Talking of coaching and working with leaders living through change, transition, crisis and transformation

Talking of coaching and working with leaders living through change, transition, crisis and transformation

Recently I was asked by Liz Hall to talk briefly to an audience of coaches, managers and leaders on the occasion of the launch of Liz’s latest book “Coaching in times of crisis and transformation”.

I was pleased to have been invited to contribute to the book. On reading the contributions that others, similarly invited had made, I felt privileged to be there to speak. I found myself starting by thanking Liz for inviting us into this collaboration.

Having read the book I was thankful that she had taken the trouble to convene such a complementary set of co-contributors, and had created a useful work for coaches and leaders who value coaching. This was the book that, as a developing coach I needed to read - at least 10 years ago! And here I was now – holding it in my hand. A gift from Liz et al. Better late than never.

In the Forward, Dr Tatiana Bachkirova’s comments grab my attention "Negative emotions are an intelligent response of the whole organism to difficult situations when our usual ways to fix them do not work or our own interests and intentions are in conflict."

Liz goes on to talk about adopting a tone of "courage and compassion" when helping clients to face challenges in crisis or transition. I realise that I need to start with reflecting courageously on my own transitions. I need to be compassionate with myself as I work with others.

The truth is - there has been much and continual change over my relatively short life. I have experienced much of the change as benign, but still, a lot of it even when "positive" has still been challenging.

I quickly run through the life and times of Anthony Kasozi…

My reflection: A life of constant change, full of events and experiences. All of which raise questions - a number enriching, many directly challenging…

I was born in Uganda, heard about the Bay of Pigs and the six day war, collected photos of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, fled Idi Amin, lived through the Scarman and Taylor reports, felt Big Bang and Black Friday, missed Y2K, felt 9/11, watched the Wall come down and Mandela walk free, heard the Soviet Union break up, discovered the joy of Mac and the fill of the Big Mac, got shaken by the Haiti earthquake, lost trust through Vietnam and Nixon, rediscovered it through the boat people and the London Olympics, saw the Internet born, read books before Facebook, tweeted, twittered, laughed and finally lolled without FOMO. 

Put in another way, not a day's gone by without me feeling, working with, facing up to, or being pushed about by some challenge, change, invitation, innovation or unexpected and testing event. This has been the stuff and state of life.

So now reading this book, I am aware that as coaches this is the stuff that we live and work with when coaching leaders in transition, change, crisis and transformation.

As coaches we are in it and we're also working with it. 

Our lives and the lives of our clients are characterised by small or big changes and crises in guises that they and we experience as alternately enabling and disempowering; decipherable and manageable; capricious and precarious.

And we know we / they can do this. We are all tremendously gifted and resourceful. We are able 'to survive and thrive in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex & Ambiguous) World...’ as Margaret Chapman reflects in her chapter.

Yes I have seen this. We step out to express our selves when we are motivated by a value we have, a truth we see or a call we cannot escape. We often take a good and worthwhile lead. We draw on our resourcefulness and act. In the acting we do well, often very well. The context provides the opportunity and on that field of chance we show our qualities. We have influence and often it rewards as well. It also tempts us madly.

So every act of courage has a lot of what is needed and needs to be shone light on. Yet every spotlight obscures as much as it illuminates. Acts of leaders, performed in the light - may cast shadows.

As an economist I know this. We champion what we can see and shine a light on. All else we may ignore as being held constant or out of scope. So we build our models and we behave as if they were true. At least until brute reality confronts us, and we find that we have either overstepped the mark or breached boundaries. We have gone into overdrive; transgressed ourselves and others.

Now as coaches, this is often when we meet and start working with Leaders - when they feel they are in “crisis”.

In the chapter (Leaders in Crisis) we explore how we as coaches can help leaders become more aware of and address their shadow sides, which can manifest more strongly during times of crisis and transition, with potentially high costs for themselves as individuals and for those around them.

We draw attention to some key points:

  • The shadow side is not the enemy – Indeed it is a source of very useful information and indications
  • Context and our own evolutionary nature and physiology matter - Leadership roles in certain contexts have conditions and circumstances that create pressures that can push leaders to and beyond limits
  • Whilst attention is focused on what is in the light - in times of great pressure awareness needs to be nurtured of what is in the shadow(s)
  • It is possible to coach ourselves and to be coached to develop greater awareness of our personality adaptations, patterns, drives and overdrives and vulnerabilities
  • We can build resilience, find the value in what we find difficult about ourselves and others, focus on others and learn to gain and regain balance

In closing my short talk I was reminded of the story of the prospective oblate who once asked an older monk about what they did in monasteries. (Observing, as the oblate had done, the daily routine and serenity and in which there did not seem to be much happening). The older monk’s answer was, on the face of it, quite perplexing: "We fall down and get up again, we fall down and get again".

Perhaps we can help ourselves and others learn better about how to stumble well in the worlds we live in, and how to be aware of what we most need in order to get up or support others when they face similar episodes. After all, we and they (if they are inclined fully to embrace living), will have a lifetime of experience and practice of this. We could support each other to do and experience it more simply, together.

 © Anthony Kasozi 2015

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challenge    change    coaching    crisis    leaders    leadership    The Leadership Shadow   


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