Penelope's Story

Reflections on the Meg Wheatley Life Affirming Leadership training course

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived with my yoga mat and comfortable clothing. The pre-work had given me an idea, and reading Meg’s book ‘Who do we choose to be?’ had made me curious and rather excited to meet her and find out more. I suspect the group of strangers who arrived with me were feeling much the same. We were an eclectic mix of ages, life stages, nationalities and experiences and by the end of the week we were formed into a band of Warriors of the Human Spirit, armed with our slogans, techniques and knowledge that we were there for each other.

That week was the last one before social distancing became the norm, we washed our hands singing ‘happy birthday twice’, and had no idea of what was going on in the world outside, or what was to come.

The course focused on arming us with techniques to cope with the battle that have served me well since I returned.

We spent the mornings stretching our minds exploring Meg’s teaching with her as a group. The afternoons were spent developing our understanding of ourselves, working in pairs and smaller groups. The evenings allowed us more social time to build bonds, and activities for deeper reflections.

Over the course of the week we developed our understanding of the leadership needed in the world, and how we might deliver it.

The eleven ‘Warrior slogans’ that emerged have each been relevant at different times.

So how did a week spent with an amazing woman, supported by a great team prepare me and a bunch of strangers for the mayhem that I returned to?

The job I returned to was managing my organisation through an unprecedented crisis a fortnight before Covid 19 lock down became the reality, ensuring the safety of my colleagues and the continued service to our customers.

The focus on Leadership as Service had changed my way of thinking and prepared me really well for this situation.

I approached the task from a different stand point. Rather than thinking I had to have all the answers, I was able to support my team in allowing them to develop these together. I was more able to take a longer perspective, and to appreciate the contribution everyone had to make. I am certain that I had a more motivated team who delivered a better overall response as a result.

I was able to contribute better as I didn’t feel the weight of having to come up with all the answers. This was a difficult change for some in the organisation as they were used to the previous way of working, reliant on the top for the decisions. Instead they got the overall direction and expectation that they could exercise their judgement. This needed some support and is still a work in progress for some.

The question I found myself asking repeatedly was ‘Is this kind?’. As a guiding principle this served me very well. For example, when considering how we would expect colleagues to work from home asking that question helped formulate our response with respect to working patterns, equipment and expectations.

In all the stress of the lock down and response the meditation and self-care techniques I am now practicing have really helped me to maintain my resilience and cope with the difficult situation we are living through, including the grief at the immense loss of life and ways of living.

Overall I would say that this has changed me as a person and a leader and I consider myself to have been fortunate to have had the experience when I did.

Penelope Cooper, May 2020