The sand pit


“Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you” – Aldous Huxley

Professional coaching is of course many things, but forced to encapsulate it in a sentence for me Huxley’s would make a great starting point. Experiences are the raw material for making sense of life, but our characteristic to follow the path of least resistance often means that the opportunities experience provides us to move forward, is lost. Instead we say to ourselves ‘tick, job done’ and move on.

Coaching should provide the opportunity and discipline to reflect on the journey and nail down the personal and professional learning before using this new knowledge to scale the next challenge.

Imagine an athlete or sports team simply going home and failing to reflect on the previous time they stepped into the arena. The idea is ludicrous, visualise the triple jumper who steps out of the sand pit and before they do anything else (with the exception of getting the sand out of those hard to reach places) walks straight over to their coach for debrief and analysis.

Yet as individuals and teams how often do we do this in our professional arena and routinely move on without a backwards glance? Is what we spend most of our working week doing somehow less important?

What still excites me about my coaching work is helping to convert that experiential raw material into learning and growth for others and yes, taking my own medicine, for myself as well.



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A coaching challenge

professor 2.jpg “The most dangerous people in the world are those who believe they know what is best for others”   Masson

Therein lays a coaching challenge:

To be Knowledgeable, thoughtful & wise but not the oracle

To be astute & direct but not to dominate & control

To be shrewd & judicious but not to govern & manage

To be deliberate, purposeful & intentional but not to dictate & overshadow

To be truly present, observant & insightful & to possess enough self awareness to manage our presence in the client’s best interests & not be seduced by intellectual vanity

Paul Tillich said similar “The passion for truth is silenced by answers which have the weight of undisputed authority”

So, working with leaders I have often been struck by how executive stress is magnified when the pressures & responsibilities of the role conflict with personal style & values i.e. create an incongruence with our sense of self. It seems that when this happens it can become close to impossible for the busy executive to be aware of and see this with any clarity. The psychodynamic coaching relationship helps the person within the leader become more aware of these types of dynamics.

As a coach this type of observation is made more readily accessible when we resist instincts to direct and make ourselves truly available to hear & experience the other person in the room, enabling resolution through deeper understanding.


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The Trump express


“There is no situation so bad that with careful planning cannot be made worse”

 Getting home from Kings Cross was interesting, I tell a lie, it was not interesting at all it was a comedy of errors leaving 100’s of passengers stranded. Our 50min journey took over 4 hours and that with a full range of electronics at our disposal to source alternatives with (my partner did the competent and resourceful scrolling, I was otherwise occupied with my John Cleese impression; thrashing random locomotives with a branch). Actually that did not happen but it was a close run thing!

A quick synopsis; despite having only bought the ticket the day before there was no prior warning of the planned maintenance. However on the day there were large professionally printed posters on hand, each with a disinterested man in uniform attached to explain our options. Taking the clear advice (why wouldn’t you) that there were now no direct trains from London but that we needed to travel via tube to Liverpool St station to travel on to an intermediate station. However on arrival we discovered that there had never in the illustrious history of rail travel, been trains from Liverpool St to that destination.

The advice from behind their information counter was now in fact to travel via another station and change again somewhere that may as well have been just outside Rome, so we tried that. However the information that was missing was that the journey on from there, despite being only 30mins by car, was in fact 14 months, 6 days and 4 hours.

The solution entailed hiking across the next city and rendezvousing with a bus that would take us within 300 miles of the railway station car park, only to find on arrival a parking fine on the windscreen because our ticket had by now expired. The car parks of course are sub-contracted to another firm so……….but I promised you the expedited version.

There I feel better already for getting that off my chest, but reflecting on our health and social care services:

Does our industry provide integrated and well signposted services?

Do we sometimes provide staff who fall short on customer empathy?

Are we sometimes passive rather than recognise, own and proactively rectify failings?

Claiming we do is like pretending a man with no prior experience and badly fitting hair can run the United States of America………oh wait?!


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CBT; the only hammer?


“If you only have a hammer you can only afford to recognise nails”

Abbreviated from Mark Twain

I have long been interested in how the scarcity of resources shapes policy; it is here that we get most bent out of shape. The impact is all pervasive on our mind set and consequently the services we design.

Our National Strategy for mental health ‘No Health without Mental Health’ should be applauded for taking a broad view recognising the importance of promotion and prevention, but alas at a time when resources are being scaled back, resulting in longer waiting lists and elevated threshold criteria, significantly undermining the notion of prevention.

A case in point (and in desperate need of an analogy) is the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as a panacea for all ills. CBT’s elevation to the talking therapy’s treatment of choice was due to NICE approval largely on the back of efficacy in treating depression and anxiety which the Improved Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services were then based on. However it also offered the highly desirable quality of representing a finite and quantifiable impact on scarce resources to those paying for services. Having opened the door via IAPT people are now waiting months to receive intervention.

Is anxiety and depression somewhat of a catch all; would a GP see anxiety within PTSD or abuse, depression within relationships soured by acrimony and domestic violence?

Does CBT offer a model with much to commend it? Indeed it does. But should it be the only approach available regardless of the issues a person or family group is facing?

Back room support and employee assistance programmes for front line services such as fire, ambulance and police are becoming increasingly rare. One result has been that some services are further limiting the support sessions available to their staff to three sessions for work related issues only, regardless of what they have had to face in the line of duty.

UPDATE: Figures released today help to underline this issue; Police long term sick has increased by a third over the last five years

The favouring of CBT serves to marginalise other available therapeutic approaches, which in turn help us to only recognise nails.

Has CBT become the little blue pill for all ills and further, in times of scarce resource, is it now being offered late and below the therapeutic dose?

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Living with the crowd

crowd “The true history [understanding]of the mind is not preserved in learned volumes but in the living mental organism of everyone”…….C.G Jung

Now there’s a thought to juggle with considering technology has gifted us, via blogs, twitter, crowd sourcing and other online communities, the very means with which to do just that; be immersed. The statement is no longer a mental reach for us, the concrete world having made visible the living mental organism of everyone in a very tangible way.

That said are we richer or poorer for its arrival? In fact perhaps now that is a question of academic interest only; as it ain’t going away anytime soon. At its worst jumbled, prejudiced and ill thought out nonsense with a capacity to influence the mob. At its best a sharing of knowledge, raising awareness and harnessing group creativity.

What then the implications for leadership, do we bow to the power of the sound bite and become lost in the general milieu, or strain to retain some independence of thought and analysis?

Do we trust the racing driver to drive the car or go to the crowd and ask them when and where to turn?

Can we do both, is it possible to suckle from the electronic teat without losing our creative time and our sense of individual responsibility?

As William Penn said “Time is what we want most, but what alas we use the worst”.

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The truth is a mess

car“The truth is a mess”  Featherstone 1991

Having been asked to deliver a talk on safeguarding vulnerable adults I thought I would share the essence of it in advance.

Is the community all it’s cracked up to be for vulnerable adults? It is fashionable to paint the community as a utopian panacea for people with complex needs.

But what drives the fashion? A modern society’s aspiration, certainly partly yes. But is that aspiration being cynically manipulated to reduce the cost of providing people with the specialist provision they need to maximise their potential.

The political rhetoric on the subject of closing specialist inpatient learning disability care is deafening, there appears little room left for dissent.

Little room to point out that this politic coincided with troubling (expensive) demographics and a fiscal down turn.

Making the proposed solution – that ‘community’ is the ultimate aspiration and then to move vulnerable adults there is strategically astute if not clinically sound.

But what is the reality for those then denied intensive therapeutic intervention delivered by specialists? Does the real society embrace difference like we would like to imagine, or is it more unforgiving, does it bully and abuse?

Are decent levels of support provided amid a context of unprecedented local authority cuts? Most professionals are aware of the scarcity of decent community support, yet fashion and the political roar allows it to roll on; unsuccessfully.

Unsuccessfully? Using NHS England’s own stats there has been a 7% rise in inpatient numbers since January 2014 – so what’s the problem?

The problem is that this statistic hides the more disturbing fact that inpatient numbers have risen in the face of rising discharges – how is this possible?

The revolving door of readmissions from community breakdowns of those prematurely discharged into the community.

The reality for many vulnerable adults is one of angst, denial of specialist services, perceived personal failure and sometimes impact on the community and police services.

The equivalent of taking a Ford, stripping it and rebadging it as a Rolls Royce.

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How to write a song

notes Despite the fact that the day had been grey, damp and cold, despite the fact that the car park had entailed a long walk across poor ground and despite the fact that darkness was falling fast, the crowd yelled out for more. Why; because through tears of sadness we had spent the day laughing out loud.

Yesterday I had the privilege, and it was a privilege, to chair Brookdale’s latest conference. An event where we had strayed a long way from the established path and backed a hunch. Three or four times a year we stage free autism conferences for large numbers of professionals and carers, our way of giving something back, our experience of hosting these is that it is always those speakers with autism that generate the most interest. What if we were to host an event where all five speakers were on the spectrum and not pre-scripted or censor their words? The first inkling that we had got it right came as the applications rolled in, we ended up capping at 250 delegates and over a 100 on the waiting list.

The day before I had listened to Joe Powell who is on the spectrum speak eloquently alongside Jane Asher and Geoffrey Madrell at Research Autism’s tenth anniversary bash at the Houses of Parliament, a celebration of their very important work in the field. Afterwards I mentioned to Joe what we were doing and he affirmed that he thought it a great idea.

We figured that if you want to understand what it feels like to write music, who do you ask, those connected with the industry or the songwriters themselves? But how would it go, would I be left with my timekeeping in tatters and a lot of awkwarditty? Instead each and every speaker in their own styles provided the most wonderful candid and colourful very personal stories and insights into their childhood, their schooling experiences, their contact with professionals and us Neuro Typicals alongside their disasters were their triumphs, forging a way forward in our NT world.

As the humour had us rolling in the aisles, the inspiring creativity, the level of insight and desire to communicate and help others, frankly left any stereotypes in tatters. More to the point the only times my timekeeping became a problem was when I gave the one minute signal to one of the speakers who expressed mock outrage at my one finger signal, cue more laughter at my expense and then later when informing the final speaker five more minutes, he asked for ten and this is when the audience seriously undermined me and asked for more! What a day, a genuinely moving and enriching experience.

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