Meyler Campbell's 2019 Graduation Address was delivered by not one but two of our esteemed graduates: Linda Woolston, Class of 2004, and Lizzie Cho, Class of 2018.
Congratulations to all the graduates!
It is 15 years since I sat where you are. I’m going to share some learning from my experience as a coach so far and then Lizzie is going to challenge our thinking about coaching in the future
One of the things I’ve learned, is that learning comes from many places…not only Meyler Campbell…
I am originally from Sunderland, in the north east of England, and one of my favourite musicals is Billy Elliott. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is set in a 1980s north eastern mining community and is about an 11-year-old boy who loves to dance. After many trials and tribulations Billy goes for an audition at the Royal Ballet School. The audition goes badly wrong, and as he and his Dad are about to leave, one of the interview panel says to him:
“Billy, what does it feel like when you are dancing?” and he replies in song- but don't worry, I'm not going to sing it to you!!
"I can’t really explain it.
I haven’t got the words.
It’s a feeling that you can’t control.
I suppose it’s like forgetting.
Losing who you are. And at the same time something makes you whole.
It’s like that there’s a music playing in your ear.
And I’m listening, and I’m listening and then I disappear”
Billy’s talking about flow. And it really gets me. What he describes could also be a description of coaching at its best.
“I listen, and I listen, and then I disappear”. To me that means "disappear" in a really wonderful way, when the client is "flying”, and we are giving that attention and listening that helps to set their thinking free.
Of course, Billy doesn’t become an amazing dancer overnight. He had to put in many hours of practice. Whether it is dancing or coaching the more you do the more you learn. So, I am going to focus on four things I’ve learned
Firstly: I do my best work when I’m at my best
I have some rituals that help me and I’m going to share a couple of them.
When I left corporate life a brilliant coach, Mike, took me under his wing. One thing that he taught me and that I still do, is to keep a note book for each client, and I make a note of anything that makes my life easier - all the meeting dates; names I need to remember; the office address; nearest tube etc . I don’t typically take any notes in the session but on Mike’s insistence I would make a few notes afterwards. I always get my note books out the night before, so I'm as prepared as I can be for the work ahead.
Another ritual is “The Linda Mindmap”. I do this before every chemistry meeting, every relationship management meeting or pitch, and before some coaching sessions. I ask myself a series of questions and write the answers down, and it only takes a few minutes.
- How do I want to “be”?
- What would I like the client to think and feel about the experience with me during the meeting?
- What would I like them to say and do after the meeting? I visualise them bumping into a colleague… and I imagine what they might say, and I write it down.
- I sometimes ask myself “what would be my dream outcome?” – it stretches my thinking.
It takes me 5 minutes, and I do write it all down, but it helps me feel fully me and ready. So, your homework question is - What is the smallest thing you can do to help you to be at your best?
Secondly: You don’t have to have that next “brilliant question” lined up
2004 - I’d graduated; I’m a coach; someone is actually going to pay me to do what I love; therefore, I must always know what I’m going to say. I must have a genius, life-changing next question, otherwise why would anyone pay me?? It was such a relief to let go of this one. It was an unhelpful distraction. As Billy says
"I’m listening and I’m listening and then I disappear."
I don’t completely disappear, it is a partnership, I am completely there, but I’m not leaping in with "my brilliant question"!
Often, we reflect on the power of silence and giving the client the space to think in the precious knowledge that they are not going to be interrupted. This came home to me very early on!! When I graduated, my tutor asked me to be her coach! This was a bit of a shock, and scary - but I said "yes". And so, we were having a coaching session at the Institute of Directors; it was lunch time – I ordered a sandwich. It turned out to be quite a “challenging sandwich” with “serious crusts”. I didn’t feel that I could leave my crusts in front of my tutor or in the IOD. So, as I chewed away endlessly, my tutor (who was now also my client) kept on going with wave after wave of thinking, with me paying attention, but unable to speak. Finally, she said - "That was fantastic, thank you so much!". So, you see no brilliant question needed - just a tough crust!!
Number 3: Be prepared to embrace and handle disappointment
You won’t always succeed in a chemistry meeting. It’s often not rational. I was once in a roomful of coaches who had all been selected as potential coaches for a Board. The Board Members were gathered in the same building with copies of our CVs, and each coach could be selected by up to 5 Directors for a chemistry meeting. The maximum of 5 decided to have a chemistry meeting with me, other more experienced and excellent coaches were selected to be seen by 1 or 2. I asked them why they had picked me? - three of them said it was because I was a Sunderland supporter!!!
Their choices were not based on my coaching experience. It is not rational - and as we know there is no correlation between being a Sunderland supporter and being a good coach!
Finally - The learning never ends, and it comes from many places, and in some ways this is the beginning. It comes from Meyler Campbell events; other coaches; supervision; life experiences; (musicals) you name it. Drink it in and use whatever resonates and has meaning for you.
We are not alone – there is real value in sharing experiences. The support from this community is fantastic and I encourage you to use it and all the networks you have.
As I’ve said learning and inspiration can come from many places. So I’m going to end with another 11 year old boy from the north east - this time my nephew Paul. 10 years ago, I had taken Paul to football training. Wolfy, his coach was kicking balls to the side of the net and Paul had to make diving saves. He would dive to the ground, make the save, then leap straight back up ready to save the next shot. I was watching, and in a "proud-Aunty Linda" way thinking he was doing rather well. After a few more shots Wolfy came across to him and said “Paul when you’re down there on the ground and you’ve got the ball, take a moment; “enjoy the save”. I loved it, what a great piece of advice. I asked Paul, now 21, and a goalkeeper with Manchester United under 23s, whether he still heeds that advice, and he does. So I would encourage you as you go forward in your busy lives to remember to take a moment to enjoy the save. It is a real privilege to do the work we do.
It is now my pleasure to hand over to Lizzie…
Thinking about this talk, I reflected on 20 years of Meyler Campbell. How it would be different graduating in 2019 compared to the world into which the first graduates emerged.
My own story with Meyler Campbell began in a field in Rajasthan in 2015. I was on a leadership programme with 100 leaders from across the globe, mostly from business backgrounds. There I met an amazing woman and back in London we became friends. I noticed that sometimes, when we were in conversation she would adopt a different way of being. That way of being I recognised from having been coached. I had been interested in coaching and I thought, if I do it, I want to be able to do it like that.
The path was not straightforward. I was from the non-profit world. And yet, here I am. Oscar Wilde (has a quote for every occasion?) and his view was that “Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation”. And conversation, good conversation is mostly about listening. Unbiased, non-judgemental Listening. One of the things I have heard most often from Meyler Campbell graduates is that they have learned to Listen.
Coaching is about conversation, and coaching conversation is about listening. Coaching is also about people being their best selves and achieving their potential through that. Despite what we see today - in politics in particular - I believe most people want to rise to the occasion and not let circumstances draw them into their basest instincts.When we elevate ourselves and our conversation, everyone is elevated. If we can take one conversation to the level of a coaching exchange, one without judgement prejudice, we have contributed our small amount.
To do that, we need to Listen. To do that, we need to learn to manage our ego. To do that engage a positive intent.
We are seeing increasing polarization across our society and with it a shouty social media environment. This creates additional stress for leaders and In this context, the safe space that is coaching is ever more important.
The key ingredients for a coaching session: non judgement, active listening, positive intent, challenging assumptions; mean that the coaching conversation is vital to alleviating the current stalemate in our society and one that often arises in business. Where is the safe space where we can talk about race? What do we do about the division in our society? How do we support work with leaders in education, politics and not for profit as well as business now that business Is integrating ethics beyond siloes?
I often reflect on the summer of 2012 - the London Olympics. In my memory that summer was a glorious time of unity. With hundreds of volunteers all over the city greeting, guiding and helping visitors. The success of British athletes from all backgrounds that as a nation we got behind. The enormous success of the Paralympics - my children thought they were called the ‘power olympics’ - and I took on from them that accidental positive perspective. It felt as if we had harnessed our diverse strengths to create a society through which everyone could achieve their potential and feed into a stronger whole. It felt like we were moving forward as a society.
It is my hope and ambition that we see and implement more Diversity in coaching as well as Coaching diversity itself. A coach of a different background will ask different questions that one that is a mirror image of the coachee. Assumptions will be challenged in a different, possibly more fundamental way, and judgement or lack thereof tales on a different hue. We are in a world that one of life’s rich free gifts to us as humans – conversation – those deep winding conversations that veer from one subject to another through which you inevitably learn about others – are becoming a luxury good. Brexit, parliament - everyone shouting and nobody listening, physically opposite benches – not adopting the things that we know as coaches leads to effective communication and finding solutions to complex problems.
I was the first John Stopford scholarship recipient – invited to join from the non-profit world. Spreading the power of the coaching conversation beyond business and corporate was an insight within Meyler Campbell. What makes Meyler Campbell so special, (assuming the highest quality of learning environments), is the community. Here is an opportunity to connect - and continue to connect. We can take advantage of this gift, keep having conversations. Encourage others to have conversations and take coaching beyond its birthplace in business into the world, when the world needs it most.
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