Friday, 22 July 2016

Vulnerability and Shame

Last week we had a very interesting CPD session at Cumbria Coaching Network. Our guest speaker was Jacqui Sjenitzer, who introduced us (by both word and experience) to the work of Brené Brown on shame and vulnerability.

We explored themes of emotional exposure, and how the flight from that is one of the things that prevents us from truly turning up and being ourselves. We talked abut armouring up (to protect ourselves from the risk of emotional exposure), and the three strategies for that: moving away, moving towards and moving against. I was interested in the relationship of these to the Hogan HDS, where the Dark Side behaviours fall into the same categories.

And we spent a lot of time talking about The Arena. This metaphor is drawn from the famous Roosevelt speech, Citizenship in a Republic, delivered at the Sorbonne in 1910:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 
This is a powerful metaphor, and the idea of turning up (see above) is closely linked to it: unless we turn up in the Arena, we are not really being true to ourselves. But the steps of the Arena is when vulnerability is most likely to strike: just as we go into that meeting when we can tell a difficult truth (ie enter the Arena) or hold our peace (stay on the steps) etc.

Such vulnerability is fed by ideas of scarcity (not enough time, money, expertise, courage, experience...) comparison (someone else is .... than me) shame, and the idea is that we can overcome it by self-compassion and empathy.

There was lots here that resonated with me, both with regard to myself and many people I work with. But I do have reservations about the Arena as a metaphor: building a philosophy on the metaphor of fighting for survival seems to me to lead to a particular way of looking at things - a particular set of possible stories - that may not be the most helpful.

Nonetheless, I found this a very stimulating and thought-provoking session, and am keen to read more of BrenĂ© Brown's work, and reflect on her TED talks: which may be seen here (on the power of vulnerability) and here (listening to shame). 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Anyone Got A Nail?

 I have just finished my training to use the Hogan Psychometric tools (click here to see my previous musings about these). It was a fascinating couple of days, though I will need to do some further reading, discussion and reflection to get the full richness of the concepts, and also some practice in discussing them with clients, of course.

Part of the enjoyment came from the rich group who assembled for the course, which I organised (purely for my own convenience) and which was run at Lowther Castle - just over the valley from my house. We had a few independent coaches, some academics, an HR Assistant Director, a maths teacher - all good stimulating company.

There are three tools in the suite that we studied. The first is the Hogan Personality Inventory. This is known as the Bright Side, and looks at those strengths which others are likely to see in us when we are operating at our best. There are seven scales, and they map onto the Big Five psychological traits (the Five Factor Model). The Five Factor Model is the most widely-accepted personality trait model (though not above criticism, by a long way...) What the Hogan tool adds to the model is an emphasis on how others see you - your reputation. Behind the questionnaire sits a lot of research about how others perceive people who self-report in particular ways. I think that is particularly helpful in coaching conversations, especially with people who are quite self-aware, in terms of their internal self-image, but may not have such a clear understanding of how others read them, interpret them, and react to them.

 The Second of the tools is the Hogan Development Survey, popularly known as The Dark Side. This was the first of the tools I heard about, and anecdotally seems to be the one that people talk about the most. The 11 scales measure those strengths which may become career de-railers if over-used. Typically, that occurs when one's self-moderating habits are relaxed; so under pressure or stress, or (conversely) when very relaxed and at ease. This was also the first of the tools that I experienced on the receiving end, and I have blogged about the insight, and the impact, this tool previously (here and here). This is also the basis of the book Why CEOs fail (by Dotlich and Cairo), and we looked at some of the real-life case studies from the book on the workshop. It looks well worth a read. I think that all of us on the programme found this a particularly helpful tool, in terms of stimulating useful coaching conversations.

The third of the tools is the Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory. This is the tool that looks 'inside'  and looks at the core values, goals and interests that determine satisfaction and drive careers. I can see this being very helpful for people who are not sure why they are dissatisified with (apparently) successful careers, or who are considering a career change.

All of the tools struck me as useful. There are all of the usual caveats about validity, need for tentativity in discussing the reports with people, problematic language (some of the labels seem unhelpful) and so on. Nonetheless, I can see many situations in which these could be extremely helpful - and am already thinking of many individuals with whom to have that discussion.

And then, of course, I pause and reflect: here I am with a shiny new hammer: so the temptation is to see every problem as a nail... I will proceed with due diligence, and in discussion with my coaching supervisors (one of whom was on the programme, as was a member of my co-supervision group).  But if you are interested, don't hesitate to get in touch!

Friday, 8 July 2016

The Dunning Kruger Effect

I have been learning a little about the Dunning-Kruger effect (in the wake of the referendum - I heard David Dunning on the radio and did a little reading subsequently). In essence, what Dunning and Kruger's research suggests is that people with low competence in a particular skill tend to over-estimate their competence, quite dramatically. Their incompetence includes an inability to make a sound judgement of their level of competence.

Moreover, those who are highly competent are more likely to underestimate their competence. I am reminded of Socrates, who probably didn't say All that I know is that I know nothing, but certainly had the intellectual humility that seems to accompany great wisdom.

I also reflected on my own complex set of beliefs about myself. I have confessed before to a fair dose of Imposter Syndrome. Is that, in fact, a clue that I am more competent than I perceive myself to be? Not so fast; for I am also pretty clear in my own mind that I am a better coach and facilitator than many others I come across. Is that, then, an example of Dunning-Kruger in its first observed form, and evidence, in fact, of my incompetence?

The best way to address such questions is probably not to pay too much heed to one's own opinion of one's abilities, but rather to seek objective measures and feedback from those who are well-placed to judge.

But the Dunning Kruger Effect raises another interesting question, and that relates to performance management. Conventional wisdom has it that you start the performance review meeting by asking the individual to assess how well he or she is doing. But if the incompetent are likely to believe that they are better than they are, and the competent that they are worse than they are, that gets the conversation into a difficult place straight away.

Moreover, in many organisations, managers shy away from giving accurate feedback in such direct conversations - understandably, because it is difficult. Instead, they make more general comments about the need to Raise the Bar and so on. And that, of course, is also fraught in this context. The incompetent, to whom the message is really addressed, will assume it doesn't apply to them. The competent, who are already carrying the bar over their heads on tiptoe, will believe that they Must Do More, like poor old Boxer in Animal Farm.

I haven't reached many conclusions about this. I need to think further about it.  And in particular I am interested in how it relates to my work on stories (did I mention my book on that is coming out shortly?)  So I would be fascinated in others' views and perceptions.

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Incidentally, in doing the extensive picture research necessary for such a well-informed and well-illustrated blog as this, I came across this wonderful image, and found the source to be this equally wonderful blog: all of life can be mapped on a 2x2 matrix of one sort or another...

Those who know me will quickly recognise why this is a significant matrix for me to contemplate...

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Laying a ghost to rest?...

For a long time, one of the thoughts that has haunted me in those sleepless moments around 3am is that 'One day they'll find out.'  Imposter Syndrome is interesting and I think, in small doses, healthy; it is a subject I intend to explore further in the future, not least because I so often encounter it in very successful people.

But my own version had a particular edge: the notion that I have no qualifications for the work that I do. That was not wholly true: I was at least qualified to administer and give feedback on the MBTI (steps 1 & 2) and I have a further BPS Level 1 qualification; but that was about it. I do have lots of training and experience, but none of that was certified (apart from my First Aid at Work certificate, of course).

But now I have finished my ILM 7 programme in Executive Coaching and Mentoring, and can boast a Post Graduate Diploma.  Does that make any difference?

I think, with regard to my Imposter Syndrome, probably not. Such things are not, after all, strictly rational. (And a prize of a feeling of personal kudos to anyone who knows why the picture of Jason Karaban is included here)

However it has made a difference in other ways. My external credibility is, I suppose, enhanced; at least when it comes to corporate procurement processes that have a tick box approach. There is one more box I can tick. But more significantly, it has made me spend much more time reading about and reflecting on my practice. Even the writing of the assignments was valuable (and in fact a microcosm of the whole experience, in that I approached them in a fairly grumpy mood, seeing them as a moderately annoying hurdle to leap over in order to achieve a goal, and then found them valuable in their own right).


So a big thank you to Simon Whalley of Bluetree Development who is my programme tutor, and who has guided and supported me through the whole process.

For while it may not have laid the ghost of Andrew as Imposter to rest, it has been an invigorating and highly valuable experience.

Friday, 24 June 2016

A Revealing Slip?...

I blogged recently about the shift in my self-understanding that was triggered by the Hogan Dark Side questionnaire. In particular, I reached an understanding that my social reserve (in informal situations) is not by fundamental orientation, but a learned defensive behaviour.  That shift has had some real, interesting and thought-provoking results.

The first thing I noticed was shortly after my feedback session, when I attended a reunion of participants on a programme I had run a while previously. Normally, such occasions are precisely those on which my social reserve is evident. Historically, I have engaged little and not particularly enjoy them. However, on leaving that evening, I noticed that I had engaged a lot more, in a more relaxed (and in Hogan terms, colourful and imaginative way) and as a result had enjoyed the occasion a lot more.

Interestingly, that was not as a result of any intention - I had not planned to do so, as a result of my new insight. No, my analysis is that the new insight itself, alone, was enough to change my behaviour slightly, and the positive feedback that elicited from others reinforced that, and that led to a different pattern of engagement.

The next notable point of interest, and one tending in the other direction, arose last week. It was the end-of-course dinner for a year-long programme at a university. Again I was relaxed, and allowing my habitual reserve on such occasions to slip away. And then I said something careless, that I wished I hadn't said, and which was picked up on (very gently) by someone at the table.

I was recounting the story of a film, The Story of Ruth (the 1981 one, with Connie Booth, not the earlier famous film of the same name) which had used our family house as a set - in fact a set for a number of different locations in the film. I mentioned that it was, amongst others, the respite home 'where all the loonies lived...' At that, someone at the table raised an eyebrow and muttered 'careful...' or something.

Reflecting on this later, I was struck by a few things.  Firstly, I was interested in the slip itself. Was it because I was relaxed, and thus betrayed an attitude I would sooner hide?  I don't think so: I really do not think, or talk, about those with mental health problems as 'loonies.' So where did it come from?  My best guess is that in telling the story, I was reverting to the teenager who first told his friends that story in 1981, and used the language I would have used then. Not an all together comfortable reflection, but I think an honest one.

But I was also keenly aware that such an embarrassing slip is precisely the kind of reason that I had developed my social reserve. When I was younger, I would have found it completely mortifying to have been in such a situation, with people (I would have imagined) forming all sorts of judgements about me. But now, I am better placed, emotionally at least, to deal with such embarrassment without being completely distraught. Also, when I was younger, the likelihood was that a social faux pas would lead to ridicule and possibly bullying or ostracisation. That is certainly no longer the case.


So despite the embarrassment of that moment, I remain happy with my less reserved self, and will continue to take the risk of expressing myself more on such informal social occasions - and just pray that I don't make too much of a spectacle of myself!

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Enriching the Plot - through film

This week, our first year of the Vice Chancellor's Leadership programme at Winchester came to an end. We concluded with a day of reflection, planning and celebration. As part of that, we invited participants to work in groups to make a film, summarising their learning from the year.

It is a challenge I often set groups, and I am almost always impressed by the creativity they bring to the task. This year at Winchester, we were treated to a Lego movie, a silent movie, an animated alphabet of learning, and a trip along a wonderful model/map of their learning journey.

But I was reflecting on another aspect of this task, this year, in the light of my recently completed book (did I mention I'd written a book?...)  At the end of a programme like this, people will naturally have many stories about it available to them; some parts were better than others, some days less useful than the very best, and so on. Likewise, different members of the group will have different stories about it too. In an academic context, and one in which we have run a pilot programme and are seeking feedback to improve it, there is a risk that the critical comments may come to the fore.

Yet in terms of sustained learning from the programme, and in particular in terms of a continuing sense of agency, which I see as a significant benefit from this particular programme, such a story is not the most helpful one for people to leave with.

So one of the benefits of the film-making (as well as being a lot of fun, which helps to meet the 'celebratory' part of the brief for the day) is that it focuses on the positive learning, and by the process of developing a storyboard, builds a narrative structure for that learning - a story. Then, by translating that narrative structure into an entertaining piece of film, participants strengthen that story in their own minds: enriching the plot, as I term it in my model.

So my hope is that participants will take away that positive story, as encapsulated both in the film and in the enjoyable and energising process of making the film; and that will the their dominant story about the programme: a story that will help them to retain and apply the positive learning from the programme with an enhanced sense of agency.

Monday, 6 June 2016

A Very Different Holiday

From reading this and the last post in quick succession, the casual reader might get the impression that I spend my whole life on holiday! That is not quite the truth (though living in the Lake District, it can sometimes feel that way) but it just so happened that the Chartres pilgrimage and an invitation from some friends to spend a week sailing with them came in quick succession.

So a rapid gear change from the rigours of Chartres (long days of walking, sleeping in icy tents, communal facilities shared by 8,000 people) to a week on a catamaran sailing off the coast of Corfu.

You can tell that I am not used to this ocean sailing lark; on arrival at the catamaran, I was greeted with 'A bit of a swell!' and responded 'Thank you!' I gather that was incorrect.

Actually, by the standards of Gouvia marina, I was anything but a swell. You could see the super yachts lined up in bragging order on a distant quay, and even the humble catamaran we were on probably cost more than my house.

Once again the contrast with Chartres was very marked; and it would be easy to stand on some moral high ground (high wave, at sea?) and denounce the pleasures of the flesh and the indulgence of the wealthy. However the truth is that we had a wonderful week, getting to know our hosts (the parents of our daughter's husband, who refer to us as The Outlaws, reasonably enough) rather better.  And very good company they were, too! I also learned some of the rudiments of sailing a large yacht at sea, as opposed to a small dinghy on Ullswater. We swam, played games, sampled Greek restaurants, bought and cooked freshly caught fish, read, chatted, and relaxed.

So comparing the two holidays, I conclude that they served very different purposes, and met very different needs. A life that consisted solely of cruising on the Mediterranean in the sunshine, having fun and eating and drinking in good measure and in good company would perhaps be lacking something - and it was tempting to make all sorts of judgements about the chap we saw doing his workout on a treadmill on the upper deck of his massive super yacht, while his staff motored ashore in a launch on some errand. But there is certainly a place for real rest and relaxation, and above all slowing down; and particularly in the context of building new friendships. And by the same token, I suspect that an ascetic life, full of the rigours of the Chartres pilgrimage without relief, is a vocation to which very few are called - and that to assume it inappropriately would also be deleterious.

But I don't think I need worry about either temptation too much: the Chartres pilgrimage only happens once a year, and as long as I have a wife and children, I will be ineligible for monastic life; and I certainly won't be chartering a yacht on the Med on a regular basis, either.

And despite our children acquiring a liking for such a splendid holiday, our next one will be back to normal - amongst the midges of Scotland...