Coaching the living: lessons from sitting with the dying

April 17, 2018 § Leave a comment

I should straightaway say that I’ve never sat with someone who is dying.

But a few pages in a book which touched on the author’s experience of sitting with those who are dying, have led me to insights and confirmations about the role of coaching (Parker J. Palmers “A Hidden Wholeness”, 2004).

“We must abandon the arrogance that often distorts our relationships – the arrogance of believing that we have the answer to the other person’s problem … What is before us is not “a problem to be solved”, but a mystery to be honoured.” page 61.

In the phraseology of the Coactive model of coaching, the people we work with are naturally creative, resourceful and whole; not someone who needs fixing.

I’m learning that people who have sat with a dying person find that they are not just taking up space in the room. They may find words inadequate to describe their experience, but are often their description is some version of “I was simply being present”.

Butterflies Two pixabay

When I consider I’m being at my best in a coaching session, I notice afterwards that I too was often “just” being present: practising being present, sitting with a living belief in the value of the other person, and their capacity to pick their path (their path) through their truths and limiting beliefs. My contribution was the quality of my attentiveness, my listening to them and to myself, and my hopeful and supportive expectation of the best in them.

In his book, Parker J. Palmer quotes an incident in Nikos Kazantakis’ Zorba the Greek, in which the narrator is overly-impatient in watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon. The narrator breathes on the cocoon to warm it, which at first encourages the butterfly to emerge. But it emerges too early, and its wings, which should have opened and dried naturally in the heat of the sun, are folded back and useless. He watches its struggles, as it is artificially and prematurely brought to a new place, before its time.

The metaphor for coaching is clear: we are not there to point out what for us are obvious solutions to the other person’s problem. For example, “Have you spoken to the other person about this?” may seem like an obvious and sensible suggestion. But the coachee might not be ready to take this step, or may not have the skills or awareness to ensure a good conversation. They’ve probably already considered and rejected this course of action. But their coach ’told’ them to, and imperfect skills or an imperfect inner commitment to the task may result in an unfortunate outcome.

Rarely does offering advice or a suggestion in coaching bring such dramatic consequences as for that emerging butterfly! But the story confirms for me that though I might offer models or abstract theories, or a reflecting challenge to help the person really understand themselves better, essentially my work is nondirective.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of “the love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect, border and salute each other.” A definition of the coach’s role, perhaps?

 

Leadership as hosting

October 18, 2017 § Leave a comment

Have you ever thought of leadership, or leaderful behaviour, as a hosting activity?

If you’re hosting a meeting, you might find yourself:

  • Providing conditions and group process for people to work together
  • Ensuring the resource of time (the scarcest commodity of all)
  • Keeping bureaucracy at bay
  • Reflecting back how people are doing, and insisting that everyone – and the system itself – creates space for reflection and learning
  • Co-designing relevant measures of progress

hosting a meeting

And from a wider perspective, I’m finding that more and more people are fulfilling their leadership roles in organisations by acting in similar ways. They’re giving up trying to manage away instability, and instead to create an organisation which can survive and thrive within its unstable world.

If this sounds relevant to you, you may be interested in Meg’s article “Leadership in the age of complexity: from hero to host”. It is full of really practical, hands-on advice for those who bear responsibility for supporting people or organisations through times of complexity and difficulty.

“From hero to host”?

It can be tempting in these times to yearn for an old-fashioned hero to steer us through. You know, the hero in the movies who rides up on a horse just at the moment of crisis. They have the guns on their hips and all the answers in their saddlebag. They’re great at issuing orders and saying they’re keeping control of everything (despite what everyone else knows).

Well, Meg offers some advice here.

“It is time for all the heroes to go home, as the poet William Stafford wrote. It is time for us to give up these hopes and expectations that only bleed dependency and passivity, and that do not give us solutions to the challenges we face. … It is time to face the truth of our situation – that we’re all in this together, that we all have a voice – and figure out how to mobilize the hearts and minds of everyone in our workplaces and communities.”

And so what is better, other than more command and control? To build buy-in through collaboration; to reward people’s yearning for meaning and possibility in their lives and work; to be a holding vessel, hosting conditions for working and learning together.

And if we’re working with people who have given up, or who are feeling discounted, ignored or invisible: let’s use our deep sincerity, and our convening skills, to open up invitations to re-engagement.

(More practical details for leadership as hosting are in the article; and http://www.artofhosting.org/what-is-aoh/methods/ has some relevant processes too.)

And what if we think we’re heroes too? Our good intentions, and our dreams for community and planet, drive us to work and work; and somehow if we just worker harder and smarter, we’ll breakthrough and everything will be sorted.

Well, there’s some final advice for you from Meg: it’s time for the heroes to go home!

And, to notice that actually we’re not alone, we’re surrounded by those who want to help and who aren’t anyway looking for heroes.

They might, instead, welcome a good host.

 

Meg’s extensive collection of articles are free for download at  http://margaretwheatley.com/library/

Leadership in these times:

A rare one day workshop in London with Meg Wheatley

International participation at the upcoming leadership workshop with Meg Wheatley, 9 November 2017

August 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

As befits someone with such a global reputation, we’re delighted to see the widening international participation at Meg Wheatley’s Leadership in these times workshop in London on 9 November.

We’ve welcomed recent bookings from continental Europe, expanding both the insights available and the potential outcomes for this day-long inquiry into leadership: how has our own leadership has changed in the past two decades; and what form of leadership are we called to?

For more information, please contact me or visit  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/leadership-in-these-times-with-meg-wheatley-tickets-35507976313

 

October 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

I will be chairing the third lecture in the series of ‘Talking of Peace’, this Thursday 29th October 2015 at 7:30pm in York.

The speaker is Kat Craig,  and her topic is Britain’s War on Terror at home and abroad – making the world a safer place?

Kat is Legal Director of the Abuses of Counter-Terrorism team at the human rights organisation, Reprieve.

The full program for the series is listed below.

7.30am, Thursday 29 October 2015, Quaker Meeting House on Friargate (off Castlegate).

Please Note: due to extensive building works in the neighbourhood of the Meeting House, the bottom end of Friargate is closed for a considerable period.  It is therefore necessary to approach from Castlegate rather than Clifford St.  Also the cycle rack in Friargate has been removed by the builders so cyclists will need to use one of the other racks in the Castlegate area.

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Invitation to a series of Peace Talks: Thursdays in Autumn 2015

1st Oct: Faith, Power & Peace – Creating peace by peaceful means

Diana Francis, Trainer in Conflict Transformation, & Past President of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation

15th Oct: Security and the Dispossessed – How the military & corporations are shaping a climate-changed world

Steve Wright, Reader in Applied Global Ethics at Leeds Beckett Univ

29th Oct: Britain’s War on terror at home and abroad: making the world a safer place?

Kat Craig, Legal Director of the Abuses in Counter-Terrorism team at Reprieve

12th Nov: Reimagining Security: an alternative approach to the UK’s national strategy

Celia McKeon, Assistant Secretary, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust

Quaker Meeting House, Friargate, York, YO1 9RL

7.30 – 9.00pm

Retiring collection

For more details: tel 01904-624065

or e-mail: peacenetwork@yorkquakers.org.uk
or see www.yorkquakers.org.uk 

Bringing some truth into the light

December 18, 2014 § 1 Comment

It seems appropriate to post a seasonal reminder of some positive things that are happening. It’s a personal collection, of course, and for some of the stories the good news is the shining of light on the forces which oppress or undermine human fulfilment.

Thank you to all those I’ve worked with over this year, it has been inspiring to see and support your work and your aspirations for the future. One shift in professional development is to move from seeing yourself as the hero, to instead seeing your clients as the real heroes of the piece; and that more and more seems my experience in the work that I do.

So, those positive news stories:

Naming the past: the secrets of Brazil’s military dictatorship. How fitting that the report should be introduced to the media by Brazil’s current president Dilma Rousseff, herself a torture victim under the country’s military dictatorship

But of course we don’t need Truth Commissions in the UK, surely? Find out here about the work of Scotland’s Poverty Truth Commission.

Though there is much more the Church of England could do (for example, joining the disinvestmnet from fossil fuels movement), here’s the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking up about hunger in the UK; and news of the Church’s first female bishop.

News of an online archive of art by people with mental health problems; and the Guardian’s own Christmas appeal on challenging the stigma of mental health.

Amnesty International UK is highlighting the UK’s complicit role in torture and illegal rendition; and here are some of Amnesty’s own good news stories.

Two images to finish with:

First, a stunning info-graphic on the numbers which make up the internet – such as the number of tablets and smartphones sold each day around the world, the number of e-mails sent, the number of sites hacked…

And second, all the water in the world is just a tiny drop on the world’s surface; no wonder it’s such a precious resource, if only we knew it.

With best wishes for 2015,

John

Applications now open: Postgraduate Certificate in Defending Human Rights

August 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

I was privileged this year to convene an online Module on Leading and Managing Effective Human Rights Organisations. the Module was part of the Centre for Applied Human Rights‘ Postgraduate Certificate in Defending Human Rights.

The Centre is an amazing department at the University of York, distinguished by its applied approach to promoting and protecting human rights around the world, and its annual protective fellowship scheme for at-risk Human Rights Defenders.

The Centre is aiming to run the three Modules again this coming academic year.

You may know of colleagues in your networks and partner organisations who you think would benefit from joining the course? It’s specifically targeted at those who are already working in human rights defending and who want to build their knowledge and practical skills needed for effective human rights work under challenging circumstances.

  • A part-time programme designed for human rights defenders and related practitioners, running from September 2014 to July 2015
  • Scholarships available to cover 50% of fees
  • Online teaching by tutors and guest lecturers with practical field experience
  • Modules in International Human Rights Law and AdvocacyWorking Safely: Managing Risk and Strengthening Protection, and Leading and Managing Effective Human Rights Organisations.
  • Modules can be taken individually; or the whole course offers a Postgraduate Certificate in Defending Human Rights
From Luisa Perez, one of last year’s participants: “I already started to recommend this course, one of the most useful trainings I have taken. Thanks again for making it happen and please keep this great contribution to the Human Rights movement.” Luisa Perez, Protection International.

 

Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change

June 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m speaking in York on Monday 21 July.

Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change

Learning from 18th Century American Friends’ journey to abolitionism: parallels for our responses to climate change

This is as a result of some personal research I’ve been doing over the last couple of years. My aim has been to examine how an organisation and its communities made a fundamental internal change over an issue which every member was connected to, directly or simply as a citizen of a society in which slavery was embedded. I hope that there is enough similarity between the two contexts to draw some useable suggestions for approaches and ways forward, today, in responding to climate change.

Chaired by Danielle Walker, Director, Friends Provident Foundation

Monday 21 July, 7.30 pm, Friargate Quaker Meeting House, Friargate, York, YO1 9RL

Copy of my paper here: Quakers, Slavery and Climate Change.

Contact me for more information or to respond to the paper: 07986 016804,  john@johngray.org.uk

 

 

 

“… a substantial multi-century climate change commitment”

October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

I was privileged to hear Piers Forster give a talk in Leeds last week – he is one of the lead authors on the recently-published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/#.Ul0ZkNJwq3s.

This two-size Summary for Policy Makers makes for easy reading: http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/ar5/ar5_wg1_headlines.pdf

From Dr Forster’s presentation, I took away the awareness that the carbon emissions to date are such that there will be little difference, regardless of the short-term steps we take, in warming in the next 30 to 40 years.

On that basis, adaptation (responding to the immediate effects of climate change on people and communities) need to be as equal a priority in the short term, as our efforts to mitigate future change.

Beyond those 30-40 years, however, the predictions change wildly based on whether we continue with business as usual or whether we can move successfully towards an economy and lifestyle low in carbon (and also low in methane and nitrous oxide emissions, two other atmospheric significant drivers).

So the more we strengthen now our capacity to mitigate future emissions, the more manageable the future will be.

The quotation in the title of this post refers to carbon emissions. The Summary for Policy Makers states:

“Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond (see Figure SPM.10). Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.”

In short, as regards carbon emissions, the legacy of the future is already set for years to come.

But I’m also struck by the phrase “a substantial multi-century climate change commitment”.

What if that phrase was used to describe our collective response: substantial enough and relevant enough to meet the scientific and social evidence, with a two-hundred year timescale in mind, and the commitment, energy and resources to match?

Proof positive

September 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

Will Dyson and John Gray, Great North Run 2013

Thank you for supporting / sponsoring me for Sunday’s Great North Run. The photo is from the last few yards as we made it for the line.

The weather wasn’t great at times, but once the starting gun went, the enjoyment of the race took over. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the thrill of being in the same race as Mo Farah (not that I even saw him); and that the race was of such significance for both women’s and men’s distance elite running. The stage is set for their showdowns at the London Marathon next year http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/sep/15/mo-farah-great-north-run

As for Will and me, we managed to stick alongside each other amidst the crowds of runners, and finished in 1 hour 40 minutes – some 40 minutes after Mo. I’d do it all again, no question. We had a great time together, and I wouldn’t have run as fast as I did without him. Thanks too to the team from Crohn’s and Colitis UK – the cups of tea in the hospitality tent afterwards were very welcome, and we enjoyed exchanging race stories with some of the other 200 racers running yesterday for Crohn’s and Colitis.

PS
There was a hilarious “It’ll Be All Right On The Night” moment from the race highlights on the BBC:

TV interviewer to one of the runners she’d picked out of the race: Are you hoping for a good time?
Runner: Sounds good, what are you offering?

Good Lives guest blog 3: low carbon

April 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

This is my final guest blog posted on Woodbrooke’s  Good Lives project. The three postings are a series exploring British Quakers’ “Minute 36” commitment to become a low carbon sustainable community www.quaker.org.uk/creating- just-and-sustainable-world.

Previous postings addressed Community, and Sustainable; this third article takes a look at low carbon.

Carbon matters because of our addiction to finite fossil fuels, and because of the significant influence of greenhouse gases on climate change. Going low carbon tackles these two related issues: a low carbon economy and behaviours increase energy security and help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

There’s no measurable number in “Low”, so the emphasis at this early stage in the Minute 36 or Canterbury Commitment must first be lower carbon: let’s make a start on what we can do, without worrying too much about exactly how we need to reduce by.

Back in the heady days of December 2009, at the time of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, there were still hopes of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. That now looks increasingly unlikely: see, for example, http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n1/full/nclimate1783.html

I remember in 2010 waking up one morning and thinking, We’re not going to make that 2 ⁰C limit. That realisation wasn’t a place of inward despair, but rather it felt like an acceptance of an unwelcome but real truth: from now on I would view a rise above 2 ⁰C as part of the context within which we are now living – with all its desperately serious consequences. As the journal article referenced above coldly notes: “We find that current emission trends continue to track scenarios that lead to the highest temperature increases.”

It’s important to keep hold of hope. This Vaclav Havel quote keeps me going:

” I understand [hope] above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world … Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”

Or try Paul Hawken’s Commencement Address to the University of Portland Class of 2009:

“When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

In the face of the probability of a 2⁰C rise, and given increasing globalisation and its climate consequences, it’s no wonder people wonder why they should bother taking action.

But there are many logical as well as spiritual justifications, and here are a few:

If we learn how to live lower carbon lifestyles at an individual level, then that makes action more likely and more possible within families, and within our local communities (such as neighbourhoods or our Quaker meetings), and then in the organisations we support or work in, in wider societies, in governments, and in countries. It’s like a ladder: if we don’t take the step of acting individually, the other steps are far less likely to happen.

Continuing the step image: to imagine a world without weapons, what would be the penultimate step we’d have to take before we achieved that world? And what would be the step before that?, and before that?, back to where we stand today. Similarly, if we imagine a truly self-sufficient world, we are not able now to leap straight to it, but we can imagine the step of individual action as being an important part of reaching it – and as that is achieved, like stepping stones, the next step becomes possible to reach.

There’s a parallel from the earliest Friends’ internal debates about slave-holding and slave-trading. Two key arguments were the Golden Rule (do to others as you would like to be done to yourself), and that the slave trade depended on violence and was thus contrary to Friends’ peace testimony.

The same arguments could be applied today: we would not wish ourselves to experience the consequences of significant global warming, yet many around the world are already doing so (300,000 deaths a year, and 3 million people affected each year attributed to climate change, according to research by Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum – and that was a study in 2009). And there’s no doubting the violence endemic in our profit-driven globalised economy.

The change we seek within Minute 36 will take time, and many more people of course than just the Quakers. It’s less than two years since the Commitment was made and we need not to default into a “let’s beat ourselves up” mindset – though action is still urgently needed. After all, it took Quakers in America a hundred and one years from when in 1657 George Fox first wrote about slavery in the colonies, to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1758 making slave-trading an enforceable breach of Quaker discipline.

Statistics and scientific predictions can reduce us to guilt-ridden despair. It seems essential to me that we ground any action not in fear, obligation, or from a place of separation from people and planet; but to act out of love, joy, and connection to people and planet. It’s why books such as Keith Farnish’s Time’s Up encourages us to start by nurturing that deep connection. Acting as though people and planet matter is effectively a spiritual practice.

As a part of that spiritual practice, we can “practise giving up”, as Pam Lunn puts it in Costing Not Less Than Everything. We can usefully get used to doing with less, and so build our own and others’ resilience, in anticipation of disruption to infrastructure and services. When roads are closed because of the weather; when we can’t fly because of volcanic ash; when in the face of all protests a post office is closed and fewer services are available locally – “treat this as practice” for the future. When the British winter went on and on – and on! – earlier this year, and newspapers carried reports of the country about to run out of heating gas, there was an opportunity to practice self-rationing gas usage (if you missed it, other opportunities to practice will no doubt arise). The island of Eigg community, which has its own electricity grid and at times needs everyone on the island to self-regulate their usage, shows what is possible when people really get the link between the availability of resources and their use.

So I’m full of hope – for the future, and for Minute 36. I do not doubt the importance of action, and the centrality of Minute 36 to modern Quaker practice and values. Perhaps one day Quakers will be as well-known for their sustaining of and relationship with the planet we live on, as they are currently celebrated for their abolitionist past.

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