Being fully, consciously, human in organisational life may just be a radical act.
James is a coach, facilitator, and group worker. At its root, his work is deeply transformative and educational, in the richest sense of that work. It involves exploration and the drawing out of possibility.
His work is concerned both with organisational outcomes and with raising human consciousness. This dual focus of the work matters to James. He does it “so that more of us can realise we’re not separate from other (human) beings, and that each time we hurt each other we’re hurting ourself”. Through James’ work, people come to appreciate the interconnectedness between each other, and with the wider-than-human world. James says: “it’s really easy to intellectualise about it, but it’s all about being human, not doing human, about living the interconnected nature of systems, not just theorising about them”.
James comes from a rigorous scientific and engineering background and has many years’ experience in corporate life. It wasn’t always a comfortable fit. Talking about his corporate life James notices that there’s always been a tension there. He says, “If you get me on a bad day, I can tell you with great accuracy and verbosity about what’s wrong with everything”. But James moves beyond this “rejecting energy” and creates work that is imbued with an eye for quality, appreciating what is already present, looking for what might be missing, and using these to ask questions into that space which might then be helpful in bringing more life enhancing outcomes into being.
James’ way of working with this tension was to take on corporate sustainability roles. He argued that “organisations are the strongest human institutions on the planet” and we can’t all simply turn away from corporate life. He dug in deeply, bringing his facilitation work to the service of sustainability in PepsiCo, where he rose to play a global leadership role.
He’s continued this work since he moved into consulting. James has worked with colleagues to create some truly paradigm-shifting work based in supporting leaders to be more awake to the unconscious, and often damaging, drivers of our lives. By paying attention to what is here, right now, he sees that generates choice, and responses to situations rather than narrow, habitual reactivity. Two examples of his work are Leading through Storms which invites leaders to explore, in community with others, what it means to lead consciously, ecologically during these troubled times, and Foxglove//Digitalis, a programme designed to support healthier relationships with hybrid working and the 24/7 nature of mobile digital technology.
James says “A lot of it is about trusting ourselves that we can show up and be really curious about what’s going on, recognising that we don’t have the answers but giving space for exploration to happen”. He is passionate about holding questions open for – often uncomfortably – long enough for insight to occur, and experiments to then be tried: as he counsels his clients, “Don’t try to close things down too quickly even if there’s time pressure; sitting in not knowing is a vital practice to cultivate”. As Leading Through Storms puts it “This is an emergency. We must slow down.”
Being grounded and trusting enough in ourselves, that we already have what we need supports this seemingly paradoxical leadership move. And if we can be more aware of the distortions in our thinking that we may not realise we are prone to – after all, as James notes “asking “who am I taking myself to be?” is a powerful question we don’t always ask” – we may be able to be more appreciative of the world and ourselves, creating the neurochemical conditions that lead to more creative solutions and acts, and perhaps move us to thinking and behaving more often as citizens as well as consumers. This consciousness, along with being more curious means we can act from a grounded place, not a reactive place.
James credits a lot of his development to colleagues and bosses who’ve guided him over the years. One woman, in a very tough role early in his career made him realise the power of relationships in corporate life. She also never gave any illusion about how many challenges she had herself which made the experience even more powerful. This, says James, was probably where his coaching experience first started, in the mid-1990s, watching her navigate her way to put things into practice. She still figures highly in his life – as a friend and as a mentor.
James talks about often being around colleagues who simply demonstrated their human generosity as well as holding increasingly senior corporate roles. These people demonstrated to him that it was possible to do both.
James’ work offers this same gift to others as their thinking partner. It’s about helping more people realise some kind of liberation – that being human is not bound up so much in edifices and artefacts, status and hierarchy. Through his work, the possibility of huge personal shifts arise. It’s what makes James one of our most sought-after coaching colleagues, and an excellent partner to have alongside any executive team that is really trying to work in a new way.
If these sound like issues on your agenda, James may be exactly the Thinking Partner you need alongside you for the exploration.