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A New Platform of Success

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A case study first published in “Coaching Skills for Leaders in the Workplace: How to Motivate and Get the Best from Your Staff”, by Jackie Arnold.

This case study was first published in “Coaching Skills for Leaders in the Workplace: How to Motivate and Get the Best from Your Staff”, by Jackie Arnold.

Lizz Clarke is the Managing Director of Logical Creative Marketing (LCM), one of Hampshire’s leading PR, marketing and design agencies. She has built this business from scratch over the past 19 years and has had to face up to lots of different challenges along the way, as she’s developed the business from a ‘one-man band’ to a company which employs 10 members of staff and has a turnover of nearly £1 million per annum.

I first coached Lizz (using Clean Language) five years ago. At this time she had two members of staff as well as people she outsourced work to. During one session, she spoke about being scatterbrained, and I asked a few questions to develop this metaphor:

“It’s like there are scatters of seeds flying round in my head and I would like to feel more relaxed and in control. But it’s like there’s a small white fan whipping things up, fast and randomly. There could be between 10 and 50 seeds at any one time. And most of them are not labelled and a big seed could leap up and say: ‘You’ve got to do me tomorrow’. I want to have a place for everything and everything in its place.”

These realisations led Lizz to make some changes, and in a subsequent session, Lizz told me:

“I love my seeds now. I know their names and where they are. And when there are some flying about, they are slightly bigger now and I can catch them. They take less than five minutes to list and everything I need is in a folder on my desk. I am also beginning to realise that other people can make them grow. I am nowhere near as worried about each day.”

And in the next session:

“I am worried about keeping this new pattern up. I am eager to find out how I can establish the new pattern. The seeds are still a little bit fly away. They are not pinned down. There needs to be a link between the seeds and the core of the business. I need a landing stage. It’s like I am growing the seeds into rush matting – but I can’t stand and jump on it because it’s not knitted together. I need to stop and knit it together. I need to think a bit more about what I’ve been doing, and put more bits of rush in. I could have more than one place where I can make seeds grow – so I can grow another bit of rush matting. I can see that there will be lots of stages: some small and some big, significant ones. I want it to be big, but I need to be secure on this stage first.”

I asked Lizz what needed to happen for the rush matting to grow bigger and for her to be more secure on this stage?

“I need to get more organised with communications in the office. I need to let some of the work go. I need keep some kind of caring handle on it, but I don’t need to know the detail. They need to feel I am interested. I need some way to monitor what’s going on – we need a new accountancy firm with monthly reports so I can check what’s happening. I need my staff to create weekly progress reports. I need a proper appraisal system. I want ‘corporate’ rush matting.”

We discussed the above plans in more detail – and with this plan in place, Lizz felt she didn’t need further coaching at that time. Recently, however, Lizz contacted me for another Clean Coaching session…

At the start of the session, Lizz outlined three things that were on her mind: developing a long term vision and business strategy, restructuring, and developing a score card for the business which will allow them to measure five or six things, constantly. When I asked her what she would like to have happen, she envisioned a scenario where she doesn’t do client work at LCM any more. Instead she chairs meetings where those who report to her come and tell her where they are on the score card, and they discuss deviations and what can be or (ideally) is being done about them. This is like being on the bridge of a ship, with five or six dials that let everyone know what adjustments to make. Getting the business ‘shipshape’ like this will allow Lizz to do what she really wants: put what she has learned into practice with another business, invest in property and have time off.

As well as the ‘ship’ metaphor, two other metaphors appeared which warranted further exploration…

“I feel like the Incredible Hulk, stretching out of my clothes. I have been told about ‘letting go’ by people; now I am beginning to know it. I can glimpse it and I am convinced that within a few months the picture will be clear.”

The Incredible Hulk represented thinking different things, and old habits falling away. (Lizz had got into a habit of hiding from going forward by busying herserlf with ironing and crosswords. She’d been complacent and had become uncomfortable with a feeling that everything was standing still.) Now, she felt that freedom was coming.

I asked where she felt that…

“It’s coming into my head – a white / yellow light.”

And where was it coming from?

“From the universe (she pointed up and in front of her), down and into the front of my head – just going in and cleaning bits up.”

Lizz experienced the light as powerful, giving and gushing.

“Oh! I can’t take it in all at once. It will sweep me away… I need to be able to control it – and I can control it.”

How did Lizz know she could control it?

“All I have to do is turn my face away from the light, and take a rest.”

This would involve ironing and crosswords – and long soaks in the bath – but now it wouldn’t be mindless hiding, it would have a purpose… to rest from the light.

“And I won’t be doing it much.”

And a when a light could go into her head and clean bits up, what kind of ‘clean bits up’ was that?

“Exhausting. I have to spend a lot of time with people with more expertise than me, them explaining so I can see things more clearly, and it can be arduous. The meeting I had yesterday (where explaining was happening) was like wading through treacle. There have been challenges all my life, but this is different. I have to understand detailed concepts and then apply them to help other people to change their behaviour. But the glimpse of the picture keeps me going.”

Where was the glimpse?

“To the right and up. I am not looking at the glimpse for a picture. Oh, that is where the light is coming from (not ahead). I am pulling it into me. It is tiring and exhausting. It is half good and half bad. I am excited by the knowledge but frightened by the arduousness of it.”

So when it’s half good and half bad, what would Lizz like to have happen?

“I’d rather like it if I could be more in control of the cycle. And I’d like to tidy up my personal life, too. My home, my physical fitness. As I stretch, the light is coming in and it’s not all for work. I want to support my son better. I could use the five dials for home things as well. When I was pushing the company ahead before, I could always fit things in: I had lots of energy.”

Although the metaphors were different, it seemed to me as if there were some similarities between Lizz’s current situation and what we had been discussing five years ago. Both times, Lizz was talking about ‘bits’ in her mind, and both times she was envisioning builing a bigger business and letting go. (I was able to recall this because metaphors are very memorable, and capture the structure of someone’s thought processes rather than the content.) So I asked Lizz whether there was a relationship between the light and the rush matting.

“Yes, there is. The rush matting is now very firm. I have built lots of steps since then, and they are solid. I am not worried about the next step. I know I can build it. They (the people who work in the company) are building it. They build it for me to walk on. I think I need to give them the rush matting pattern. What they are building is solid but not pretty. They are each building their own bit, and the bits are solid, the joins are fairly solid, but it could fall apart. I need them all to do the score card pattern. And creating a vision is the context for the pattern. It is like when you buy a duvet cover and in the corner of the packaging, there’s a picture of how the whole cover looks on the bed: you can see the whole thing and the pattern. And everyone else can see it as well. When we are two or three steps further up the rush matting and the pattern is strong, the company will be able to live on in its own right.”

Lizz was already working on the score card and so needed to continue with that and with her long term business strategy and restructuring. So what difference did this session make to Lizz?

“Now I know where the light is, it feels like an entity and that I have some control over it. I can turn away from it and I can decide to let some light in. The meeting I went to yesterday felt like I was swimming in treacle; it was hard to move forward. Now I will think of meetings like that as ‘light meetings’. I will just let the light in. And I can have light time anywhere – at my PC, for example. The study is full of clutter and the room is dark and dingy but if I allow the light to flood in, it gives me energy. That’s the main difference. I was feeling a bit hopeless and depressed. Then I went to the light – and it lit everything. I will have energy for my home, my physical fitness, my family and my work.”

Within a week of the session, Lizz contacted me to tell me that she had:

  • a tidy home office
  • sorted out her son’s homework schedule
  • had an induction session at a gym two minutes’ walk away from her main office
  • had two discussions with one of the people that she previously felt exhausted by and both times had felt energised instead.

“I am about to go into another of this sort of meeting and I realise my attitude is very enthusiastic rather than ‘girding my loins’ so I imagine the outcome will be different. It amazes me how much personal development I have done and how, each time I reach a new platform of success, I need to learn anew!”

Photo by Joshua Golde on Unsplash


About Marian Way

Marian Way's avatar

A highly skilled facilitator and trainer, Marian, who founded Clean Learning in 2001, has developed and delivered training across the world. She is the author of Clean Approaches for Coaches, co-author, with James Lawley, of Insights in Space and co-author, with Caitlin Walker, of So you want to be… #DramaFree.

Marian is an expert Clean facilitator, an adept modeller, a programme writer and an inspirational trainer. She has a natural ability to model existing structures, find the connections between them and design new ways for people to learn. Marian was a leading innovator within the Weight Watchers organisation, which included developing the “points” strategy, a local idea that went on to become a global innovation. She is a director of both Clean Learning and Training Attention CIC, world leaders in clean applications for corporate, educational and community development. She designs our programmes and workbooks, leads workshops and teaches on all our courses. She’s trained people in Great Britain, Russia, Sweden, Germany, Australia, Japan and the USA. Marian is also a recognised Clean Assessor.


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