Friday, 23 December 2011

Finally I feel Christmassy!

I’ve finished work.

It’s not because of work that I didn’t feel Christmassy before, although having some time to wrap the gifts I’ve bought for the children has helped.

While I was working I did manage to unearth our bargain bought-in-February white feather tree and get the children to decorate it.

I designed a Christmas e-mail in lieu of cards and sent it out to those on a list. I know you can’t hang up e-mails, but I think of all those trees and the massive amount of re-cycling that may or may not get done!

I made a donation to Lend With Care instead and enjoyed reading about what they will do with our donation.

The difference is I’m not going into the city centre anymore. My office is based right in the shopping district and for the past four weeks (maybe longer) it’s been a nightmare.

The traffic has been horrendous. Drivers are increasingly frustrated and less giving as they fight their way to the car parks and even the very full park and ride. Car horns and rude gestures. Parking in the city centre has been nigh-on impossible.

And so many people out shopping. And I have to say it makes me feel really nauseous. All this shopping. All this consumerist waste. All these people buying stuff – when money is tight for the 99%. Do the recipients want what they’ve been bought or will it end up in next year’s school fayre? Or a New Year car boot sale? Capitalism gone wild. Today a study was published showing the rise of problematic hoarding among people in western societies. The need to keep all this stuff. Signs of a society with really twisted values.

I feel like Scrooge. I don’t want this. I don’t want Christmas cards going on sale in July. Or even September. I don’t want plastic brick-building toys going up in price by 25% just on the run up to Christmas (a particular disappointment for my son!). I don’t want shops selling tat disguised as decorations to be discarded in the New Year. I am Scrooge.

But what I do want, is to remember that we are celebrating the birth of a spiritual figure who has an immense impact on the world (even if he wasn’t actually born in December). I want to be there for the lighting of some Hannukah candles. To celebrate with pagan friends the winter solstice. To remember that this is a spiritual time, a family time.

And as I remember this, I finally feel Christmassy!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Car washing - a lesson in empowerment!

All the work I do - and have done - coaching, training and supporting people - has been based on the tenant that if you empower people to do things for themselves, then they have greater ownership, generate skills, knowledge and experience for themselves and can enjoy the pride in their own achievements. This is so well summed up in the quote “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”.

Today has been a reminder of this for me! Today I decided to wash the car!

So what! I hear you say?

Well, I don’t do it very often!

In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve ever washed this car!

I usually pay someone else to do it. One of the drive-through type where you sit in your car while it’s covered in foam and every last molecule of dirt (and sometimes I wonder if the next layer of paint too!) is blasted away. Sometimes I even get out for ten minutes so it can be vacuumed and the grime inside dispatched too!

I justify this on the basis that;

  •        they’ll do a better job than me;  
  •       they will be much quicker than I would be (true today!);
  •       it’s more cost effective for me to spend my time doing other things...etc etc

Not that I’m lazy and can’t face getting cold and wet doing it. Noooo...

But it’s been getting increasingly expensive and the length of time between washes has grown longer as I struggle to justify the cost against what else that money would buy. Until we reached today: I decided to do it myself.

It’s not difficult after all, it’s not rocket science. I used to do two or three cars every week to earn my pocket-money when I was a teenager and got to know the little tricks that make such a task easier under the exacting eyes of my father. So, I washed it, rinsed it, leathered it, vacuumed inside and sparkled the windows!

What joy! I am so proud of how it looks now! I keep peeping out of the window to have a look – something I’d never do when it’s been washed by someone else. And I will be taking better care of it. No getting inside with muddy boots. No letting the kids drop sticky sweets and bit of Quavers down the seats. No stuffing old receipts in the ashtray. No storing old CDs under the seats. No, I cleaned it and I would like it to stay looking like this for at least...oh I don’t know? Forever ideally - but a week is probably more reasonable.

I feel proud of my achievement. I’ve renewed my skills and knowledge. I feel empowered this evening to do more – other things I’ve been putting off.  

All those things I hope to generate in others when I work with them.

Of course, if my kids washed the car next time...they would feel empowered too. Must try that one!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Equality Matters!

Sure does!

There is a considerable body of evidence that businesses and organisations that take equality seriously, do better. Their results are better. Their employees are happier, reducing absenteeism, staff turnover and increasing productivity.

And what about countries where equality is taken seriously? Evidence shows  ( people in more equal societies live longer, experience less mental illness; people are less likely to use illegal drugs, children do better in schools, Unicef measures of child well-being are high; fewer people are imprisoned; obesity is less common; communities are more cohesive; teenage motherhood is less common... I could go on...

So, it is quite concerning today to read in the news ( that the CEOs of our major banks have a pay differential of 70-150 over the average (and note, the average, not the lowest paid) employee. Now that’s not equal. In 1980 it was around 13 times. That’s not progress. Not in my mind.

Who genuinely needs £4.5million a year to live on? Who justifies being rewarded at this level? People who save lives? People who care for others? Who teach skills and knowledge to the younger generation? Our society’s values seem so twisted.

And did those organisations with such enormous pay differentials succeed? No, they failed massively causing global problems we have yet to fully appreciate the enormity of. Are they succeeding now? Maybe the shareholders think so, but what about the customers? What about those trying to buy a home for the first time? What about those who have saved for a lifetime planning to live on the interest provided by those savings?

So what do we do about it? I’m not naive enough to think we can reduce a CEOs pay from £4.5million to £250k tops overnight. We can’t wipe out the changes to organisations that have happened over the last 30 years.

We’ll have to start at the bottom by creating ethical businesses. Social Enterprises, Community Interest Companies. We need to support them as they grow. Organisations that take equality seriously. That genuinely see a responsibility to the environment and are not just ticking boxes and writing off their carbon consumption.

There are some really exciting examples around not only producing great products and services but doing so in a way that can improve the lives of other people.

I’ve just discovered Lend with Care ( and am trying to see how to best channel a proportion of my profits to providing loans to entrepreneurs in the developing world. – to help them turn their ideas into life changing opportunities – just as I am doing with my business here. It provides an extra impetus to ensure my business does well as it just doesn’t affect me and my family, but other people in other countries.

That gives me such a great feeling. Far more than a £4.5million salary would.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing. -Mother Teresa

I love this quote.


Because it has real meaning for me.

A few years ago I was going through what was probably the most stressful time of my life – what do I mean probably – I mean it was definitely the most stressful time of my life.

What could make a whole difference to my day was a small act of kindness. Someone holding open a door for me; someone letting me out of that blasted junction you just can’t see round in a car... a smile…

Some acknowledgement that despite the stress, I was still a living breathing human being and each of these small acts of kindness connected me to the world. A world that wasn’t just full of injustice, pain and problems – but one with friendship, connection and love.

In times since, in my now-content world, I try and return the favour. To let that person out from that junction; cross the road; hold open a door to someone manoeuvring a pushchair; have a chat to the person at the simply smile.

And guess what! Doing it makes my day a better day too! It’s still making that connection with the world. It takes me away from focussing on me and enables me to focus on someone else. That’s really empowering.

It’s a good technique if you’re lacking in confidence yourself. Smile at someone! Complementing someone is a lovely way of getting a conversation started. Just focussing on another person and helping them out, even if that’s just holding open the door for them. Try it...go on!

I wish I could thank every single person who unknowingly made my day bearable by their simple acts of kindness. But I can’t. Nine times out of ten I don’t know who they were and I’ll never see them again. But my thanks is carried in smiling at other people - as you never know what a difference it might make.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Respect – A Core Value

I’ve been reflecting on what are my core values as a coach (I have to admit, not as part of my general reflective practice, but enforced by a need to write something for my website – what a terrible admission!)? What is my ethos? What are my values for me as an individual? And particularly for me as a coach that are reflected in how I practice?

Some are immediately easy for me to reel off – equality; being non-judgemental; confidentiality; treating each person as a unique, valuable individual with skills, experiences, relationships, knowledge and qualities that enable them to fulfil their potential.

But on reflection (!) they all seem to come down to one thing – Respect.

This weekend was the Plymouth Respect Festival and what a wonderful, joyous celebration of the diversity that does exist in Plymouth. Plymouth is not currently seen as a particularly cosmopolitan, multi-cultural, diverse city as the communities which are here tend to be small and dispersed. However, the recently set-up Migration Project, being led by The Barbican Theatre, is showing that Plymouth as a static community is quite a recent phenomenon and actually before the twentieth century, Plymouth was truly a place of migrants. The Festival this weekend did bring people out to celebrate and I so enjoyed it.

I have always enjoyed travelling and living and working as part of other cultures, even where this is for a short time. Seeing how other people live – their culture, their families, their values – is such a gift. It opens your eyes to other possibilities, of other ways of understanding and being in the world and enables you to re-assess your own way of life and values; to look at your own family, community and society with rather more detachment and clarity.

I have worked in very different cultures – in Bangladesh and Iraq for instance – but an example of what I mean actually comes from a culture not too dissimilar to ours – Australia.

I travelled to Australia about fourteen years ago travelling round the eastern half of the country and staying with and visiting friends. I have to say I had very prejudicial ideas about Australia before we went  – I thought it was all desert ; full of red-necks drinking lager and no culture – but I was blown away with what a beautiful, friendly country it was and my misconceptions were buried where they belonged!

We celebrated Christmas in Adelaide with close friends. It was chilled (despite the heat), very family-orientated and totally non-commercial. It made me realise how our Christmases has become so tied up with presents, cards, excesses of food and drink and all the material things of Christmas. It challenged my view of how I do things here and made me resolve to do things differently in future to capture some of that joyous, relaxed family time we had experienced and move away from the commercialism.

For the time being, working abroad does not fit my, and my children’s life, so I really value those people from different places and cultures who live in Plymouth coming together here to share some of that experience with me, enabling to learn and challenge my life and values right here.


Monday, 17 October 2011

Role Models – gender specific?

I’ve been pondering on the issue of role models.


Because I’ve been worried about my son and a lack of male role models in his life. He is growing up in the presence of three generations of strong women! Maybe he needs a man in his life to balance this out?

To do “male” things.

What things?

Well…I don’t know…male things!

Now, he’s not totally lacking in male role models - he has his Dad - but he sees him for only one day a month and speaks to him two or three times a week? Is this enough? Does he need to have a male role model on a day-to-day basis?

We’ve tried various activities that I thought might provide him with a male role model – karate, basketball, football etc. – but none with any great joy, success or longevity.

This year he has a male teacher in his primary school class.  I know there are too few male teachers in primary school so he’s lucky there.  He’ll have a whole nine months of a man I respect providing a role model for him each day! Phew!

I’ve tried inveigling male friends into taking him out – to see films I’d sleep through, to go fishing, watch the grand prix…

I’ve even considered the ultimate sacrifice of marrying a man again! But no, fraught with WAY too many problems…

But then I got talking to people about it. And had my views of needing a gender specific role model challenged.

One man said to me that although he lived all his childhood with both parents, it was his mother he saw as his role model and he didn’t have much respect for his father. Another friend told me he’d been brought up in a household of women and as an adult appreciated the insight it gave him into negotiating relationships with the opposite sex now.

I remember as a leadership trainer getting people to think about leaders they respected and admired and to think about why they respected and admired them. Were there things they would like to emulate in their leadership style? Lessons they could learn from the people they admired. And of course, those they did not!

So, who were my role models as a child? My Dad primarily. So that blows the gender stereotype out of the water for one. I admired his intelligence; his integrity; his self-confidence and assurance; his presence; his ability to take a complicated process and explain it at a level his audience could understand; his ability to cope with and accept whatever life threw at him; his calmness in a crisis; his sense of humour.  These things are not gender specific. I can role model those things to both my children – regardless of gender.

And I can still identify a car marque at 50 paces!

What do you think? Who were your role models as a child? Were they gender specific?

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Change your life in an afternoon: what a difference a wardrobe clear-out can make!

Last weekend my best friend of 35 years and my 15-year old daughter agreed to help me tackle a bulging wardrobe. To me, this was a simple clearing out of a few items of clothing as the seasons changed - little did I realise, when I invited them to help, what a fundamental shift in my life it would be!

They were brutal! No gentle, loving, Gok Wan, not even the tactile tactlessness of Trinny and Suzanna! No! 

"When did you last wear this?"
"Well, I haven't worn it this summer, but..."

"Do you like this?"
"Er, well I did think it went with..."

"Do you think this suits you?"
"No, it's awful"

"What were you thinking when you bought this?"

"But I'll have nothing to wear!"

But they were right. Actually I do have clothes I really like and suit me, but I save them for some nominal "best". But when do I ever go out to wear them? Occasionally, but not enough to wear these clothes often. But I love them and they suit me! 

So, my friend radically suggests, why don't I actually wear them all the time? She makes some suggestions as to how the addition of one my scarves, a camisole, a cardigan might help. The next day at work several people complement me on how I look. Slimmer! Younger! 

And I feel great! It sinks in. Why had I not realised this before? It's so simple! Why did I wear all this stuff that would "do" and keep all this stuff I really liked hidden in the wardrobe apart from the odd day or night out? I can't believe I didn't "get" this before. But maybe I needed to be in the right space in my head to understand this - to think that this was right for me.

It must stem from old family habits. A new outfit for Easter, Sunday best! Generations past who had little and made do in the war. Those before who only had two sets of clothes and wore a Sunday best dress until a fortunate new dress replaced it and it was moved to everyday wear. The traditions and thought patterns carried on down the generations.

And I don't want to be a consumerist fashion victim either. Buying an item and wearing it once. Throwing away stuff hardly worn when someone else could use it. Buying cheap clothing, knowing that in order to supply my desires, someone in another country is sweating away in poor conditions for a pitiful wage. I want to have some consumer integrity.

The consequences? Well, my wardrobe has lost at least 2/3 of it's contents! Likewise my drawers, shoe boxes, stash under the bed. Oxfam is better off by several huge bags full. Items have gone on to new eBay homes.

And I feel hugely more confident, happy, attractive, energetic and motivated.

One simple task. One afternoon. That changed my life!