Sunday, 26 July 2009

The symbiotic relationship between giving and gaining

Recently I had a very powerful experience which I am keen to share because it reaffirmed one of my core beliefs which is that in giving freely of ourselves, we gain tenfold or as Churchill put it so eloquently We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Also it is an opportunity to promote an organisation that is making a difference by what it does - the Network of Black Professionals.

As often happens with life's opportunities, it came about by chance in the form of an email from a friend who thought I might be interested. It stated that the Black Leadership Initiative (BLI) was looking for suitable mentors to work with Black employees mainly in the public sector. This led to a telephone conversation with the Director of the BLI, a very persuasive woman who convinced me to sign up for their two day mentoring programme.

My initial thoughts were not altogether favourable. I was not sure what I would gain from the course because I was already a qualified coach, although I could see why the BLI would want all potential mentors to go through their training programme. It is important that mentors understand how the host organisation operates and appreciate its cultural ethos. The two days ended up being so much more in part because Caroline Harper Jantuah, the trainer, created a space which enabled participants to be themselves, share and be inspired.

What made it so powerful, was the use of R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.'s Building a House for Diversity as a framework for the initial session. Thomas uses a powerful metaphor involving giraffes and elephants to help people grasp the importance and impact of diversity. In the fable, the elephant who represents minority cultures is expected to diet and do ballet lessons so that (s)he can fit into the house of the giraffe. How often do we find this sort of approach within organisations and parts of life? How could we approach difference more inclusively? Those of us on the course felt that it was important for those from the majority and minority cultures to work together to build a new organisation with shared values, where all had the same amount of opportunity to progress.

Later on we were introduced to a former mentee who had gone through the programme. It was clear that she had gained a tremendous amount from the relationship she had developed with her mentor both in material terms (that is progression within the work place) but also in more profound ways such as her level of confidence. She now has a wide, influential network of people on whom she can call. It was wonderful to see.

It is not just about individuals. The BLI focused it's initial efforts on dealing with under-representation in further education. When it started, there was only one Black Principal of the approximately 400 colleges in the UK. Now 10 years later there are 12. This shows the impact that good mentoring can have at a sector-wide level too. It is so exciting especially since the Initiative has now broadened its remit and started working with other parts of the Public Sector such as the NHS and Central Government.

All this is good stuff but what was truly amazing was the level of connection with so many of those in the room. There was a real warmth and level of interest within the energy of the space and as time went on, individuals saw the value of others within the group and appreciated them openly in front of everyone else. It was a live demonstration of what can be achieved when we all work together in a spirit of openness and inclusion. Personally, I received a number of affirmations and interest in the service I offer. This ranged from an invitation to run my new Whole Self Leadership awareness programme with Black youths and young men who have been imprisoned to running a Leadership development programme on how to encourage self-management within teams at another college; as well as requests to become individuals' executive coach.

In conclusion, my learning from this is that if we are are true to our primary values, and we give freely of ourselves to those causes and things that really mean something to us; we will receive so much more. For me, Diversity has been an important issue for over ten years and it was a real privilege to be in the company of so many who shared my passion and with whom I could communicate using a shared language. My challenge to you is to find, if you do not already know, what is that important to you and ways in which you can express that passion to make a difference and see how it can transform your life.

If you have been inspired by this article, please do leave a comment and share it with others. If you want to find out more about what I do go to my website

Friday, 17 July 2009

What makes for a great interaction with impact?

Just read The Tipping Point. Lots of people were talking about it a few years back and now it felt the right time to read it as I was curious to find out what the ingredients are that make an idea into an overnight success. All of which is hugely relevant now that I am a Mumpreneur.

There were many fascinating points in the book and yet there was one part that stood out from the rest for me and that was the concept of where emotion comes from. I had always assumed that my emotions came from within and said more about me than the other person or thing that was the object of whatever that set of feelings were. Gladwell quotes research done by psychologists that show in fact that it is the reverse. We respond to quite small often imperceptible cues from others. If they smile then we are likely to smile and if they are giving off some kind of negative energy then it may well affect us. The other interesting point is that there are those with the force of personality that can neutralise or reverse the negative energy of another by their presence. It goes without saying that if those who are charismatic in this way happen to exude negative thoughts then others will not be able to shift that and are most likely to be infected by it. So my challenge to myself and to you if you are up for it, is to spend the whole day smiling and giving off positive energy and to see what impact that has.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The transition from the end of maternity leave to the next stage

One particular group of people that I am passionate about is Mums and it is one of my two focal points of my coaching practice. One reason for this focus is that I am a mother myself but it goes much further than that and to help illustrate what I mean, I am going to share some of my own journey.

In short becoming a Mum led to major change in my life. Prior to having my two girls, I worked for the largest professional services firm in the world. My clients were organisations like the British Library, the Inland Revenue and so forth. Often I would leave the house before it was light and come back long into the night. My focus was work and I loved the cut and thrust of the work place. Interestingly for me there was not a seismic shift after my first child was born. I returned to work when she was nine months on a 70% contract. I was able to negotiate 3 days at the office or at a client and half a day at home or put two half days together to go to training events which invariably were on a Friday. There was a shift in that my family became a higher priority than my job. However it still meant making a certain number of sacrifices for the job such as spending three days a week for two months up in Newcastle, working with a client!

The transition came after daughter number two. It culminated with a number of other changes in my life. One was that we moved out of the centre of St Albans to a village just outside Hitchin three weeks before the birth. Despite the relatively short distance between the two places, our lifestyle changed completely in lots of little ways. So for example I had to drive everywhere whereas before I had walked everywhere. It took a long time to feel settled here because many mothers I met had established groups of friends from either their antenatal class or a first baby group. I also realised that I had changed. I no longer relished the idea of the commute into London even on a part-time basis. My main priority was my family and having two children, 15 months apart, meant that the first year was exhausting, and being a full-time Mum in a village could be very isolating at times.

The saving grace for me was that my company had a policy which allowed every member of staff access to a coach for a maximum of six sessions per year. I realised that I needed to make use of that service to sort out what was most important to me and enable me to work out what to do at the end of my maternity leave. In going through that process I realised that despite the potential risks, that going it alone and setting up my own business where I became a WFHM was what I wanted to do. The coaching gave me the clarity I needed to make the decision and the push to go out there and do it. Now I do what I love – coaching.

Reflecting on all of that, it became clear that motherhood is a major time of transition and gives women the opportunity to review and reprioritise what is important to them. However sometimes with all that is going on, women do not have the time or the access to the resources they need to make the best choices for themselves. For all these reasons, I and another mother who is an HR professional run group sessions for Mums with young families who are considering what they want to do following their maternity leave. We run a group session because very often Mums develop their own groups of friends as mothers either through the NCT or other routes, and it allows us to offer the service at a much lower rate than a one on one coaching session. For more information contact me at

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The power of positive thinking

I feel compelled to share with you what has been happening to me over the last few days. It is amazing. In energy terms I feel as if I have tuned into this very positive, incredible life force. It is as if I could do anything that I wanted to do and it's as though someone is watching over me.

On Saturday I realised that one of my favourite earrings had fallen out. I was very upset because they were from Tiffanys and of great sentimental value too. Normally I would completely lose it and drive my family nuts but I remembered Gretchen Rubin's wise words about emotions in a crisis and decided to believe that it would come back to me. The next day both my husband and I took turns to search the bottom of the pool to no success. By chance I explained what I was doing to those swimming in the lane so they did not get irritated and the woman in the group came up to me a few minutes later with my earring in her hand!

Over the last few months, I have been working with another coach, Karen Wise, to develop a programme for Mums. What is incredible is that it has gone from one programme to two programmes aimed at different types of Mums thanks in part to feedback from friends on facebook in particular Jan Morgan, Becky Alexander and Annette James. One is aimed at Mums with 6-9mth babies and the issues that they tend to be facing such as whether or not to go back to work and lack of identity, me time etc; and the other is for Mums with older children who have made sacrifices for their families and feel that there is something missing. They are either SAHM, WFHM, invariably working from home with little prospect of promotion/ progression, almost on a treadmill with children, husband, work competing for their attention. They are thirsting for a mental workout.

This morning I met the editor of a new magazine aimed at Mums in the car park of Hitchin swimming pool. She is looking for interesting articles for the magazine and Mumpreneurs to put forward for the annual inspiring Mumpreneur awards in September. What a great contact!

It is incredible what can happen when one has taken a stand and lives by that stand. New opportunities keep showing up. As I sat down to write this article I read Rosalyn Clare's post about saying your dreams aloud and seeing what happens. It is so powerful because if we believe in what we are doing, others will too.