The Builder’s House

A client I was coaching recently asked me, “So, what’s TOWARD like as a place to work in? Are you like a builder’s house…a shambles inside because you’re too busy doing the work outside?” He had a little twinkle in his eye as he was hoping to discover something ‘juicy’ about our culture!

It’s an interesting question as it challenges our alignment and authenticity in TOWARD. In essence, do we practice what we preach?

Seeking clarity about and commitment to your values & purpose is a lifelong pursuit. Both require a certain ruthlessness and the time to reflect on the journey to date and, at times, I get it wrong…we get it wrong. Sometimes, I feel like I am drifting away from what’s important to me and who I am and when this happens, I can sense it. It shows up in different ways.

In our organisation, when we are out of alignment, I can see and hear it at project meetings, 1:1 interactions and in the atmosphere in the office. People become more withdrawn and silent and, at times, a little more ‘snappy’.

This is a normal response but it begs the questions, ”what do you do when this happens?”

There’s no substitute for taking some time out periodically. Recently, I spent 2 days at a retreat centre in Rostrevor, Ireland. This gave me the time to decouple from the day-to-day and reconnect with my values and purpose. I spent time mulling questions like, ‘what am I passionate about?’, ‘what is my contribution?’ and ‘what am I choosing to commit to?’.

In asking these questions, I discovered that our house, like any house, will always need a lick of paint or some new shelves. That was the purpose of the retreat and it gave me the energy to refocus on the important things.

So, what about your house? Are you taking the time to do the DIY that you need to attend to? And if not, what is it you need to do to reconnect with the important things?

Johnny Parks

Emotional Control

The topic of emotional control is one that comes up frequently in our coaching interactions with senior business leaders. We hear many clients speak of their struggle to control their anxieties and emotions, particularly in workplace environments.

They explain how they deal poorly with even the slightest provocation, becoming acutely reactive to a particular tone, or look, or word used by a colleague. They notice the immediate emotional shift they experience, as they readily move into a place of heightened anxiety, anger or fear.

When things don’t go their way, such clients also notice how high levels of frustration and annoyance spontaneously take over their being, diminishing their ability to remain curious and interested in what is possible.

Often they explore with us the impact of such experiences. They recognise how their own problem solving and decision-making capabilities are diminished when in these heightened and unresourceful emotional states. They also see how not being in control of their emotions not only negatively impacts their own capacity, but often spills into the creation of unnecessary tensions and dramas within their team.

Which leads us to the question, “how do you get really good at emotional control?”

In this month’s edition of “The Psychologist” (November 2015) a leading expert in this field, Edward Slingerland, believes that our conundrum begins with our western culture, which influences us to believe that we should be using our thinking skills in order to exert the effort required to control our emotions.

He questions the value of conscious striving and challenges us to instead apply the practices of the ancient Chinese art of “Wu-wei” and learn how to “relax into the moment.”

He suggests that through Wu-wei, we can instead learn to silence our minds, develop our ability not to think., persuade our conscious mind to get out of the way. To not think…. And that proper and effective behaviour will then flow automatically and spontaneously from the self.

In practical terms, it’s a simple four-staged process:

Surrender to the moment;

Don’t think; instead,

Breathe and then,

Reflect on what came your way.

Wu-wei practitioners recognise that happiness, relaxation and charisma comes to those who practice this “relaxed spontaneity”. They understand that through the skill of effortlessness, we gain emotional control.

Michelle Murtagh

What our clients say about us

In this short video some of our previous clients talk about their experience of TOWARD programmes.


The Power of Story

I believe in the power of story to create change within organisations.

To be human is to tell stories. Since the beginning of human civilization people sat down in a circle around a fire and told each other stories. And the stories they told defined who they were, their vision of the future, what they believed, what was right and what was wrong.

I recently led a storytelling workshop with international students in Germany. We explored the role of storytelling in peace building in countries experiencing conflict. It was remarkable to hear people from Syria, Bosnia, Nigeria and Iran describe the ancient storytelling tradition in their own culture and to hear how today’s generation around the world is using digital media to share their stories. The students created and shared their own compelling stories of peace and reconciliation, based on their personal experiences of conflict.

For many years I facilitated conflict resolution workshops in different countries as part of my personal commitment to creating a more peaceful and less violent world. However, five years ago I sat down and wrote my own personal story of being a 12-year-old boy, growing up in West Belfast in the 1970s trying to come to terms with the Troubles. Today that story of a child’s experience of the futility of war has probably influenced more people in more places than hundreds of my conflict resolution workshops. So now I am more convinced than ever of the power of story to make a difference. As a result of this experience I believe that storytelling is an essential tool for senior leaders in large organisations.

Recently in TOWARD we supported a global company, which had just completed a massive acquisition, to use storytelling as a way of embedding the desired culture and leadership behaviours across the newly enlarged organisation. It was exciting to hear their people create 10,000 stories across the globe to build a shared narrative of the company’s values and culture.

There’s a Native American saying that “It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story”. I believe we can create a web of stories within organisations that will embed values across teams and countries and drive culture change that builds a level of high performance that is sustainable. That’s the power of story.

Tony Macaulay

Welcome to Canary!

Did you know that your behaviours can either create crisis or build resilience in your organisation? Canary, developed by TOWARD, is the first occupational psychometric in the world to measures 6 behaviours known to build resilience. The 6 behaviours are:

Consultative Sensemaking Openness to Feedback Transparency Engagement with Expertise Flexibility toward Hierarchies

Research indicates that major incidents within organisations have preconditions. These preconditions are expressed through specific behaviours of leaders and decision makers within an organisation. Studies show how these particular leadership behaviours develop, unnoticed, over an extended period of time, which is termed the ‘crisis incubation period’. If left unchecked, such leadership behaviours may be compounded by a trigger event, which could bring about the onset of organisational crisis.

Behaviours can create crisis.

Canary allows the respondent to develop a greater awareness of how they can improve their leadership behaviours and influence the development of a more resilient organisation.

It takes 20 minutes to complete and you will receive a comprehensive report with specific developmental feedback. If you are interested in finding out more please go to []. If you would like to talk to someone about how Canary can be used in your organisation, email or call us at +44 (0) 28 9065 2325.

Staying Flexible, Maintaining Control

“People can achieve very substantial personal change when they follow a detailed yet flexible plan.”

Dr. Rodger Graham

I recall once seeing a poster at a golf driving range advising players on optimal grip.

“Hold the club as if it is a tube of toothpaste, but do not dent it”

As a teenager this struck me as good advice for swinging a club with the right amount of control versus flexion.

Twenty-five years later it strikes me as good advice for life.

The driving range is an interesting place to watch human psychology reveal itself in behaviour and ball trajectory. An off-target shot occurs – a slice, a hook, or worse. Perhaps it is followed by a quizzical head scratch? Maybe a sigh or two can be heard. Another bad shot. A tut, shoulders slump. Another shot goes astray – a few expletives are muttered. Head shaking and lip biting follow. Perhaps there is facial flushing and some glances around to see who might be watching this performance? The tantrum clouds gather. A storm brews in the mind of the player that is increasingly evident in both body and behaviour. The hips and shoulders are now tightened. The swing becomes more rapid and increasingly effortful. As physics remains in charge here, not the golfer, the shots go further awry. And so, a painful cycle is set in motion.

Transcribed, this internal mental commentary might read…

“Nothing is going right!”

“What’s the point!?”

“This is too difficult!”

“These useless clubs!”

“This shouldn’t be happening!”

“Must try harder!”

“It shouldn’t be like this.”

“I never have any good luck.”

“It’s not my day.”

“This always happens.”

“Nothing ever goes right.”

“I don’t care, I’m off.”

Sooner or later, with the toothpaste tube now well and truly mangled, the player drops the clubs and walks away.”I give up, what’s the point?!”

In golf, and in life, we want the ball to land where we want it to land. When it doesn’t take flight as we hoped, then we like to have an urgent fix. We also like to have a ‘point-to’ blame object. We prefer to apply more pressure, more force. “That’ll do it!” And yet, this same overcompensation drives us toward increasingly effortful, forceful means of correction that generate new problems.

‘Squeezing the tube’ – it’s the harsh word to a colleague or family member. It’s a rash, reactive decision. It’s the sulking behind a closed office door (squeezing guilt from co-workers). It’s the disengaged passivity and disinterest (squeezing attention and concern from those around us). As with golf, this cascade of emotion and behaviour almost always complicates matters.