Categories
Change Conflict resolution Learning New Teamwork

Stimulus and Response – The Love Affair

‘I love you, I really do’. He slides up beside her, his hands reaching out to take her face gently into the palm of his hands. His lips touch lightly onto hers and his eyes twinkle in delight.

‘I can’t live without you Stim, I really can’t’ His hands slide to the back of her head and gently move through the glossy blonde hair. Then strangely, he feels her hand on his chest as she gently pushes him away, before running her fingers through her hair to organise herself. She looks at him, her eyebrows dipping slightly.

‘You know I love you Res I really do, but I need to be honest with you…..’ He senses the rebuff and moves slightly away from her, but still holds her hand so she cannot move too far away. They are getting ready for a party, all old friends coming  together. It is a regular, relaxed, fun time with people they’ve known for years. She had been standing at the mirror, choosing ear rings when he came up and kissed her, his aftershave mixing with her perfume as they came close.

His face crumbles at her words. She has been a little bit off over the last few days, certainly not her usual loving, close, caring self. He tries to listen, but his heart rate has risen and he senses the  blood surging through his veins. Their love was beautiful, everyone said so – a whirlwind romance, wonderful to watch, a classic love at first sight, a match made in heaven. And now, living together after all these years, it had seemed perfect to him. Yet here in the bedroom, he feels a sense of fear and concern. He doesn’t want to say anything, doesn’t want to speak, but he has to.

‘What’s the matter Stim’? The words come out slowly, quietly, tentatively. It seems wrong to even ask.

‘Look Res’ her voice is confident, sure, straight. She takes him over to the bed and pulls him down to sit on the edge, their legs touching. ‘I love you, just as I did when we first met. You are very special, we’re meant to be together for ever and ever I’m sure. I don’t want to be without you,  I really don’t, but …….’. The air seems to shift between them. Stim sighs deeply and squeezes Res’s hand. They’re both silent.

‘I just need a bit more space that’s all. Just a bit, not too much just a bit. I need to be my own person. I think you need to be too’. She can see he is trying to hear, but he seems close to tears as he looks at her.

‘I just want to do what is right for you, give you what you need, be there for you. I love you Stim I really do’. His voice is quiet, hesitant. He squeezes up tight to her, only to find her moving away again slightly, creating more space again between them. It feels wrong.  All of it is wrong and he wants to move to her. Yet no matter how he hates it, he stays where he is, because that’s what she wants, but he feels very uncomfortable.

‘Look’ Stim tries again. ‘We can continue on how how we are, but it will be the same and then, more of the same’. Res looks confused. ‘You know…. I do something, you respond in the way you always do. We know the routine and everyone around us does too. It feels like the same old, same old’.

‘But isn’t that good, you know predicable, comfortable….’? Res looks at her, his voice rising slightly as he replies. There is a fine line of sweat across his top lip and red patches are beginning to appear on his neck above his shirt collar. ‘Isn’t that how couples work, you know like in tandem’? He senses her irritation and stops, watching as she pushes herself up off the bed and moves away.

‘Okay, okay, what do you want’? He drops his head into his hands, so the words are muffled and indistinct. Inside he’s expecting disaster –  a break up, news of another man, divorce looming.

‘Just to try some things differently. So, there is space for something else to happen, rather than just the usual, what we always do. Something different’ Stim responds. Then she smiles. ’How about we practice tonight? You know, I do something and you respond differently, check yourself before doing what you might always do’. She winks at him, which is most disconcerting, because she has never in all their time together winked at him. It is  such a simple thing and he wants to react straightaway, or to say something to tell her that it’s just plain weird. He can’t stop the automatic reaction, his eyelid beginning to twitch. Instead though, he takes a deep breath and counts to ten. Which seems to take an age, but during that time he thinks. There is just the tick of the bedside clock filling the silence. He really wants to wink back, get them both in sync again, but he doesn’t. Instead, as ten clicks through his head, he pushes out his tongue and rolls his eyes. She bursts into laughter.

‘Okay let’s do this Ms Stimulus. Let’s go courting again, do some things differently at the party. See what happens to us and maybe to others tonight too’. He slips on his jacket and takes her respectfully by the hand. She is smiling now.

‘Thank you Mr Response, that would be lovely, very lovely. And we can count in the gap together. Ready to give it another go’? Her eyes sparkle at him. They both hold their breath, heads rocking to and fro as they go through the count. Then before Stimulus can stop him, Response is heading out of the door, taking the stairs two at a time, whooping and cheering.

Grahame Pitts – December 2020

Postscript:

This story comes out of a number of leadership conversations about habitual reactions. Sometimes simple everyday situations, sometimes tougher emotional loaded moments. Unless we check ourselves we can often respond in a certain way and in a way which we know is pretty predictable. This can be beneficial, we all know what to expect  from each other, but this habit can also limit us. So, a particular stimulus – perhaps a situation, a person, an emotion – can immediately invoke a particular response. Stimulus and response are powerful and almost symbiotically linked. Yet in all this, we may be missing larger, more interesting, opportunities.

How do we change our responses? By being aware of what is going on right in the moment. Then by creating a gap between the stimulus and the response. Actively working at stopping a habitual response – watching out for instance for those ‘yes buts’, ‘no that won’t work’ type of comments – by creating more space before responding. Perhaps, as in the story, using a count of  ten, taking a long deep breath. Maybe, just checking in with your heart and mind or sensing the reaction occurring in your body. Most importantly, doing something which stops you immediately reacting.

Enjoy pausing!

Some possible reflection questions:

  1. Where do you get into unhelpful stimulus response situations? At home, at work? Do you know what triggers them? Are these specific situations, or is there a reoccurring theme?
  2. Sometimes, can you give yourself a gap before responding? What method would work for you, giving you more time to respond with a different choice?
  3. Where can you experiment right now? What one place can you try this out in the next few days?
  4. And turning the model on its head – what new stimulus do you need in the coming months to create opportunities for new and different reactions?

Categories
Change Leadership Learning New

Paths, Patterns & Choices

There is just enough space on the bench for one more. Well almost enough if they all shuffle along a little. Christine hauls her rucksack off, feeling lighter already as she dumps her bag on the floor. She stretches, her back cracks with relief as she rolls her shoulders, life coming back into the muscles.

‘Hi, mind if I take a seat’. Three faces look up at her, a mixture of welcome, curiosity and one with what seems like down right hostility. ‘I won’t stay long but could you shove up a bit, I think the seat is meant to take four’. Bottoms shuffle on the wooden bench and she squeezes in at the end. 

‘Phew I needed this’ and as the others settle and readjust, she pulls out her water bottle and takes a deep slurp before looking around. It’s been a long walk to this point, interesting though, lots to see, a real adventure and her fitness levels have improved over time. 

‘Well this seems a good spot to put this seat’ she says quietly looking around. The four of them are sat on a junction, a multi junction. The path she came up, the one they all came up she assumes is almost behind the bench, you can just see it out of the corner of your eye. Ahead the track splits and there are a number of choices. Immediately, directly ahead, is a wide reassuring asphalt path which arcs straight and disappears into the distance. To their right and left are a number of paths which split away in different directions. Some have clearly been walked by others, some are barely noticeable, maybe a single set of steps have gone that way.

‘Any idea which way to go from here?’ she asks enthusiastically looking around, her eyes sweeping over her three new companions. Right next to her is a man alternating between opening and shutting a book and lifting a pair of large black binoculars to his face. He takes one more sweep of the vista ahead, his head swivelling through one hundred and eighty degrees.

‘What would you do?’ he says turning towards her. ‘Oh sorry forgot my manners, I’m Bill’. He shuffles book and binoculars around so he can shake her hand. ‘It’s just that it’s says here ‘Look for the long term, build for future success, not just the immediate’. He seems to be reading from a particular page. ‘Here, take a look’. He passes her the glasses which she has to adjust to get into focus, then everything springs up large and bright in front of her. ‘Can you see all the good things just down the main path there and some more just a bit further on, then beyond that it all begins to peter out’? Christine is not sure what she is looking at, maybe they are trees, she’s not sure. The closest seem to have a lot of fruit on if that’s what they are. Further on they have less fruit and in the mid distance the trees look bent, broken and the soil underneath arid. 

‘Now look a bit to your left’ and he guides her hand, nudging the glasses across. For a short while it is all distorted then coming into focus is a very large patch of land with saplings growing, spreading right and left across the span of her vision. The soil looks fertile ‘The problem is I can’t see a path to get there, possibly a sheep or cattle track, but not much more’. He’s right, the tarmac path clearly  leads straight through the closest trees and on until it disappears into the arid landscape she first looked at. That route is clear. Swinging the binoculars back, he’s right, no path seems to go to where the rich soil seems to glow red in the distance.

“I think I have a decision to make, go for the short term, straight in front of me, or look for a way to a better long term future’. He pulls out a pristine white handkerchief from his pocket and polishes the lenses, flicks through the book one last time, then snaps it shut. With a purposeful nod to them all he starts off down the tarmac road, stepping  out in a regular stride. Then after a hundred metres and with a wave back at Christine, he plunges off the path heading towards the fertile field.

‘Good  for him, I admire that determination’. A woman pushes herself along the bench filling the space left by Bill. ‘I hate decisions though don’t you. She looks directly at Christine unafraid of eye contact. ‘It means having to make a choice, it’s so hard isn’t it’? She’s waving a piece of paper in front of her. ‘A friend sent me this poem, said it might help me’. Her face crinkles. ‘Help me! Well it did get me started I suppose, it made me move, but now I’m in a right muddle. It says here’ she pauses to find the right sentence ‘Choose the most interesting path, the least travelled path. Which one though I say to myself, Jane which one, they didn’t say there would be loads of choices’. She sighs deeply. In frustration, she screws the sheet into a ball crushing her hands together, then quickly unwraps the crinkled sheet to study the words once again.

‘I love this poem, I love all this inspirational type stuff’. Her face opens up and she beams at Christine. ‘Here you keep this love’ and the worn creased paper changes hands between them and Jane stands up. She ponders all the paths arrayed out in front of her, looking around, seeming to do some sort of metal equation. Then she starts off down a well marked grass path before coming back, pointing at another, shrugging her shoulders and setting off down a less well marked but interesting track which bends  away through the fields and towards the woods ahead.  Occasionally she stops, looks back, stares at the other paths leading in other directions and then moves on until she disappears from view.

The last person on the bench ignores Christine completely. He’s crunched up in a dark raincoat, even though the day is quite warm, he’s staring at his shoes which are highly polished.  Christine considers moving along the bench but senses he needs space. 

‘Nice day hey’. Christine leans back looking at the wide spread of countryside ahead of them. Bill, a tiny spec in the distance, seems to be walking back and forth through the saplings. Occasionally the glass in his binoculars flashes in the sunlight. Jane has disappeared into the trees. High in the blue sky above, a Red Kite circles seeking a thermal in the warm air. 

‘Choices, choices, there is no choice whatsoever, they’re both talking nonsense’ the voice mumbles out of the folds of the coat. ‘Idiots the pair of them, believing you can take a different path’. He turns and glares at her, his eyes are red rimmed with dark shadows below. ‘See that’. A slender hand is pulled out of a pocket and points at the path behind and one in front of where he is sitting. It seems to run directly under the bench. ‘You’ve got your life patterns, you can move a bit but mostly you go along your tram lines following the stuff your parents or grandparents gave you. I know I’ve trained in this stuff. That woman should have tried a different poem, something more realistic, maybe that one by Philip Larkin ‘They fuc……’. He is cut short as Christine interrupts him.

‘Yes, I know that poem, a bit depressing actually, I prefer optimism and hope myself’. He looks at her, ponders on the comment, before a broad smile breaks out across his tired face. 

‘Maybe you’re right’. He takes a moment to reflect. ‘Perhaps a bit of both ideas makes more sense. So, accepting there are patterns, but choice and experience makes a difference. Our patterns are just patterns wherever they come from. Some are good, some are bad, but they help us manage our complex lives. We need them. I was just thinking about my old dad, he had good intentions I think. He worked hard, was never at home, that was probably a family pattern, but he made some good choices too.  I think I’m a bit better, I work hard too, but still probably too much, if my marriage is anything to go by’.

He pauses and looks up at the Red Kite, which is hovering closer, focused on something below ignoring them completely.  ‘And we’re adults aren’t we, we have to make choices and remake them regularly, that’s how our patterns shift in the long term. I have to choose the next step, the next path to go down’. He takes a deep breath. ‘I’m being a a bit stupid really, I know this stuff, I’ve been through it a few times. Maybe I’m just a bit tired right now and can’t see anything clearly. So, you go right ahead and make your choice, I think I’ll just sit here a while and enjoy the sunshine’.

Christine leans back on the bench and watches the bird swoop down, flash across the ground, then up and away. 

’You know I might sit here a while too if that’s okay? I can see two or three options ahead but I’m not sure yet. Would you like some lunch’? She unbuckles the top of her rucksack and begins searching inside. ‘Would you be willing to share some of your choices, the paths you’ve taken while you’ve been working hard’? She knows he will because he’s tapping the end of his nose as he thinks, a smile appearing on his face.

Grahame Pitts

December 2019

Postscript – One book, Two Poems 

The ideas in the first part of the story comes from a book I have just read (thanks Bryan for the recommendation) – The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek (https://simonsinek.com/product/the-infinite-game/). He talks about the need for organisations to move from our current model of short term results, to a broader longer term perspective, where we create sustainability for future  generations, rather than just our own. Although the book applies this to business it has the same resonance at a personal level.

The second part of the story pulls on the themes from two well known poems by:

Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken – (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken)

Peter Larkin – This Be The Verse – (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48419/this-be-the-verse)

Both poems are often quoted in personal and leadership development workshops and are used to stimulate, challenge and inspire.

Some possible reflection questions:

  1. Are you making good choices? How much are you driven by your patterns? Which of these patterns support you, which ones are potentially sabotaging you?
  2. Do you need to sit a while as you consider your next choice? Who would you like to chat to about your next step (someone with a different perspective, or at least different patterns). Or do you simply need your own quiet reflection time?
  3. Are you able to consider both your immediate short term choice and how this fits into the much longer term perspective? If you are in an organisation, are you able to see the long term picture (probably beyond your time there) and therefore what foundations you need to put in place now? 

Categories
Change Conflict resolution Culture & Style Leadership Organisational Systems

Something’s Moving in The Garden

‘Daddy, daddy there’s something in the flower pot, come look, please come and look’. Her face radiates up towards me, the blond curls spilling out from under her bright red bobble hat. Her gloves dangle by their strings out of her coat and I see her muddy hands, just a second before she grabs my trouser leg to get me out of my chair.
 
‘Woo, steady, I’m coming’. I fold up my newspaper, try to forget the quiet ten minutes I was having and head out through the patio doors into the cold winter air, realizing immediately I should have put a coat on. My wife is down the garden digging away, throwing weeds behind her. I resist the desire to call out and remind her this is my time and we’d agreed she and Lucy would garden together.   
 
‘Come on daddy, hurry up, this way’ and Lucy, our smart, insistent daughter trots ahead of me. I feel a glow of pride at watching her young confidence and remember the nativity play at school the week before. She is an angel and a junior one at that, with just three words to speak ‘peace and joy’. The hot stuffy hall, full of cameras and phones flashing. A confusing Christmas story full of sharks, zebras, a London post box, six kings and our daughter. There she is….. I see her vividly in her angel dress, her lines delivered slowly with loud perfection, each word which we’d practiced every night before bed after story time. My heart swells at the memory. I know she’ll be on the stage one day.
 
‘Look here, look’ and I peer into an extra large plastic flowerpot sitting on the floor of our small greenhouse, amongst the dry dusty bean canes. It’s the pot I had every intention of putting the Christmas tree in later, once I’d finished the sports pages. A strange animal looks up at me. A long snout, two large nostrils, a crinkled broad back and an even bigger tail, which swishes and cracks against the pot sides making the whole thing jump and vibrate. The eyes dare me to come forward and I am tempted to put my hands in, then change my mind.
 
‘Isn’t it sweet Daddy, can we keep it, please Daddy please’. Lucy jumps up and down on the spot, hopping from one leg to the other with excitement. Then her voice changes.
 
‘There, there calm down little one’ I hear Lucy recite her mothers words with the same intonation and softness and the thing settles, curling up, no longer banging the pot across the greenhouse floor. Before I can stop her, Lucy puts her grubby fingers in and rubs the top of its nose, calming it even more. There is a strange purring sort of noise.
 
‘I wouldn’t do that Lucy, just in case you know. Well it might have teeth’ and I tug at her coat and pull her away.
 
‘No, no Daddy he likes being picked up and cuddled. Look’ and she scoops the alligator looking reptile up in her arms. It flops over her shoulder like a rag doll and his snout hangs down her back, steam puffing out of the nostrils into the cold garden air. ‘He’s a bit too heavy though, can you take him’?
I carefully pick him off Lucy, unpeeling his claws which are sticking in her wooly coat. My hands just pass round the rough scaly body and I gently but firmly put him back in the pot. Except he doesn’t fit anymore and now drapes half in and half out.
 
‘Wow he’s grown’ Sue dumps a load of weeds on the compost and joins us in the greenhouse, watching it settle down, tail and rear end in the pot, the rest slumped over on the ground. First one eye closes then another. The  purring changes to a gentle snore.
 
‘Lucy showed me earlier, it looked like a lizard then, now I’m not so sure. Maybe its escaped from a pet shop or something’. That had been exactly my thought but there isn’t one near us, so my mind goes to the beatnik guy who lives three doors down. He had a snake once, but that was before we had Lucy. Then when he settled down with that new girlfriend, the posh one, I’m pretty sure he got a dog instead.
 
‘I could ask that snake guy at number twenty, or maybe we just phone the RSPCA’. Lucy looks up at me and I explain about the charity that helps sick and lost animals. She nods wisely.
 
‘But we will be able to keep him won’t we?’ and her head tilts upwards. ‘It would be the bestest Christmas present ever’.  Sue and I look at each other. 
 
‘Tell you what let’s have lunch, a boiled egg with soldiers and we’ll decide after. How about that’? I lift her up, swing her onto my shoulders and stride up the garden path, away from what seems like a complicated problem.
 


‘Right mate, what you got then, a baby crocodile the call said. Seems unlikely but we get all sorts of thing to deal with you know’. He’s standing on the door step, his RSPCA uniform not quite fitting, like he’s outgrown it. A beer belly hangs over his belt. He looks competent though, if a bit rough round the edges.
 
‘Okay I’ve got a cat travel cage here and if it’s bigger, this noose will hold it while we deal with it. This sorts out wild dogs, so it should do the job’. I look at the cage then the pole with a circle of rope and decide to not engage in a conversation. I’m not sure either will do, but its getting dark, so I show him through the house into the garden. Two pinpricks of light come from the greenhouse and the purring has turned to a low rumble.
 
 
“Right let’s be having you’ and flicking on his torch the man strides forward across the lawn. The blast of heat and flame shocks us all. Two small jets, like a pair of blowtorches arc towards us, smacking against his boots, charring the laces.
 
“Fireworks mummy’ shrieks Lucy with joy, wriggling to get away from her mum’s hand which is holding her tightly. No one can believe it, but it doesn’t matter because now the greenhouse begins to shake. One by one, with a bang, each pane shatters, sending slivers spinning away. Then the frame begins to twist and buckle, then crashing out of one end is a head and at the other a tail, flicking and crashing against the fence. With one last pop the frame disintegrates, aluminum pings everywhere and there standing in front of us is…
 
‘A dragon Daddy, a dragon, just like those pictures in the book.  Mummy, mummy Father Christmas has brought us a dragon, a real dragon’. Lucy is jumping up and down. My mouth is open. Sue is backing away and the RSPCA drops his alligator noose and runs. The dragon sits back on his haunches and with a soft thud settles down on top of the vegetable patch, his tail moving back and forth. Then it seems to wink at us.
 
‘My brussels, my brussels, my Christmas spuds, the turnips’ is all I can think about, as he then slumps forward, his head crashing down on the patio. He looks lovingly up at us. Warm air from his nose blows across our legs and with a contented sigh he drops off to sleep again.
 
 
 
‘I don’t know what to do, stop asking’. We’ve been round the subject endless times as we watch the dragon through the steamed up glass door.
 
‘Well he doesn’t seem to have grown overnight anyway, that’s a relief. And are you sure it’s a he, it maybe a she. In fact I’m sure it is a she’. Sue looks at me over her coffee cup as we watch Lucy, outside, leaning against the Dragon and patting his skin gently.
 
‘This is either very dangerous, in which case I should rescue my daughter, or I am in the middle of a very strange dream. Perhaps I’ll wake up soon’? I shake my head but nothing changes. Inside, I have an amazing sense of calm, which is crazy given the situation.
 
‘Don’t grab …..’ Too late, Lucy is gently pulling at his eye lashes, intrigued by their length and colour. The dragon doesn’t seem put out at all and closes both eyes, to let her run fingers through and across the black coarse fibres, like running fingers across a piano key board.   
 
‘Now we’re late, got to dash, I’m sure you’ll sort this out before we’re back’ and with a peck on the cheek I grab up my bag and head out.
 
‘Come on Lucy, time to go. Remember it’s dad’s and daughters day, then the party later’. We have this wonderful tradition where on the last day before Christmas, children are invited into the office and we finish with a kids party at lunch time. This is the first year for Lucy. She gives the dragon a kiss and skips over to me.
 
 

There’s a thud as I clip Lucy into her seat, the car rocks slightly then I feel a breath on my shoulder.

‘No, no, get out you beast’, but it’s too late, the Dragon is squashed in the back his head resting between the front seats and immediately the temperature rises and we’re in tropical heat. The frozen windscreen clears instantly and the rubber seal around the edge begins to overheat and smell. I am about to complain, then notice the curling lip and a large set of white sharp teeth emerging. And above, a slow lazy wink of an eye. I carefully and apologetically push the snout to one side, find the gear stick under the folds of rough skin and set off.
 


‘Morning you must be Lucy and you’ve brought your dinosaur too. Well done, just sign here’. I lift and hold her as she slowly writes her name across the visitors pad in large capital letters.
 
‘Its amazing what they can do now isn’t it, looks just like the real thing too’. The security man stares at the dragon.
 
‘And it even smells. What’ll they think of next hey. Look it winks, now that’s smart. Pricey I imagine. Do they do a smaller version at all? Sold out probably by now. Toy of the year is it? Maybe I can get one in the sales in January’? He chatters on, he always does, I mostly nod my head in the mornings, it nearly always seems too early for chatty conversation. Lucy hands him the pen and the security man looks at her name covering twenty of the official visitor signature boxes on the form.
 
‘Right oh guys let’s go and the three of us squash into the lift. I can’t help smiling as we step in. We practice counting the numbers on the panel, with dragon thumping a tail in the floor when Lucy hits ten. The lift is still bouncing up and down as the door slides open at my floor.     
 
Some people look, others don’t even seem to notice, as we walk through the open plan office. At my desk Lucy points at the family photos sitting beside my over flowing in tray, able to name each person, touching her fingers to the glass. Dragon comes close and examines each one, seeming to nod approval. At the same time as he moves, he is inadvertently knocking files and expense reports onto the floor and then swishing them into a muddle with his feet and tail.
 
‘CEO needs you in the Board room now, some sort of emergency’. Jane floats into the room, all competence and smartness. She is organised to the hilt, keeps all the executive team on track, the best assistant I have worked with.
 
‘Hi Lucy, why don’t you come with me for a few minutes? I’ve heard all about you, Daddy has a meeting to go to’. She doesn’t even seem to notice Dragon who begins to hiss as Lucy bursts into tears and hides behind my legs. I watch her stride back to desk, as I tell her ‘I will deal with this and that, sorry Lucy is not good with strangers’.

‘Are you sure, oh all right’ the CEO is muttering, unsure how to handle a child in the boardroom, but Lucy is quietly sitting on my lap tucked in to the table playing with the paper clips on the files in front of us, smiling sweetly. ‘Good old Luc’ I think, ‘come on let’s get old grouch ready for Christmas. Who needs a meeting today of all days’. No one noticed dragon slip under the large mahogany table and the whole room seems to not hear the rumble and notice movements by our feet. I am a bit disconcerted to have hot breath on my thigh as Lucy digs through the sweet jar she’s been given, dropping jelly babies into an open mouth. Each one disappearing with a satisfied smacking noise.       
 
I am sweating, this is a huge mistake, I am under attack. The CEO persists in his interrogation. Others in the team are slipping down in their seats, keeping out of the argument, one or two have tried to help me, but there is no stopping him. It was coming, of course it was. 
 
‘I gave you the chance, gave you resources, listened to your proposals, accepted your part of the business might be different, but look at the results’. He slaps the financial report on the table and his face gets redder and redder as his anger rises. It had been coming, he hates my challenge and now he’s picked up on my emails which he normally ignores. He knows we need to change but meanwhile his shares are losing value and we all know he wanted to cash out and retire this year.
 
I need to fight back, but not with Lucy here and she is looking worried, peering up into my face and holding tightly to my small finger with her left hand. As she reaches into the sweet jar with her other hand, it tips. Before I can reach out, it starts to roll down the length of the table, coloured jelly babies tipping out, red, black, yellow, green. Everyone watches transfixed as it drops off the edge, just as the finance director makes a snatch at the disappearing jar. He leans over to pick up the container, then pulls back fear all over his face.
 
First smoke, then the nose, then the teeth, the eyes, the flashing scales. The front feet haul up onto the Chippendale table, leaving deep scratches in the surface. His body, as he stretches, fills that end of the huge boardroom. His head crashes into the ornate plastered ceiling and his tail knocks the coffee cups off the side cabinet. With a roar of anger the flames and smoke spurt from his nostrils. The heat scorches down the table incinerating reports, note pads, wrecking laptops and phones. The flames destroy the smart organised file in front of the CEO and then with a flick, the last heat blackens his hair and softens his smart royal blue designer glasses, making them droop and distort on his nose.
 
No one moves. The CEO sits there stunned. The left lens on his glasses drops out into the ashes of his papers. Around the table hands go to faces and there are stifled giggles amongst the ‘oh dears’ and ‘that was unfortunate’. I don’t wait, I push back my seat and with Lucy trotting next me and Dragon behind, leave the smouldering room.
 
‘Happy Christmas everyone’ I call over my shoulder. ‘Catch up on all this in the New Year.  Or in case I’m not here, enjoy all that new business coming soon’. In the car park I consider matters.
 
‘Hey Dragon, any chance of a lift home? I think maybe we’ll leave the company car here’ and he bends his head to allow Lucy and I to slip onto his back. We lift off, waving to the warehouse staff as we glide up into the cold clear blue sky.  
 


Post Script

This story came from a conversation with a client recently, about running a small ‘different’ business within a much larger organisation. We chatted about a metaphor when a strange mystical creature appears in a regular well organised, efficient vegetable or flower garden.

And below, just a couple of possible reflective questions for you …….particularly for  those of you who ask  for practical applications, to land this fluffy fable stuff!

– What happens when change arrives and is different from the norm or what was planned or expected – for you yourself or for your business?

– Do you take on a particular approach, attitude, or behaviour when someone is in your vegetable patch, or you are stepping on someone’s prize flower bed?

– Can you see an aspect of yourself in the story? Do you sense a connection with one of the characters? Any messages for you?


Categories
Change Leadership Learning New Talent Management Teamwork

James Goes Running

James pulled out the dusty mud crusted trainers from the bag he’d thrown them in all that time ago. Down here in the cellar all was quiet, just the occasionally hiss of the boiler as it began heating the house for the day ahead. He sat on the steps and pulled each one on, tightening the laces to just the right tension ready for the road ahead. With a deep breath and pulling back his shoulders, he took the steps two at time, the running shoes creaking and leaving dried earth behind on the steps. Out of the house he walked to the gate, turned into the road and set off at a gentle pace, shaking the sleepiness from his joints and muscles. He remembered what a great time of day it was before everyone woke up, the calmness and tranquility, no noise yet from the houses as he padded gently past. Before long James was in a rhythm, his body remembering and adjusting to the style and pace he ran at. His breathing regulated and steadied. Now his mind dropped into neutral and he noticed the world around him, yet he had as much attention inwards mulling and considering the day ahead and beyond that his future. The birds chattered, another runner passed with cheery hello and smart BMW roared by as the ‘bright young thing’, as they called him, from next door, shot past on his way to catch the 6.30 commuter train to London. He ran on taking the slight hill ahead with ease and confidence, letting his legs stretch out and enjoy themselves.

“Morning James, good to be out and about hey. Lovely time of day for a jog I say” and James looking to his left found himself running next to a rather rotund man, with billowing shorts to his knees, bright yellow trainers and a blue basketball hat crammed down over a bush of bright ginger curly hair.  He ran with an unerring confidence  and strength considering his size and shape. He thrust out his hand.

“CC’s my name, Captain Confidence actually but most people abbreviate it. We all need to believe in ourselves hey James and I’m your man to help there”. He nudged James in the ribs, his elbow seeming to send shock waves into his chest and directly up to his brain, where a fizz and a pop suddenly made the world a bit brighter and sharper, the birds now chirruping loudly in his ears. CC settled into a steady rhythm next to him and whistled as they turned left together into the park and set off round the perimeter track.

“Morning CC, morning James, good to see you both”. James startled, moved his eyes away from CC to his left and saw a tall gangly runner next to him wearing a trilby hat and a long overcoat, neither of which impeded his movement. His height meant he seemed to walk rather than run and he strode along next to them.

“Reggie Resources here, good to make your acquaintance, now what do you need?” and he pulled open his coat to reveal pockets stuffed with everything you could imagine.

“Maybe a map, or a compass, perhaps some Kendal Mint Cake, or better still, a brand new pair of running shoes” and with a broad flourish dived into a pocket and revealed the latest Nike trainers.

“Later, later old chap” retorted CC. “Plenty of time for all that, let’s just get into a good steady rhythm first”. And the three of them set off along the path together.

“You’ll definitely need contacts, I have a whole book full here” whispered Reggie to James, showing him surreptitiously a small leather bound notepad, before sliding it back into his pocket. James smiled. He thought his first run would be hard but it wasn’t, not physically, not mentally and actually, running between these two he felt carried along and somehow supported by them both. They swept round the bottom corner of the park and headed toward the bandstand where to everyones surprise,  the local town band sat tuning up, just as though it was a summer Sunday afternoon. The bandmaster seeing them, lifted his baton and the music flowed towards them, almost lifting them off their feet with its depth and resonance. The notes fell and rose with their running and the instruments shared in their journey, from the big base drum with its steady regular deep beat, to the tiny piccolo picking out softer detail. James’s heart lifted and a broad smile came to his face and he felt his toes lift his feet and his stride grow, until he was almost off the floor and flying. CC, Reggie and James glided on past the town band and floated on and around the side of the park.

With a miss timed e flat on the tuba and a clash of the cymbals, the music came to a sudden halt as the band master leapt from the stand and rushed after the three runners, waving his baton madly.
“Wait, wait….. wait for us” and he beckoned behind for the band to follow him “Don’t you want inspiring music to help you along?”

“Sounds great to me” said Reggie ever resourceful and thinking of other places this band might come in useful. CC didn’t reply, he was still bobbing about and singing to the last tune, skipping lightly over the grass, jumping up on the park benches, floating, then landing perfectly back on the ground. James liked the band, the sound inspired him with his running and without a thought of the consequences, invited the band to come on the adventure with them. So off they went, James, Reggie and CC taking longer and longer steps and finding, with the music playing, they could hurdle the park benches easily. The band, not quite as fit or able tried to keep up, found they lacked the puff to run and play at the same time, starting being crafty and as the three went round the perimeter of the park, they cut across the grass saving time and energy and allowing the trumpet players to have a quick smoke occasionally too, while they waited for the three runners to arrive.

James came back to the park gate after several circuits and turned out into the street, the music faded and looking back he saw the band waving him off. There leaning against the metal railings, stood CC and Reggie.

“We’re around any time, for sure when you are running, but other times too. Just let us know and we’ll get out trainers on ready” and both gently saluted him as he sped away down the street.

At his house, James stopped and did some gentle stretches to finish his run. He felt calm and relaxed and ready to face the day. Not bad for a first time out in ages he thought and clicking through his mind were all sorts of ideas for developing his career. He marched up the garden path, humming a catchy tune he’d heard earlier and headed in for a shower …. work called.

Grahame Pitts

December 2016

 

Post Script
So, imagine you are  needing to shift something in your business, or yes, you are lookng to make a career move. A couple of questions:-

– Do you know the resources you have available that are within you? Or, are they other external resources you sense you need? Are there other people who you need to make contact with and ask for their help and guidance?

– How confident are you, what gives you more confidence? Is your confidence grounded in reality, will others see how practical, experienced and capable you are? Can you describe your skills and talents well?

– Are you fit enough for the journey ahead, physically, mentally, emotionally? How do you maintain high performance, to move ahead daily to achieve your plans?

– What inspires you, keep you going when work may be tough? Listening to music, looking at wonderful art, being outdoors, reading great books?  Where do you go, what do you need  to lift you and give you creative direction?

PS James got the job he wanted, he persevered and got there!

Categories
Change Leadership Learning Organisational Systems

Power

The clock ticked through to 2.30 and Mark wriggled in his seat. The spare chairs around the conference table in his office sat empty, the coffee and the water fresh, with ten cups and nine glasses neatly arranged. He sighed, drank his own water and stood up.

“Any sign of anyone Jodie” he called as he checked through his IPad for messages and emails.

“No, sorry all looks pretty busy out there” she replied, while squinting down through the  broad open plan office. “To be fair it is one of those days and we do have that major client in”. Mark knew that and he understood the importance of this customer, he was in the round up and sign off later in the afternoon.

“Okay, no problem, but perhaps I’ll take stroll and see who I bump into” and he set off out of the executive suite, heading firstly to the marketing department who he intuitively felt more comfortable with. Fifteen minutes later his mood hadn’t improved. People were polite, engaging, some were clearly overwhelmed by having him stop by their desks, others interested, chatted amiably about the business. No one though seemed able, or willing to engage him in debate. He knew he had a bit of an abrasive style and he found social interactions a pain, so when the exec team suggested an open hour each week it had seemed like a great idea. Now he wasn’t so sure. He wanted fierce debate, challenge, honesty about the style of the business, ideas for the future. Yes, the weekly open meeting and his conversations had been some of that, but more about pay, conditions, toilets, the canteen. He was now seriously considering delegating the whole thing to HR.

He stalked off through operations and into finance asking questions and generally causing alarm and discomfort. He could see people slipping out from their desks and heading to the corridor, filling the toilets, creating queues at the coffee docks. Perhaps if one of his directors had been around they could have bridged the gap, but all the senior management were tied up. So, after getting one word answers from one of the IT analysts he headed downstairs to facilities. He had no interest in these things but he’d heard about Jim, head of maintenance, yet he never came to any meeting what so ever. Well he should and he would now. Mark banged his way through several safety doors, heading deeper into the bowels of the office. Past store rooms, skirting the central  heating boiler room, past a desk shoved up against the corridor wall and finally into what looked like the main electrical source centre. Large leads snaked across the walls into boxes, each marked and coloured ,acting as junction points and there laying on the floor two large leads waiting to be connected. Mark ever inquisitive went over to the large thick black cables, picked the two connectors up and looked carefully at the pins and sockets.

“Whoa there boy, slow down, don’t you be putting them together just yet” and a large gnarled, muscly hand lent over and took one wire away from him. “Just doing some work on that circuit so best not plug it in right now, we’re still running tests” said Jim, who knew exactly who Mark was and made no effort to treat him as the CEO.


Mark wasn’t used to having things taken away and later wouldn’t quite be able to recall why he did what he did next. Maybe frustration, or just plain curiosity, his mother and father always said it would get him into big trouble one day. Jim, when he told his mates in the pub later chuckling over a beer, would call it arrogance and stupidity. Yes he did, he really did, he grabbed back the two connectors and rammed one into another. The room exploded into light, a blue haze shot around them both, Mark’s feet lifted off the floor, his body vibrated and pulsed as the high energy current pulsed through him, pushing his hair up on end and his eyes bulging in their sockets. Jim momentarily stunned by seeing his boss illuminated, shaking and seeming to gurgle slightly, leapt into action launching himself across the room and slamming the main fuses off. Even without the power, Mark seemed to vibrate, his hands gripped the connectors with his fingers rigid around the plastic fittings. Jim prised his fingers free and guided him to a chair.


“Steady boss, steady, that was a real bolter you just took there, just sit for a moment. Do you need me to get the a first aider down?” Mark sucked in big lungfuls of air, ran his fingers through his upright hair, closed his eyes and then laughed.

“Now that’s what I call power, real power, you feel it right in your heart” and he thumped his chest “Power really does vibrate. Woo hoo, give me more”.

“Man, you are one crazy nut case” replied Jim looking at him “Who really enjoys being almost killed?”
“It isn’t that, it’s just real, that’s what power is” Mark sucked in more air. “Jim honestly that’s what it’s like in my job, but it’s so difficult to describe and I’ve just experienced it” and again he touched his chest. “Power at a senior level is just like that and if you don’t take care it is dangerous, yet fun, fun, fun”.

“Yea right and abusive too” retorted Jim “Some of you guys are just plain bullies, throwing your weight around”, including you he thought to himself.

“Yes, including me, I need to learn how to stop myself jumping in, bossing people about. And see,  I’m pretty good at guessing what you are thinking, so just say it from now on, tell it to me straight”. Jim nodded his head, shook his head, laughed and reaching into his lunch bag, pulled out his coffee flask. He added two large sugars to both drinks and watched Mark uncurl his fingers, crack his knuckles, take the coffee and swallow it in two large gulps. Jim sensing the opportunity lent over and eyeballed his boss, which was tricky as one pupil was massive dilated while the other had shrunk to a pin prick of blackness.


“You know you could take more of us with you, if you just thought about that power you have as executives. I’m used to electrical power, you felt it just know, you need to be professional, assess the risks and manage it well. I reckon management power is similar, not to be abused or mistreated but real important to get things done. Just take care how you use it”.

“Well maybe, hum well let me think” muttered David staring back, he’s eyes gradually normalising and returning to their normal green brown colour. He pulled himself out of the chair, put his mug down, shook Jim’s hand and with a slight stagger left the basement.

There’s nothing so grand as a story and this one whipped round the building. The meeting room was packed  at the next open hour, even Jim was there. The conversation was varied, soft and relaxed at times and sometime spiky and demanding. Mark mostly listened, interjecting occasionally and in the quieter moments, reflected on power and how a shock occasionally was a good wake up call.

Grahame Pitts – 21st September 2016

Post Script
Power is an interesting thing, we all need it and must use it. Yet applied without care and attention it can rapidly damage others and ourselves. So, thinking and reflecting about your power is important, in particular, being willing to try different approaches in different situations. How flexible are you with your personal or positional power? As a leader, are you aware of the impact of your power, does anything need to change?

Take a look  at the latest HBR Research on this in the article ‘Managing Yourself – Don’t Let Power Corrupt You’ in the October 2106 edition (page112) or down load it on  https://hbr.org/2016/10/dont-let-power-corrupt-you

Categories
Change Culture & Style Learning

Slippers or Shoes

John settled himself in front of his state of the art computer, running his hand over the mouse watching the curser skip through his emails deleting them rapidly. He whistled as he sipped his cappuccino. Fridays were good days, working from home while everyone else schlepped up the motorway to the office. He wriggled his shoulders in pleasure and turned to the report he needed to write and get to his boss by lunch time. Two coffees and one chocolate biscuit later, time spent stroking the cat who taken up residence on the filing cabinet nearby and two hours closer to his deadline, he felt stuck. The words refused to flow, the issues seemed to elude him, the sheets and diagrams complicating not explaining things more clearly. He tapped his feet on the wooden floor in frustration. The soft thud on the oak planks did nothing to raise his spirits, in fact the sound irritated him. He pushed his ergonomic desk chair backwards and slumped down  running his fingers through his hair.
“Damn Damn, this is supposed to be easy” he muttered to himself. 
Horatio the cat didn’t mind, he leapt gracefully onto John’s lap and rubbed himself up against his face purring softly and deeply.  Twiddling the cat’s ear John sighed and looked down. He saw he was still wearing his cosy slippers, warm comfortable, the old soft leather reassuring and relaxing, a sign he was at home. 

“Why not Horacio, why not, I can wear what I like at home can’t I?” he muttered at the cat. “Do you remember the day I stayed in my pyjamas and almost got caught out by that surprise video conference”.


He smiled to himself, remembering how he’d dashed upstairs grabbed a shirt and had sat through the call, with the camera seeing his head and chest and completely missing his pyjama bottoms. Now he wondered, did what he wore make a difference to how he worked, to how he saw the world, how relaxed or focused he was –  even though it seemed such a small psychological thing to him? Now as he looked down he wondered. Depositing Horatio on the desk, where he promptly lay on the key board sending a spray of random letters and figures across the word document, John pulled off his slippers and went looking for his most comfortable work shoes.


The wall clock ticked round to 1.00 pm, John pressed the send button and watched the email and the attachments leave. Wow, the last ninety minutes had been incredibly productive, the ideas had flowed, the words seeming to literally just appear on the page in front of him.  Even though he said it himself, not a bad report at all. He decided there and then to wear his shoes when working from home. It was a little trick but it had worked, reframing his mind and approach to the business issues. 
Monday morning he was in the office early, it meant he missed the worst of the traffic but it also meant no one noticed the the stuffed plastic bag he brought in with him, alongside his normal briefcase. He laid out the footwear in his office ranging from his best ‘important presentation’ shoes, trainers, loafers, through to those favourite slippers, which looked rather out of place; but then so did the pair of Dr Martins which he still wore out if it was wet, or when he just needed good walking boots sometimes. Jane his PA, ever professional, came in to plan out the day and her eyes swept over the shoes.


“Planning a party later, fancy dress?” she wrinkled her eyes looking at the shoes. John couldn’t help smiling, he knew she had a pile of her own shoes arranged under her desk too, from flats to high heels, although these were never talked about.


“Yup, well no, more an experiment”


“Aha, so which will you wear to the Board meeting later, slippers or Doc Martins?” she teased him gently, already knowing the impact of different clothes and shoes on situations. Wasn’t this blindingly obvious she thought, but maybe not, he was a man after all.


“Okay how about the loafers for the meeting, semi formal, won’t cause a stir, relaxing for you to wear. Maybe creates a picture of you on a sailing yacht, Americas cup that sort of thing”.


So he did wear them, did it make an impact he wasn’t sure, but the meeting went very well and certainly the loafers, the picture of the boat cutting through the water, his mind being relaxed and calm, all seemed to help.


Jane couldn’t stop herself over the next few days, encouraging him to try different shoes in different situations, even creating a mini spread sheet to measure the impact. The Doc Martins were an instant hit with the ops team – the bad news on budgets he presented was accepted reasonably  well – maybe they were mesmerised by the size ten, highly polished, bovver boots. The slippers she noticed got worn in the  lunch break and at times when he needed to recharge and they always went home in the evening and weekends with him, until he bought a second pair. Within a short time, the shoes became company folk law, with people arriving to see John and checking in with Jane on ‘what sort of shoe day was it today’, before entering his office.  The anonymous witty article in the company newsletter John took well too and the regular teasing and banter from his colleagues. Better still he wore the whole variety of hats given to him at the staff Christmas party, selecting just the right one for what ever work he was doing.


He never could be absolutely sure if it was the shoes, the hats or something else which made him more productive, but he found himself promoted the following year.
Grahame Pitts – 9th September 2016

Post Script
This story comes from my own experience and reminded me of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) which was in vogue not so long ago. The need to reframe a problem in a different way, whether with words, 
attitudes, or activities is very important if you are stuck. Enjoy trying something different and remember, it is often the easier and simpler idea, rather than the harder one, which works. I am reminded of the leader who felt his annual appraisals were just ‘form ticking’ and lacked quality and depth. So, he went on walks with every member of his team instead (the sheets were completed later and actually more quickly than normal). Everyone enjoyed themselves.

Happy experiments.  

Categories
Change Culture & Style Leadership New Organisational Systems

The Naked CEO

The alarm shrilled and shook on the bedside cabinet announcing six thirty to John, who groaned and bringing his hand out from under the warm duvet, shut off the noise. He rolled forward to semi upright and yawned, pushing his hands through his hair. His mind gradually stuttered into life, there was something about today, what was it, he couldn’t quite remember. The cat jumped onto his lap and rubbed herself against the bristle of his weekend beard  and then looked at him expectantly. He stretched, put the thoughts to one side and within thirty minutes was showered, dressed, had his sandwiches made and was out of the door and into his car.

“Hi Sandra”, he pushed open the passenger door and she slid in, her perfume wafting across to him. She pushed her bag onto the floor, fastened the seat belt and turned towards him smiling. They had a sort of thing going, a friendly occasional kiss type of relationship. It never seemed to progress but it didn’t stop either and he liked sharing the journey into work and back. Sandra was easy going, relaxed and fun to be around.

“So here it is, today’s the day, bet your looking forward to it” she said, twisting in her seat to get a good look at him. “And you’ve made a special effort, look at you all shaved, smart tie and is that a new suit?” She picked a piece of fluff off his sleeve and then pinched his cheek gently. “You’ll be great, just you see”. John had the strangest feeling of being examined in minute detail, his collar suddenly felt tight and his earlobes started to tingle, which was very disconcerting. He calmed himself down, checked this speed, he could do without another speeding ticket and  drew attention away from himself by joking about the bright blue tights Sandra was wearing. They had a way of being rude to each other while exchanging compliments and Sandra looked great today, well she did every day and her legs especially.
“Morning John, have yourself a good day won’t you” said the overnight security man in reception. Now he was giving him strange looks too, a confident smile but with a lot of respect. Strange, strange and that same feeling of being examined, checked. No matter, he had a lot to do today, a key account to visit and hopefully move the big sale for the quarter one step further on. He bounded the stairs, got to his desk and began checking his emails.

“Hold on there boy, you’re in the wrong place”. His boss was leaning over him, a big grin on his face and now swiftly, was taking over his mouse and closing down his computer. Then he spun him around in his chair and pointed it down the length of the open plan office towards the executive suite.

Now John remembered and he felt slightly sick. It had meant to be a joke, his email chain of witty comments on how easy it must be to be the CEO, anyone could do that job, what does she do all day, etc, etc. He had sent it just to his level, his mates really, but as usual it had been passed on and guess what, the executive team thought it was great idea and perhaps yes actually, someone should have the experience of being the CEO for just one day. So, all their names had gone into the hat and by some quirk his had been drawn out. How could that happen with over a thousand staff he wondered, but it did. He remembered Sandra laughing hysterically on the way home and pretending to be him as the MD handling a meeting. Then his own boss the next day, saying he couldn’t wait to report to him. Two weeks ago it seemed funny, now on a Monday at 8.30 it didn’t.

He walked down the length of the office, everyone looked at him, some made comments, most just stared. Now he felt not just examined but somehow stripped bare, everyone had their eyes on him. And it was as though he could hear they thoughts too, some were reasonable and some just plain rude. Already he could feel the weight of expectations on his shoulders and he didn’t much like it.   Arriving at Rachel’s office he knocked and waited. She was a busy MD, action was her motto, yet she always had time for everyone, although expected good time keeping and good manners. Late, that wouldn’t go down well he thought to himself. He coughed and pushed open the door and stepped into the large room. The clear glass desk framed by the huge circular port hole window looking out onto the busy street was empty, the leather chair still pushed in tight against it.

“Hi John, coffee?”. Rachel was sat on the sofa with the papers spread around her. She looked so relaxed. Normally on a Monday morning she was calling for last weeks sales, comparing against budget, against last year and likely to be just a bit antsy but in good way. She was dressed in jeans too, which was even more strange in contrast to John’s sharp suit.

“Okay the office is yours, I’ll be right here but I’m letting you lead, first meeting at 9.00. Just ask me anything, pull me in at any time, but I’ll try to butt out…. well except with customers of course. Diary’s on the desk. Enjoy ”.

By ten o’clock he was exhausted and to be truthful he couldn’t do much, he kept asking Rachel questions and she stepped in gently leading where necessary. In just that one hour he had growing admiration for her, for the executive team, for their skills, their knowledge, the ability to juggle endless demands, changing priorities. He realised what a tough job being the CEO was. Perhaps he wouldn’t be such a smart arse again.

Over their second coffee, they did a mini review and laughed about what was happening. Rachel seemed to be enjoying the day and for all her bark (and at times he’d been on the receiving end of that) she treated John with care and compassion.

“Okay, ready for the staff briefing” she asked. John looked at her, surely he wasn’t meant to run that. The Monday ‘heads up’ to everyone was a quick fifteen minutes in the atrium behind reception. Three power point slides, maybe a short film clip, sometimes just Q & A. Rachel made it look easy every week, relaxed, calm, very direct and motivating, even if the sales were slipping. He took her hand written briefing notes and noticed his hand shock a little. She just smiled and sipped her coffee.
The noise in the atrium was deafening, not from everyone talking, actually a few whispered to each other, but mostly they just stared. It was the the bombarding thoughts John was picking up. Each person he looks at shoots a different set of thoughts towards him. He feels like he is being blasted by both an extreme heat wave and a gale force wind simultaneously. It almost knocks him backwards and he has to lock his knees to stand upright. He feels his suit being ripped from his body, then his shirt and suddenly he is naked. He hands move involuntarily to his crotch and he tries to cover himself. But the comments keep coming, scorching his skin or making painful pinging nips on the flesh. Some stick too and weigh him down, stopping him speaking and some comments feel as though they have got into his body and are killing it slowly.

“John, John, it’s okay” he can hear a dim voice in the distance, just beyond the roaring, crashing words. “I’m right here” and he turns to see Rachel smiling at him. “Its normal, don’t let it get to you, breathe. Everyone is constantly looking at you as the boss, making judgements, projecting fears and worries on to you, it is normal. Relax, we’ll do this together”.  And they do. Rachel starts and John watches as the thoughts, questions, hopes and doubts of people buzz and fizz around her and which she occasionally swats away. He leads on the sales results and key customer contact this week and the questions flying around almost bury him, although only one or two are asked directly, externally, into the room.

Sandra drives on the way home, he’s exhausted, part elated ‘he’s done it’ and still over whelmed by the sheer voracity of the demands and expectations. Sandra is chatting about cooking him dinner and occasionally touching his hand. He looks at his wrist, sees his shirt and suit still there and realises just what has been happening. Words and thoughts, particularly those unexpressed, can have a powerful impact. After eating he’ll write Rachel a thank you note and try to describe his experience and his admiration for the job she does and all executives do.

Grahame Pitts – March 2016

This story comes from a conversation with David about ‘always being watched, always on display’’ as a CEO and guidance from his own boss, around this in his first MD role. We all project onto others our concerns, hopes, thoughts; even more so to those we perceive as above us, our leaders. Perhaps we are reminded of our parents, or our family background in some way.

We all need to be aware of these unsaid, and sometimes unknown dynamics and all work to address them, regardless of where they are in the organisation and the hierarchy. Then our energy can be fully focused on the opportunities and the issues the business is facing today.

Categories
Change Learning New Recruitment

A Recipe and some Magic at Christmas

The oven thermostat clicked and registered two hundred degrees centigrade, the heat warmed John’s bottom as he rested his elbows on the work counter and studied the recipe. Flour, sugar, butter, teaspoon of vanilla essence, a touch of milk. Everything seemed to make sense, even to someone who’d never made a cake before. John adjusted his apron, a rather snazzy blue polka dot with a red trim and tightened the knot.

“Right let’s go” he mused to himself.  “Heat the butter mix in the rest, don’t forget the egg. Yes, this is ‘a piece of cake’. Oh, so that’s where that phrase comes from”. His mind buzzed happily along.
 
“How are you doing honey” called Mary from the living room, where she was writing Christmas cards. She smiled to herself, what was going on, John had never baked a cake before and it was for the family party coming up too. Redundancy had seemed like a disaster at the time, but now she was really enjoying having him around. The same person who she’d married, the man who smiled, laughed, whistled as he put the dustbins out and jived around the lounge with her to their favourite songs.
 
“Great, great, but there’s something here I don’t understand. Can you come and help me”. John peered at the recipe, looked back to mixing bowl, then back to the book. His forehead furrowed, he squinted, he scratched his head and sucking a deep breath in, exhaled loudly.
 
“What, really, no, no way” John muttered to himself. He turned the page and studied the next recipe. Just the same. “What the heck, why, how, who”. He flicked quickly through the hundreds of recipes, there it was on every page.
 
“What does it mean Mary ‘add a bit of magic and mystery’, where in the cupboard is magic? According to this I need 20 millilitres of it for my cake”. Mary came through to the kitchen smiling to herself, she pulled open the cupboards, she searched through the drawers, picking up and putting down packets and bottles.
 
 “Nothing here honey, maybe we’d better go to the store and buy some more, or maybe we can get some online”. She looked at him, her head to one side, her eyes sparkling. John gazed back.
 
“Is it like a liquid then, do you get it in a bottle?”
 
“Almost honey, it’s a thing my grandmother used a lot, it kinda gets passed down the family line I think. Maybe it’s a female thing but I don’t think so, not if you’re reading it in the recipe there”’. She smiled and looked at him with love, compassion and care. “Any good recipe always has some secret ingredients, something that makes it unique, the touch of the person who is making the cake, perhaps a little more of one thing than another, maybe an extra egg, the oven one degree hotter. Cooking has science, you can follow the instructions, but then something else happens, the mysterious piece. Sometimes a cake rises, or tastes great, other times it doesn’t and mostly we don’t know why. So what’s your magic?”   
 
“What my magic, my own magic” John looked confused and concerned. “I’ve never even baked a cake before, can’t I just follow the instructions, won’t that work?”
 
“Yes sure, but as my grandmother said, just add a bit of yourself in some way. Maybe in how you stir the mix, fold in the flour, sprinkling some granulated sugar on top. Or, just do the whole thing with a good spirit and thinking of those who’ll be eating it later – our kids, your mum – and wishing them well as you cook”.
 
“Right got it, okay let’s see”. He rubbed his hands together and taking the wooden spoon, tapped the side of the bowl three times and sang his favourite Elvis Presley song (using the spoon as a microphone) as he poured the mix into the tin. He slid the cake into the oven, licked the spoon clean, threw it in the sink, pulled Mary to him and danced her round the kitchen to a fine rendition of Love me Tender.
 
The family party was a great success, that first cake a great hit with everyone. John wanted to bake more afterwards and did. He followed recipes, but always remembered the mysterious bit, the magic. Didn’t assume it would just happen, wasn’t sure what particular thing made the difference, but always respected, included, and welcomed mystery into his cooking and into his life.
 
Two weeks later, after a very interesting interview which John had prepared well for and then following his intuition, had a good free flowing discussion in the meeting –  he was offered a great job and just a fifteen minute commute from home. Mary and John jived that evening to every Elvis hit they knew.
 
Grahame Pitts
December 2015
 
Postscript:
Thank you Michael for this great analogy of cake making in relation to getting a job. In the recruitment process hard work, clarity of thought, good presentation, etc are all vital. Then sometimes, something else happens – a relationship clicks, your experience fits exactly the job requirement, your suggestions spark a new thought for the recruiters. Or even, their business has a change of direction just the next day and calls you up later with an offer (this one happened to me).  
 
And of course a recipe and mystery applies elsewhere too. A well, thought through plan being delivered in the detail, suddenly accelerates when an opportunity comes along which seems unconnected but complements and delivers the strategy perfectly. 

So, be professional, disciplined and organised and then maybe, welcome mystery and magic and let both work for you. These partners want to share the action and after all it is Christmas, so why not!

Categories
Change Leadership Learning Teamwork

Spinning Plates

“Where do you want em boss? Some pretty ones here, not just those plain old white ones we seem to have hundreds of them”. Harry, the facilities manager, added the plates to the pile by the door of the CEO’s office, smiled at what he saw, felt slightly confused about it all, then picked up the old boxes and headed back to the warehouse. Caroline heard him, waved but hadn’t time to stop, too much going on. Life had been manic since the promotion, a whirlwind of meetings, decisions, financial information. She grabbed another plate and with one flick of her wrist positioned the crockery on the stick and neatly organised it, along with the others spinning around her.
 
Some in the office thought it was an art installation, others thought it was a new keep fit regime, some thought Caroline had shares in a homeware factory. It was though, they all agreed, an amazing sight. Endless plates spun in the sunlight, the canes supporting them wiggling and bending as they held the centre of gravity. And better still, was the skill and grace that Caroline had, in moving quickly and confidently between them, giving some an additional twist to keep the plates spinning. She hummed to herself, occasionally doing  a light jig, as she went about her work.
 
The plates spun in her office, out in the open plan office and now in service centre too. She had to pay special attention there, as phone calls to customers were key and any plates crashing to the floor would have been disastrous. Roger the service manager had taken to giving the most wobbly plates a spin. He knew what spinning plates was like, he’d had years of experience himself and now when he thought Caroline wasn’t looking, he lifted one or two plates from their poles and hid them in a cupboard.
 
“A head office plate has just arrived”  called Jane the PA, through the maze of sticks around her. Caroline turned her head and sure enough Jane was just taking a large hand painted plate from a jiffy bag and holding it out to her.
 
“Okay, wait, wait, let’s just clear a space and we’ll get it going” and between them they shifted the other plates around a little. Then with one huge throw of her arm and with Debbie, the FD who’d just arrived holding the stick, the plate began to spin. Everyone held their breath, the plate twisted , slipped on the pole with a screech, but with the combined energy of Jane, Debbie and Caroline working together and wiggling the stick, they got it centred and it began to spin and whirr in the air.
 
Even though she said it herself, not bad and provided she didn’t take a lunch break, stayed late and came in at weekends, it seemed to be working. Which was why, as she sipped quickly at her cold coffee, she didn’t appreciate Geoff the HR Director’s quiet reflective comment.
 
“Have you noticed how some of the plates seem more interesting than others”.

She muttered under her breath at the interruption but made herself stop and look around. He was right, some did seem more colourful and almost cried out for more space to spin in.  Caroline walked about under the plates looking up at them carefully, finding herself attracted to certain designs, shapes and sizes. Not all were huge by any means. Of course the head office one was, they all knew it had to be there and needed constant spinning. Jane brought her another coffee as she studied the plates and as she sipped and munched her favourite chocolate biscuit, she considered each one. Then she made a decision and sometimes alone, sometimes in consultation with her executive team (who had been summoned to look at the plates), she began to pull some out, neatly taking each unwanted plate and pole and putting it  aside. First the small side plates, then the white ordinary dinner plates and as they went, her heart lifted a little. Harry was hastily summoned and he repacked boxes and placed them on his trolley.  She ignored the coughs, the taps on the office door, the muttered comments “that was my plate, it’s very important in my department you know”, “wrong call you’ll regret that” and went about her work. Soon there were a just a few beautiful plates spinning and beside each one a director stood, occasionally wiggling the stick. Caroline walked around them all, checking they had the right ones, moving at the right speed, adding a twist to a pole now and then and watching as each plate seemed to change and grow in the sunlight. To her amazement one or two slowly turned into a golden colour, with beautiful embossing appearing around the edges and now these plates almost seemed to spin by themselves.
 
“Well would you look at that” said Geoff and pointed to the head office plate. It still spun rapidly but now it was smaller, not quite such a  bright colour, seeming almost to draw less attention. The executive team laughed together, as they watched the FD niftily reposition this plate near the golden ones and there, they continued to spin very happily together.
 
The white plates were later used on the ‘smash the crockery’ stall at the next family fun day. Roger owned up to the plates stored in his cupboard and his judgement was shown to  be pretty good, apart from one small plate which had some interesting swirls of colour in the design. This one, some senior managers kept spinning and they found it was a potential winner for the budget next year.  Caroline got home early some days, leaving others spinning plates, but knowing when to intervene, using her energy and her skills wisely. And it made her smile when visitors to the business asked to see the plates, particularly the golden ones. Sometimes she showed them, at other times she just talked about confidentiality and went about her business with a spring in her step. Head office seemed pretty satisfied too.
 
 
Grahame Pitts
October 2015

Postscript: 
From previous newsletters, I have been given feedback to ‘please anchor the fable with some practical challenge, to take it back to my business’  So, in the spirit of this, a couple of questions below. However, knowing we all see different reflections in stories, from ‘ah ah’ to ‘bah what nonsense’ (keep telling me Nigel), your own thoughts and reactions are fundamental, so trust them ahead of my prompts. Enjoy your leadership thinking and analysis, then follow your energy to go and deliver the results you want.

1. How many plates are you spinning? Are there a few high value ones which require more attention than others?
2. Who in your team needs to be attending to which plate? Where and how do you need to delegate and what do you need to do to ensure those plates become rich in colour, or even gold?   
3. Where do you need show courage? Is there one plate that needs your particular attention? 

4. Where else in the organisation are there plates, perhaps hidden, which need finding and spinning?

Categories
Change Culture & Style Leadership Talent Management

The Power of Ambition²

The Ambition twins sat side by side on the floor, leaning against the wall in meeting room two. The overflowing waste bin next them reflected the recent lunch meeting, sandwich wrappers, napkins and used coffee cups escaping onto the carpet.

 

Professional Ambition took a deep breath and pulled his jacket around him, leant his head back against the wall and sighed.  “I’m tired, really tired, meetings endless bloody meetings, why are we doing this, day after day? Most people are covering two jobs and  haven’t had a pay rise for two years”. He shut his eyes and sighed again, then in frustration flung his arm out sending the bin across the room, the contents spilling out under the table onto the grey patterned carpet.

 

Personal ambition reached over and took his hand gently in her own, squeezing softly.  “Hey, don’t forget those dreams, don’t give up, we came here to do great work and we still can. Today’s just a bad day, you’ll be back on form tomorrow, you see”.  He looked over to her and she smiled her warmest smile. He saw her strength, it hadn’t diminished over time, if anything it had matured and become more focused and disciplined. He remembered their past results with satisfaction.

 

Their work took place around the world. Whispering, cajoling, encouraging  people to line up personal hopes and goals and professional aspirations and work goals. Sometimes this happened very obviously, was clearly articulated and easily understood. Sometimes it just happened through an ‘ah ah’ moment, a dream or more gently in a quieter thinking moment. Sometimes in a rush, sometimes over time. The twins loved their work and had seen some great results over the years, some great innovations, some much happier and fulfilled people and often both.

 

Now Professional Ambition got to his knees, grabbed the waste bin and pushed the rubbish back in , then with a flourish jumped up and rammed his foot down on top. His foot stuck inside and he shook it vigorously but to no avail. Personal ambition stood up laughing, straightened her jumper, slid her arm through his and marched him from the room. Down the corridor they went, her humming softly, him stumping his foot up and down clanking in rhythm.

 

The CEO and the FD felt them pass as they chatted by the coffee machine in the kitchen, sensed movement in the air and the hint of hope and possibility in the atmosphere. Personal & Professional ambition intended just to leave early for the day, they were nearly at the door, clanking and humming when they both stopped turned and looked backward to John the CEO, stirring sugar into his coffee, looking wistful and a little sad. Both knew there was work left undone, so back they noisily came and joined the pair.

 

“The problem is the lack of ambition, I keep saying it, nothing changes though” exclaimed John as he washed his spoon under the tap.

“It’s been tough, very tough” said the FD, his head in the fridge, searching for fresh milk, his voice muffled and echoing, “Everyone is trying their best but you’re right we have lost something”.  Professional Ambition, now sitting on the counter gently tapping his waste bin against the cupboard door, nodded his head in agreement. “Perhaps we’ve pushed too hard, maybe our lean is too lean”.

 

Personal ambition leaning against the door frame smiled at the three of them in the tiny kitchen together. Geoff, the FD, coming out of the fridge, neatly avoided the swinging bin and poured milk into his cup.   “Lets focus on this at the management conference next week, who knows they might surprise us”.  Everyone nodded their heads in agreement.  John grabbed his files off the counter, took his coffee “Any idea how to do it?”

 

 

“Smart seats these” exclaimed Professional Ambition, as he whizzed round in his smart black leather conference chair. Each spin took in a view of the group coming back in from a gentle stroll. Fresh air after lunch the facilitator described it as and they certainly seemed happy and chatty as they arrived back in the room in pairs. Jane from Marketing seemed particularly vibrant and upbeat and sat down immediately and made some notes on her pad.

 

Personal & Professional Ambition took up position either side of  the CEO, a hand on each shoulder, giving him plenty of support. He felt strong, tired yes, in need of a good holiday, but positive and upbeat too.

“Okay who wants to speak first” asked the facilitator. Everyone looked at each other, the floor, their note pads or anywhere but at John. The silence yawned in front of everyone, the blinds shading the sunlight at the windows clicked quietly in the background. Sitting at table 3, Jane tapped her pencil on her pad and waited, it was her first conference after all, need to be respectful, but no one spoke. Even the usual extroverts had gone quiet. Why she wondered. The walk had been great, her partner on the walk had come up with a great vision and her own ideas, now more fully articulated, were interesting and giving her a real buzz when she thought about them.

 

She didn’t see Personal Ambition walk up to her and whisper in her ear. What she did feel though was a tingle down her spine and an impulse to stand. Her chair screeched as she pushed it backwards, everyone turned to look at her. The words stuck in her throat, her face reddened. Then after a deep breath and a desire to sit back down which didn’t seem possible – something seemed to hold her there – with a rush the sentences  were out, spilling one over each other, as she rushed to share her ideas and vision for her function and the business.

 

John’ s eyes widened, his shoulders relaxed, he smiled. The FD lent forward asked a couple of questions, then lent back in his chair.  Jane sat down with a bump, listened to her heart beating and felt strong, if a bit worried. Had she gone too far? Then the dam burst, now one after another people spoke, ideas poured out from around the room. Even the cynics got swept along. The facilitator raced to record the key detail on the flip charts. One idea built and reinforced another and the shape of the company began to change as the afternoon conversations wove together a new future.

 

Personal and Professional Ambition listened intently too, feeling fulfilled as the pride and personal expectation rose in the room. As the last person came to the end of their story, they moved in front of John and gave a bow and curtsy respectedly and left the room, high fiving each other at the doorway.  John just continued to smile. The future, it was here in this room, tomorrow would be a great day.

 

This story is based on an actual strategic planning meeting which took place on an autumn day last year, involving 40 people across a business coming together  to develop strategy and style. There may have been 42 people but we can’t be sure.

 

Grahame Pitts. July 2012