My route into the work I do hasn’t been linear. It began with a degree in mathematics (of which more in a moment) and then joining a ‘graduate programme’ in a bank in The City of London. Whilst I learned a lot from this experience, I was unhappy, and after 5 years I moved to Edinburgh and trained to be a chartered accountant. This was a better fit in terms of ethos and led me to work in various roles in finance in NHS Scotland and other public service organisations. This culminated in being a director of finance for an NHS Trust.
Mind and body…
A key turning point in my development was winning a scholarship to do a full-time MBA at Lancaster University in the late 1990s. This immersion in education helped me to regroup and prompted me to think about organisational change, leadership and systems thinking. I was particularly taken with The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge and the practice guides that followed: they began to be significant in my thinking and actions.
My year at Lancaster was also the first time I took a T’ai Chi class, which proved to be life-changing. I was diligent in my attendance, even though I was sometimes deeply challenged by the fact that it was a martial art. However, it made me aware of some important things, such as how my conditioned response to adversity added to it rather than allayed it. When I returned to Scotland, I joined the Five Winds School, led by Sifu Ian Cameron, who I continue to regard as my teacher, even though he has retired.
Becoming a practitioner…
After Lancaster, I became an independent consultant and coach. In the early years of the 21st century my work was shaped by The Fifth Discipline approaches, NLP, Myers Briggs, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits and other well-used frameworks, but none of these defined my practice. They were useful tools but didn’t become the lifeblood of my work. The essential, delineating disciplines came later, in the form of dialogue practices rooted in the thinking of David Bohm and embodied practices developed by Wendy Palmer. You can find out more about these two disciplines in ‘cornerstones’.
Around 2009, I gained accreditation as both an executive coach and a coach supervisor and around the same time I began to write more. My first book, Pause for Breath, was published in 2011. In writing it, I clarified my approach to embodying dialogue practice and it’s publication made it available as a resource for those I was working with.
For the next 10 years, my work focused on changing practice in leadership conversations. To change practice takes time and requires courage. Each of my programmes brought together a small group of leaders who met for a series of 6 one-day workshops over a period of time. The gaps between sessions meant that participants could try out what they were learning and we could reflect together. Case work was central to the programme – we all have conversations that could have gone better! Through this work, I continued to develop my own understanding and to refine my own practice. In the process, I feel I have accredited myself as a dialogue guide!
I have also continued to practice as an executive coach and coach supervisor – and feel privileged to do this work.
As I’ve continued to evolve, I’ve come to understand that my work is materially influenced by my mathematical mind. At university I studied pure mathematics, which is conceptual and systemic in nature. I find it hard to articulate exactly how this flavours my work, but I know that my clients feel the benefit of it – I look for patterns, deep structures and an underlying order in any narrative I’m listening to. My orientation to world is systemic. This shapes both what I notice – and what I miss.
Another discipline that influences my thinking is Tibetan Buddhism, which I’ve been studying and practicing in recent years with the aim of better understanding how my perceptions shape my reality. As with mathematics, this informs how I experience the world but remains in the background – unless you bring spirituality into our conversation.