When I first met Bernard, the MD of Huthwaite, he had trouble getting his head round the concept of putting ‘happiness first’. I asked him if he’d ever seen an anxious or depressed baby. No. because when we are born all we really are is a bundle of joy. In our life, first comes happiness. Happiness is who (and how) we really are. The tragedy is how so rapidly, and effectively the pure, original state of happiness gets covered up – or as Shakespeare puts it ‘sicklied o’er with the pale caste of thought’. This, as you’ll see, planted a seed in me for the intervention I was about to be briefed on.
As it happened the Shakespeare reference was apt. Bernard surprised me by openly declaring he was not interested in increasing sales revenue or profitability – business was really good. He actually said he wanted things to be ‘happier’ around the place.
The problem was really about how ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. The partners had been together for over 20 years. Irritations, squabbles, disagreements, and personality clashes had all been ‘sicklied over’ in the interests of ‘getting on with the job in hand’. Unresolved and unforgiven, the detritus of relationshipping had accumulated into a massive pile of submerged crud. AKA ‘resentment’. It was making them all scratchy, impatient and miserable. They were all paying a high personal price for delivering work and making money.
The board had already agreed in principle to having a 5-day retreat in a nice hotel near Chester. They were looking for ‘the right person’ to design and lead the event.
I’d got in front of him because I had already been a client of their famous ‘SPIN’ sales training work. I’d become close with one of the trainers who had also come to one of my ropes-based leadership workshops in the days before horses. (No, not 65 million years BC, but before I had discovered the extraordinary power of working with horses on leadership.)
We definitely clicked. He asked me to submit a proposal. I said ‘no’. Proposals might look like the professional thing to do first – but they can so often be the kiss of death. The first step for me was to spend a couple of days with them in Yorkshire and gently tenderise each of the participants for an hour or so. Then I’d do a design, but probably would not tell them much about it.
Did he trust me enough to go for it? Did he trust himself enough to trust me?
The big smile on my face as I drove home said ‘yes’.
I put together a short questionnaire, gave them each 5-10 mins on the phone, and when I arrived at Huthwaite it was a warm-ish encounter. Just as well. I was still greeted with a fair degree of suspicion, hostility and ‘prove-it-to-me-ness’. Of course, one guy in particular (nicknamed the ‘Rottweiler’) was minus-five on the ‘willingness-to-participate’ scale. There’s always one, isn’t there!
The trouble with resentment is it makes us feel ‘righteous’ – by virtue of ‘them’ being ‘wrong’. Righteous indignation is a major-league addictive drug. It slowly kills you while making you feel like a holy martyr – ‘I’m dying for a good cause – making you feel guilty for all the evil deeds you’ve done!’
It was a very tough couple of days. I felt I’d underestimated the depth of the problem and undervalued the height of my consulting fee. However, a few weeks later, with a couple of trusted co-facilitators, we all met up in said 5-star hotel in Chester.
Ever since I began coaching Top Teams in 1985, I have been unfailingly guided by the same 2-selves (TRUE-FALSE) model of consciousness. The development strategy roughly involves the following steps:
1. First acknowledge the FALSE, the negative feelings, thoughts and self-talk.
2. Drill down to the core self-beliefs driving the negative behaviours and evaluate their verity.
3. Take a risk and break through the comfort zone protecting your false self-image where the original state of happiness resides.
4. Anchor the newly realised state.
5. Expand, challenge and stabilise it.
6. Determine practical next steps.
With the luxury of 5-days to play with, I mixed ingredients including: a ropes course to bring the fears and self-doubts to the surface; a day of psychodrama where they all shared their true selves through personal stories in a dramatic form; and a visit to a nearby children’s ward so they’d have to risk bypassing their minds and inhibitions to communicate authentically with kids in dire need.
When people are given a safe space, a workshop like this becomes an extraordinary, life-changing crucible of understanding and support – resentment and petty differences simply dissolve. One man had acted out and began to heal the moment he witnessed his wife’s fatal skiing accident. A colleague shared an equally moving event when she rescued her dying child and took him to A&E – and yes, this was the same hospital to which I had (unknowingly) arranged the visit!!
This is what some of them said about their experience:
‘I rediscovered parts of myself I really liked. Paul’s programme surpassed all my hopes and expectations for the relationships in the team. And back home I also found myself relating much better with my children! You, the facilitators are beautiful and remarkable people. I feel fortunate to have met and worked with you.’ – Bernard Midgley, Managing Director.
‘We rebuilt our sense of community here. I feel relief at actually being me again. I have gained a broadened perspective of my own choices and personal accountability – and learned to be more realistic in my expectations of others and my own commitments. I can now let go and risk a lot more. You (the facilitators) have great courage and caring for the real selves we weren’t seeing too clearly.’ – Simon Bailey, Director.
‘I experienced release. Renewal. Insight. Closeness and connection with my friends and colleagues. Compassion. Less judging, and lots, lots more. I’ve learned ‘I can and I will’.
It was a powerful experience that has released new possibilities for the team. An di had a magical conversation with my daughter, Rachel, assisted, I’m sure, by my heightened sense of awareness. Thank you Paul and your team for truly serving us and showing great strength and wholeness.’ – Val Bardsley, Director, Management Skills Division.
‘I saw the way to finding my true self. You were great.’ – Nick Anderson, Open Markets Mgr.