Stepping out

The do it now post that was the last thing I put on here turned out a bit on the prophetic side, because I decided to do something radical, back then in December 2011, and by July 2012 I had a new business up and running.

I am now concentrating full-time on that new business, Arachne Press. I’m still coaching and running NLP based writing workshops, but only through Arachne, and only coaching and training writers and would-be writers.

So Change from Choice is going into mothballs for the time being. The site will stay up while I still have a contract for it, and then we’ll see.

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Do it NOW

Nearly the end of the year, less than two hours to go.  Have you made a list of resolutions?  I started my list, and I thought, why wait til the 1st?

I started yesterday.

So I’m off to bed, as one of my resolutions is to get enough sleep.

If you are seeing in the new year have fun, try not to wake me!

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What does it mean to be a Professional Certified Coach?

When I got to my emails this afternoon, there was a solstice present which had been sitting there from the night before (apparently the solstice was a day late this year… should we worry?): The ICF have awarded me my PCC!

ICF PCC LogoThis came through much quicker than I expected, so thank you whoever was doing the review and assessment, and thanks also to Jan and Kate and Linda for lovely references, and to all my clients for working with me, and enabling me to clock up enough hours.

Almost inevitably this leads to a moment of reflection.  What does it mean to be a PCC?  It implies a competence which I feel click into place after I’ve been listening to a client for a few minutes; it implies a commitment to the process and ethics of coaching which I am very proud to own.  I think (for me) it implies imagination, and fearlessness and a willingness to go out on a limb and do what’s interesting and challenging and demanding and joyful; to not settle for safe.  With help from my own coach I’m learning to reign in my personal expectations just a little and set a limit on the quantity if not the quality of the outcomes I attribute to my goals, and to learn that good enough for now is sometimes sufficient (Thank you JM).

So I’ve just been editing my profile on the ICF site (can’t work out how to make it say ‘I’m a PCC now!’ but maybe someone else has to do that bit) and decided to go public – I want to be coaching people who are creative – writers, artists, musicians… I ask my clients often enough, what do you really want to do?  It seems like the right time to answer that for myself, pull all my writing and coaching and NLP skills together and make my coaching even more engaging and exciting.

As a starting point I’m running a workshop, which I hope will be the first of many, using NLP as a tool for writers.  The first one will look at (or should that be listen to?) auditory language and is calledWriting With Your Ears. Held at the Blackheath Halls on 29th January 2012 , it is also a collaboration with the Blackheath Orchestra and will use music as a stimulus for writing.

I’m also in the early stages of planning a writing weekend looking at all the senses, and how they can inspire and influence writing, which will be held at Sussex Prairies (a garden I helped plant) in the summer.

I hope to find more eclectic and inspiring venues to run workshops, that reflect my approach to writing … and coaching!  There will be changes and additions to this site over the next month that reflect this shift of focus…

As I said to J.E. about a week ago, I’m off to plant a garden full of metaphors…

© Cherry Potts 2011

Allium, Sussex Prairies © Cherry Potts 2010

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Pace Yourself

Figures on the horizon- pacing themselves or trying to hold up the sky? Copyright Alix Adams 2011

I haven’t been blogging recently, having had some enforced idleness due to two bouts of chest infections in three months. The connection between wheezing coughing and not being able to speak (or ‘General ghastliness’ as my GP described it), and sitting at the computer isn’t immediately obvious, even to me, but there you go, I couldn’t do it. However I’ve been drawn back by an urge to sing the praises of the NHS (Andrew Lansley, keep your hands off!) and the concept of pacing yourself.
So NHS first. My wonderful GP has been incredibly patient with me turning up week after week, and has sent me for blood tests and scans, and been understanding about my complete inability to hold my head up for more than an hour at a time.  I think the NHS is superb and is working better now than it has ever done. Political message over!

I had two interesting conversations this morning about the concept of convalescence having gone out of fashion, the first with my coach (yes I have a coach, of course I do) and the second with my GP.

My GP said that what I really needed was six weeks by the sea with a matron to look after me, and this is so exactly how I feel I could have wept. Ye olde convalescent home not being a possibility she said, “just pace yourself as far as you can”.
Now, for me, driven must-achieve-something kinda gal that I am, this means take the foot of the accelerator and take a rest now and then, cut some of the non essentials out of the calendar (usually the more fun things), and generally calm down. No, not what she meant. What she meant was, do as much as you possibly can, don’t given in to the urge to do nothing.
Interesting, that this actually results in roughly the same amount of activity from completely different perspectives. NLP in action; different realities.

So what is Pacing?
When I think about pacing a client when I’m coaching, it’s mainly about energy and focus, and getting into step emotionally so that I don’t rush, or lag behind where they are in the moment. If I think about applying that to pacing myself, I’m not nearly so considerate, I get impatient and think I ‘ought’ to do more, at the same time as worrying that by doing so I’ll wear myself out. I’m used to being capable and resilient and I don’t like not being.
Talking it through with Claire, my coach, she asked me what my worrying achieved, and how I might worry less.

Strange though this might seem, this is a mindboggling concept for me. NOT worry? Surely I’m holding the sky up all on my ownsome here, with all that worrying? I’m not? Good heavens! I actually started feeling better almost at once.
I know someone who worries more than me (shock!) and her partner deals with it by sitting down looking at her watch, and saying, ‘OK, how long do you want to worry about this for?’ Very clever.
So now I’m going to spend a little time deciding how long I’m going to worry each day; then I’m going to jack it in and do something more productive, interesting and fun.
The first step in pacing myself.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2011

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Leadership Styles

What kind of leader do I want to be?

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

Abraham Lincoln


Cleverer people than me have spent their entire working lives defining different leadership types, and I find labels only useful in so far as they help me think about what I might be doing from habit, and whether I want to change; so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.  I’m not planning to advocate any one particular style, just give you an opportunity to explore where your strengths lie and how you can make the most of them – whatever works for you, in any situation.

Here are some established styles, and a brief definition for each, for discussion and thought.  Remember: these are behavioural models, not personality types!Thomas Jefferson

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power; and teach us; that the less we use our power the greater it will be.

Thomas Jefferson

Task Orientated 

Interested in getting the job done.

Roles not people.

Structure and planning, monitoring.

People – relationship orientated  /Affiliative 

Supportive and developing of staff, emphasises teamwork and creativity.  Looks for connections and networks.  Good at healing rifts and getting followers through stress; can be poor at giving negative feedback, backs off from confrontation.


Contractual obligation – expects staff to do as they are told.  Offers incentives for success, blames and punishes failure regardless of resources.

Expects compliance.  Unlikely to get anyone to go ‘the extra mile’.

Assumes motivation to work is at most basic level.

Transformational/ visionary  

Shared vision, lots of energy put into communication, known to everyone, delegate well and support staff, wanting them to succeed and be transformed themselves.

Seen as committed, trustworthy and person of integrity; charismatic without narcissism.

Ineffective and frustrated where no transformation required, can get carried away by their beliefs which may be unfounded or inaccurate.

Can be exhausting to follow.

Need support on detail.


By the book.

Ideal where there are safety or probity issues.

Stifles creativity.


Leaves followers to get on with it which works well with experienced and skilled self-motivated staff, but can lead to staff being left adrift not knowing what they should be doing.

Difficult when consistency of approach is required.


Reassuring, gives clear directions.  Expects compliance not agreement.  Excellent in a crisis.

Can seem distant and uninvolved.


Not necessarily the formal leader.

Driven by own values to make the world a better place for their followers and the disadvantaged.  Serving by leading.

Takes responsibility for followers, and nurtures them through trust, growth and enabling environments.

Ideal for public sector and charity roles.

Assumes the follower wants to change, and assumes they know what is the right change for others.


Extreme transactional leadership.  Absolute power.

No consultation.

May result in discontented followers.


Invites contributions to decision-making, but reserves ultimate decisions to self.

Develops skills and autonomy in followers.

Focussed on quality rather than speed.

Can be difficult if there are a lot of different opinions to be satisfied.

Can be discredited by sham consultations.


Enthusiastic transformational leader, who relies on personal charm.

Persuasive, good at reading a group and effectively using their own body language.  Inspires confidence and feelings of being special in their followers, which can be unfounded

Prepared to take risks, but intolerant of challenge.

Can be exciting to work for, but becomes essential to the organisation, which makes succession difficult.

Can get to believe their own hype.


Emphasises thought and action over hyperbole.

Combines will-power with humility.

Puts the well-being of others before their own, and give credit to others for successes while taking responsibility for failures themselves.

Values driven.

Can get to a point where their need for harmony and mutual respect gets in the way of dealing with conflict

Pace setting 

Builds challenge, expects excellence, leads by example.

Identifies weaknesses and demands more.

Prepared to muck in in a crisis.

Not good at explaining what they want, tend to go for short-term results.

Can burn out on their own enthusiasm.


Good at delegating challenging assignments.

Demonstrate faith in followers, leading to high levels of loyalty.

Can look like micro-managing.


Depends on the skills and experience of the team, the type of work, the organisations environment, and the leader’s preferred natural style.

There will be occasions where you may need to employ any one or all of the identified styles.

If you are comfortable with who you are, you can be comfortable using any of them.

Think about the skills that you recognise that you use:

How well have they served you?

Which would you like to be better at?

Which do you believe you’d never use?

Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.

Abigail Adams


Don’t get hung up on it, observe when you are using a particular style, and whether it is serving you as well as you would like.  If it isn’t, try something different.

Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish.

Anne Bradstreet


Think about the leaders you know, have worked for, or know of from politics, sport, history…

Which leadership style do you think they used most often?

Would they have been more/less successful in their chosen field with a different style?

Copyright Cherry Potts,  Revolution-Evolution 2011

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Being the Leader

Because being the leader is more important than all the leadership skills in the world.

 Leadership Stereotypes And Myths: Your version

You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.

Alvin Toffler

 Who are the leaders who inspire you?

Who would you like to be like?

What makes a great leader?

These may seem like simple obvious questions with simple obvious answers- in the run up to the General Election in the UK a Newspaper asked many of the leading contenders who they were inspired by, it got to be a relief if they didn’t say Nelson Mandela.  This is not to dismiss the influence of Mandela nor to doubt the genuineness of their responses, but if you really think about who you are impressed by, you may need to think about what it is about them exactly that chimes with you, and whether this is awe, or something you can yourself aspire to!

‘The map is not the territory’.

How you experience the world is your own unique version of it.  For example when witnesses to an accident are asked what happened they will all give a subtly or even dramatically different version of the event.  All of them are true, to the person who tells them.

There are three major patterns that people use to filter their worldview, and to set up a map for themselves of how things work.  Our understanding of leadership is not immune. (and nor is mine… I know I resist good sense from leaders whose politics I dislike.  There are undoubtedly other issues that I miss because of my own worldview.) 

Deletion, Distortion, Generalisation[1]

This is how we manage potentially overwhelming information.

Deletion:  We cannot pay attention to everything, so we chose to notice whatever we think is relevant.  This selection is essential or we would get overwhelmed.  As a result we ignore or do not notice huge quantities of information.

What do you choose to ignore as a leader?

Distortion: We all create our own model of reality, yours will be different from those of the people around you, although you may assume that they think the same way you do, without any evidence to back it up.

who do you assume is on the same page as you… are you sure?

Generalisation: Over time we recognise patterns in what happens about us, about how we think, and we start to believe that the pattern will ‘always’ happen.  We make up rules about how the world is, and therefore will be, with mixed success; which we allow to dictate our behaviour.

what rules have you adopted?  are they really so?

Strategy for Leadership

You will appreciate the pitfalls of these models- this is how prejudice, bad habits, stereotypes and lazy thinking come about.  It’s hard to be a dynamic organisation if your version of dynamism is completely different from what the rest of your leadership team think it is, for example.

You can choose to change your filter and look at things differently; it just takes practise.

Think about and discuss your beliefs about leadership: 

Might they be stereotypes?

What gets deleted, or distorted when you think about leadership,  especially your leadership?

What generalisations are you making?

To counteract the deletion tendency, challenge your assumptions ask yourself… 

Who says? 

How do I know? 

How does X mean Y?

Is that all?

To counteract the distortion tendency, gather more information… ask yourself when/where/what/how/who exactly/specifically/precisely?

To counteract the generalisation tendency, expand your limits…ask yourself:

What – always/never/every time?  Really?

What would happen if…?

What stops me?

And when you’ve asked yourself these questions, ask them of your team, individually, and as a group.  You may be surprised and delighted by the answers.

[1] Adapted from Richard Bandler & John Grinder The Structure of Magic Volume 1  1975

copyright Cherry Potts, Revolution-Evolution 2011

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Lost: one voice

… last heard failing to communicate effectively with a client on the phone Wednesday evening.
Actually I think this is down to going out to protest in song against local cuts to services: Library and traditional folk-y protest songs on Saturday, and Blackheath Halls Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem on Sunday.  I should have stayed in bed and nursed my sore throat, but sometimes you do for your community what you hope they would do for you, and if BHH loses it’s funding it will have more far reaching implications for my voice, and those of fifty or so others, than can be solved by antibiotics and staying in bed.
I’ve been meaning to write about music and more specifically singing for some time, and a bit of enforced idleness and the prompt of not being able to rehearse the Requiem with A means that here’s the opportunity.
It is a great regret to me that I don’t have a good singing voice – strong yes, tuneful, sometimes, pleasant, no. If someone turned up with a magic wand that’s what I’d wish for, a beautiful singing voice.
When I was learning NLP one of the things we did was explore what our most dearly cherished but improbable ambitions were, to explore whether ‘I can’t…’ was really the case, and what would turn it into I could, I might, or even I can. I owned up to wanting to sing on stage, not a solo, just in a choir.

Blackheath Halls Chorus rehearsing Dido & Aeneas copyright Cherry Potts 2010

Well, I’ve done it several times now, thanks to Raise the Roof at Horniman Museum and the Chorus at Blackheath Halls (currently threatened by Greenwich Council with having their funding withdrawn completely), we’ve sung everything from show tunes, pop standards, folk and South African Township songs, through to opera and modern choral works (even on stage at Royal Festival Hall… ) and there is nothing to beat singing in a group, whatever you are singing. The interdependence of singing in harmony; and the trust you have to have in yourself and each other is heart warming, and the sound, sometimes, when it goes really well, is heart stopping: there is an element of alchemy, of the sum being so much greater than the parts, when you can feel the different notes vibrating in the air and combining, and know it’s exactly right.
When I think back to sitting in that hotel in Hammersmith coming up with my wildest dream, and not yet believing it could happen, ever, I hardly recognise the person who thought that. At the time it amused me to try out what could make me believe it was possible… it was an interesting exercise and I never thought it could be turned into reality. 

But now I think about what it really did for me: I used to be afraid of speaking in public (once I was talking at a huge conference and got to the contentious part of my presentation, and my voice just dried- I couldn’t say those things out loud.) Now I take it in my stride – compared to singing it’s easy – I don’t have to remember the words, I don’t have to fit in with other people and I don’t have to be in tune! Easy! And when I am singing, I don’t get stage fright, perhaps because I know my limitations, and because I know that other people will support me, I don’t feel the need for overwhelming success and consequently I’m untroubled by fear of failure. If something goes wrong, keep smiling and keep going. Mostly the audience won’t notice, they are there to have a good time and so are we. The variety and the different ways it stretches me interest me too, with RtR we do everything by ear and the process of establishing the harmonies is ‘organic’ often changing on the day of performance, encouraging flexibility, spontenaity and fearlessness; with BHH we work from scores, but for the operas we have to learn our parts by heart, remember cues, act… encouraging me to trust my memory (a challenge!) and learn with my body where to find specific notes.  and when RtR isn’t meeting, over the summer, we host weekly drop in singing sessions, informal sharing of loved songs, exploring rudimentary harmonies, and discovering new shared enthusiasms- sea shanties currently! And singing is such fun… I can go to choir rehearsal feeling flat and exhausted and at the end of two hours hard physical work, bounce home the mile and a half in the dark singing the whole way.  Perhaps the most important thing about being in a choir (or two) is the feeling of community and belonging, of having something worthwhile to contribute to the common wheal, that together we make something remarkable.

Copyright Cherry Potts, Change from Choice 2011

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Its a cold, dreary Monday and I don’t feel like doing much, but I’ve promised A that we’ll go to the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library. There are several ways we can get there, and it turns out to have been a GOOD idea not to go via the Hammersmith & City as there are signalling problems. I’m on automatic pilot, getting off the tube at London Bridge to change, thinking about where the right platform is, when the broad shoulders in front of me, which I was thinking of purely as an obstacle to skirt, turn into a outstretched arms and a big grin, and there is someone I haven’t seen for a couple of years, and who has been in New Zealand for six months- right in front of me, and offering a big hug. We let the train go, and talk for the four minutes before the next one, have several more hugs and go on our way restored.

All round the exhibition which is interesting (and would be more so if I got my glasses changed so I could see some of the exhibits) I’m thinking about C, and what the chances were of him being stood there, by that exact door of that exact train, and how we mightn’t have met if the signalling on the H&C had been working properly.

copyright Cherry Potts 2011

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Resolution … Evolution

Owl Quote i am Like and Owl in the Desert. Anne Clifford

something to think about - what does that mean exactly? image copyright Cherry Potts

It’s that time of year.

I get bloody minded about new year resolutions: you won’t catch me in the gym in January, it’s too full of people regretting that final slice of Christmas cake. And really, it makes better sense to make plans at times of year when you think you might be able to keep to them.  Winter is a time for eating and taking insufficient exercise, so you might as well enjoy it, save up the long walks and salads for the spring.

So my resolutions, such as they are, don’t often happen at this time of year, although its a good time to take stock and think about what my resolutions might be, and how I’d like them to grow.

Resolution is based on determination and will power, and seems rather rigid to me.  It is often about making yourself do something you don’t really want to.  I’m more comfortable with a more fluid set of plans, and setting myself goals that will make me happy.  So I don’t say ‘I need to lose ‘x’ amount of weight’, I say ‘I want a healthier lifestyle’.  If that leads to weight loss that’s fine, but it’s being healthy that matters. That’s something I can sign up to, and can see the benefit of.  And if I feel the need of a deadline (or a life line, so much more use…) I have a significant birthday this year so I can set that as my measuring post

for a bit of comparison.  I’m really not interested in punishing myself for failings, it’s more constructive to be pleased when I make something I want happen.

This is my version of what is known as a ‘well-formed outcome’ in NLP and (as with all things) I prefer an organic approach, to let my idea of what I want, and how to achieve it, evolve from a positive ideal and a pleasing method.

So whatever your resolutions, may they be happy and pleasurable.

Have a wonderful 2011

copyright Cherry Potts, Change from Choice 2011

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What do we mean when we talk about compromise?  I get the feeling it can be rather a negative idea.

The OED definition is:

To settle a dispute by mutual concession; or to bring under suspicion or into danger by indiscreet action,

Perhaps the negative connotations of the second definition colour the meaning of the first?

It seems to be about not getting enough of what we want, in order to satisfy someone else, or what we are prepared to give up, probably grudgingly, to get close to what we originally thought we wanted.

Doesn’t this assume that the person we are compromising with (or is that for?) is in competition for a finite resource, or that they want the exact opposite from us, and it is impossible for us to have both?

This is something I think of as the Cordelia Complex, after the rigid thinking youngest daughter of King Lear in Shakespeare’s play, who asks,

Why have my sisters husbands if they say they love you all?

Haply I shall wed,

That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry

Half my love with him, half my care and duty:

Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,

To love my father all.

It doesn’t seem to occur to her that her capacity to love can expand to include a husband without impacting her father.  Cordelia believes she is acting and speaking from principle, and she despises her sisters for their easy flexibility.  She is prepared to give away a third of her father’s land for the right to stand by her principles, and I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for her determined self martyrdom.  What she hasn’t bargained for is that Lear withdraws his love as well as his land, something she would not willingly have lost.

Actually thinking about it, King Lear is full of the negative impact of compromise and negotiation, as Lear divides and apportions love and land in unequal and unfair portions, only to have his two elder daughters negotiate away all his power and friends between them.

So what if Cordelia is wrong?  What if compromise is giving the other person something they want very much, that costs you nothing to let them have – after all, her father just wants her to say publicly that she loves him just as much as he loves her, and she does love him that much, but she just can’t bring herself to fawn in public.

And what if compromise means the other person want something you don’t want or need for yourself?

The concept of meeting in the middle seems to be part of the problem (although not in King Lear- never was there less middle ground in evidence!)  so why can’t compromise be about swapping ends of the seesaw of wants, so that balance is maintained and no one loses?

Orange plate showing Man and Woman dancing on a seesaw

swapping ends of the seesaw of wants, so that balance is maintained and no one loses... image copyright Prue Cooper

So if the idea of compromise sends you leaping for your body armour and a banner saying NEVER!!! in dripping red paint, maybe its time to think beyond what you would never compromise on, and think: what negotiation is allowable?

If it is easy and no effort, is compromise acceptable?  Or does it somehow not count as a real compromise unless it hurts a bit?

What would it be like if compromise was easy, satisfying, rewarding, pleasurable…

If the banner and the armour weren’t needed, what could they be replaced with???

Copyright Cherry Potts, Change from Choice 2010

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