Group (Career) Therapy

I'm about three-quarters of the way through an experiential leadership course offered by Common Purpose, called International Navigator. The demographic for the course attendees tends to be energetic, ambitious and high achiever types (read: SWOTs) in the early stages of their careers as leaders. There are several programmes going on concurrently within & external to the UK, organised by geography - I'm on the 'North' cohort, which is dominated by public sector delegates and just a small handful of us private sector folks. The London cohort is more private sector dominated, and the Scotland and Indian cohorts are, well, primarily dominated by Scots and Indians (ha - don't know their sector mix so I resort to lame ethnic jokes instead). Anyway, this is the first time I've been around so many people at the same point in their careers but from different sectors as me, so it's been an interesting scenario to say the least.

All of the Common Purpose course events are covered by the Chatham House Rules, so I can't get into exact details of who said what when, etc. but I can discuss the information I gain as long as I don't reveal the source or reveal anything said confidentially. Which isn't as easy to do as you'd think when trying to explain the context of a really cool approach used at XYZ organisation! (I digress, but I could probably do a whole blog post just on CHR itself. Very interesting construct for meetings...but back onto topic here...)

So, in my last two Common Purpose sessions, we've done group exercises which basically went like this:
  • Each group member has 2 minutes to pitch a problem for which they'd like the group to brainstorm potential resolutions.
  • Group votes on a single person's problem to use in the exercise.
  • Group spends 15 minutes asking the 'problemed person' about their problem, their personal values, aspirations, etc. - anything relevant to finding a resolution to said person's issue.
  • Group spends 15 minutes discuss the 'problem' & potential solutions but the 'problemed person' is not allowed to speak or influence in any way.
  • Last 10 minutes are spent with the group listening while the 'problemed person' reflects back on the discussion and explains what he/she are going to take from the exercise, including any potential solutions.
When these group sessions were first pitched to me, I rolled my eyes and was like 'oh great, here we go with the touchy feely stuff'. However, after the first one where I helped problem-solve for a public servant facing workplace politic issues shockingly very similar to my own previous experiences, I was totally bought in. I approached the second session with zeal, and was pretty excited when the group picked MY problem as the one to discuss (although keeping my mouth shut for 15 minutes was REALLY difficult and I sorta cheated on the 'no influencing' aspect by pulling faces a couple times). Anyway, I won't bore you to death with the details of my problem or the myriad of suggestions I received, but I do want to share two lessons I've taken from the exercise:

1 - This form of 'group exercise', or group therapy as I jokingly call it, is actually a very effective method to brainstorm problems & resolutions, whether they are personal or professional. Hearing other people discuss topics very close to my heart without being able to interject or influence was difficult but also incredibly enlightening. I'm not sure how I will use this tool at home or at work, but I definitely need to figure out a way because it is, quite simply, a brilliant method for generating new ideas for old problems.

2 - The session where we focused on my own career conundrum was quite possibly a *true* epiphany moment for me. Having my concerns, ambitions, strengths and weaknesses replayed back in front of me by a diverse group of 7 talented leaders from around the UK has really lit a fire under my oh-too-lazy bum. I have a huge list of ideas from the group, some of which I had already considered but now seem more plausible and others which I could never have come up with on my own. Pretty damn cool, actually!

In the 7 days since that 'meme' session, I've made several key realisations. First of all, I believe that I need to create my own personal brand and market myself proactively against that brand. It is unacceptable to just float through my career on best intentions. I am passionate about my profession, personal values and various hobbies, but I'm not bringing those themes together cohesively in my daily life, which I firmly believe is why I'm not completely clear where I want to go with my career. It's time to quit whinging about being confused, set some goals (no matter how small) and work to achieve them. Over the last week, I've filled up about 6 pages of notebook paper with ideas big and small, from blogging more seriously to getting my UK driver's licence to finding a way to run my own consultancy business and/or moving to Spain before I'm 40.

The myriad of things I've jotted down are definitely not all achievable as a whole. It's also highly likely I'll chicken out on some of the riskier aspects, but this is *literally* the first time in years where I've had some real clarity and focus upon what I want to get out of my career longer-term. It's a bit scary but also really damn exciting.

So, here's hoping I don't just let this newly found drive all die out... to help prevent that from happening, I have decided to approach the situation like I am managing a project at work - create a plan and then hold myself accountable to deliver. Won't bore you with the details, but after this blog post is published, task #2 can be marked complete. Wheee! :)

Now time to get back to my regularly scheduled programmes. I've earned the right to veg out to some Scrubs reruns, me thinks.