormous gratitude for you creating and holding such a magical space for us all this morning. I left feeling resourced and nourished and joyful'. 
     
'Could Be Worse'

On Christmas Eve I went to my local Everyman and watched a matinee of It's A Wonderful Life.  How have I never seen this film before?!  Obviously, it was fabulous and I cried.

And then reading Rebecca Solnit last week, she talks about the Angel of Alternate History, where (as Clarence does in the film) it's both helpful and hopeful to consider what the world might look like if we hadn't have done what we have already done.  How it gives us hope to look at 'the atrocities not unfolding' and the ways that our life and how we have lived it might have prevented things from being even worse.

Might not sound much, right?  Like the Cats Protection League strapline that used to say: We Do What We Can For Cats.  But I find it deeply helpful.  I know I can't do much at all to stop awful things from happening.  But there is a chance that my small actions, or me just living as good a life as I can, might just prevent one thing from being a bit worse than it might have been. 

Coaching supervision

I've started taking on clients for coaching supervision (do get in touch if you're interested in exploring that with me - I have two spaces available ...)

My 20+ years of coaching experience is at the heart of what supports this work, plus a lot of personal growth work. including this and more over the years, as well as more recent training in systemic constellations and my on-going coach supervision training with CSTD.  I also have regular supervision as a coach.

But it's this podcast that I wanted to share with you. Lifting the Lid on Supervision  is from Clare Norman and fellow coaching supervisor Steve Ridgley.  It's a 30 or so minute conversation which has been a great companion on my walks-in-the-dark-before-breakfast on many days this winter.   I think you might like it too. 
 


'We need a fantastically wondrous and compassionate vision of how we want the world and our life to become and then we need to roll up our sleeves and work like the devil to get there'


Chris Zydel
 
The mundane and the extraordinary ...

So here's an article I've been thinking about a lot since I read it.  Professor Keith Grint asks what behaviours get valued and privileged in leadership practice.  The key question is how things are valued depending on whether it's done by someone with positional power, or someone without it..  How does it change if it's junior person or a woman doing it, rather than if it's a man?  And when women or junior people do these things, are these seen as prized leadership behaviours?  Or not ...? When do we make the mundane extraordinary? And the other way around. 

Keith says:

'many of the everyday actions of formal leaders are actually quite mundane (chatting to people, listening to people, creating a good working environment, etc.,) but they were perceived as the acts of “leadership” — significant and remarkable — if leaders engaged in them. Thus, everyone at work listens to others, but when managers listen to their subordinates it is endowed with great symbolic significance — the “extraordinarization of the mundane” in their terms'

' it's the mundane work that makes organizations function and that is often attributed by followers to acts of “leadership,” (when done by positional leaders) seldom seems to be rewarded by those at the top of the organizational hierarchy when performed by subordinates'.


Keith has a longer version of this article coming out early this year and I'll share it here as soon as I see it.

It also reminded me about a piece I wrote a while back about care and how care (including the ways that we care for others in the workplace) is gendered, and therefore not as valued or prized as other values or actions.  As well as this short TEDTalk about everyday leadership and the value of the mundane.  

Societies grow great ...
I've been reading a lot about hope recently, as part of getting ready to write something about hope in tough times.  One aspect of hope that comes up again and again is the importance of doing small things, that seemingly make no difference to anything at all, but that cumulatively might.  That's might.  Not will.

And I keep seeing examples that relate to trees, so here are some of them:

 
  • In the book The Overstory, there's a character who plants trees. Dedicates a whole period of his life to planting trees (it's a wonderful book, by the way)
  • My friend Jeannie tells me she's joined a group planting hedges in Dartmoor.
  • The Greek proverb: 'a society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit' 
  • The story of the Brazilian war photographer Sebastian Salgado and how he has spent the last decade planting trees 
  • And this story of a blind man and an armless man who together have planted 10,000 trees.
 I find these examples very moving.  
 
Best books of 2023
As promised, my best reads of 2023, and no, not in any particular order:

Ian McEwan: Lessons
Niall Williams: This is Happiness
Sebastian Barry: Old God's Time 
Louise Kennedy Trespasses 
Richard Powers: Bewilderment
Jean Hegland : Windfalls and Into the Forest
Barabara Kingsolver: Demon Copperhead
Laline Paull: Pod 
Hannelore Cayre: The Godmother

Another solid bunch would be: 

Kamila Shamsie: Best of Friends
Caleb Azumah Nelson: Open Water
Ross Raisin: A Hunger
Maggie O’Farrell: The Marriage Portrait 
Coco Mellor: Cleopatra and Frankenstein
Megan Hunter: The Harpy
 
Three more, poetry or poetry-ish:

Maggie Smith: You Could Make This Place Beautiful,  
Martin Shaw: Bardskull
Ada Limon: The Carrying

And non fiction top-of-the-pile is probably Dougald Hine's: At Work in the Ruins

 

'There’s always light to come, no matter how dark the world might seem: there’s always, always a glimmer, no matter how faint'. 


Sharon Blackie
Poem

the lesson of the falling leaves

the leaves believe
such letting go is love
such love is faith
such faith is grace
such grace is god
i agree with the leaves


Lucille Clifton

Good reads
The four in the picture were my reading pile for when I was in Wales.  Hope in the Dark and Hospicing Modernity, both excellent and brain stretching.  I haven't finished Hospicing Modernity yet, but I'm already pretty sure it will be a book that changes me.  Landlines - just wonderful.  But didn't love All the Broken Places at all. 

And before that was the haunting and terrifying Booker winner, Prophet Song, from Paul Lynch..  And then a departure for me - a bit of SF and the wonderful Left Hand of Darkness, from Ursula le Guin.
And at work
Just as I hoped there's very little to report here :-) The back end of December was mostly taken up with a few days at the College of Policing, for the closing module of a programme with a Civil Service group.  There were two  wonderfully rich Acts of Love for Tough Times sessions.  And only one coaching session as the other two clients cancelled - maybe not a surprise that close to the Christmas break. 

I started back at work on 8 Jan and it looks like a gentle few months ahead - not too busy - which I'm liking the look of, and hope I can keep it that way for a little while. 
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

helena@helenaclayton.co.uk
07771 358 881
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