Thursday, 21 June 2012

Watching over us

The phone rings and my wife dashes to answer it. I overhear her talking to someone I know is familiar to her but it’s not a friend or relative. I hear her saying “thank you” as the tears and crying come. As I rush to find her in the kitchen she finishes the call and breaks down. 

Monica was her mother and she died peacefully in her sleep on the morning of 21st June last year. She was an amazing woman. Not only for the love she gave but also for all the hardship and pain that she had endured from an early age. You never knew everything about her or her upbringing but she gave you glimpses of her life now and then. 

Perhaps that’s the role of a parent… to share enough to guide your children but not everything. Besides, what mattered more than anything else, for all of us, was the grandmother she could be to our children. 

The joy our children and “Granny Mana” brought to each other was clear. On a gloomy day they would lift her spirits and spontaneously share their unconditional love with her. Every single time. Similarly, no matter how bad a day she was having she would also give her love to them without condition. 

She was such a part of our family that it felt that we were a unit of five - Granny, Mum, Dad and the two boys. Basil the dog was also a huge fan of Granny and would often sit close to her, protectively, but always being careful not to sit on her toes! 

It’s been a year and now there are four of us. The huge gap left with her passing seems to have been filled with the sense of her presence with us in so many places. Fond memories but also a sense of her still watching over our family and being the grandmother she could be. 

The next clear night we get, we’ll look up at the sky with the boys and find her star, as we do with Grandad and thank them for keeping watch over all of us.

As with all things the above only relates one persons story - my story.  Here is another more personal story.  A "letter" from my wife Paula to her Mum written to accompany this post...

To my Mum
It is one year today since you died peacefully in your sleep. You got the end you deserved Mum and I am thankful for that.

I think of what you would be doing were you still here... You would have enjoyed watching Euro 2012, maybe not the Irish matches, although you would certainly have appreciated the fans singing. I miss seeing your happiness at spending time with us and particularly with your two special grandsons. 

I love you and that has never been in any doubt but I have constantly struggled to come to terms with your mental illness. I have felt anger that my mum was taken away from me when I was seven and replaced her by a mother who struggled to retain her identity throughout frequent bouts of illness. 

I will always carry a child’s feelings of guilt that my love for you could not save you or make you better. There were far too many goodbyes at the end of numerous visits to psychiatric wards and hospitals, hurrying to get back to ‘normality’, away from the chain-smoking patients sitting in their drug induced torpor or from those that were more worryingly clearly agitated and disturbed. 

As a child, witnessing people battle with mental illness was an overwhelming, confusing and frightening experience. Although you were struggling with your own illness you tried to protect us from that as best you could.

However, far worse than our fear of others ‘insanity’ was our conflicting guilt at leaving you there and the relief that we didn’t have to cope with you at home. As I got older I could sense your fear and sadness at those partings, although you always did your best to try and hide it from us. As a mother myself I feel such pride and admiration that throughout it all you still tried so hard to be a loving, caring and supportive mum. 

So now you’re gone. I don’t have to worry anymore whether you are taking your tablets, or to try and convince you to go to bed after days with out sleep, during one of your more manic phases. I won’t quietly sit with you anymore listening to music, your place of refuge from the world of delusion and paranoia that you often inhabited. 

You always had that keen Irish wit and appreciation of a good laugh. Many a misdemeanour could be forgiven for someone with a sense of humour. I miss your ability to laugh at life, even though you walked a harder path than many of us. 

So Mum, although there were times over the years that I wished an end to it because it was just too hard, I wish with all my heart that at this moment we could be sitting together listening to music and sharing a laugh. 

All my love always 
Paula x

Friday, 15 June 2012

Something Special

If you look to the right of your screen you'll see what you've done for the past 500 or so days... found it?
That's it... you've read this blog over 10,000 times! You probably didn't realise but in doing so you've done something quite special for me. This 80th blog post explains... 

Your reading
I write my blogs "in the moment". Sure there's sometimes a bit of rework and sometimes I delete a draft. However, I write when I feel the energy for a subject. There's not a stack of drafts cooking slowly in the background or a schedule of pre-written blogs. What you read is me, now, right or wrong.

So when you read my post you are listening to me right here right now. I really appreciate you taking that time to listen to my thoughts, ramblings & opinions. It's something special to me. Thank you.

Your Comments
I write my blogs to stimulate discussion and debate around the subjects posted. What we do thereafter is up to us. So when you share your perspectives and comment, you make the blog successful. Particularly so when we have the good debate!

What I didn't expect a year or so ago is that our dialogue on these posts would move away from the "comments box" and onto Twitter and the real world. I think it's wonderful and something special! Thank you.

Your Feedback
I still feel I have a lot to learn about blogging. I don't mean about how to manage a blog although I think that's constantly evolving. I feel I have a lot to still learn about myself blogging - in particular my writing, my thinking, my areas of interest, even my motivation. I believe blogging is supposed to be that way. There's meant to be a slight and constant tension.

Publicly and behind the scenes, lots of you have shared with me your feedback on how I blog. The support it provides is amazing. That feedback is such a gift. It's something special to me. Thank you.

Your Contributions
Many of my blogs have started from a conversation elsewhere. Whether you know it or not, you have quite probably contributed in some way to a blog post here!

However, the blog was always meant to be a vehicle for others to contribute so I'm delighted when someone posts a guest blog here. It provides such different perspectives and even better writing!

I've had some very special contributions from Guest Bloggers so here's your own very special Blog Roll. Thank you!

"Working With People" by an anonymous HR professional
"Ironic or is it?" by Jon Bartlett (@Projectlibero)
"The Coaching Journey" by Karen Locking (@karenlocking)
"Mapping the Mind" by Bev Holden (@stickythinker)

The Future
The blog and it's readership has grown & developed beautifully. So to a large extent I'd be very happy if the future brought more of the same. However, there are a few areas of development that you can expect...

Personally, I think my earlier posts didn't hold enough challenge. So over time I've been more deliberate about creating greater tension & challenge - expect more of this! A big thanks goes to Natasha Stallard (@StirTheSource) for helping me express this (#mindtheedge).

I've not been particularly deliberate about blog subjects, always writing where I found the energy. So the tags to the right of your screen quite pleasingly reflect much of what I do and want to write about. Ironically, the most frequent topics include Coaching, Leadership, Learning and even Social Media but not Change... We all have blind spots sometimes but expect a few more blogs on Change in the future!

The Guest Blogs have been rewarding in different ways but always bring in perspective or experiences that I don't have. I love it and want to encourage more people to guest blog here - regardless of experience. If this interests you, no matter how unsure you are, then just reach out to me publicly or privately.

Thanks for reading & helping make this blog successful.  I hope you continue to enjoy it!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

At risk of being coached?

I met someone earlier this week and we were talking about coaching. The conversation turned towards how some practitioners take a very purist stance towards coaching and how others don’t. 

In this instance, a purist stance would be what is often termed “non-directive”. That is to say that the coaches role is purely to ask open questions without directing the client, using the clients own language... The main principle is that the coach does not in any way provide advice or direct the clients actions. 

To be pedantic there is no such thing as “non-directive” in any human interaction but that’s another blog! 

Whose Risk? 

I’m not knocking the spirit or the practice of “non-directive” coaching. However, this isn’t always what a client wants. In an organisational setting it’s not always what a client needs. So who decides? 

Take for example a manager who is having trouble performance managing members of staff. The purpose of the coaching & the contracting with the coach is focussed on improving the managers ability to deal with performance situations. 

In the coaching conversation, the manager decides to take a course of action that to an informed outsider would clearly put them & their organisation at risk – say unfair dismissal. 

If the “non-directive” coach, identified the risk how could they intervene and remain “non-directive”? It’s a perfectly reasonable & professional practice in any form of coaching (or mentoring) to seek permission to “take off the coaching hat” to offer thoughts or reactions. However, for a purist coach to do this in some way would seem to undermine the whole purpose of being “non-directive”. 

Here’s another perhaps more important issue. What would happen if the “non-directive” coach didn’t appreciate the risk being taken. After all this is not what they were employed to do. Could they become complicit with reinforcing the clients’ agenda and decision to take a detrimental course of action? 

Who decides what a clients wants and what a client needs? Whose risk is it? 

The ill advised need sound advice 

Coaching is not about giving advice. However, it is about care for our clients. 

Fundamentally, no amount of “non-directive” coaching will help the ill advised follow a safer course of action. In fact, the above example shows that “non-directive” coaching may even enforce their stance. 

In any other walk of life, it’s hard to imagine a paid professional sitting across from their client and letting them pursue a course of action that would put them at peril without raising their own concerns. 

Perhaps this is why organisations tend to “buy” coaches with industry & leadership experience rather than purely coaching qualifications. 

Does purist coaching make sense in organisations? 

I can’t say never, but I have a long standing concern...

Even though we always strive to help our client determine their own agenda and actions, coaching is a human interaction. Human interactions require us to give of each other and see each other - @Projectlibero puts this very eloquently here.

In organisations, we are working in systems where potential risks and consequences of our actions can be amplified. If we don’t share our care and concerns do we potentially put our clients at risk? 

What do you think?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Always there...

I can't imagine losing either of my children. It's perhaps a deep seated fear in all of us but it's something I just can't contemplate. Whether you have children or not I'm sure you know what I mean.

My children have been poorly - we nearly lost our youngest in childbirth - but there have always been medical professionals & emergency services on hand to help. I know we are privileged in the western world but it's easy to take such things for granted isn't it.

I don't remember exactly when I "met" @RobertWeeks on Twitter. I do remember when I read about the sudden death of his daughter Sophia, at just 11 weeks old. I can't imagine his family's heartbreak but reading about Sophia and what Robert shares on Twitter has moved me deeply.

The only thing I can do to help is support Robert and his family's fundraising.

Walking the Three Peaks
A few months ago my good friend Matt suggested we walk Yorkshire's Three Peaks together before he & his family emigrates to the USA. We'll stay in touch across the Atlantic but it's possibly the last opportunity we'll have to do anything like this together in the UK.

A few weeks ago, I asked Robert if he'd mind if I tried to help his fundraising efforts whilst doing the Three Peaks walk. Possibly a strange request from someone he only knows through Twitter but bless him he came straight back with his full support.

Inspired by little Archies Walk, it felt right to help support Robert's fundraising for Great Western Air Ambulance @GWAAC. I don't need to tell you how important Air Ambulances are for providing urgent help - it just amazing how such critical charities are entirely funded by private donations.

You Can Help
Whether this is the first time you've visited the blog or you're a regular reader; whether you know me personally, through Twitter or not at all; you can help too. 

Firstly, thank for you for reading this far. I hope you've been able to take the time to read about Robert and his family's fundraising and Archies Walk.

Now for the price of a cup of tea or more if you'd prefer, I'd love it if you could help me raise money for @GWAAC. Just click here...

Thank you.