Are you running yourself into the ground?

When people are smart, high achieving, wonderful people who care about doing a good job, in and out of work, it’s very easy to reach a crunch point.

I often see it where clients are doing exactly what Bill describes in this quote.

Things are busy at work, it’s all go, glued to screens and phones and meetings for hours. Lots of coffee, lots of sitting and maybe some sugary, processed, quick-and-easy food chucked in for good measure.

In the presence of this, it can make sense to try and balance. With all this unhealthiness at work I must make sure I go running or to the gym, I must make sure I eat well at home, I must make sure our family time is full of maximum-quality experiences. read more

Conformity: the ultimate self harm

In conforming and being ‘good’, we’ve ignored our heart. We’ve created the perfect conditions for collective suffering. And for waking up.

The mind says ‘do the right thing’ because then you’ll be mended, you’ll have crossed the finish line of acceptable and ‘good enough’. And we’ll have order. Without being good – certain anarchy! Chaos!

Or so it says.

But it doesn’t know the deep wisdom behind it.

The deep wisdom of the heart which does the ‘right thing’; naturally inevitably. The perfect ‘right thing’ for you. No reference to right and wrong, no consideration for ‘will this get me the kudos?’. Just doing, from love, which includes strong words, and includes powerful action. This is not about fluff. All in alignment with a deeper reality behind the scenes. read more

Don’t reject the ego

In attempts to become enlightened, the ego can become the enemy. Something to be pushed out, got rid of. There’s another way.

Two men wrestling head to head.

Ego. Not the source of our self-confidence or self-esteem. In fact it diminishes our innate brilliance.

Ego. A collection of thoughts, some curated in your life, some inherited from past generations. A repetitive thought process which highlights only the ones which conform to the story we’ve been told and tell about ourselves. read more

Psychological safety : we have a choice

Psychological safety was researched for many years before it hit the headlines with Google’s Project Aristotle. In asking “what makes an effective team?” the key enabling factor was psychological safety. But we have a choice — we can create psychologically safe environments with or without effort. What do you choose?

HT for the image :

Definition : Psychological safety is “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.”

I’m sure you’ll have been in a conversation or a meeting at some point in your life where you wondered whether to speak up, whether to ask the question, whether to offer the idea you had, whether to say I don’t know, or whether to say it didn’t work. read more

Emotional intelligence made easy

Think of a time when you were in flow. Either on your own, or in a group or team. One of those times when things just seemed to happen really naturally and easily. When you didn’t have to put much effort in and yet you were making great progress, or getting great results.

Now compare that to the definition of emotional intelligence:

“the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)”

When you were in flow, to what extent were you doing any of the things in that definition?

My guess would be not very much, if at all, and certainly not consciously. Not with intellectual effort.

This is because when we’re in our natural state, we don’t need strategies and tactics. We don’t need breathing and centring, or visualisations of the best version of us, or mantras about listening to understand not to reply.

And this is because, in our natural “flow state”, we aren’t paying attention to the thinking going on in our heads. We’re not grabbing hold of thoughts and believing them. We’re not analysing why someone’s said what they said, or why we ourselves are getting frustrated by something, and crucially we’re not trying to manage ourselves out of an emotional response we think we shouldn’t be having in that moment. We’re keeping our intellectual, egoic, personal thinking out of the way and we’re accessing a much deeper space of wisdom and intuition.

Why aren’t we in flow more?

For years we’ve been teaching people (me included until recently) that we need to intellectually manage what’s going on for us emotionally. That we need to use our brain muscle to fix ourselves, that we need to practice and repeat to build new habits and new neural pathways, all so we can be better versions of ourselves more of the time because we’ve been led to believe there’s some version of us which is not good enough and not acceptable to society right now.

The trouble is, the application of our intellectual capabilities to these emotional management tasks, takes valuable energy away from our ability to generate fresh new thoughts and ideas in any moment, from our ability to listen and hear others, from our ability to connect and collaborate.

Remember that flow state? All those things just happened naturally there because you weren’t stuck, caught, or getting tangled in your thinking. And I’m not saying that in flow everything is about positivity and full agreement, with permanent grins on everyone’s faces – but you and others will have felt able to express any frustration or concerns without it seeming like a big deal. In fact the complete opposite. Any such insights will have been gratefully received and discussed, leading to an even better way forward.

So if we’re not “managing” our state through emotional intelligence tactics, how do we get to this state of flow more of the time?

We understand how our human system really works.

What we’ve been doing with emotional intelligence is explore:

the “what” – the content of our thoughts, labelling the emotions we’re feeling,


the “why” – what’s triggered you to get to that response. Often then examined to be re-framed or replaced with a more helpful thought.

This different approach understands the “how” of our underlying system. Think of making a car go. There is no benefit in commenting on the shape or design of the bodywork (the “what”). And there’s also no benefit in polishing the paintwork to a high shine to make it look nicer (the “why”). Neither of these approaches is going to get the car going. You must first understand “how” all the parts of the engine work and fit together to make the thing move forward.

The exact same here.

So how does our system work?

There are two areas where we can see the system working the way it always has and always will.

  • Everything works inside-out. Everything you’ve experienced, ever, in your whole life has been experienced through your thoughts. There is no other way. Nothing on the outside can “do” anything to you or “make” you feel anything. It’s all seen through the movie projector of our experience. “We’re the writer, the director, the producer – and in fact the audience”*.
  • Our system rights itself. Without intervention from us, our thinking moves on, our feelings change and we move to a different state. Automatically. In fact, I might go so far as to use the new word I recently learnt “automagically”! We “think” we’re so clever and we’ve been taught all our lives to be clever: in education, by parents, and in work. The message we’ve received is that intellectual capabilities are THE most important capability we have. And it’s not that intellectual is unimportant, but it’s the fact that this is not all there is. In emphasising our intellectual, we’ve denied and hidden the rest of what makes us whole; the true source of our brilliance and innate wisdom. We’ve been so busy fixing ourselves to be better we forgot that we didn’t need fixing in the first place.
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    #cawconf16 : GSK Accelerating Difference

    Next for me a case study from GSK with Sally Bonneywell, VP Coaching.

    GSK – pharma, vaccines, consumer healthcare – large, complex and with a long history of M&A activity over the years.  recently sold oncology to Avartis and bought their vaccines business.  It felt like we were “taking out our heart” and that had to be allowed to be heard because that was people’s reality.

    Tag line – putting patients and consumers first.


    GSK’s coaching centre of excellence founded in 2010. Today, 5 internal exec coaches, 5 coaching directors, 650 Job Plus coaches (line managers who’ve been trained to be coaches for clients aswell, separate to their team). External Exec coaches in Top 20 Markets.

    In 2016 there were 1500 coaching assignments, 10 group coaching projects, 20 team coaching projects.

    They have a sticky leadership pipeline – lots of women join and get stuck typically at Director role.  Currently it’ll take 21 years to get to parity in the leadership gender diversity and they don’t want to wait that long.

    Goal of coaching for women – not about “fixing the women” it was “we’ve got talented women, how do we give them best opportunity to succeed” – women chosen based on their potential, their ambition and they had the circumstances to allow them to fully participate.

    The female leaders have a sponsor who is often the line manager’s manager, who can hold the manager to account, who can open doors, who can travel with them, more a mentoring role.

    Had dialogue with line managers and sponsors to keep all stakeholders engaged and needs being met.

    Overview of women’s coaching journey :

    1:1 coaching :

    18 months long, with Job Plus coach, 12 x 1 hour sessions, Triad meetings with line manager, participant and coach at beginning, middle & end, HR join at the start and end, Job Plus coaches given support from a programme perspective.

    Then group coaching :

    6 sessions, 6 hours for the first then 4 hours. Coached by a pair – one internal & one external executive coach. Covered – Foundational session; Self confidence, self belief self esteem; Power, presence & impact; Becoming a challenger; Developing your authentic leadership style; Integrating all the learning – an ending for a beginning.

    Coaches held briefing & debriefing calls before & after every group session.

    Format for each session => Intention. Stories. Themes. Resources. Actions.


    The Outcomes : Personal impact, Impact on self with regard to others, Collective impact as a group.

    Not all line managers are as good as others.  Some needed some help.  What was really important was to not let a women go through this whose line managers were dismissive of it.  And they made sure there were other connections, not just the line manager.  The programme also helped the women go to their line manager with requests for what they needed and improved their relationships with them.

    They talked about better integration between personal and work lives, and being able to be more of themselves.

    Often they were the only woman in the leadership team or at that level so being able to come together collectively gave them connection to each other and to the wider system.

    80% of the women in the programme became involved in giving back to the world in some way.

    They found it really helped to have 1:1 coaching running alongside Group Coaching.  Not new news but the relationship with the coach was very important.   GSK believe in holistic coaching so the leaders on the programme could use it as top level, task focussed, or they could go deeper.  Up to them.  However they found the Group Coaching enabled them to go deeper for themselves.  And the interplay between these two types of coaching allowed them to discover and explore in 1:1 or group as they chose.  Amplification effect on the 1:1.IMG_0512

    One women said that the more coaching she had, the more time she had – the power of time and space to think well to act well.

    Loyalty increased with many, and some stepped into their power and chose to leave.  Not the purpose of the coaching but it made sure the right people are finding the right places for them.  Plus gave the org the chance to say, why are they going, what more could we do to keep them or someone like them in the future?

    Q’s –

  • Job Plus Coach training – what is that? – classroom training, practice clients, supervision, observed coaching sessions, conference days.
  • Challenge of balancing coaching with day job – yes it’s a challenge, especially as we de-layer and cost-cut. It’s completely voluntary and it feeds them, they enjoy it often more than day job, and most line managers see the benefit of those who are Job Plus Coaches because they become more effective leaders as measured through 360 feedback.
  • Assessing readiness to be coaches for Job Plus? – yes, as they go through training they’re assessed – self, peer & facilitators / supervisors (an internal & an external).  The most experienced Job Plus coaches work on this programme. When they start they’re on 6 x 30 minute sessions.
  • Cultural / global challenges? – yes common topics and overall format but content was reliant on the group, the group coaches, and the different country’s cultures. Briefing calls would allow connection to purpose of the session and a chance to share tools / models / theories both ways.  Also a website for these to be put on which all women can access – fewer books, more articles, TED talks, you tube clips.  Also collection of themes.
  • Internal & external – what do you see as org benefit of both? – External for experience, expertise, objectivity of things we can’t see, comparison to other orgs, level of expertise is high (because we select for that). Internally – we know the system, the nuance, the pressures, the context.  When you put the 2 together as an internal & external and it works well, symbiotically.  We find we need both.  We’d never say we don’t need external.
  • Female programme – male & female coaches? – yes, didn’t engineer it.  We gave people a choice if they really didn’t want a man for 1:1. We never had 2 men in group coaching, sometimes 2 women, sometimes 1 and 1.
  • Benefits to the women, how measure benefit to their teams & managers? – employees fill in a global survey eery 2 years, everyone in the org. Analyse it & shown that since women been on this initiative we look at the satisfaction of the teams with these female leaders – seen a statistically significant change over time. Correlation is not causality but it’s been great to see that connection.
  • Would you do this for managers generally? – yes, this is one programme. We’ve got about 10, as well as team coaching.  Of all the coaching, about 400 sessions will be at exec level. At line manager level, we’ve got dialogue in place e.g. 6 men and 6 women having debates and discussion about a career in GSK.  There’s only so much you can do but yes, we’d use this mechanism more when we can and systemic coaching is definitely where the shift in culture is going to come from.
  • Are people clear on the difference between coaching and mentoring? – yes, for us mentoring is advice giving, often more to less senior. Coaching is an equal power footing, non-directive, building self-reliance.  And we continue to educate people in this.  Job Plus Coaches don’t coach from their own area of the business to keep them out of content.
  • What are the “Circumstances” needed for a woman to participate? – not all about mobility but getting clear & having the conversation about your personal circumstances and ability to get involved.  Might be that it’s not now, maybe later.  Is there anything you need from me or the org to help you take part?  Sally’s stepped in before to get line managers to support someone to clear things out of the diary and enable them to take part.
  • Do you see more senior women are less reluctant to go on all-women groups? – positioned systemically with men & women in the conversation. It’s not preferential treatment for women, or promotion because you’re women. It’s talent management and development.
  • Did you find deliberate measures or feedback about it changing male attitudes? – yes, dialogue very powerful. Equal numbers of men & women, for a day and overnight too. Men checking things out with the women in their lives and confirming what they’re hearing from their female colleagues. Seen some fundamental shifts such as “when I recruited last time I made sure I had good balance of men & women..”  Big impact on the men with daughters & them not wanting that for their own children.
  • Use of tech? – phone, skype, face to face.  F2F when we can.  Group coaching where possible, if flight < 2 hours we brought people together.  If > 2 hours we did intensive 2 days of coaching together then virtual group coaching for 2 hours at a time.  Then 2 days intensive again at the end.
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