Career transition coaching

The importance of personalisation

Recent research conducted by Gartner in March 2022 into the state of the modern workforce highlighted that only one in four employees felt confident about their career path. Recent changes in working practices brought about by the rapid integration of communications technology and the pandemic have challenged the existing ways of working, disrupting our understanding of the workplace and its role in our lives. It has also generated new opportunities and choices. For many this creates a chance to explore options, reassess priorities and make the leap into new areas of employment.

Increasingly I am meeting clients who want to do just that. Often this is something that they have been considering for a while but are either unsure of where to start or are not sure what to do with the information they have gathered. Whilst there is certainly a process that can be applied to help them it is also fair to say that when coaching somebody through a career transition the process should be personalised, designed to fit their character, priorities, environment, and ambitions. Having undergone several career transitions myself over the past thirty years my experience is that this is rarely the case.

When seeking guidance on a career transition I have regularly been presented with a raft of generic questionnaires or exercises leading to categorised summaries and formulaic conclusions. Whether it was leaving the Army, deciding where to go next within the Event Management industry, or exploring my options with regards to a career in Executive Coaching the advice I sought and received, whilst bountiful, often followed this approach leaving me none the wiser as to my heartfelt goals, motivations, or reservations. Such an approach never takes the time to get beneath the answers and explore exactly what is driving, or restraining, the person completing the tests. There is an increased risk that by applying a generic, peripheral approach the process will miss vital underlying factors.

As our relationship with work changes, so do our priorities. To assume that what held true for previous generations is still the case for those recently entering the workforce is misplaced. Nowhere is this change in priorities and expectations more clearly demonstrated than in the latest generation to join the workforce; Generation Z. Born between 1995 and 2012, this generation have quite different values and motivations to their predecessors. Having grown up alongside the rapid rise and integration of technology they are considered ‘digital natives.’ They also grew up in times of recession, therefore according to research by they value security, future proofing, and job stability. Allied to this however is their sense of the individual, a desire to be seen as such by their managers. They are keen for plenty of career development opportunities as well as a demonstration that the organisation has a shared passion for sustainability as a core value.

To combine one generation’s feeling of uncertainty and challenge with the next generation’s desire for individualism leads me to believe that the importance of personalisation when coaching a client through a career transition is more important than ever. For some clients it remains important to explain that there is a process or direction to the coaching programme, however, equally important is to highlight that this process is only loosely held leaving plenty of room to explore avenues and options that fit the client’s unique set of circumstances rather than rigidly adhering to a prescribed formula.

For some the desire to dwell on areas of self-awareness; exploring their values, motivations and strengths takes a few sessions. Often a client will delight in the luxury of exploring what is important to them at that moment, checking in on their values, considering what has changed in their lives and their environment and how these changes impact on their priorities and goals. When considering why they want to change roles it is often this clarity around their values and environment that leads to greater understanding of their desire for change. A simple question such as ‘what does success look like for you?’ can lead to an entire session of discovery and challenge. Rarely can the answer be categorised (i.e., money, status, time etc) as it varies for each person and from one period to another, (e.g., right now I need financial security for my new family, but I really want to move to a place of greater job satisfaction within the next five years). Often a list of ‘must have’s’ and ‘nice to have’s’ can lead to greater clarity of priorities whilst allowing flexibility for change.

Some clients arrive with a more informed sense of self and wish to explore their options and priorities in greater depth. I have recently begun to change my language around making plans, given the increased sense of uncertainty, challenge and change. Clients often react positively to the concept of ‘exploring options’ rather than ‘making plans.’ The difference for me being the implicit acceptance that options are more loosely held, flexible whilst focussed and accepting of factors outside our control. Identifying then exploring what options are open to the client allows freedom and exploration to sit alongside pragmatism and reality and makes for a challenging conversation with plenty of flux, review, rejection, and surprise. Encouraging clients to commit these thoughts to the page and then reviewing them alongside the work they have done on their values, motivations, priorities, strengths, and weaknesses can lead to some inspiring moments of courage as they begin to see their options becoming more realistic. Beginning to match personal goals with career goals can lead to wonderful moments for the client as they understand how they can find fulfilment and purpose at work, even if that takes them in a direction they had not previously considered. As the client realises that past priorities and goals have changed and honestly accepting their new goals can be a ‘eureka moment’ that for me cannot be easily matched.

Further need for personalisation exists in the final phase of the career transition process, achieving their goals. I have always been outcome oriented and whilst I fully accept that this is not for everybody, I am quick to offer this to my clients as a means of focusing them on their next steps. Often, they agree, (most likely an indication of the type of client I find myself working with). Once this is established, conversations around ‘how to achieve my goals’ can lead to focussed action plans and timelines, or loosely held commitments to further exploration. The concept of small, achievable steps allied to a need to see reward or return for their efforts is crucial. Whatever the outcome it is always deeply personal, and hopefully leads to a greater chance of the client achieving their goals.

I continue to enjoy my coaching journey, learning from clients and developing my approach. There is no greater reward for me than to see a client leave with an improved sense of clarity and purpose. Finding the right role and environment that matches our skills and values is surely one of the most important decisions we make in our lives. To do so with a clear understanding of what matters to us at this moment in time serves to highlight the importance of personalisation.

Jon Hazan is the Director of Atlas Coaching and has worked in the field of team development and leadership for over twenty-five years.

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Hospitality Resilience Series – Session 3

Why New Year’s Resolutions don’t work and what you need to know to live your life intentionally with Claudia Roth

For our 3rd session, the Hospitality Resilience Series welcomes Claudia Roth, Quantum Energy Coach, to provide us with guidance in our journey to becoming an improved and healthier version of ourselves. She calls it “Soul Luxury”.

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Hospitality Resilience Series Session 2

In the second session of the Hospitality Resilience Series we switch our focus to the question of inner immunity and how we can build our resilience from within. We will challenge some of the common held beliefs around diet, explore the link between diet and human behaviour and discuss ways in which by making small, achievable changes on both an individual basis and as part of an organisation we can improve how we function and protect against the challenges we face today.  

This proved to be an enlightening conversation with Rhaya Jordan, a thought leader in the world of natural health and nutrition who discussed the results of over 30years experience examining the interplay between food and psychology.

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Food and the Mind

How leaders can take advantage of nutrition to hone their gut instinct and reduce stress and anxiety.

with Rhaya Jordan

Leaders – hone your gut instinct

With the rule book being torn up in these times of uncertainty, we need to rely more frequently on our ‘gut instinct’ when making decisions. Which refers to the metaphor of our reliance on inbuilt experience and emotional response to a situation to assist in our decision making. But what if our ‘gut instinct’ was not a metaphor at all and there was instead a proven link between our gut, our heart, and our brain? If this were the case then how we feed ourselves takes on a new level of importance and rather than a mere function of survival it stimulates performance, enhances resilience, and stabilises our emotional response to stress and anxiety.

In the second in our series examining the different aspects of resilience we talked to leading natural health expert and nutritionist, Rhaya Jordan to discuss the Mind Body link and the many fascinating effects of diet on our levels of stress and anxiety. Using over thirty years of experience working in multiple sectors, including hospitality, she delved into the links between nutrition and resilience. As Rhaya claimed at the beginning of our session, “we can’t do anything about what the next 12months is going to bring, but we can control what we eat so as not to add to the mayhem”.

“The Wanderer”

We assume that our experience of stress, depression or anxiety is entirely psychological, but in reality, it is a complex interplay between the state of your body and what is happening in your environment. By making small changes to our diet, it is possible to increase our inner immunity and resilience. Recent research has proven that ‘gut instinct’ is not a metaphor, it is a physical process that links messages from our gut to the brain and heart. Messages are transported via the Vagal Nerve, (the name of which derives from the Latin word for ‘wanderer’). Therefore, what we put into our gut has a direct impact on emotional responses and certain functions of the body.

Regulating our Serotonin and Dopamine levels

Over 90% of our serotonin, (the neurotransmitter that relays messages from one part of the brain to another modulating mood, desire, and function amongst others) is manufactured in the gut, but we are dismissive of the impact the serotonin in our gut has on the serotonin in our brain. Preserving the serotonin in our gut, however, has a direct correlation on our mental health, acting in a similar capacity as antidepressants. In effect providing a natural, harmonious alternative to chemicals whose side effects can include weight gain and rebound depressions. Eating differently therefore could give us just as much of a mental edge without the side effects of chemical alternatives.

A similar correlation exists in the production of dopamine, (an important neurotransmitter performing functions in the brain and body including the control of hormones and behaviour) which is produced as a reaction to certain pleasurable and motivational activities. Inactivity, boredom, and restlessness are the enemies of dopamine production and a wholesome diet. When bored, a common reaction is to reach for the snacks. However, these signals from the brain are often related to a need for activity rather than hunger, they are highlighting the need for a rest or a change of scene. If we turn to sugar as a substitute for boredom it can have unintended effects on the body. Sugar hacks the dopamine pathways from brain to body. Rather than a sugary snack, Rhaya advocates a change of scene. Take a short break, take some exercise, move to a different room, or change your activity. Allow the brain to recharge and reset rather than continuing to drive ourselves onwards to the inevitable sugary substitute.

Dump the diet

We are all different, what works for one person may not work for the other. The tiny variations in our genetic code and gut flora means that how we extract calories from food also differs. Two people on the same diet can have completely different metabolic responses to it. This rationale also extends to the mental health response to diet. For example, drinking coffee after eleven at night can have dramatic effects on some people’s sleep patterns but negligible affects for others. Therefore, a general approach to diet does not work. Instead of viewing what we eat as a combination of good or bad foods, advocated by the latest dietary trend, it is about working out what food leaves you feeling good and makes you feel well.  

For many of Rhaya’s clients this involves Food Tracking. A simple technique whereby the client takes note of what they eat, when they eat it and how it affects their mood – a food diary. It need not be elaborate just a notepad with scribbles on what we eat and how we feel as the day progresses.

Being curious and non-judgemental about our diet will lead to greater understanding and enable us to evaluate trends, patterns and the correlation between our diet, our performance, and our emotions. This critical self-awareness tool creates a level of knowledge and understanding that places us in a powerful position when considering how best fortify ourselves for forthcoming challenges. Creating the conditions for change        

To achieve enduring behavioural change, what starts with self-awareness and knowledge must lead to action. That action however need not be giant, life altering leaps into the unknown. The more likely path to success lies in taking small, achievable steps along a clear, considered path. Rhaya advocates a similar tactic when assessing changes to our diet. 

The importance of structure

As a result of the pandemic many people have lost the structure of their day. This can manifest itself in a change in our diet resulting in a detrimental impact on our moods and ability to function. Rhaya highlights the importance of putting this structure back into our diet.

Tracking food intake is not just about what we eat but when we eat. Before the industrial age people ate an agrarian diet with their main meals taken mid-morning and at sunset, it was only with factory

working that the concept of three meals a day arose, a concept that does not necessarily fit with the way we work today. With changes to our working day, place of work and pattern of work we often find ourselves hungry outside of our mealtimes. Rather than snacking Rhaya suggests changing our mealtimes to suit our hunger patterns. If we are hungry at five o’clock, take a break, eat your meal, then return to work. More likely this will result in a more productive final few hours at work and take the stress off the body that is caused by eating large, complex meals late in the evening. There has been considerable research by the likes of Sachin Patel into the effects of eating before going to bed. The circadian rhythms that affect our body mean that our gut flora rests at night, therefore our digestive acid is lower, and our body struggles to break down food. This has been found to put the body under stress at a time when it should be recharging and recovering from the day’s exertions.

Linked to this we asked Rhaya about the latest thinking regarding the value of fasting. Rhaya again pointed to the research undertaken by Sachin Patel which has found that there are advantages to fasting. Namely it allows our Sichuan genes to work more effectively. These genes are responsible for a lot of repair work in the body and do not kick in unless we are fasting. Therefore, the body will thank us for going without food for short periods of time. To do this Rhaya supports stretching the time between dinner and breakfast. Ideally, we would have a 12 or 14 hour gap between meals so having an earlier dinner (as mentioned above) and a slightly later breakfast allows this repair work to take place. Rhaya was keen to point out however that for people with a disrupted or conflicted relationship with food this must be done cautiously to avoid bingeing at the end of a fast and the physiological damage associated with this.

Despite our best intentions, for many the ability to resist snacking often proves too much. In times of high stress and uncertainty the need for ‘treats’ becomes overwhelming. Rhaya challenges what she calls the ‘Puritan’ approach to diet. All too often taking on a restrictive diet that removes the things we love has limited benefits with people reverting to type after a short period of time. Over 90% of people add between 5-10% more body weight after a period of dieting. So, do not take it away, just change the quality of the treat.  Rhaya suggests being more imaginative with our treats such as adopting interesting teas to drink, (e.g., kombucha) or making simple wholesome snacks (e.g., fridge cakes) without the sugar but with plenty of interesting flavours. There are lots of simple recipes available online, make it quick, make it often and make it easy and it is more likely to remain part of your new routine.

Build a strong nutritional scaffold

A good example of making innovative changes to your diet is the case of the New York Times restaurant critic, Mark Bittman who was advised that changing to a Vegan diet was necessary to lower his cholesterol. However, given his line of work, this would prove tricky. His solution was to adopt what he termed, a ‘flexitarian’ diet, i.e., before 6pm he ate an exclusively Vegan diet after that he ate what he wanted. An interesting solution to a seemingly impossible situation.

When considering the issue of food addiction Rhaya provided some interesting insight into causes and solutions. Many people have ‘trigger foods’ i.e. foods that once they start eating, they find it difficult to stop (e.g. sweets). This can be driven by two things, physical hunger or dopamine, which is more often than not the manifestation of a sugar addiction. This can often lead to irritability and mood swings, “I want pizza, I want it now, nothing else will do”. Working out what these ‘trigger foods’ are is the first step to a lasting solution. Look for the emotional trigger (change in mood) and then slow down the response to sugar. Be aware that this is a need for sugar rather than a genuine hunger and respond accordingly. This can be as simple as having a glass of water, eating an alternative food or ultimately by removing the trigger food from our homes or offices altogether.

When considering small, achievable changes to behaviour Rhaya also favours including small, strenuous bouts of exercise into our daily routines. As mentioned above often we can confuse the need to rest and recharge with the need to eat. Simply taking a short bout of exercise, going for a walk, or even taking a shower when tired, can revitalise the mind and body. Allowing us to return to the task refreshed and renewed. Taking a short break, although seemingly a challenge in a full day, can mean having a more productive end to the day.

If we can build ‘scaffold’ around our behaviours that reinforce our understanding and awareness we can improve our chances when placed in conditions of stress and anxiety. Changing long entrenched habits and behaviours is undoubtedly a challenge. Hence the need to be clear in our objectives and set small, realistic goals.

A seasonal survival guide

To conclude we asked Rhaya for her advice on how we might navigate the choppy waters of Christmas eating to stay healthy, reduce stress and enjoy the season. Expecting the worst, it came as a relief that Rhaya’s first piece of advice was to relax and enjoy it as much as we can, approaching the holiday from a mindset of relaxation and enjoyment rather than guilt and punishment. Rhaya proposed several ways we could build ‘scaffold’ that can help your body enjoy the time off.

On a basic level consider that caffeine and sugar are linked to increased anxiety whereby good quality fats and proteins are linked to reducing anxiety. Rhaya’s first piece of advice was to give yourself some time off. If feeling overfed, take time out and spend an afternoon on broths or water and fruit. If we know there is a rich, sugary meal planned later in the day, prepare at the start of the day with a high protein breakfast (e.g., scrambled eggs and smoked salmon). As a rule, taking in good fats and proteins at breakfast, at a time that suits you best, (that could mean mid or early morning) will set us up nicely for the rest of the day. To help stabilise our blood sugar levels throughout the day and have a light lunch in preparation for a large evening meal. Rhaya also advised having some probiotics (e.g., Rhamnosus), B Vitamins and Milk Thistle to hand to help nurture our gut flora, protect our liver, and reduce anxiety If thinking of going alcohol free, make it interesting and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

Key Considerations

  • ‘Gut instinct’ is not a metaphor, what we eat affects how we feel, think and act.
  • Preserving the serotonin in our gut can act in a similar fashion to an antidepressant.
  • Avoid eating sugary snacks when bored. Take a short break instead.
  • Get curious about your diet. Work out what food makes you feel good. Try Food Tracking to take note of the correlation between your food intake and your mood.
  • Avoid restrictive diets, instead try making small realistic changes to your diet.
  • Don’t feel bound to three meals a day. Structure your mealtimes to when you feel hungry and your working patterns.
  • Treat yourself but make them a healthy alternative.
  • Slow your food intake, eat more slowly, or try eating with your non dominant hand.
  • Caffeine + sugar = increased anxiety

Good fats (e.g. nuts, nut butter, avocados, olive oil) + protein = decreased anxiety

  • If you want a mince pie that’s fine but balance it later in the day by eating plenty of vegetables.
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Hospitality Resilience Series Session 1

The outbreak of Covid-19 and its considerable impact on the hospitality sector has brought issues such as employee engagement, mental health, leadership practices and organisational development into sharp focus. As we continue to feel the effects of the pandemic, it is more important than ever to build our personal resilience and inner immunity. Throughout this series we will challenge the existing mindset, provide personal insight, discuss practical solutions and provide a forum for shared experience that helps build a personal solution.  

Presented here is a video of the first session in the Hospitality Resilience Series as Sean Worker, author of The Adapters, shares the results of his extensive research examining the importance of adaptability and leadership best practice in the hospitality industry.

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Changing the Language of Leadership

The ‘Next Now’

The recent pandemic may well prove to be the biggest catalyst for change within the workplace for a generation. Leadership styles have been scrutinised and, in many instances, found wanting. For every leader that has provided reassurance and guidance to their workforce there have been those who have remained inflexible, lacked empathy, and failed to address the uncertainty surrounding their organisation. As the way we conduct business and the fabric of the workplace evolves, the relevance of previous leadership styles is being brought into question. Those who continue to pursue a ‘Command and Control’ style may well find themselves increasingly at odds with their workforce and struggling to overcome future challenges.

The author and founder of NewStories, Bob Stilger suggests that this is not the ‘new normal’, it is the ‘next now’1, and as such it is a chance to reconsider old structures and embrace transformation. What seemed impossible a few months ago now looks possible. Despite the current climate of uncertainty, for those leaders who choose to embrace difficulty, accept the challenges facing them and start to examine the structural elements required to make lasting and effective change there is an opportunity to evolve the language of leadership, adapting it to meet the new ways of working and in turn creating productive, engaged, resilient teams ready to overcome future challenges. 

This article brings together some startling conclusions from a recent Gallup Survey of the Global Workplace as well as observations from the recent Coaches Rising Summit2 where thought leaders from across the globe discussed the current challenges to leadership, coaching and the mental and physical wellbeing of the global population. Whilst this article only briefly covers their theories and propositions, (for further reading please see the Reference section at the end of the article) for those looking at how they might adapt their leadership style, strengthen their organisation, or learn from recent events, the theories and practices discussed provide insight and practical guidance.

The Need for Change

A recent Gallup survey looking at the State of the Global Workforce found that 85% of employees worldwide were not engaged, or were actively disengaged in their job3, and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic forced a seismic shift in workplace behaviour and attitudes. Global GDP has sat at around 3% since 2012. Employee engagement remains low (10% in W. Europe, 6% in Asia) and organisations have been slow to react to the rapidly changing business environment as a result of factors including; progress in IT, globalisation of markets for products and services, the rise of the gig economy and the unique expectations of the young workforce.

Resistance to change is common and leaders who let traditional practices remain in place often become roadblocks to motivation and productivity4. In the US where progressive management practices have been in operation for a few years the level of engagement is higher (33%) suggesting that organisations that focus on the basic human need for psychological engagement (e.g. creating positive workplace relationships, management recognition, ongoing performance conversations and opportunities for personal development) are getting more out of their employees. Traditional forms of ‘Command and Control’ leadership stifle productivity whereas encouraging practices that allow employees to play to their inherent strengths leads to increased engagement and productivity. 50,000 companies across 45 countries saw sales rise by 10-19% and profits by 14-29% where groups received strengths training and awareness (e.g. psychometric profiling)5. As Gallup Chairman and CEO, Jim Clifton sees it, organisations need to focus on delivering employee development (not satisfaction), use strength based management practices and move the mission from ‘paycheque to purpose’.  

From Individualism to Collaboration

Peter Hawkins, Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School refers to the need to let go of ‘the Culture of Individualism’, whereby the leader is solely responsible for decision making, and adopt a more collaborative, open approach towards utilising the collective intelligence of the team. Agreeing together on what the purpose and vision of the organisation is brings with it a renewed sense of engagement and ownership within the workplace. Encouraging autonomy, authority, and choice at all levels within the organisation encourages individuals to take responsibility, think creatively and consult more freely when considering solutions which in turn leads to a more supportive and resilient organisation. For leaders with long standing experience and practice in the traditional ‘Command and Control’ form of leadership this shift in mindset can be unsettling and challenging.   

So how should leaders approach such a demanding topic? Bob Stilger talks about the leadership conversation having three levels:

  • Level 1. Shifting Mindset. An initial shift in consciousness, mindset, and world view
  • Level 2. Developing skills and competencies to nurture learning and growth
  • Level 3. Create structures, practices, and processes to support this new view

To best understand and prepare for this new style of leadership requires a deeper understanding of each level.

Shifting Mindset – You can’t get a new ‘what’ from the same ‘how’

Embodied Change

A number of years ago it was predicted that ‘Black Swan’ events, (such as the current Covid-19 pandemic) would become more frequent and that organisations needed to look at ways of becoming more resilient and prepared for sudden, dramatic change. To be truly effective however, requires the leadership mindset to support it. Lasting change can only happen if it is embodied change. Therefore to achieve a substantial shift in organisational practices and process, change must first happen at an individual level. As Paul Byrne, European Director of the Leadership Circle6 puts it, “ask yourself the question – are your leadership and team principles able to cope with existing and future challenges?” It is all well and good enabling ‘Agile’ working practices but if the purpose and vision of the organisation is not shared by the leadership team then there is a disconnect or as Dr. Tammy Lowry, Global Head of Talent at Roche, states, “you can’t get transformation at the organisational level without achieving transformation at the individual level”.

Awareness and Acceptance

Transformative coach, Nicholas Janni7 stresses the importance of the need for leaders to be fully coherent, where coherence is seen as all parts of the being; mind, body and heart are connected. Otto Scharmer8 describes this as the need to break down ‘the wall’ that separates us from ourselves. The need to become aware of our blind spots, (i.e. not seeing an issue, not feeling an issue, seeing and feeling an issue but not acting) accessing our ignorance, vulnerability and discomfort around these blind spots and accepting the need for help. Taking this initial step towards a level of self-understanding and acceptance through the various means on offer (reflection, coaching, mentoring, meditation etc) requires an open mind, an inquisitive and creative nature, compassionate thinking and a willingness to learn and embrace the unknown. This is not without challenge and takes time, perseverance and practice but can ultimately lead to a more subtle, precise form of integrated leadership that gives renewed purpose and creativity to teams.  

The Power of Purpose

Widespread understanding of the Vision and Purpose of an organisation has always been important but as current conditions place increased stress on the workforce and the business environment so reminding those we work with why we are working and providing them with a deeper sense of purpose becomes ever more critical. Leaders need to ensure that they are not only aware of the purpose and vision of the organisation but also of their team on an individual level. To the incoming generation joining the workforce, there is a need for coherent leaders able to perceive the complexity of global issues, acknowledge the multiple perspectives of those issues and give equal relevance to both the internal indicators (people) and the external indicators (profit) of the business9.  Leaders who are truly aligned to a purpose and vision can set a course through which goals are accomplished and rewards achieved.

Developing skills & competencies

The Neuroscience of Leadership

Studies into the neuroscience of coherent or resonant leadership have been undertaken for decades. Recent work by Richard Boyatzis and Amanda Blake10 however, afford some fascinating insights into the skills required of modern leaders. The effects of positive (PEA) and negative (NEA) emotional attractors can significantly impact the productivity of a leader’s team. For a leader to get the most from their team they must develop the skills to harness the power of both PEA and NEA.

Different situations require a different leadership approach. For example, if the desire is to encourage ideas and creativity, adopting an open PEA mindset and offering others the opportunity to partake in problem solving will have a higher instance of success. Whereas if the desire is to achieve specific goals and objectives within a given timeframe this requires a more analytical, or NEA, mindset, discouraging collaboration in favour of the attainment of goals. It takes the skill of a coherent leader to assess the situation and determine which is the most appropriate approach.

Both forms of emotional attractors can significantly impact the mood or behaviour of the team. Emotional transference or contagion is commonplace within teams, whereby consistent positive or negative behaviour by a leader will affect those around them. A leader should be aware of the impact of this and manage their behaviour accordingly. Being aware of triggers for PEA and NEA behaviour will allow the leader to harness that awareness and convert it into real change.    

A new approach to Problem Solving

In his presentation, Jim Dethmer looked at Michael Beckwith’s concept of the Four States of Consciousness and how most conversations are formed by content and context11. All too often leaders approach conversations by content (e.g. what are we talking about?). As we move towards a more open, empathetic form of leadership however, so there is a need to see the context of the conversation as being equally important (e.g. from what state of mind are we having this conversation?).

Many conversations are driven by the ‘Victim’ consciousness, whereby life is a series of problems to tackle, and the person is the victim of these problems and the environment that created them. This is often driven by a strong egoic need to be right (and to prove others wrong) hence a lack of empathy and understanding. If leaders can move to a more ‘Creator’ driven state of consciousness influenced by curiosity rather than righteousness, (i.e. ‘what happens if I look at this problem differently?’) there is a chance they will view problems as an invitation to learn rather than something to solve. This fits with the more collaborative, inquisitive, and open minded approach to leadership asking others to give advice and seeking alternative sources of information other than their own experience or intuition.

Amy Fox, CEO of Mobius Executive Leadership12 suggests it is no longer valid to approach problem solving as a need to break the problem down to its component parts and then examine them individually, so often they are inextricably linked and must therefore be approached as a whole. She describes this as ‘patchwork thinking’ or the need for a more holistic approach; to find the thread that joins it all. This requires leaders to embrace the complexity of the problem and realise that its solution is in the understanding of how the parts are related.

Creating Structures, Practices & Processes

What does an organisation need to have in place to support this new way of thinking? As discussed, it starts with a detailed examination of the leadership profile within the organisation with a view to challenging existing behaviours and attitudes. Exploring and gathering feedback from the stakeholders at all levels of the organisation, asking questions such as ‘how has the business changed?’, ‘is what we do now, right for the business and its stakeholders?’, ‘what has changed for them?’ and ‘what is coming next?’ will lead to greater insight of the organisation’s current thinking and future requirements.

Systemic Practices

In their book, Systemic Coaching – Delivering Value Beyond the Individual, Peter Hawkins and Eve Turner13 suggest the need for a move towards Systemic Coaching practices. A Systemic relationship is a collaborative dialogue between two or more people exploring ways they can learn and develop in relation to the environment within which they are embedded. Be it a micro (workplace) or macro (global) environment. It recognises that we are part of a system that involves many stakeholders (e.g. colleagues, managers, clients, suppliers, customers etc.) and the importance of addressing topics from the standpoint of those stakeholders as well as from the individual.

For organisations this means that leaders must not only address the need for a more collaborative relationship with their co-workers but also recognise and bring into discussion the needs of their stakeholders, essentially moving from a diadic to a triadic relationship. This process takes into consideration the effects of their actions not just for the good of the company but for the good of their stakeholders and the wider national and international environment. Hawkins and Turner go on to explain the need to ‘unlearn’ certain habits and practices in favour of adopting new ways of working, such as more collaborative forms of conversation and listening. This also recognises the increasingly important role of the leader in steering their organisation towards more environmentally astute practices and processes. Hawkins and Turner suggest a process for achieving this change:

Put simply, they encourage us to become more curious, inquisitive, and informed, thereby achieving a level of awareness that in turn leads to engagement and ultimately into action and change. In this instance towards ecological advances but the same cyclical learning could be applied to all areas within an organisation where it is necessary to learn new practices, processes, and systems.

Team Structures – The Jazz Model

According to Greg Thomas and Jewel Kinch-Thomas the key elements to a successful jazz ensemble are adaption, agility, flexibility, fluidity, and innovation14. Elements, it can be said, that should be found in a successful team in the workplace.

They suggest that the key jazz principles of; individual excellence, antagonistic co-operation, shared leadership, and ensemble mindset can be used to set the agenda for modern leadership practices. As before there is a need to recognise the different roles within a team (Thomas & Kinch-Thomas determine key roles as; improver, innovator, stabiliser and integrator) but they advance existing thinking suggesting the need for these roles to integrate further than previous practices have suggested and for leaders to listen more acutely to their team, to be active, empathetic and generative (listening with an open heart and will). Encouraging a process of antagonistic co-operation and challenge can lead to greater innovation, ownership initiative and shared leadership. Which in turn can lead to greater engagement, trust, and productivity. A leader who has the courage to challenge the old systems and practices around teamwork, can develop their people and organisation towards greater flexibility and resilience for future challenges.   

Scaffold, not solutions

Creator of the Cynefin Framework, David Snowden15 sees resilience as ‘the surviving continuity of identity over time’. For organisations to ensure the survival of identity in uncertain times he suggests the need to create awareness of the present, not the future. Where it is difficult to predict the future the best, we can do is to start a journey with a general sense of direction rather than a strict set of goals. If you cannot define the structure of your organisation in relation to the changing environment it finds itself in, then focus on building ‘scaffold’ instead to support it. That is to say that by focusing on the elements of the organisation within a leader’s control, (rather than those forces out of their control) they can maintain a focussed strategy and build resilience. By reviewing the processes, resources, procedures, and frameworks of the business they are able to reinforce the organisation in readiness to face whatever changes arise in the business environment.  

Snowden highlights the need to reduce the degrees of separation within an organisation and focus on building informal networks and increased connectivity wherein more can be achieved. The formation of small groups with overlapping membership can improve connectivity, creativity, discussion and ultimately improve performance. Allied to this is the concept of collaboration, working as more free thinking teams rather than groups reliant upon individual leaders. Leaders should share knowledge and distribute decision making.  


For many the suggestion of embracing a more empathetic form of leadership, allowing greater employee input, and enabling autonomy poses an overwhelming challenge to their current understanding of leadership. Changing this mindset, however, need not be the impossible task it seems at first to be. Whilst accepting there is a need for change, great leaders understand the need to develop flexible strategies and recognise the differing and unique perspectives of their business and workforce.

As discussed, the process of change should start at an individual level. Using coaching or developmental programmes, leaders at all levels within an organisation should be invited to explore and develop their own leadership style and establish a clarity of thought and awareness around it. Leaders will then be able to move on and assess the needs of their team, the organisation and its environment with the skills, confidence and assurance required. By fostering this attitude on a team level organisations can apply it more broadly by encouraging inquisitiveness and dialogue around their vision and purpose and then gradually moving towards more collaborative, autonomous systems that empower the workforce, bond them to the organisation and provide them with the support and encouragement to become the most productive element of the organisation. To achieve realistic and enduring change takes time and should be undertaken as a series of gradual steps rather than giant leaps. What works for one organisation will not work for every organisation.

Ultimately, enhancing employee engagement can only be good for society. Increased productivity leads to greater social stability and higher standards of living as people achieve financial stability, self-worth, and optimism about the future. 

Key points

  1. This is a chance to reconsider old structure and embrace transformation
  2. Organisations that focus on the basic human need for psychological engagement get more out of their employees
  3. Change mindset, from culture of individualism to collaboration
  4. Lasting, embodied change starts at the individual level before moving to the team and throughout the organisation
  5. Awareness and acceptance are the first steps to becoming a coherent leader. Accept ignorance, vulnerability, and discomfort
  6. Systemic thinking. Consider the perspectives of all the stakeholders in the organisation, both internal and external   
  7. Different situations require different leadership styles. Assess the situation and determine the appropriate response
  8. Adopt a more holistic approach to problem solving. Embrace the complexity of the problem
  9. Listen more acutely to the team. Be active, empathetic, and generative
  10. Encourage antagonistic co-operation and challenge to increase innovation and engagement within a team
  11.  In times of uncertainty do not set rigid goals. Instead improve resilience by building ‘scaffold’ around the organisation
  12. Realise the need for flexible strategies to suit the needs of the organisation and situation – one size does not fit all. 



  1. Bob Stilger

2. Coaches Rising Summit 2020

3. State of the Global Workplace Survey, Gallup 2017

4. Ibid

5. Ibid

6. Paul Byrne

7. Nicholas Janni

8. Otto Scharmer

9. Holly Woods

10. Richard Boyatzis & Amanda Blake

11. Jim Dethmer

12. Amy Elizabeth Fox

13. Peter Hawkins & Eve Turner

14. Greg Thomas & Jewel Kinch-Thomas

15. David Snowden

If you would like to discuss any of the points in this article or explore the ways in which coaching might assist you or your business, please get in touch.

Jon Hazan is the Director of Atlas Coaching and has worked in the field of team development and leadership for over eighteen years.

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