It was great fun to work with a professional cartoonist. Bill Crooks has a remarkable gift for capturing, expressing or stimulating a thought, an idea or a feeling with a few quick strokes of a marker pen. We were leading a workshop that aimed to reveal and challenge the assumptions that participants bring to customer, client and beneficiary relationships. Bill quickly sketched a large person looking down at a small person through a magnifying glass. He then asked the group, simply, ‘What do you see?’
Participants looked down, thought, discussed then spoke up. ‘We – the organization – are the large person. We are scrutinising the client.’ The inference here was that the organization holds the power, the influence, the prerogative to evaluate and to choose. The wider group agreed. Bill responded provocatively, ‘And what if, unknown to us, the client is connected to unseen networks that dwarf the power, the influence, the prerogative of our organization? Who now is looking down on who?’
It was a sobering moment. Silence hit the room. How easily we make assumptions about ourselves, about others, based on what we see, know or think we understand. Imagine, for a moment, the leader who believes that he or she holds far greater power and influence than individual front-line staff. Hold that thought. And now: think of front-line staff who are connected by social media to key networks and influencers in the organisation’s wider arena. Who now is looking down on who?
We are talking here about the dramatic power of re-framing. As we change the metaphorical frame through which we view a person or situation, different pictures, perspectives, opportunities and challenges can emerge, change colour/shape or come into sharper focus. Shift the frame, shift what appears, how it feels and what options become available to us and to our clients. What have been your best experiences of reframing or achieving a radical paradigm shift? How did you do it?
‘I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.’ (Tony Campolo)
The first time I heard those words some time ago, I was left speechless and reeling. Firstly, with the scale of the awfulness of the human tragedy and secondly – ashamedly – that I too was shocked to hear a Christian leader use the ‘S’ word. How easily we get distracted, preoccupied or fixated by things that really aren’t important and miss those that are. For those familiar with Jesus’ teaching, logs and splinters come sharply to mind. My last blog, ‘Whatever’, touched on a similar theme.
I visited the Philippines for the first time in 2016. I had visited and worked in various other countries in South East Asia with international charities but this was a new experience for me. One day in the hot sunshine, I sat on a kerb to listen to a talented marching band practising at the roadside. I was vaguely aware of people nearby but didn’t really take much notice. My attention was fixed firmly on the rhythmic band and music and on taking video that I could show friends on returning home.
After a while, I turned to speak to the young woman, a very poor Filipina, who had brought me to that place as her special guest. I was astonished to discover that she had vanished…and then even more astonished to see her with the other people, strangers, nearby. I became aware they were mostly elderly poor people trying to eke out a living by selling what little they could. This girl was on her knees, offering them the very food and drink we had brought for ourselves. I felt humbled and amazed.
This experience, alongside others in the Philippines since, has inspired and rekindled my desire to ‘cut the cr*p’ in my life and to live for Someone, something worthwhile. I hate that the poor are so vulnerable. It feels like a spiritual, existential journey for me. What journey are you travelling? Who is inspiring you? What are you inspiring in others?
‘The subtle art of not giving a f*ck.’ (Mark Manson)
The title grabbed my attention first – and it made me laugh! I loved the subtlety in its provocative unsubtlety. The subtitle: ‘A counterintuitive approach to living a good life’ caught my interest too. The central premise is that if we allow ourselves to care too much about too much – rather than, by contrast, discerningly about the people and things that really matter – we risk suffering undue stress, anxiety or depression. An important dimension of resilience is learning when not-to-care.
I’ve experienced this phenomenon at work. It was a leadership team meeting and the MD decided to take the whole team through an incredibly detailed, RAG-rated KPI grid alongside a micro-detailed financial spreadsheet line by line, cell by cell. I thought I was going to die. The organisation was struggling and the Director was convinced that tight management was needed. As we laboured through it point-by-point, it felt like all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room. Agony.
Or there’s the worried client who asks for coaching because he or she has become paralysed in a tricky relationship and can’t see a way through. The conversation starts and, as minute pass by and the details keep flowing without stopping for breath, it becomes clear that he or she has lost all sight of the metaphorical wood for the densely-crowded proverbial trees. ‘What really matters to you in this?’ can help pull the person out of the detail, back to the bigger picture. Pause. Breathe.
The principle here is: ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’. It’s about perspective, focus and boundaries and it reflects beliefs, values and culture. It’s influenced by and influences emotional states. It’s not a nihilistic call to ‘Don’t give a f*ck about anyone or anything’. It’s about diving below, rising above, filtering, seeing through. As leader, coach or OD, how do you help people and teams discover who or what matters most? How do you enable clients to discern or decide an authentic sense of priority?
Nick is a psychological coach, OD consultant and trainer, specialising in critical reflective practice.