The Meyler Campbell Interviews: Anne Scoular

Hannah Patrick
02nd November 2016

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The Meyler Campbell Interviews: Anne Scoular

As Meyler Campbell Founder Anne Scoular returns from her sabbatical, she gives us an insight into what she's been up to and what her role will be now that she has returned. 

Anne you've just returned from your sabbatical, how has it been, we'd love to know what you've been up to?

The sabbatical was good, with hindsight it wasn’t a sabbatical it was a health break. I’ve been going like a mad thing for almost 20 years and I was exhausted. I had 2 objectives – to recover my health, and to do a really deep dive into family history. Thank the Lord I have done both.


How are you feeling now?

I feel much better; in fact I’m really quite shocked at how much better I feel! I might start campaigning about the benefit of sabbaticals! I feel so much more energised and zingy, there’s a whole new level of creativity and freshness and engagement. 


What was it that made you feel so much better?

Well, first it was clearing the 7700 emails in my inbox! Then over the winter, I was absolutely obsessed with staying in bed working with my laptop and pulling together the research I’ve done on my genealogy. In the first few weeks I managed to write the first chapter of my new book, and it was fantastic to switch off and live in the 1500s for a few months.  I think that really helped – it’s a physical rest. Winston Churchill used to do an awful lot of work sitting in bed with his books all around him. I was able to concentrate for hours and days on end, and I am very happy with what I produced.

Also, I got back into exercise about 6 months in. I started Pilates, that didn’t last but I have really got back into yoga and running – I’ve now been a jogger for 45 years!.

But most of all, in one word, the essence of my sabbatical is ‘Catherine’. This would not have been possible if I hadn’t been able to hand MC over in its entirety - I would not have switched off.


What else have you been up to?

For some unknown reason I enrolled on to a Masters in Biography at the University of Buckingham. I’m studying under Professor Jane Ridley; she only takes in about 3 people a year, and is a very distinguished and tough historian. The thing that has really knocked me sideways is that doing this Masters has kicked back into Meyler Campbell into the most powerful way. I had got really stale and I had been stacking up psychologist magazines etc. unread - but suddenly I’m consumed by this desire to get really up to date on psychology to go and beat up the biography world! Many of the best biographers all talk about Freud, and he’s fine, but there’s been another 120 years since then so I’m stomping around making myself obnoxious wanting to talk about everything else psychology has to offer.

I’m doing my essay on Queen Victoria and suddenly I’m thinking about women in leadership – Clinton, May, Merkel, Lagarde… Queen Victoria wrote two and a half thousand words a day and they’ve put her entire journal online available to everyone. There is a massive amount of data! She started as an 18 year old girl where she was completely patronised and she ended up terrorising her prime ministers and took unto herself power that the constitution did not give her. So how did this woman get there- did she have a coach-type figure? Was it neuroscience? An increase of connections across the corpus callosum? Etc -suddenly I’m emailing all of my friends about the latest research on female leadership, and they’ve all been amazing.


What's been the highlight of your time away?

Over the winter I wrote the medieval chapter, and in recent months I wrote the chapter about York in the 1500s, as my great great great etc. Grandfather was Lord Mayor of York in 1573 – but he died a pauper and couldn’t even afford sixpence for his wife’s burial. I had never heard of this man before I started searching, and yet there are so many records available that I was able to write 7,500words about his life.

The highlight was picking up a clue and going to York and sitting in the document room on my own with a bound ledger from 1592 on a cushion reading the original ink that was written about him. The great historians of York had said that he didn’t leave a will, but I found it, upside down in the back of that volume, and - I have a tear in my eye when I think about it. It revealed the reason he became poor was because all his family were devout Catholics and they were all stripped of their money. His daughter in law was even scheduled to be burnt at the stake for refusing to renounce her faith. He supported them all but his will revealed that he himself was a devout Puritan so he died supporting his family in a faith that he didn’t believe in even, though it brought him to the brink. It perhaps shows his fine character.


Have you noticed any changes at MC since you've been away?

1 or 2! The brand, the CPD programme is out, there are new people, there are new faculty members, there are new students who I don’t know yet, there are an absolutely insane number of books being published by our community – don’t these people have anything to do?! There are a whole lot of projects that we have been working on for years that are coming together at once.


Will you be returning to your previous role at MC?

Not exactly - there is a body in that space who is not only doing what I used to do but she’s also doing a whole lot of stuff that I didn’t do! It turns out to be quite useful.

My new role has two parts to it: Research and external advocacy.

The latter involves me being up on my hind legs talking about us in a more structured way than I’ve done it before – promoting individual alumni as I have been for years, and secondly raising and promoting awareness of the brand. I used to speak at conferences quite a lot but once I got tired I stopped doing that. Now I feel liberated to do that again.

Thirdly, I need to start speaking out about leadership coaching in general to the wider debate.  I am not keen to do all of this because it’s never really been about me, but what I am really keen on is encouraging our community to speak up and start thinking about how they can get out there whether it’s a tweet or an article in Harvard Business Review. It will be different for different people, but if I’m part of facilitating a lot of us to do it then I’m happy.

There are three key pieces of research that I would like to do

  • Scientific research on what is actually going on when we are coaching leaders;
  • Helping make the case for top quality coaching within organisations - it’s been done before but we can do it at a much more powerful level;
  • Finding out how we can serve our clients better.


What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing MC and our community?

The media and London are still in shock and wringing their hands post-Brexit, but times of great adversity are times of great opportunity. This is where being a historian is helpful – you’re aware that great discontinuities happen all the time. Think of the creativity in the Olympics opening ceremony – the world has a lot of young crazy business people who would grow even faster if they just had a tiny decent piece of coaching. There are huge opportunities for our graduates, even though everyone’s busy, there’s an awful lot that those committed and passionate people could do.

We need to be going out into new sectors too, raising awareness of coaching, but doing it for good reasons. Coaching at Work interviewed me once when I said “coaching is a force for good” and I think it can be again for us economically.


Do you have any final thoughts?

Yes, I am interested to explore the theme of rest and stamina and recuperation and recovery because I think I’ve experienced something in the last year that has been transformational. I just don’t think we know enough about working at our peak here. This is a whole new generation who keep on working in their 60s, 70s +, and are very fit and active, there’s no road map for this – nobody’s ever lived this long before! That’s why the Annual Lecture on the 100-Year life will be so interesting.


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