Coaching through disappointment

This week we have witnessed a massive political failure resulting in a huge public humiliation. There’s really no other way of framing Theresa May’s calling of the snap General Election with the objective of increasing her majority in the house of commons.

If we looked at the statistics behind the election we would see that, in fact, she increased her number of votes and even share of the vote. But this did not result in increasing her majority, which was what she put her neck on the line to do.

Most high-profile political careers end in failure. Politicians largely promote themselves on who they are, rather than what they do and therefore the humiliation that goes along with the failure is highly personal. This is scrutinised and magnified through the media lens and the experience becomes a modern-day version of a medieval beheading. Except unlike a beheading, they do live to tell the tale.

As a life coach, I am interested in the notions of ‘failure’ and ‘success’ and particularly how to use these experiences to move forward.

Often success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Success can be a lonely place. Once you’ve ‘made it’, where do you go from there? What else is there to motivate you to keep moving forward? Once other people see that you’ve ‘made it’, it’s easy for them to discount you, to think that you’re doing well and you’ve got everything you need. So, when the success isn’t enough to fulfil you anymore, where do you go from here? How do you humble yourself enough to ask for help without it seeming like you’re in trouble or ungrateful?

Conversely, when you’ve experienced failure, it can be hurtful, humiliating and it can leave you full of difficult emotion. But then on the other hand, it can provide excellent motivation to keep moving, to work harder and to do better next time. The phoenix rises from the flames when you know that failure isn’t the end of the story.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two Imposters just the same” ~ Rudyard Kipling.

To treat the triumph and the disaster as just the same would be to know that both places are not the end of your story. They are simply stepping stones and learning experiences along the way.

There are some excellent political examples of this in action. Take Nick Clegg and the ‘Clegg-mania’ of the 2010 election. Whoever thought that he would enter that process and come out the other side with one of the top jobs in the cabinet? I wonder how he must have felt in those glory days around the election. But the long-view of that situation was that he had to compromise on his values to meet the needs of the coalition government. And look what happened to his party in the next election; they lost a whopping 49 out of their 57 seats in government. Yes, of course, there were many other factors that contributed towards this but see how his individual success was a mere stepping stone in that story.

There are other notable examples of this public humiliation and career failure. Think of Michael Portillo and Ed Balls and those crushing election moments when they lost their long-held seats. The jubilation of the crowd and the scrutiny of the media in this most damning of moments is an experience that, thankfully, most human beings will never have to bear.

But in moving through this failure and humiliation, what has come out of the other side in these examples are two, apparently, thoroughly decent human beings… Who knew? Perhaps it’s the same person who was always there but in the political spotlight this side was masked. Or perhaps it was the humiliation of those moments that served to carve off the rough edges so we can get to see the human inside.

So, what next for Theresa May…?

I wonder if she has a life coach? Someone who can offer her a confidential and non-judgmental space to explore this experience, help to learn the lessons she needs to learn so that she can move on and make the most of what's ahead.

If Theresa was provided with a coaching space, she would have complete freedom to talk through her experience. A non-interruptive, think aloud opportunity to ‘get it all out’. In the heat of an emotional moment, having this space for cathartic release can be very healing. The client can feel free to really express; get angry, get nasty, point the finger, blame, cry, shout or laugh. Coaches do not judge anything in these moments, simply observe and do not interrupt. Once everything is released, the coach may ask if there’s anything more to add until it’s all out.

Following this process, the client may be encouraged to explore the situation from different angles. This is normally through the process of reflection and can be an extremely powerful experience. You can ‘notice’ emerging themes, strong emotions and links. When these are reflected back to the client, this can be used as a point of exploration allowing the client to come to their own conclusions about where to go next.

Fundamentally, the coaching space is about the client’s growth and this is the point I come back to. One of my favourite questions is, “How would you like to move on from this point?”

The unusual situation we find ourselves in with Theresa’s current failure is that she’s still in office. I wonder how much of her humanness will come through as a result of this humiliation?

As part of her session, she might be asked why she got into politics originally and what has kept her driving forward through many unpopular moments. Here we might find the key to growth. Connecting with your WHY and your purpose is a great point from which to decide your next move.

Unfortunately, this is what often gets lost along the way in politics. The WHY of any political party in an election campaign is apparently about winning votes and not much else. The result of this is that often many of the real and most pressing issues and difficult conversations are side-lined in favour of populist vote winning policies.

Nobody seems to deny that a new kind of politics is required for the 21st Century. Perhaps on the other side of this public humiliation is an opportunity for some more humanness to emerge? What might that mean for a strong and stable leader?

Or perhaps not, after all, it’s up to the client not the coach, to decide where to go from here.

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