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Reigniting After Burnout

Reigniting After Burnout

Burnout is what happens when we ignore the soul whispering against an unhealthy job or relationship.

• Dr. Dina Glouberman


I was completely depleted.

We’d just come out of a meeting where we’d finally aligned on a forward action. Our team had agreed on this action six months earlier. It was the ethical thing to do, the result I’d been working towards tirelessly. I had what I wanted, but at what cost? It had been such a struggle to get there. 

Leaving that call, I felt more hopeless and helpless than I have ever felt in my whole life.  

I felt the role in the organization whose purpose and vision I had believed in was steadily eroding. I  was required to be a tool of a controlling authority, asked to simply do as I was told even if it was against the organization’s purpose and mission. It felt like I was talking into the wind, pushing a large rock uphill, while lost in a desert. It was a lonely place to be.

Did I mention that I was exhausted?

This came as a shock. It crept up on me slowly, stealthily. I am known for my unending enthusiasm and energy, so it was frightening to feel so empty.

Burned out.


Burnout happens, not because we’re trying to solve problems but because we’ve been trying to solve the same problem over and over and over.

• Susan Scott


I may have felt lonely and burned out, yet I was not alone. If only!

I am surrounded by similar stories of leaders working in a range of organizations and environments. It feels like walking through a wasteland, the ashes of a once glorious forest.

“I feel so alone in leading these changes. Where is everyone? Where is the executive support?”

“It’s like whatever I say – they don’t hear me, don’t believe me or trust me. They need to hear it from above. I’m tired of going around in circles. It’s time to exit.”

“If this is really seen as important and I am doing things right, why is everything so hard?”

“I no longer believe in a culture that does not value its people. I am unable to change it. I’m leaving to create an environment where people can thrive.” 

You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

• Anonymous


I look at the ashen faces, the embers of some of the brightest, most brilliant and purposeful leaders I have known, and fear for them in a world that wants to stay safe instead of purposeful.

These are the leapers in change, those brave souls that lean forward into leading transformation.

Often, they are the most energetic, hopeful, and optimistic of us all. The most courageous, willing to move forward with uncertainty. The most resilient and agile, who have been able to bounce back, being quick and nimble on their feet.

I fear many organizations are losing these bright stars, especially in those where there are too few at the upper echelons willing to hold themselves responsible and accountable to do what is required to sustain a sense of urgency towards a change vision.

Instead, they choose to sit in the relative safety of complacency, allowing the fire to fizzle out. They hold on to the power of their thrones, rather than risk the personal discomfort of the vulnerability of emotional exposure in uncertainty.

When complacency suppresses true urgency towards a shared purpose, it can burn out leaders.  The condition is real, having been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an occupational phenomenon.

Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
3) reduced professional efficacy.

• World Health Organization (ICD-11)  


How can we avoid burnout in our teams and organizations? The responsibility lies with leaders at the top of the organizational ladder, and throughout the organization. Organizational leaders must look at themselves and their teams to see where they are contributing to burnout. 

The solution involves primary principles of change leadership.

Inspire true urgency – Stop being complacent.

Influence heads, hearts and guts – Continue to hold to the deeper purpose – the why – of the organizational transformation.

Emerge collective leadership – Start to commit fully to the reflective work of developing teams.

Finally, organizational leaders can step into eldership, holding themselves responsible and accountable to providing the support and resources necessary to allow their change leaders to shine.


The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.

• Socrates


Returning from burnout requires an acknowledgement that leading change in a VUCA world is challenging.

In risking, we may fail. However, there is a difference in how we fail. Are we failing intelligently because we experimented with trying something new and complex?

Or have we failed because we didn’t want to risk being disliked, distrusted, or disbelieved? Those are preventable failures which, if worked on together as a leadership team, can be overcome. 


By refreshing our sense of belonging in the world, we widen the web of relationships that nourishes us and protect us from burnouts.

• Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone


I have hope for those leapers in change who have burned out – if they find ways to care, dare and bare.

If they are able to turn their care to other areas of their lives for a little and bring more balance, they may be surprised to find they are no longer alone and have done enough to ignite allies – the bridge builders –  who will begin to emerge and pick up the care.

If they dare to share their voices more quietly in some areas, still speaking up by sharing their vision and influencing rather than trying to persuade, they may find that others miss their voices and seek them out.

If they can bare their need for support, and hold those above them accountable for their role, they may be surprised by the affirmation they receive.

Care, dare and bare.

That’s what I did, and although my fire is not burning tall it is more steady now.


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 


Question | Have you experienced burnout?


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Intelligent Failure

Intelligent Failure

We are all failures – at least, the best of us are.

J.M. Barrie


Years ago in a training course, I was asked to stick a label to myself marked ‘failure.’ 

I looked at our leaders in disbelief. Surely this was a joke. No one in their right mind was going to wear that label!

The other twenty-three people in the room merrily wrote ‘failure’ on their labels, peeled off the back and stuck them on their chests.

I wrote the dreaded word, unpeeled the back, but it was if my body physically repelled the label. This was ridiculous. I was no failure. I was a winner! I protested profusely. Sat, hot-faced, and finally stuck it on in a rage.

Of course, I understood that collecting ticks each time I practiced and failed would be an indication of how much I’d practiced and moved towards competence. But, I argued, so would wearing ‘winner’ and collecting wins. 

I was missing the point. Even worse, I was failing to get the point. It wasn’t to label us as failures. Rather, it was to notice our failures and learn from them.

Collecting failures is part of the journey toward competence and success. Reframing success through failure is a way to encourage us through those failures, teaching us that it is a normal part of the learning process.


We all want to show up and be seen in our lives. This means we will all struggle and fail; we will know what it means to be both brave and broken-hearted.

Brené Brown


Reflecting on that experience, what I really learned was that I had a problem with failure. I was well aware of where things in my life hadn’t always gone as expected. I’d had my disappointments. 

Yet those disappointments had always led me down different paths to new experiences that were beyond my expectations. I’d never classed any part of these experiences as failures.

Over the years I’ve been acutely aware of my dysfunctional relationship with failure. I’ve come to realize that in skipping over the failures, or worse still, blaming others for my failures – “They just don’t get it. They don’t get me. They’re missing the point.”  

I’ve missed an opportunity to analyze and learn from my failures. Still, it’s never too late to learn!  I’ve challenged myself to create my failure resumé. In doing so, I’ve fully owned my failures – with a good dose of humour – and brought that learning into the present. 

I admit, it’s much easier to do with the distance of years between this moment and a past failure. Recent failures are a little more challenging to fully own, but I’m getting there.

It’s been helpful to explore whether my failures were preventable or intelligent. In the majority of cases I’m happy to conclude that they were intelligent failures. Failures that came about through exploring the frontier of my awareness and ability. Failures that came from experimenting with the new, the novel, the unknown. 


All of my successes have been built on my failures.

Benjamin Disraeli


I have experienced a number of preventable failures too. At least one big one, but even that worked out for the best. Also, many smaller preventable failures, not least when in the kitchen.

“It might help to use a recipe,” my husband often quips.

“Heck no! I’m being creative. I’m experimenting,” I say.

Intelligent failure? Maybe! But, I never ever follow a recipe. Okay. Preventable failure it is then!

What is the greatest failure ever? Failing to fail. If we’re not at least at risk of failing, we’re not growing.


Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford


Now I’m learning to better own my failures, I’m clear that I’m certainly not in danger of that! I’ve had many failures. I’m known as someone who will push myself to take on new challenges, both big and small, and who often brings a novel perspective and approach to doing things. I’m becoming more comfortable with the inevitability of failure as part of my growing process. 

The blame game? Time for me to stop playing it. And, to prepare myself for intelligent failures along the way, so I can fail well to learn fast.

Perhaps I could even own the label ‘Intelligent Failure.’ Though that might just be pushing it too far! Failing intelligently – now, I can live with that.


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 


Question | What is the greatest thing you have learned from failure?


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Leadership That Inspires

Leadership That Inspires

We’re here for a reason. I believe a bit of the reason is to throw little torches out to lead people through the dark.

• Whoopi Goldberg


When you think about inspirational leaders, who sparks a flame in you? Is there someone in your life you can point to as your role model in leadership?

Effective leadership is modelled in every area of our lives. My father always inspired me, and at no time was his leadership more evident than when he called me from across the pond in 2005.

“Hiya, my luverly! We have some news,” said Dad’s sing-song voice.

I sat down, legs heavy and gripped the phone to my ear.

“Go on.”

“The good news is that the doctors know what it is. The bad news is that it’s pancreatic cancer … and it’s terminal.”

“Okay…?” I heard myself say, my voice flat and mechanical. “Would they tell you how long you might hope to have?”

“The prognosis is six weeks to fourteen months.”

“Huh!” Little emotion seemed to bubble up.

“I’m so sorry Dad!”

“Me too,” he said, and we laughed.


Show me the man you honour, and I will know what kind of man you are.

• Thomas John Carlisle


Five days later, in arrivals, my girls raced towards their Granfer, brown as a berry, in his usual v-neck sweater, running shorts and trainers. I waited, as he swung each of them in turn. Hugging him, I felt his deep voice reverberate through me.

“Weyhey! He’s a bonnie lad,” he said, taking a peek at his six-week old grandson, squished between us.

I was home.

All three children were lulled to sleep by the motion of the car. I relished the ninety minutes it took us to drive home, cocooned in the car with my Dad, rain bouncing off the road and window wipers working overtime.

“If it’s true that when we die, someone will come to take us to the next place,” I said, “who would you like it to be?”

Dad’s hands caressed the steering wheel.

“My Dad. Well, he better bloody had! He left me here on my own for long enough,” he said.

I took note of his profile, the facial expressions I knew so well, tucking each image away to memory.

“And, I suppose, it would be nice if my Mam came too!”


Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.

• Ralph Waldo Emerson


The five of us, Mam, Dad, my brother and sister and I, snuggled together on the sofa in the living room. The watery autumn sun cast light on the three children at our feet. The baby, on his back, following the dancing light reflected from his granddad’s watch. The two girls playing on the carpet amidst the mess of fishy crackers, jigsaw pieces, and baby doll and her paraphernalia.

“It’s lovely to have you all together,” Dad said, “and I want to take this opportunity to share more of what your mother and I got from the doctors, and hear your thoughts.”

This was Dad at his best, holding court, drawing everyone into the circle. Making us feel part of this experience, not just helpless bystanders.

“There’s one certainty in life. If we are born, then we will die. Now, none of us are certain when that might be, and I still don’t know when exactly, but we’ve been given a clue that it’s going to be a little sooner than perhaps we at first thought. The choice is how to live in the time we’ve got. Bit silly really, as that’s always been the choice!”

My three year old held up her doll by one leg,

“Kiss, kiss, Granfer!”

Dad duly kissed baby doll’s forehead, narrowly missing losing his glasses.

“Now as I see it, there’s a few choices we can make,” Dad said, pushing his bottom lip out and over his top lip while looking to each of us in turn. “One – stick our heads in the sand and pretend nothing’s happening. That’s not going to work for me. I am going to die, just a little sooner than I’d hoped.”

I watched for any anger or bitterness, and with the tiniest flash of disbelief, saw only composure and equanimity.

“Two – we could kick into fight mode and go to war on this thing. There is a possibility of a trial treatment. But, as the doctor says, it would take me two months of being sick from the treatment to give me the potential of one extra month. And, we don’t even know whether we have two months anyway.”

“Now, I don’t want any of you to think of this like I’m giving up. Because as you well know, I’m a winner,” he said, his voice growing thicker. “Just like each of you are winners. I just think there’s a different way to win. And I’m willing to hear your thoughts around this.”

I shifted in my seat and noted my brother scratching his neck, and my sister picking a stray thread from her sweater.

“It makes sense, Dad. Although I wish we had a magic wand to make you better, we wouldn’t want to do that regardless of the consequences.”

His lip came out again and he nodded.

“Three – your mother and I could fly away on an around-the-world trip. You know how I love to travel, and there’s still so much of the world that I haven’t seen. In the past, I thought that if I was ever to be in this situation, that is what I would do.”

He squeezed Mam’s hand.

“Now, being here, it’s not. Why would I want to spend my time far away from all of you and all our friends and family? And, I wouldn’t want to die far away and leave your mother to deal with all the practicalities of that.”

My baby son started to grumble and I picked him up, making big eyes at him.

“Four – we can come together as a family and find a way to be together through this. Unfortunately, you hear stories of families fighting and falling apart when someone is terminally ill and dies. That’s not what I want for us. That’s why it’s important that your mother and I hear what you’re thinking, and that we continue to communicate with each other throughout this. So we can grieve together and make the necessary preparations, whilst continuing to do what we do best, loving each other. You know, I’m a winner, because I’ve got a team, a family, behind me,” Dad said.

The tears started to flow.

“Now I’ve said a lot,” Dad continued, “and your mother and I want to hear from you.”


Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts. It is about one life influencing another.

• John C. Maxwell


That day, Dad was on purpose. He inspired us to move through this transition with awareness and intention. As a family, we were at a time of great uncertainty. Dad showed us, weaving his words in his own unique way, that even in adversity there was an opportunity, a deep purpose, a cause to get behind as a family.

Our family’s cause was to come together in living with the upcoming loss of our father.

Dad wasn’t prepared for our family to be complacent. He didn’t create a false sense of urgency by living his final days at war with cancer or flying around the world to see every nook and cranny.

Instead, he created a true sense of urgency for me and my family. I was impelled to be his ally in leading the way for our family to come together and be winners in living with dying.

This we did, through sharing our gratitude letters, co-creating a participatory video celebrating Dad’s fifty-nine years on Earth and co-designing his funeral with him. We also co-created an inspired, aligned, and grounded vision for Dad to die at home, which he did. (His Mam and Dad did come to escort him to the next place – but that’s another story.)


A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

• Henry Adams


There were bumps in the road for sure, and moments where both family and friends were in denial. One family friend, whilst visiting Dad at the hospice, wouldn’t hear of Dad talk about dying.

“John, stop talking about dying. You’re going to beat this. You’re not going to die!” he said.

On another occasion Dad phoned to say, “It was almost divorce this morning!”

He’d attempted to bring up the planning of his funeral with our mother. It was too much for her.

“It’s okay. Let’s wait ‘til you come over next week and see where she is then.”

I offered to do some visioning with him over the phone in the meantime. Although it was extremely difficult for our mother to be part of planning Dad’s funeral, she showed courage and chose to come with us on that journey too.

On one of Dad’s more challenging days, he called me.

“Kerry,” he said, “there’s only three people that I can completely share my feelings with.” He sounded tired. “The rest aren’t ready to hear I’m dying.”

There was no anger in his voice.

“It’s ok. They’ll come around.”

Dad was the spark that ignited the flame of leadership in us, throughout our lives and especially in the way that he chose to die. Our family have honoured him by taking the flame that he ignited in us, and running with it.

Today, my professional career is all about passing the spark of leadership on to others.


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 


Question | Who sparked the flame of leadership in your life?


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Why Change Initiatives Stall

Why Change Initiatives Stall

Instead of fighting or freezing in the face of change, teams can learn to make different choices. In leading change, we lean forward into the unknown, together.

• Kerry Woodcock


Is your change initiative stuck? Instead of collaboration and motivation, do you see blame, stonewalling, contempt and defensiveness? Is your team divided?

If so, you are not alone. Pushing change can be painful and exhausting, if we have neither the knowledge, awareness, intentional mindset or skill to move in a different way.

Disruptive change has become the norm in our world, our communities and our organizations. More and more, teams once tasked with delivering on clearly defined tasks and producing clearly defined outcomes are living with the certainty that the future is uncertain. We are indeed in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) times.

Often, we know that change is needed, but can’t wrap our heads around how to make it happen. We can’t quite see clearly what we need to do, or when and how. 

We are disoriented, confused, and off-balance at the brink of change – on edge and fearful of falling into the abyss.


Good leaders set a condition where who we are as human beings is not only important for business results, it makes up the magnificence of who we are as human beings.

We can be honest, open and vulnerable with each other and we create a culture where being human is not only OK, it’s actually just exactly what it needs to be and it’s the best for building organizations that produce results.

William Adams


This is the point where we have choices. 

We can choose to fight against change, expanding vast supplies of energy and creating drama, attempting to stay in the land of comfort. Trying to go back to the way things once were, to claw back what we once had. 

We can choose to move away from the edge and flee, becoming highly critical and distant about all the reasons why the change that needs to happen is not the right thing to do.

We can choose to not move at all and stay frozen at the edge, stuck in a no man’s land, a waiting room. We wait for someone, anyone – well-intentioned or not, skilled or not – to lead us somewhere. Anywhere.

All these choices are often taken at once, often unconsciously, driven by a variety of assumptions that include: 

  • if we win and are better than the others, we will be secure
  • if we are right, we will have worth
  • if someone gives us clear expectations and we meet them, we will be safe.

Does this sound like you and your team in the face of change? Has the strain shut down progress? Are there divisions in your team, or between teams in your organization? Are toxic behaviours appearing, making the environment unpleasant, even ugly?

It is possible to choose another way. What does effective change look like, sound like, and feel like? 

Our fast-paced, rapidly changing global environment frequently places teams in a development gap. In Scaling Leadership, Bob Anderson and Bill Adams share that leadership must evolve to meet the challenges we collectively face.

Many teams lack the developmental capability for leading change together rather than turning into warring factions. Think West Side Story. Are you willing to die on a metaphorical hill?

What’s more, do your team members really think so differently?


Often, teams at war in change actually care about similar if not the same things. Leading change enables conflicted team members to align on the big opportunity. The first step is to identify what matters to everyone involved.

• Kerry Woodcock


In his book Drive, career analyst Daniel Pink describes three intrinsic motivations that propel team members forward:

  • Autonomy – the perception of having a choice and a voice in change
  • Mastery – the ability to grow and develop during change, and the personal and team opportunities that may arise through change
  • Purpose – the ability to do work that matters for a cause that matters.

How does this apply to leading change? When we enable Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose (AMP) in leading change, we AMPlify the power of relationship to support meaningful change. We also inspire and motivate a sense of urgency through change.


It is powerful relationships that create meaningful change.


Effective change is complex. In a fast-paced and rapidly evolving world, simply managing change is not enough.

Leading change effectively requires that we release control and embrace evolution. Change leaders involve every team member in creating the change we want to see, establishing a collaborative and innovative environment.

The key is to learn to lead change together.


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 


Question | What signs suggest that your team is stuck?


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Bring It On! Competition and Collaboration in Leadership

Bring It On! Competition and Collaboration in Leadership

“If you’re a true warrior, competition doesn’t scare you. It makes you better.”

• Andrew Whitworth


Although teamwork and collaboration are at the very heart of change leadership, partnerships aren’t always simple. Leading change requires understanding your own complexities as a change leader and how those complexities affect your relationship with others. For me, it involved recognizing how to harness this paradox of competition and collaboration.

It is in partnership that I have learned the most about myself, and perhaps my biggest learning has been around collaboration. I haven’t always been so great at collaborating with the different aspects of myself, especially those qualities that are polar opposites.

For I have a behavioural paradox: I am naturally highly collaborative and extremely competitive.

This paradox has been uncomfortable and confusing at times. You can bet it has been confusing for my collaborators on occasion too! I have been acutely aware of the discomfort of feeling split between wanting to bring my collaborative side to a situation one minute and the competitive side the next.


“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

• Walt Disney


It wasn’t until I began my Lumina practitioner training and was given the Spark Portrait which depicted this paradox so vividly that I became fully aware of it.

Only once I named what I was experiencing as a paradox could I claim it as a strength, when used with intention and skill.

Having a behavioural paradox gives us range, the ability to bring the strengths of both qualities to any situation. In embracing the strengths of both the collaborative and competitive parts of myself, I’ve become more intentional and transparent about which quality I use in each moment. Transparency helps to avoid losing the trust of others through seemingly inconsistent behaviour.


“Believing that your competition is stronger or better than you pushes you to better yourselves.”

• Simon Sinek


On reflection, never was this paradoxical behavior more apparent than in the world of competitive race-walking. Paradoxically, it was also whilst competing as a race-walker that I first learned about collaboration.

Coming from a remoter less populated county of Northern England, I was the only race-walker in my club. Not an issue for what is predominantly an individual sport. Year after year, my strongest competition would be one of the ‘Sheffield Girls’ – the strongest team of women walkers in the country at the time.

One particular race, in a lapse of concentration, I allowed four Sheffield Girls to pull in front of me to make a human wall across the track. They slowed right down and allowed their star walker to set the pace. The only way for me to be free to race my race was to go wide into lane three and go around them and their fourteen-year-old elbows!

I won that race. As we all met across the finishing line we smiled and hugged, knowing that from the start of the gun going off we’d answered the call of ‘Shall we begin?’ with a resounding ‘Yes!’


‘Yes!’ to collaboration of teammates and ‘Yes!’ to competing, for the purpose of deeply challenging each other to bring our best.

• Kerry Woodcock


In the next race, a road race, I was having a tough time being bumped and jostled in the beginning stage of the race by none other than the Sheffield Girls. To add to my troubles, I could hear someone breathing down my neck. It was world veteran champion Lillian Millen.

As she reached my shoulder, she hissed in my ear, “Follow me!”

Into the fray she barged with me tailgating her. Once we were through, she stepped to the side and let me through to set the pace and take her with me. For a brief moment we were collaborators, and in the next, competitors.

In agreeing to compete, each and every one of us in that race were collaborating in raising the bar. 

Celebrate your competitive streak and those who compete and collaborate with you! Although this paradox can be challenging at times, when I see people working together to raise the bar, it represents what is most inspiring about humanity.


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 


Question | Change leaders, how can you turn the urge to compete into an advantage for your team?


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Weaving Your Change Leadership Story

Weaving Your Change Leadership Story

“Great stories happen to those who can tell them.”

• Ira Glass

Storyweaving is a collaborative act. Indeed, storytelling has taken place around communal fires and been central to societies from the beginning. What kinds of stories does your team weave, both individually and collectively, about your adventures together in leading change?

I’ve had the privilege of weaving my story together with others in multiple strings of collaborations, as a co-worker, co-facilitator, co-author, co-coach, and co-parent. Often the stories of these collaborations were initiated somewhat unconsciously, well before we consciously asked the question:

“Shall we begin?”

In asking this one simple question and answering yes, we grant power to the relationship between storyteller and story listener and agree to join in the ancient dance of storyweaving. For story is an active process. Eric Heyne describes it as happening “in the mind of the audience, not just in the brain and mouth of the teller.”

Powerful stories act as flight simulators, allowing us to step into and feel the experience of the ‘other’.

Powerful stories act as a glue, creating a community and binding it together.

Powerful stories create a safe and courageous space in which to become more aware, intentional and practiced in new ways of being.

Yet there are two sides to every story! Whether we weave victim, overcoming, or emerging stories, each has a light and shadow side.


“Each kind of story has the potential to be empowering or disempowering, healthy or unhealthy, of service or disservice.”

• Kerry Woodcock


By listening intently to the stories being told within and around us, we begin to discern nuances in the texture of the weave.

What voice tells the story? Is it a voice of powerlessness, a voice of struggle, or a voice of possibility?

What role is being played? Is it the role of victim, hero or elder?

From what perspective is the story being told? Is it one of healing, of challenge, or of opportunity?


“Everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

• Patrick Rothfuss


The victim chooses to voice a victim story of self-compassion and forgiveness or blame and pity. The hero chooses to voice an overcoming story of challenge and growth or struggle and martyrdom. The elder chooses to voice an emerging story of opportunity and gratitude or entitlement and arrogance.

When there is powerlessness, a victim is healed and heals. When there is struggle, a hero is challenged and overcomes. When there is awe, it is the elder who creates opportunity with the emerging story.

Think about the story your team tells about leading change.


“The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story. This truth applies both to individuals and institutions.”

• Michael Margolis


What are your victim stories? Where are you playing the role of victim? Where does your voice speak to compassion? Or does your voice speak to judgement?

What are your overcoming stories? Where are you playing the role of hero? Where does your voice speak to challenge? Or does your voice speak to struggle?

What are your emerging stories? Where are you playing the role of elder? Where does your voice speak to opportunity? Or does your voice speak to entitlement?

What stories is your team choosing to weave individually and collectively? Could reframing your story empower you?

Shall we begin? Ask the question and, as a team, consider what stories you are telling about your journey in leading change. In so doing, you grant power to your relationship, clarify who you are and what you are beginning, and consciously collaborate to create a story of transformation.


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, She coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 


Question | What’s the great story you will tell?

Stillness at the Centre of Change

Stillness at the Centre of Change

Halcyon days of stillness are approaching. At the time of the Winter Solstice, the halcyon, a mythical bird, was said by the ancient writers to charm the wind and waves to calm. 

For thousands of years people have paused to celebrate the solstice, which literally means ‘sun is still’. In the northern hemisphere, the solstice is the turning point in late December where the days gradually begin to grow longer again. 

As in any time of change, it is crucial for change leaders to be halcyon-like. To charm the wind and waves of change to calmness, and to create the space for stillness. 

The word ‘calm’ is derived from ‘heat’ or ‘to burn,’ meaning ‘to rest in the heat of the day’. Where is your calm – your rest in the heat of the year? As one year comes to a close and another opens, where do you take the time for stillness? 


Take time to be still enough to notice where you are becoming more of who you are. Still enough to celebrate the edges you have crossed.


Become still enough to sense into the longing. Still enough to pick up the signals that are clues to what wants to emerge. 

It’s in the stillness that we inquire, let go, and let come. What are we longing for? What is our purpose? What are we wanting to create? What is calling to us? What is the systemic change we want to see in the world? In our communities? Our organizations? Our families?

Purpose is longing, and in longing there is tension. This creative tension exists between the challenge and the opportunity, the known and the unknown, worst fears and best hopes; the reactive mind and the creative mind. 

In the space between, we are at an edge. On one side is the status quo and safety. On the other side is our purpose and vision. We are in creative tension between safety and purpose. 

Which is calling to us the loudest? Which has the greater pull? Will we play it safe or be on purpose?

All too often we choose safety and comfort over purpose and the discomfort of VUCA (Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous). 


 “What appears to be a choice for comfort and safety is actually a managed level of anxiety.” 

• Bob Anderson, Mastering Leadership


Are we prepared to be uncomfortable as change leaders? Are we prepared to choose purpose over safety? If so, we must be prepared to look within and change ourselves at the same time as we change the systems of which we are a part.

Change leaders make the invisible forces of change visible. We are aware that we too can get in our own way, sabotaging the future we are committed to creating. 


“Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.”

• Pablo Picasso


To shuffle, step, leap, or fly into the future we envision, we must first delve into and explore our worst fears and the limiting beliefs beneath them. It is only then, says Anderson, that we give ourselves the opportunity to see that our fears are not what we thought they were. 

Or we can stay sitting in the illusion of safety and comfort, where the spark will fizzle and we will choke on a body of dense smoke.Conflict, whether internal or external, is a sign of life, a signal to new thoughts and beliefs that want to evolve. 


Your old self is too small for the purpose and vision that is emerging, and there is a much larger self that is fully capable of creating the future to which you can aspire.


This is how we move towards the spark of our longing and allow it to ignite the flame of vision. What questions can you take into the stillness to ignite your vision for the year to come?

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., leads change for a world of change, coaching pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, Kerry develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 


Question | Are you creating a place for stillness this season?


Intrigued by these ideas? 


Courage on the Brink

Courage on the Brink

“Out on the edge, you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the centre.”

• Kurt Vonnegut


Are you ready to be uncomfortable? As change leaders, we are after all in the business of challenging the status quo. Yes to discomfort? You’re up for that? Then let’s begin – we’re off to the edge! 

What is the edge? How do we bring ourselves there? And why are we seeking the edge anyway?

Edges signify change

Whenever there’s change, there’s an edge. An edge can put you in front of the competition. Having an edge can mean maintaining a lead or advantage. 

Another type of an edge involves being at the frontier of something new, a point or state immediately before something uncomfortable or momentous, the place between the known and unknown; the current and the new. It can be represented by a line or a point – or even a seeming abyss. 

Edges imply growth

The edge marks the threshold between what we know of our strengths, knowledge, and confidence, and what we need to step into as a leader, team or organization in a new way of being that wants to emerge. It is the edge that has us seek deeper meaning.

Edges are uncomfortable

At the edge, we might notice edgy behaviour from ourselves and others – silence, fidgeting, laughing, looking away or down, telling jokes or talking too much. Beneath these behaviours are emotions such as fear, excitement, anxiety, frustration, exhilaration, overwhelm, confusion. Whether thrilling or scary at the edge, or a mix of both, there’s discomfort.

Edges require courage

Stepping up to the edge is uncomfortable. It takes courage to step into and acknowledge discomfort, and to bring the curiosity required to explore the discomfort and risk being vulnerable. We must find the courage to delve into the deep purpose of why we want change. We risk exposing our hearts.


“Life is a travelling to the edge of knowledge, then a leap taken.”

• D.H. Lawrence


Those that seek the edge understand that is the place where we learn. In a world of change, we have the opportunity to seek the edge and grow through the discomfort of change with awareness. In this way, we courageously and intentionally transform ourselves, our teams, and our organizations.


“What good is a dream that doesn’t test the mettle of the dreamer? What good is a path that doesn’t carry us to the edge of our capacity and then beyond that place?”

• Michael Meade


The edge is the place of potential growth, which must be crossed if new ways of being are to emerge. At the edge, we have the potential to break into an emerging market, to create a gender-diverse organization, grow a family business into a community business, or to merge companies together. In crossing the edge, we as change leaders pioneer possibility.

Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

Question | Can you recall a time when exploring an edge brought rewards?


Bridging Differences | Tips for Travelling to Diverse Worlds

Bridging Differences | Tips for Travelling to Diverse Worlds

“The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

• Marcel Proust


For four magical years, I lived in a mud hut in Tanzania, working with a non-governmental organization on changing roles in forest management. Surrounded by the majestic forests of the East Usambara Mountains, I revelled in the differences, a contrast so vast for my twenty-something mind to grasp. I often had difficulty believing my hometown in the north of England could co-exist in the same timeframe.

As with the systems coaching I do now, the people I worked with were the experts on their own system. My role was not to teach or give advice, but to facilitate learning and action. I helped to foster the local communities’ knowledge, awareness, intention and skill around the relationship to forest resources. I was the expert on bringing out their collective intelligence and supporting them to use it more powerfully.

In place of the office, conference, and meeting rooms I work in today, we met in more exotic environments: grass or tin-roofed houses, village government offices, fields, the forest, or under the shade of the village meeting tree.

I embraced much of village life – in part, as a necessary function of my work and everyday living, and also out of respect for, curiosity about and a desire to connect with the people with whom I lived. I crossed crocodile-infested rivers and carried water in a bucket on my head. I collected firewood, wild vegetables and mushrooms with the women in preparation for cooking the evening meal. I learned quickly which species of tree would burn fiercely, adding aroma and flavour to the food, and which would create so much smoke that my eyes would sting and stream. I learned which plants and mushrooms would nourish and heal rather than poison.

Of course I had challenges aligning some differences with my world view. Luckily for me, our project manager Makange was a master at bridging the differences between our two worlds.


“The moment individuals engage in relationship, they engage to some extent in international politics: the meeting of different worlds with similar and different needs.”

• Marita Fridjhon & Faith Fuller


We were different in so many ways. I was British, female, white, in my early 20s, university educated, and brought up in a rural town. Makange was Tanzanian, male, black, in his mid-40s, primary school educated, and brought up in a village.

Our first week working together was a steep learning curve. We circled each other, jostling over power and rank, and marking out the boundaries of our relationship. We were from two different worlds, and our rules of engagement were vastly different. After playing games for three days we finally sat down and worked it out. The atmosphere was a little cool for a day, but not so cool that a little humour couldn’t warm it.

On the morning of the first meeting we led together, I heard Makange chanting and singing in a whisper. I was curious and asked what he was doing. He shared his special magic ritual. It would allow him to speak the right words, so that all would hear each other and be agreeable. Whatever the reason, the day of that first meeting was incredible. We were meant to co-lead.

A local Msambaa himself, Makange knew the lay of the land.


“Throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

• Mark Twain


‘African time’ was one cultural difference that truly challenged me. I was careful to set appropriate meeting times for communities – no clashes with funerals, weddings, festivals, market or firewood collection days, no conflict with seasonal field work or daily house work. Yet meetings still habitually started at least an hour later than scheduled. I knew that people in the village didn’t have watches or clocks, but was still frustrated by the relaxed attitude toward time.

It took us an hour or two to walk to hilltop villages. We would wait another two before starting a meeting which often lasted two to three hours. Afterward we would make the long trek back home through forests filled with snakes, attacking safari ants, and the occasional angry hornet. Often, a fallen tree or swollen river diverted us.

One day, in frustration, I suggested to Makange that we simply arrive to meetings an hour later than scheduled. I don’t know how he managed not to laugh! Having worked closely with Europeans for many years, he also knew something of the wazungu obsession with time.

With a twinkle in his eye and his usual sense of humour, he simply reminded me of the ‘bush-phone.’ We needed to be at the meeting place at or before the scheduled time. This would initiate the passing on of news of our arrival from house to house and field to field. Gradually everyone would receive the news and come in from the fields, get washed, eat, and then come to the meeting.

Our challenge was to honour the less hurried pace of life and allow time to connect with people individually, while also appreciating my impatience and faster-paced, task-orientated way of doing things. Makange and I created a strategy that worked for us as a pair and for the community as a whole.

Being the faster walker on the mountain pathways, I would arrive first to greet the elders sitting in the shade of the meeting tree. As I waited for Makange, I learned the joy of watching the world go by.

Upon his arrival, he would take up conversation with the elders. I would then be off to become part of the bush phone, moving from house to house, greeting the women, being welcomed to food, and initiating discussion about the meeting at hand.

If the meeting took an interminable time to get started, I could always sit in the shade with my latest novel and disappear into yet another world. It wasn’t quite the accepted behaviour, but since I was often seen as an alien anyway, I could get away with some odd behaviour from time to time.

My strange look, sound, and smell and weird way of speaking Kiswahili and the local Kisambaa language served to entertain the village children and some adults.


“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

• Henry David Thoreau


Makange and I learned to bridge many differences over the four years we lived and worked together. It wasn’t always as easy as the agreements we made over African time, and it wasn’t always pretty!

I often wondered Makange tried out his magic with me. Once, I found him trying to catch my first footprints of the day. Over the years I found small newspaper-wrapped ‘medicine’ packages in strange places – under the driver’s seat of the Land Rover, and under my bed! When I asked about it, he told me not to worry, as his medicine never worked on me.

Through my experience in living in Tanzania and working with Makange, you might think that by now, I’d have learned to embrace the differences in all my professional and personal relationships.

Let’s just say I’m human – or perhaps still an alien – and a work in progress. I can still be shocked each time I discover I’m on another planet, speaking a foreign language, or worse still, that others are looking at me as if I’ve grown pointy ears. Ever had that experience with a work colleague? Generational, gender, cultural and personal differences can all be part of the territory in a professional environment.

What can we do to bridge the differences between our differing worlds and views of reality? As Fridjhon and Fuller suggest – travel. Whether you are actually visiting another country or simply exploring a different work environment, these travel tips can help to prepare you for the most eye-opening trips of a lifetime – the journey into another’s internal land.


Tips for travelling to diverse worlds


Tip 1 – Be willing to travel.

Most of us are so used to the personal and cultural values, norms and assumptions of our own internal world and culture that we spend little time truly exploring another world. Although I may have travelled a long way physically to be in a remote Tanzanian village, at times I was less than willing to travel emotionally.

Give yourself a vacation and visit a different viewpoint. I encourage you to try it. If it doesn’t turn out to be a vacation, at least it’ll be an experience. Remember you don’t have to take up residence. You are just visiting. You can return to your own land at any time.

Tip 2 – Leave your baggage at home.

Each of us is a complex land of preferences, beliefs, and values created through socialization, education, culture, religion, and personal experience. When you travel to another land, leave your baggage – your position on a topic or issue – behind. Your role is to remain open to experiencing the way things are from another perspective. So when you travel, please travel lightly. Your heavy baggage can stay at home, and all your creature comforts will be there for you when you return.

My baggage did always contain a book. Sometimes a flooded river meant I would be stuck somewhere for three days or more, and there was only so much Kiswahili I could speak each day without my brain bursting. Still, I was always conscious of the impact my reading had on those around me. I would explain that when I wanted to be alone with a book, I was okay, I wasn’t lonely and didn’t need rescuing. More often than not, I would put down my book, share the story and hear amazing stories in return.

Tip 3 – Dress for the climate.

Check out the climate before you go. Ever dressed for the tropics and then felt a little chilly? Anticipate differences from place to place. For instance, it makes as much sense for me to expect an immediate response from a laid-back introverted colleague as to expect fast food in my remote Tanzanian village (though tell that to a donor who visited our project).

Tip 4 – Be a good visitor.

Most of us agree on what attitudes make a good visitor to a foreign country, and the same attitudes apply when you visit a co-worker’s world. Bring your respect, open-mindedness, observation, curiosity, awareness and willingness to learn. Give yourself permission to not know everything and to be taught how it’s done in this other place. Find out what’s important in their world and the value of their way of doing things. Revel in the mystery and adventure of learning about a foreign land and another person.

Tip 5 – Be appreciative and willing to be influenced.

Notice what you appreciate about the other person’s way of being. What might be useful to bring into your partnership? What does another way of doing things have to offer? Be willing to be influenced by the other.

Tip 6 – Get an experienced guide.

While you can make the journey alone following tips, advice, guidelines and guidebooks, all of the greatest explorers of the world know that it’s often easier, quicker, less intimidating, and more rewarding to go with an experienced guide. If you are exploring a different work environment, a systems coach may be your best resource.

With practice, you can become a master traveller, growing in awareness about what’s important to you and others. Once you learn to appreciate other ways of perceiving reality, the real adventure begins. Your challenge is to intentionally evolve and co-create a new environment that brings the best of both worlds – as well as any exotics you wish to import from your travels.

As for me, I’m forever grateful for the time I spent with Makange in my remote Tanzanian village. Sadly, Makange died a year after I left Tanzania. In his honour, I continue to master my skill as an explorer, collaborator, and guide as I co-create partnerships that bridge the differences between worlds.


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 


Question | Does exploring new cultures intrigue you?

From Managing Change to Leading Change

From Managing Change to Leading Change

The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.

• Albert Einstein


You have a brilliant idea to progress your organization, yet you hesitate to bring it forward. When you tried to manage change in the past, team members rebelled. You wish they could share in your vision.

Have you ever seen a starling murmuration? They are vivid visual representations of leading change. The action of one bird triggers a ripple of motion through the rest. Although it can be difficult to pinpoint where the impulse begins, it echoes to create swirling and ever-evolving patterns of motion in flight.


Starling flocks … are best described with equations of ‘critical transitions’ – systems that are poised to tip, to be almost instantly and completely transformed, like metals becoming magnetized or liquid turning to gas. Each starling in a flock is connected to every other.

• Wired Magazine’s Brandon Kiem


Other types of systems, from human social groups to ecosystems, immune systems and the stock market, can behave in similar ways.

Once, we thought of change as a somewhat mechanical process that could be designed and managed. Change management involves planning, organization, budgeting, staffing, measurement and solutions. Set into motion, it is expected – for the most part – to work in predictable and linear ways.

In the era of management for production, this strategy worked. It was possible to make a change in one place and predict what would happen elsewhere. Change could be controlled using a recipe.

Today’s world is fast-paced and in constant flux. Even the way we think about change is changing. The transformational, cultural changes we are trying to create are complex, with many moving parts. Multiple stakeholders are involved. They need to buy into the reasons behind change and become excited about it.


To encourage evolving and innovative change, relationship is key. It is powerful relationships that create meaningful change.


Change leadership involves envisioning, inspiring, influencing, engaging and emerging change – techniques that help develop collaborative, responsive teams. Rather than simply managing change, organizations are beginning to lead change as well. 

Think of it like raising a family. Each child is unique, and there is no perfect process. Just because you have brought up one in a certain way doesn’t mean the same strategies will work for another.


Collaboration is an essential part of creating a team that is able to pivot, innovate and evolve.


Effective change leadership can be contagious. Once a few core people are truly inspired, they convey that energy to the rest of the team. You don’t have to do it all yourself.

Some might say that there is no need to distinguish between change management and change leadership. However, many who train and consult in the field of change management have already realized the value of evolving the role of change leader.

To lead change in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, we must let go of control and embrace evolution. As agents of change, bringing more awareness to how we see and speak about change allows us to become more intentional and skilled in working with it. 


Kerry Woodcock, Ph.D., coaches pioneers and influencers to amplify the power of relationship and lead over the edge of change. As Principal of Novalda, she develops change leadership capability in organizations and social systems. 

Question | Has your thinking about how to create change evolved?