Clore Social Leadership Fellows 2014

Thanking, Complaining

I spent a lot of yesterday sitting in a circle with strangers. Strangers who are going to become great friends and firm allies in the years to come—or so I hope. I was chosen as one of the Clore Social Leadership Fellows for their 2014 cohort. The fellowship is kinda like a golden ticket for emerging leaders in the social sector. You are funded to undertake the sort of self-directed and personalised training that most humble mortals wouldn’t dare dream about—a soulful, authentic, strengths-focused take on an MBA—comprising residentials, action learning sets, research projects, secondments, coaching and mentoring AND training opportunities, surrounded by people who care as much as you do about a huge array of different things, who also want to have an impact, but don’t quite yet know how to do it.

Clore Social Leadership Fellows 2014

If any of you reading this are in the social sector and have ambitions about the change you want to see happen, you should apply. I applied twice, epically failed the first time, learned a lot through the process, and then applied again. Even writing the application is illuminating.

The structure to yesterday’s launch was wonderfully loose: we introduced ourselves, learned a little about the programme, and then just spent a long time chatting to each other. I loved that. But, for a talker (and I am some talker), I also relished the moments of quiet, where I could just soak things up.

It was good for me. I’ve spent the last few days on a new curmudgeonly complaints kick. Having never written a formal complaint in my life, in the last week I’ve racked up a two-page letter to the CEO of TalkTalk on the grounds of moral decency, a sharply-worded email to my kid’s pre-school manager on the grounds of impersonal officiousness, and a tweet to Itsu on the grounds of finding a fly in my soup. I’ve been REALLLLLLY enjoying cultivating the art of complaining whilst at the same time schooling customer services in the art of decent and pleasant communications.

Hashtag smug git.

So yesterday was good for me. It was a full day of meeting visionaries—a word that sounds kinda bullshitty, but the key thing about the fellows is that they were absolutely not bullshitty at all—no false modesty (which is as exhausting in Britain as ego-pimping is in the US), no bragging. And it made me think quietly about all the people and opportunities and organisations and events over the last decade that have propelled me to being in that room, surrounded by those folk.

Lamar Wyatt Then on the train home last night I watched an episode of “Nashville” (the first, I think, of many episodes I may be watching).One bigwig power business player told his somewhat weak-kneed son-in-law:

“Failure’s what befalls a man who fails to act. Destiny is for men who refuse to accept their failures as their fate. We’ve all had failures. Don’t let ‘em define you. Let ‘em refine you. I believe in your destiny. Do you?”

I hate country music, but if the script is going to continue pounding out heart-stopper soundbites like that one, I am ALL in. Anyway, all this stuff made me think about fate/destiny/happenstance/serendipity and all the other hippy-dippy ways of thinking about how the hell I got to here and now.  The impact of my earlier jobs, the stuff I learned in seminars and on the ground, the leaders who led and inspired me (as well as those who frustrated and demented me). And then, recently, the domino effect of successful funding bids, the loyalty and support of strangers (many of whom are now friends), the accumulation of extraordinary brains into a team of people we can now pay to make things happen, as well as the numerous failures and rejections and missteps and screw ups I’ve made along the way.

Everything is interlinked, I think to myself, somewhat tritely. And after my complaining chain, I’m enjoying indulging in a little gratitude.

Vulnerability and Gratitude

Here’s an interesting video on the importance of vulnerability from a TEDx event. The talk seems to trivialise the concept a little, making it seem almost trite. But it’s good to be reminded that strength can come from vulnerability and that perfection is more of a defensive wall than an actual state. Thank goodness for that.

Brown claims in her talk that practising gratitude is one way to prevent against the ill-effects of vulnerability. It’s hard to talk about gratitude without sounding like an ultra-cheesy hippy. This is particularly true in the UK. After moving back here having lived in California, the difference in gratitude attitudes (hey, see what I did?) is striking.

How do you practise gratitude? It might sound obvious. It’s not just about saying thank you, though that’s clearly a pretty good place to start. Keeping a gratitude journal is a great idea, but might sound a bit ambitious for those of us who don’t instinctively see the first snowdrops of the year, say, and smile. But it doesn’t have to be filled with flowers and pastel colours to be useful. You can find a pragmatic step-by-step guide here.

Practising gratitude doesn’t just help restore vulnerability. That might not be an overly-compelling to head down to the stationers and grab a notebook. No, practising gratitude is also a highly-effective, proven way to improve personal levels of well-being. Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, explains that expressing gratitude is “a kind of meta-strategy for achieving happiness.”

In her book, The How of Happiness, she reports on a study she conducted into practising gratitude. Interestingly, the best results came from a once a week reflection on just 5 events that happened during the previous seven days. That’s pretty do-able, even for the most dour-faced among us.

Still wary? What if you were told that expressing gratitude boosts happiness in eight ways. Lyubomirsky says so.

  1. It promotes the savouring of positive life experiences
  2. It bolsters self-worth and self-esteem
  3. It helps you cope with stress and trauma
  4. It encourages moral behaviour
  5. It can help build social bonds
  6. It tends to inhibit invidious comparisons with others
  7. It is incompatible with negative emotions and may actually diminish or deter such feelings as anger, bitterness and greed.
  8. It helps us thwart hedonistic adaptation.

[NB I love the euphemistic tone of #6].

So. Now you know. Now you can choose. Perhaps there’ll be a quick trip to the stationers after all?