As you well know, this past November, our latest Easy Breezy Coaching Business Bootcamp ended.
We’re proud to present you Svea Van der Hoorn, one of our Top 10 students in this past session—the “cum laude” of the bunch who launched her businesses with our support and who is now thriving!
5 People Who Inspired Me – And Still Provide Me with Fuel To This Day
It’s the start of a new year. The time to think ahead. That time when we’re encouraged to get ambitious, set goals, reach for the stars. Well, for the next 5 minutes, I’d like to ask you to resist that urge. Instead look backwards, and downwards. Allow the people on whose shoulders you stand to re-inspire you for the year ahead. As you read about 5 people who inspired me, become aware of the energy you already carry within you, the fuel that you already have available to rise up to meet whatever lies before you in this new year.
1. The school principal who practiced deep democracy before it had been invented
She strode across the playground, a small, slender-framed woman dressed in her white habit and black wimple – Mother Joan. She could have been a character from The Sound of Music, but she was my primary school principal. Vibrant. Tenacious. A pragmatic idealist. Committed to weaving a social fabric of dignity and respect amongst all who worked and played at her school. Teachers and pupils alike.
“What’s happening here?” she’d say, taking us by surprise as she appeared as if from nowhere. “What’s the matter?” she asked the crying 8 year old. “They won’t let me play with them” the girl wailed. “Yes, but she interfered with our skipping game” protested another. “Girls, girls, girls. Slow down. Eyes up. Look at me. This is not the way we go about letting each other know how we feel”. Holding each child’s gaze for a moment, she then asked “so who can tell me about how she is feeling and what needs to happen to put things right amongst you?” A quiet girl lifted her chin and said “I feel upset. The skipping game was nearly won and then she messed it up. I was so close to beating the record”. The small white figure stepped closer to the upset girl placing herself as a bridge connecting the two. With a small delicate hand she gestured to the alleged transgressor standing sulking, but no longer wailing. “So you’re upset at what she did. Please tell her how you feel. And also tell her what you’d like, so that things will be alright enough for the game to continue”. A longish pause ensued in which no one interrupted. We felt as if Mother Joan’s eyes were looking at us all simultaneously. Not punitively but reassuringly. “I’m upset. I wanted to go for the record. You messed up our game just when it was so exciting. I want another go and I want you to sit out.” All Mother Joan asked was “Done?” with one eyebrow lifted higher than the other. A nod. Then it was the wailer’s turn. We didn’t like the wailer much. “I asked and asked for a turn and she just kept on jumping. She wouldn’t let me have a turn. I got cross.’ And then the surprise happened. ‘I’d like you both to sit out for at least two turns. Sit nearby each other. While the others are skipping, talk about this a bit more, just enough so you can get back to playing together again. When you are BOTH ready to do that, feel free to get up and start joining in. And girls, when they are ready you let them do some double skipping together.” And with a small smile, she was gone.
Give people a framework, some time and some space, and a way to get back on track, and leave them to it.
2. The teacher who knew that learning is a multi-faceted opportunity to dabble in diversity
She announced that we were going to be learning about the locust for the next few days. Then she announced that we were going to be learning about the locust in different ways. She asked us to listen carefully and decide in which group we’d like to be. All groups would be presenting what they had learned to the class the following week. The choices were:
- Going to the library and looking up information
- Heading to the top corner of the field and searching for live locusts to observe in their natural habitat
- Spending time in the art corner drawing pictures of locusts
- Gathering in the small hall to prepare a play with a locust as the main character
- Going to interview the school gardeners
We spent some hours over the next days gathering information and preparing our presentations. Each group took their turn. Then the magic started.
As a class we were asked: “What did you learn about the locust from the library group, that only the library group could tell us about?
What did you learn about the locusts from watching the play, that only the drama group could have let you know about the locust?
And so on. Followed by more discussion about what it was about the method of learning that made it possible to get to know something particular about the locust that was hidden if looking from a different perspective.
How you approach a topic both opens up and closes down what you can learn about that topic
3. The man who knew the value of routine
I’d heard a sudden tinkle and looked up. His wife sat slumped forward in her deckchair, the glass no longer holding her lunchtime mint drink, rolling slowly across the flagstones. A strange raspy sound alerted us that all was not well. An expanding puddle of urine mixing with the spilled drink told me something was very wrong. We carried her to the day bed in the shade on the verandah, and sat with her as she left this life – shocked and silent at this event that was turning our lives upside down.
Later we made our way home, each isolated in grief and a myriad of questions to which there never were to be answers.
In the morning after his wife’s passing, I apprehensively approached his kitchen where they’d usually had breakfast each day. Expecting a silent empty room, I was taken aback. There, quietly poaching his usual egg while the toaster popped his half slice of toast, he stood. Somehow smaller, somehow duller, and yet getting on with his morning routine.
A week later, I again went by in the early morning – just to satisfy myself that he truly was ok. This time I dared to ask him “How do you think you are going to manage?” “I have no idea” he said. “What I do know is that I know how to get up each day and make an egg with half a slice of toast. I do know how to go to the library each Tuesday and return and select more books. I know how to take the dog for a walk before the sun sets each evening. So, I guess I will keep doing the things I know how to do until I start to know how to do this thing that I have no idea how to do’. He lifted a toast soldier, dipped it into the egg yolk, and took a small bite. Crunch, chew, swallow. Next piece.
When in turmoil, keep doing what is familiar until what is disturbing loses some of its sharp edges.
4. The coach who wanted to expand her vulnerability in order to achieve excellence
‘I really struggle with finding the right words. My words just won’t come out sometimes’, she said as a way of explaining why she had decided to embark on coaching supervision. There were many pauses and ‘ums’ as she made this statement. Signs that we were in for a challenging and interesting ride. ‘What approach to coaching have you been using up to now?’ I asked. She told me about her training in an approach rich in names for concepts, and with phrases for describing processes. Hmmm, thought I. ‘She wants to exchange the ease of drawing on a ready made vocabulary, for the stress of having to consider and select each word deliberately with only the topic and the client’s preferred language patterns to guide her. Interesting coach this one. I look forward to hearing more about her good reasons for wanting to set herself the task of becoming excellent in the area she describes as her vulnerability.’
We met about 10 times across two years. Each time she brought a piece of her coaching. Each time we reflected on small shifts in her language that she was experimenting with in order to be of better service to her clients. With each experiment, for example, replacing ‘but’ with ‘and’, she unfolded more and more sophisticated understanding and use of language. Her competence sky-rocketed, her confidence blossomed, her clients received excellent service. Ironically, her fluency did not get much better. But, her potency in asking powerful questions, and her support to her clients’ forward-movement through her summaries was a delight to witness.
Fluency is not a necessary characteristic of masterful coaching. Designing questions and statements containing carefully selected words that stay close to the client’s utterances, are.
5. The post-grad student who looked at life through a different lens
They sat with bated breath, waiting for him to speak. He’d attended the developmental psychology module by arriving just in time to sign the register each day. He sat slightly apart, this man – a grown up boy from the other side of the tracks, who’d skipped school to help his granny sell vegetables at market. “I think middle class children are very disadvantaged. If either of their parents is mentally unwell or just difficult, they are captive behind their walls with their big security gates. Not me. I belonged to a whole neighbourhood – in and out of people’s houses. It didn’t matter if dad was drinking too much, or mom was too tired to feed me. There was always a hearth and home with a welcoming grownup to flee to. Not one, but many adults helped me grow up to be a decent man.’ An awkward perturbed silence floated from face to face gazing at him in puzzlement. And so he said it again: ‘I think middle class children are the truly disadvantaged ones in this fractured society of ours.’
It takes a village to raise a child.
Q: As you read, who came to mind? How might the inspiration you created with them, act as fuel for you at the start of this new year? What might you accomplish if you regularly drew on that fuel?
Svea is deeply committed to partnering with capable, forward-thinking woman and men seeking to accomplishing value and quality to create menaningful, impactful, and profitable working lives. As Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has’.
What lights her up about doing this work is that a small tweak here, and some encouragement there can set in motion change which brings improvements beyond what people thought they could create. When people are encouraged to activate their resourcefulness, as well as shift their focus and their language towards solution-building, rather than problem-solving, the impossible can, and does become possible.