I was out in the afternoon catching some of the unusual September sunshine. As I walked towards the park, a family was coming towards me. I hesitated in my step preparing to keep a covid-healthy distance. The parents continued towards me but their
son stopped and opened his arm wide. His five-year old hand was like a starfish.
He nodded and said to me “Ladies first!”
As I thanked him, smiling, his parents laughed. He turned quickly and said: “What’s the matter with you? You know that’s right!”
They agreed, we all smiled and somehow the afternoon sunshine got a tiny bit warmer.
Covid 19 – confronting our fallibility is as crucial as it is hard
These thoughts are my musings about our fallibility, brought on by time on my hands.
We are all deeply affected by the Covid 19 pandemic. New orthodoxies of behaviour and belief inform our daily lives as policies are rolled out. We know that the policy decisions are made with limited data, understanding of the disease and poor global coordination. It seems certain that as our understanding improves and the financial and social costs soar we will confront hard questions about whether this is the right way to respond. While acknowledging and confronting fallibility is great in theory, in practice it is hard. As the stakes pile up it gets harder.
We are afraid and we have all made sacrifices to get on board the lock-down instructions. We follow behavioural guidance to avoid infection.As we do the challenge is to remain open-minded to the real possibility that experts we have listened to and agreed with are fallible and have been wrong or muddled in their thinking.
Confronting our fallibility is crucial. In science, it informs new questions and makes us look for new answers. In politics it enables the weighing up of the relative merits of courses of action against ideologies. Normally these take place at slow pace with more time to assess and reflect. Now we are moving at high speed meaning the margin of error is far greater.
There are two layers of risk to consider. The first is the risk that the experts refused to reconsider, review discuss and adjust deepening our losses further. The second is that fear of a loss of face and backlash against the experts and decision-makers acts as a barrier to full review and reconsideration.
Too much information?
Every day there are new graphs and information showing the scale, spread and death rate, but I cannot honestly say I am informed. The information creates fear but not judgement. For instance, I have no idea how the reported deaths compare with others that effect excess deaths. I know there are 100,000 deaths each year from strokes and 23,200 excess deaths were recorded in UK 2018/19. The age range spread looks very similar to those were seeing from Covid 19. I suspect others are the same as hits on Google for Corona Virus are over 9.5billion while for excess deaths its around 81million.
Obviously, public health messaging needs to be clear, easy-to-follow and un-nuanced for compliance, there can be no rooms for the ifs and buts. So we follow the rules to stay home and save lives. Are there alternatives we should consider? Even posing this question right now seems heretical.
A tale of two responses
Two key policy debates are playing out in response to Covid -19. One is a public health response, the other I call a social health response.
If I have understood it properly, the public health response says because people’s lives are at risk, we must do as much as is possible to curtail movement and interaction to prevent contagion. Our health services will thus be better able to cope and more lives will be saved. Containment reduces infection and keeps the flow of patients at a manageable flow. The value driving this is the value of life itself.
The social health response argues for the need to enable a return to economic and social movement as soon as possible, even if there are still health risks. It argues that the damage to our – already unequal and shaky – economic systems, to our culture and creativity and community support mechanisms, may suffer irreparable damage during a prolonged period of lock-down. This, in turn, may outweigh the benefits of saving lives through containment as poverty, social distress and other untreated problems occur. Notwithstanding what we may feel about the politicians espousing the social health response – more on that below – the value that drives this can also be said to be the value of life itself.
I will eat my hat if I am wrong
Presently our knowledge of the virus, how it spreads and who is most at risk is unfolding. It has been widely reported that the data needed to make decisions from testing before and after is limited. It seems clear that such huge disruption and risk to life, health and well being of populations must rest on excellent knowledge of factors beyond only disease control. Graphs depicting the spread of the disease to inform the management of the response have been widely shared. There is no similarly coherent data or modelling regarding the the impact of widespread disruption and social/physical isolation, beyond analysis of the macro economy.
Meanwhile, politicians and scientists are staking their futures and their reputations on making cases for one or other of the policy positions. At present the Public Health response is winning, supported by some excellent modelling by Imperial College. As it gains traction new social and political taboos are developing backed with legal enforcement mechanisms. It’s hardly surprising that questioning the response meets with hostility and fear. But this is risky.
Dr John Ioannidis of Stanford University in a recent interview argues strongly against blame and the need to win arguments. He points out excellent science is both excellent and flawed. Opening up to peer review and ongoing challenge is central to scientific progress and quality. Scientific models are just that: models.
More than one hat?
The public health risk response of the current magnitude also affects social systems beyond health. A wider range of scientific studies is needed to make judgements so that our current thinking can be supported with studies modelling the varied impact of whole community shut-down on other health and well being, education and skills and productivity for the future, through and beyond Covid -19. Data of these other considerations need to be seen alongside the health models. They could perhaps support better decisions making.
China is presumably well placed to provide the kind of reflective, post infection data evaluating and learning from their response. Several people have pointed to the environmental benefits of the lock downs on air quality. But will a globally depressed economy really be better for tackling environmental sustainability, arguably a threat far greater than Covid -19?
Herd mentality or herd immunity? Keeping an open mind
The paradox for science, in our present scenario, is we depend on it to guide our thinking even as it is bound to be wrong to some degree. For our democratically elected politicians it is worse. Not only are they fallible and frightened individuals like us, the system that elects them is deeply intolerant of prevarication.
It is possible that in coming months we will find that mortality rates are lower than at first thought, or that social isolation is more damaging and even kills more – albeit for different reasons- than continued unfettered movement. We may learn that a disappointed and angry population is less willing to respond to pressing and more deadly issues in future.
Matthew Syed in “Black Box Thinking” demonstrates both how important and how hard it is for powerful figures to admit they have been mistaken. With this global disruption feeding global depression and widespread misery, the stakes have never been higher. The challenge of the coming months, even as we mourn the dead and struggle to remain as productive as possible, is to remain open to the possibility that we are fallible and may have got it wrong. Imagining it is the first step.
Corona conversations may seem hard when every day new information is coming in but it could be key to your and your family well-being if you are stuck indoors.
My friend’s eight year old niece calling from far away to her aunt in London carefully explained to her that her school was closed and granny is very worried. Did we have it in London too she wanted to know.
My friend said her concern and curiosity were touching. It made her realise that at eight she had as many questions and concerns as the grown ups. Different ones. Corona conversations are important. Psychologist Brendon Street writing in CIPD’s excellent People Management this week notes that that staff anxiety stems often from fear of the unknown.
Conversations about Corona can be distressing if they only focus on the negative. However saying nothing, as if everything is “fine” could be worse. Key to building resilience is to turn attention to potential positives, however small and actively seek out activities that strengthen your feeling of control. If you followed my earlier Knowing Me blogs you will have seen the blob tree in Week One. Because I like it and find it never fails to engage, here it is again:
Start your Corona Conversation by looking at the picture ask: How am I/are you feeling right now? Where would I/you like to be? And what is possible that I/you can do to get there? …And if this doesn’t float your boat just print it and colour it in!
Is your business plan ready and possibilities being tested?
For most businesses “global pandemic” is not a listed concern on the business risk register. Unless your business makes products with an obvious market at these times you mostly hope it never makes the list. Corona has changed that. Is it a disaster or a opportunity for your business?
In spite of some attempts to consign it to the realms of a “foreign” threat, this contagious virus shows total disregard for the usual boundaries of borders, political allegiance, language, or class. Older people are more at risk, but others are not safe. As is normal, the poor and already unwell are especially vulnerable. The disease threatens health systems which in turn creates new vulnerabilities of other users. This pandemic touches everyone. And yet, CIPD, UK’s main HR hub noted tis week that only two out of every five businesses have any business continuity plan in place for these highly uncertain times.
Corona means change
Responding to a crisis, many organisations have Business Continuity Plans. In my experience, these tend to focus on the protection of data, and the reputation of the business as you attempt to keep things going and return to normal. These are all a useful basis from which to begin your current thinking. However, they generally ignore the fact that after major events that affect a business and the people in it, nothing is the same. Shifts take place in internal and external business dynamics and customer attitudes that will force us to change. The disruption of Corona virus presents a potential cause of disaster for your business but what opportunities for change and advantage does it hold?
With Corona, as we all work to reduce the spread and respond to those who fall sick, we can expect months of profound disruption. This will affect the personal and business lives of everyone involved with our businesses. The prolonged nature of the problem will drive many into poverty, including some on our teams. Our values will be challenged and our responses scrutinised. At the same time, it will force changes in the way you work and the inter-relationships you have within and outside the business.
The longer term impact is as yet unclear but within this uncertainty lie possibilities. The story goes that without the 17th century plague, we would not have the concept of gravity. Isaac Newton discovered it when he was sent down from Cambridge to avoid illness following the closure the university.
From a risk category perspective, disruption from Corona is now a high likelihood/high impact scenario. As we have already seen in Asia and much of Europe, the spread and management of the impact of Corona will test our personal and professional resilience.
Business planing in a crisis does not mean that we plan for the worst outcome. Rather we recognise that how we respond could lead to better or worse outcomes. We are at a fork in the road. And there may be more forks further ahead. Even as we may worry and face loss, we have strengths and opportunities as well as assets on which we can and must draw.
As levels of distress and panic rise in communities around us, it can be difficult to think of taking time to pause and plan. However, it is even more essential that we do this now than at more normal business times. An excellent HBR article gives some great guidance.
Key questions you must ask as you plan for possibilities
Leadership and their teams must follow an agile and adaptable process that enables them to find possibilities within the changes they must make. It has been amazing in recent weeks to see how creative people have become on the use of social media, new ways of promoting and running their business and thinking about how to develop and use their skills even as their worries grow.
Essentially this process asks:
When it’s all over what do we want to look back and say we did well?
Why does that matter?
How is business just now? What’s happening?
What could happen and when?
What must we do?
Why not ask them to yourself now? Of course, each question can be broken down to find out more. Consider is affected and in what way? Ask how the integrity of the business will be maintained. Look for the opportunities that lie within the adversity. The process communicated with transparency can build trust and revisit the values of the organisation as it reflects respect to all the people involved in the business. This is true particularly when hard decisions may need to be made.
Building resilience within
These testing times call for resilience which can be developed. In her excellent and moving Ted talk, Lucy Hone, gives three key tips for resilience based on her own grave experience of loss. My summary is that they are:
Don’t take events personally. Rephrase the question ‘why me?’ to ‘why not me?’
Practice and become skilled at focusing on where to put your attention toward things that are the good. This will challenge you to reframe negative views to seek out positivity however fragile.
Remember to ask if what you are doing helping or harming yourself (for instance, are the endless news reels of Corona updates helpful)? Stop it if its harming you and refocus on other activities, taking each day at a time.
Use coaching to move forward and through
Good leaders offer direction and inspiration to their teams. They work to protect the business and enable the uncovering of opportunities in the changing circumstances.
Leaders who don’t plan and dont communicate their thinking have made a choice – albeit passively! If you are sitting with no plan or your teams are unclear of what you think and why, consider this consciously, fully cognisant of the potential outcome it supports. Consider your alternatives.
Being expected to make decisions even when you might be worried and anxious yourself is isolating. You must be supportive even when you may feel you need it more or exhaustion precludes clarity.
Coaching offers the space where in partnership with your coach, you can examine your intentions, have your assumptions challenged, expose your worries and make a stronger more focussed set of decisions to move forward. All this takes place as your are also looking after yourself.
Pick your coach carefully and expect to be challenged in ways that make you better able to plan for the weeks and months of uncertainty ahead…and beyond. CONTACT ME!
Wishing you continued excellent business and personal health! And as Isaac Newton – finder of possibilities in the midst of disasters – said ““No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.”
Getting in control of business continuity in times of crisis
Headless Chickens, Denial and the Mothers of Invention!
No this is not the name of Nick Cave’s new band. Rather I am talking about how coaching can help as you think about business continuity.
In the face of the rapid rise of Covid 19 you maybe feeling like a proverbial headless chicken, or rather frustrated by the panic and in denial that there’s anything to worry about. You may even feel that we have more to fear from the fear itself.
All are common and unsurprising. Whichever it is, we must agree that these are unprecedented times. They will affect both you, your family, and your teams and their families. It is likely to that your suppliers and customers will need to change their behaviour and this in turn will have an impact on the work you do.
Managing your work through the current health crisis will be a significant test of your skills. As a leader it will challenge you to find invention in response to necessity. Hopefully in the coming months you will steer your organisation without loss of life and you will emerge stronger and wiser. As a leader you have a significant role in that outcome. Coaching has a key role to play in supporting your management of business continuity.
Hasty reaction or planned response?
At these times of uncertainty your mettle will be tested. Even for seasoned leaders, there is a strong temptation to react as events unfold rather than plan and prioritise. Too often businesses communicate hastily rather than effectively.
Some quick questions to consider:
Do your staff feel supported and informed of how you see the need to respond and their role in it in the coming 4-6months?
Are you able to manage your own health and well being in and outside of work just now?
Do you have an understanding of how your business may be affected in the short to medium term with a plan you are able to review as the situation unfolds?
How can coaching help?
Well thought through and authentic risk management reviewed and applied for a crisis can serve to find the best course of action for you, your teams and your business. However leadership is a lonely place and time to pause reflect and think through your options can be hard to find.
Coaching provides a fresh pair of non-judgemental eyes and questions that enable your reflection and support improved planning.
Drawing on the understanding of years of work in high risk contexts, my coaching can help you think through the range of issues affecting your decision-making as your remain true to yourself and your organisation’s mission. I will help you find confidence by identifying strengths and opportunities you have to hand even as you consider the risks you, your colleagues and your organisation faces.
Let’s work together as you use coaching for business continuity. Take action before its a last resort. Get in touch for a 15 minute consultation to get started today.
It is said that over 70% of jobs and business comes from networking. These great top tips to unleash the uncomfortable networker come from an excellent Coaching Academy CPD Event yesterday with Rasheed Ogunlaru.
I consider myself outgoing. Even so, the thought of working a room of strangers authentically and effectively is uncomfortable. It’s funny how alternative ways to spend the time present themselves. So here are some top tips for the uncomfortable networker!
Arrive early. Counter intuitive right? But this way you are in the position of greeting and not breaking into groups already formed
Have something to say – in fewer than 10 words who you are and what you do, thats interesting. Write it down before you go and say it to your trusting mirror or even a friend
Make eye contact – some-people dont want to be tapped on the back!
Get the greeting right. The handshake if you use it should be firm but not bone crunching. If its a multi-cultural group handshaking might not be the thing.
Sm-eyes (pronounced schmize)! Deliver your greeting with a smile that reaches your eyes and isn’t looking over the shoulder to the next best person
Numbers. Set yourself a target of people
Move on graciously – if you’re getting stuck with someone telling you about model trains or the inclement weather (no offence to afionados of either discipline) say thanks and move on!
Celebrate. A successful networking event is part of your work and needs celebrating with new contacts and recognising new opportunities
Have fun and please share how you get on! Of course, Get in touch to discuss your coaching needs
Many new and potential clients are confused about what coaching entails and whether it’s right for them. If the answer is yes to any of these question, then coaching is right for you and can most definitely support you.
Do you feel that you aren’t reaching your potential?
Is there a gap of where you are now to where you want to be?
Do you sometimes feel you don’t have the skills, resources or confidence to do what you want?
Do you sometimes feel stuck and put off making decisions or fail to stick to those resolutions you have made?
Are you ready to entertain new and fresh ideas, even if it may be uncomfortable?
Are you willing to be accountable for what you want?
So what is Coaching?
Put simply, coaching is a tool that is used to empower or enable individuals to identify and make pathways towards what they want. It is a structured conversation that takes place in a professional environment between the coach and the client.
What coaching is not
Coaching is not about your coach giving you suggestions or advice. I am not mentoring or counselling you. It is not psychological therapy and will not make an assessment of you.
How does coaching work?
Different coaches use different models to structure their sessions. The models all have the same intention: to provide a structure for a conversation that will reveal your aspirations, the reasons or values that underpin them and pathways to realise them.
Coaching keeps you moving forward towards your intentions while learning and becoming aware of yourself through the experience. The intention is always to find the resources in you as we learn together what is possible.
During coaching sessions you will make plans to take action. I will listen to you and ask questions to help you reflect on the purpose and direction of your plans and their potential to affect others. You will be responsible for the decisions you take.
A session usually last between 45mins and 1 hour.
Special sessions may give you an opportunity to explore in more depth what motivates you, what personal preferences and values you live by.
Who else will know what has been said?
A coaching session is completely confidential. I comply to the Coaching Code of Conduct which you can find here
What does the coach need from me during a session?
Not surprisingly, clients who get the greatest benefit from the investment they make for coaching are those who come to the session prepared. They have reflected and come with an idea for a change they want to make or work towards.
Collecting your thoughts and ensuring that you are relaxed and ready makes a difference. You may also need a pen and paper to hand and any other items that you may think will be useful such as a diary and other ways of recording your plans and commitments.
I think I want to start coaching now. What do I do?
We will talk over your understanding of this service and what you are hoping to get out of it. We will look at a package to fit your needs. Our first session will look in greater depth a what coaching can do for you. If you decide it is not for you, you will not be charged for this. Nothing ventured etc etc
Season’s greetings from TopHat Coaching to you and your family. Thank you for being part of TopHat Coaching in 2019.
If, like Troy (pictured) you are intending to feast with friends next week why not try the game in Knowing Me Week 7? you may uncover truths you never knew! Of course with one too many mouthfuls, relaxing and thinking about the future might be a more attractive option.
I look forward to being part of your resolutions in 2020. Let the coaching begin!
Dec 2019 From pausing to consider the over-consumption of chocolate, to thoughts of changing career, the solstice is a the season of reflection. Imagining how things can be different is the start change.
This week we will draw on the work of the late Steve de Shazer and I will invite you try something new. Its a bit like magic!
The time is now!
For northern hemisphere dwellers, 22nd December 2019 will be the shortest day of the year. For the southern hemisphere it’s the longest. The earth’s oceans will swell and fall to their highest and lowest points at this time. This key moment in the year has for centuries been a time of celebration, feasting and reflection. More recently, all over the world people use the New Year to make decisions to reflect on habits and ambitions they want to change. What are yours?
Are you comfortable? Then let’s go on a journey of the imagination
Although I have referred to yuletide, this exercise is not astrological and can be done at any time of the year. Take your pen and paper and think about something that gets in the way of your success in life that you would like to change. (If you have none you may like to run the Knowing Me week 1-8 exercises!).
Once you have thought of something, pause and try to experience it completely: Visualise it – what do you see happening; listen to it – what can you hear happening; feel it –how does it make you feel. Finally, consider how long it has rested within you.
Now, imagine yourself at home, completing all the last tasks of the day and retiring to bed. Notice the details of your actions as completely as possible and watch yourself asleep.
As you sleep, some yuletide magic occurs and that something that you want to change is miraculously gone! You have no idea how, you just know when you open your eyes that this is so.
Think for a moment and write down: how is life different now on this new morning? Write down as much that is changed that you can think of in detail. Read over what you have written.
As you read, think of your closest friend. What difference would they experience in you after that magic sleep? Write down as much that is changed that you can think of in detail.
Three questions for reflection
1. Ask yourself if or when you last felt like this new you
2. Thinking about the new you as 10/10 what score you give yourself now between 0-10 of where you stand now.
3. What one thing could you do to move you a step nearer to 10/10
For more about the project and links to all the previous wonderful weeks look here. Contact me to take the next step!
In Knowing Me Week 8, its December 2019 and we enter into the spirit of the festive season! We are getting in touch with our hopes and ambitions.
The lists and the circle you make here may help with your resolutions for 2020 (and beyond if you are reading this later)!
As the regulars among you know, the Knowing Me Project is all about getting to know ourselves better. You could add to that challenge, being more honest about ourselves.
For more about the project and links to all the previous wonderful weeks look here. If in doubt contact me for more info!
So whats it to be? A cup of tea, a glass of something else? Either way, get the pen and paper or whatever you use to capture your thoughts and here we go…
Take a page and divide it into three columns labeled Be,Do, Have. Under each title allow your imagination and inner thoughts take over as you list all the things you want to be, do or have (try your best to avoid writing what you think you should write!). NOTE The words in the columns don’t have to link across. Let your lists grow and when you think you have run out ask: What else?
Keep this list safe, putting it one side and prepare to make your circle
Sometimes this is called a wheel. This is how it works:
List the things in your life that are really important to you. This is your choice and everyone is different. Often, it is family, or friends, fitness, health, work, finance, community etc. It may change from time to time.
DRAW a circle – your cake – and divide it into as many slices as you have important things up to around 8.
Put each of the important things from step one into each of the slices (see the example from one of my clients)
Ask yourself two things:
Why does this segment matter to me?
For each segment, if the outer rim is 10/10 and everything is fine and the centre is 0/10 what score would I give this segment based on how I feel it is going?
If you are the colouring-in kind of a person, you might like to shade in. So that if you are feeling that work is presently at 50% of what you would like you will shade in 50% from the centre.
When you have your thoughtful circle completed, look back at your be do have lists above. Do you see things in one that is not in the other? Is there and alignment?
With all this reflection and with a new year just around the corner ask yourself:
Is there a segment I would particularly like to work on, to make improvements in my life? What is the first thing I could do?
If this game or any of the proceeding weeks has made you think and you would like some guidance on moving forward with coaching. Give me a call!
Acknowledgements – thanks for this exercise to many coaches and in particular to The Coaching Academy