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Possibilities Newsletter November 2021

Dear Friend

I hope you are well in this month of Diwali and Thanksgiving. Two years into the pandemic, I hope you are finding light and much to be thankful for wherever you are.

Over in the Bamboo Blog for coaches and trainee coachees this month, I'm looking at why coaches try not to give advice. This month I also gave two workshops for leaders learning to take a 'coach approach' and saw them also struggling not to advise instead.

So I started writing about Covid bringing the stuff of leadership development programmes to us all:- complexity, 'wicked problems', navigating a VUCA world. How my Thanksgiving get-togethers this week had contingencies based on guest restrictions and how travel from Singapore now requires scenario planning skills. I was hoping to explain how advising, while well-meaning, fails us in complex, 'butterfly effects' times and how developmental coaching cultivates a way of being that is different from the 'command and control' or 'predict and prescribe' models of leadership (and self-leadership) we're used to.

But then I found myself thinking about.....Monkeys.

Monkey business

A metaphor we sometimes use in coach training is of a Manager approached by their report who has a Monkey, a problem to solve. The Manager taking a coaching approach ensures their report walks away with their own Monkey, otherwise at the end of the get the picture. Coaching avoids multiple Monkey adoptions.

The impulse to advise usually comes from not wanting to stand by while someone struggles with a Monkey. We know we can't take the Monkey....but maybe we can give some Monkey Wrangling advice to get it under control? We've wrangled a few Monkeys ourselves and some of them look just like this one.

It just so happens that a whole family of actual Monkeys arrived in our new garden last week. We're learning permaculture and every day enjoy the progress of the long beans and pumpkin flowers, the papaya and banana trees huddled in a circle. That is until the Monkey visit, after which we had leafless papaya stalks, nibbled-to-the stump beans, broken banana trees and a pumpkin flower strewn ground...

Our household of irate humans was pretty Anti-Monkey after the carnage. For the next few days we kept the Super Soaker on standby in case they came back, but they didn't.

What did come back this week were the papaya leaves, bright green and healthy looking. Plus so many super long beans. And even more pumpkin flowers.

The Monkeys proved to our plants that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. As coaches and leaders, if we can resist the urge to become Monkey Wranglers by proxy, we have the chance to help someone through the messy process of co-creating with their Monkeys, maybe even getting to know them better for the next time they need Monkey Gardener help.

Cultivating qualities for unprecedented times

Advising relies on precedents, formulae or transferring lessons from our observations or experience. It involves looking back for something to help someone living forward, someone different from us, in different relationships, culture and systems.

As my own little monkey starts considering Uni, I look back at the supposedly useful subjects I studied (Politics and Economics, then Law, then Business) and realise it was only the supposedly un-useful one, Philosophy, that changed how I saw and thought and lived. There were no formulae, precedents or frameworks, just the opportunity to grapple with important questions about what it is to live well as a human being. Studying Philosophy gave us tools to make meaning in our own lives and make sense of our own experiences.

I'm beginning to believe that what young people need most is protection from the brainwashing that had us sleepwalk into climate catastrophe in the first place plus ways to help them stand in a field of precarious uncertainty and sense for themselves the possibilities yet to emerge. When I recently received a COP26 themed newsletter from highly esteemed professional advisors claiming ideas for a future that is 'sustainable and inclusive and growing', I wondered what planet they were talking about and whether they'd looked around lately at the one we're on. Their question:"without growth, how could we achieve prosperity and well-being or pay for the transitions needed to make the economy more sustainable and inclusive?" betrayed a mindset of fixed assumptions and lack of imagination (or courage) that a curious teenager these days could answer with "Steady state economies. Doughnut Economics. Massive redistribution of wealth.Duh" And all without lifting their eyes from an imaginary world they are co-creating on a screen.

We have not been cultivating openness, humility, courage and imagination in the gardens of our educational institutions or corporate cultures. Yet to regenerate what we have collectively depleted we'll need all these plus the capability to keep our hope and spirits up and play nicely with others. I once asked an HRBP the purpose of a Law firm offsite for new partners who had competed for years to get the coveted partnership offers. She told me:"we need them to collaborate as partners, but now they all hate each other". It turns out that you get to "Squid Game" the same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.

What if it's the relationships (and not the economy, stupid)?

How then do we develop leaders who know how to ask questions that get us closer to the truth? How do we develop generative listening that is deep enough and wide enough to surface answers from the bottom up, rather than talking that cascades ill-fitting solutions from the top down? How do we engender collaborations which move things forward with others in a co-creative way?

Cultivating these qualities and capabilities in ourselves and others takes time and practice in relationships based on mutual trust, respect and freedom of expression. There will still be things that are merely 'complicated' and for which we need advice but for growing up and showing up to the complexity of our time, maybe we need less 'trusted advisors' and more 'trusted listeners' who help us learn to listen deeply to ourselves, others and our world, make better sense of it all and encourage us to act upon what we hear.

Thank you to my own trusted listeners among you and wishing you all a smooth and safe passage until we meet again.

Take care and be in touch!

Sue x


Bamboo Group Supervision for Coaches

For those new or experienced coaches who wish to continue to develop through reflective exploration of their practice, come join us for monthly coaching Supervision sessions.

Sessions will be 90 mins in groups of no more than 6 participants: if you are interested to join please email for details as we will be creating groups and slots according to interest.

Coaching for Development 2022

We still have a few places for Cohort 4 of Coaching for Development (CFD) starting in March 2022

This rich, Integral Coach training programme leads to an ACC credential with the International Coach Federation and is intended for leaders and practitioners wishing to develop themselves and others.

In Asia this is uniquely offered as a small circle group of 12 per cohort in order to facilitate deep and rich discussions and a close community of practice.

If you are interested, please contact for further details

Bamboo Book Club 2022

For the first round of this topic-based Bamboo Book Club, each month we read one (or all!) of a short list of books on a given topic and then came together to discuss how they can support us and our coaching clients.

Topics are:

Wisdom of the Body

Emotional well-being

Sustaining Relationships

Understanding how we think

Responding to the world

Food for the soul

We are planning to start another round next year on the same topics but with some new books.

If you would be interested to join or know more about the format please contact

For books on the list that we studied last round, click on our list of Bamboo Book Picks below


For enquiries about support for individuals, teams or organisations during this time, click on the button below to be in touch for further details. Thanks for being with us. Take good care of yourselves.

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