The Angel of the North, my book and LE practices
Amanda Ridings, April 2012
In the North East of England, there is an iconic steel sculpture called The Angel of the North. It is visible for miles around, standing tall, with a vast, extended wingspan. What has this got to do with Leadership Embodiment practices? The connection is my book, Pause for Breath, and the consequences of publishing it. Here is my story.
My book was about 60% written when I travelled to The Netherlands in January 2010 to participate in a development programme hosted by Authentic Leadership in Action. As an executive coach and martial artist, I had been experimenting with how I could share the profound learning from my T’ai Chi Chuan practice with leaders and so I signed up for a module called ‘Embodied Leadership’ with Wendy Palmer. It proved to be the ‘missing piece’ in the fabric of my life and work.
I began to use some LE practices straight away, for myself and for my clients, and in April 2010 I travelled to London for Leadership Embodiment level 2. In this programme Wendy led us through ‘being stalked by success,’ using the example of publishing a book and the visibility and attention that might accompany this. At that stage I’d given no thought to the consequences of publishing a book – I was simply writing. I took the opportunity to experiment with my energetic response to different levels of publishing success and, as an introvert, found the experience to be quite challenging.
I was to revisit this exercise on several occasions over the next 18 months, because I signed up for the inaugural European teacher training programme. From April 2010 to October 2011 I participated in teacher training modules and also took every available opportunity to take part in more level 2 workshops and a retreat. In parallel, I began to interweave LE practices into my coaching and leadership development work.
In November 2010 I completed a first draft of my book and the ‘new’ 40% was influenced and enriched by Wendy’s work. Wendy agreed to read a draft of the most relevant chapters and provided me with a ‘blurb’ for the cover. Meantime I got down to the hard ‘production’ work of the book: editing, layout and design, more editing, and other stuff I hadn’t ever thought about. The book was published in July 2011.
Throughout this time, I continued to work with the challenge of being more visible, practicing recovering centre when I found myself required to be in the spotlight. Then in the autumn of 2011, my friend and colleague Steve Marshall agreed to support me in exploring visibility through his ‘photo-dialogue’ process. Steve, a former professional photographer, has incorporated visual methods in his consulting and coaching practice.
The process began with an email exchange about why I wanted to look into visibility. Then on a beautiful November day we met near my home in Scotland and spent an hour or so talking about visibility and what it means for me, while Steve took many photographs. The joy of this process was that I was able to stand, walk, skip, dance and generally play with movement as I spoke. Steve enabled my exploration by encouraging me to sense how visibility felt in different postures and with my attention in a variety of places. One profound posture revealed that the purpose of being visible is to extend my reach.
The next step in the process was for Steve to be an artist, and to create an image to reflect his sense of me in relationship with visibility. This image can be seen on his blog, together with some comments from me and others. In the weeks where Steve was engaged in his creative process, I was reflecting on ‘extending my reach’, a purpose for which it seemed I could tolerate visibility. This purpose evolved quite quickly into ‘extending the reach of my work’ and then, over time, it became ‘extending the reach of work I believe in’. This final intention includes both my work and the work of others.
For the next stage in our photo-dialogue, Steve and I talked about my response to his image and he then invited me to create my own visual response to his visual ‘gesture’. This is where the Angel of the North made an appearance – along with the fact that it requires 600 tons of concrete to support that upright posture and reach.
As I reflected, I asked myself: in becoming visible, in extending my reach, what is my 600 tons of concrete? The response fell into three categories:
- Leadership Embodiment practices, meditation, martial arts, walking in the Scottish hills
- Relationships – friends, supporters, associates, clients
- Walking my talk in my work
And so, in order to cultivate my capacity to be visible, in order to extend the reach of work I believe in, I must invest time and energy in maintaining (and increasing) my 600 tons of concrete. Leadership Embodiment practices play a key part in this.
Pause for Breath: Bringing the practices of mindfulness and dialogue to leadership conversations
Read reviews on Amazon – now available on Kindle.
‘Amanda gives us a wonderful blend of personal experience and insight while encouraging curiosity about the habits that show up in conversations. This innovative book offers a unique blend of practices using physical, emotional and spiritual components to shift unpleasant interactions into skilful communication. A great tool for leaders and coaches!’ Wendy Palmer.