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Smashing Glass Ceilings with Shakespear's Help

Steve had struggled to get approval to attend the leadership event at St Georges House, Windsor Castle. He had struggled to get the budget allocated to attend the event, in fact, the reason Steve wanted to attend this event was because he struggled. He had not always struggled but his most recent employer seemed to swarm and suffocate his ability to achieve and inspire his team and gain that next promotion. He could not understand how he had lost his mojo, how had he lost his love of life, in fact, how had he become - lost. His point of view found little support in board meetings, his ideas were rarely taken up unless supported by someone else and he was never sucked into the huddle when the A Team met to bounce around ideas. It wasn’t as though he felt he was invisible, his boss knew where to find him when her finger needed to be pointed at someone, his boss could always find him when a veiled threat needed to be made and his confidence would sink even further into his chest walls. He knew he was getting smaller every day but he seemed to have lost that knockout punch he was famous for in his earlier career. Why was he suffocating, why was he dying inside and yet he knew he had more left to give. As bleak as he felt, he knew he was a good guy and although he was not an influencer today he wanted to be back in the driving seat of his career. He could not jeopardise the mortgage or the security his job offered but he had more to offer life than this.

Steve was married with three beautiful children. His wife was his childhood sweetheart and they still held hands each day. He watched her succeed in all she addressed. Lately, the children had asked mum why Dad looked sad and did not laugh at silly jokes anymore? For the first time ever Dad did not make it to school sports day which was odd because he was so proud of winning the Dads sack race three years ago. He had stopped cleaning the car and was watching more TV than ever, even fishing programmes, which was strange because he hated fishing. His wife was pleased when he announced he was going on the leadership programme, she wanted Steve back. 

Carrying his case, packed for two days and nights he stepped off the train at Windsor train station, a short walk through the victorian shopping arcade and he saw the amazing profile of Windsor Castle and within the castle walls lay St Georges House which would be his home for the next two days and nights. Walking through the security at Henry the VIII gate through the crowds of excited tourists and then lifting the chain to walk into the private area of St Georges House had his heart pumping. A thousand years of history, Kings Queens and noblemen had all walked this route before him and now it was his chance to find ‘Steve’ and his potential. He sat in his private room, no TV, no phone, just a bed and himself. The quiet allowed him to hear his own heart song and he knew it had been quiet too long.

He joined the other leaders on this programme of discovery for lunch, fresh food, fruits and a glass of wine helped the initial introductions be made. Just 20 people plus the group leaders. After lunch, they moved down the hill into the Vicar’s Hall where they would work together for the next 48 hours. This was no ordinary room, it was the place where Shakespeare first performed the Merry Wives of Windsor in front of Queen Elizabeth the 1st. In the calm solemness of this room, he was going to collaborate with others to create his own new leadership voice and vision. 

During the next two days he listened to the stories of others, he heard tales of success, of frustration and confusion. He was in awe of the giants who shared the same room as him, the giants he had lunched with on day one and over the course of the next two days he would also hear how, in their own words, they were trapped too through circumstance, conflict or unique glass ceilings. One by one the team opened up and grew strong because of their shared journey. Each journey was individual and different to his own but the resonance was striking, the commonality was a passage to stronger leadership and a need to find their own route through the maze of options ahead. Between fine food, tours of St Georges Chapel at night and music evenings the layers peeled back to reveal a group of 20 future leaders, hungry for growth and the chance to use their talents. 

The group leaders were less facilitators and more catalysts for the peer support and challenge which had been missing in their lives. The magic crept into the room when each group member was able to offer insights, challenge, encouragement and belief to the others, although still blinded by a solution to their own way forward. However, as the clocked ticked away their own path became clear, it was wonderful to be challenged by others who only offered it with good intent. All were helped to see their brand of leadership had great value and value in the market place. Many were reminded of past glories and encouraged to build upon them in the future. As the final morning arrived the Vicar’s Hall was awash with confidence, each person had found a stronger voice, developed a vision and understood their own action plan to achieve their leadership potential. As Shakespeare looked on from a previous age he was pleased to observe that during the two days these 20 strangers had become bonded by both tragedy and comedy. Each person had a new story to tell, an understanding of the barriers and a route through them. 

In the calm and quiet of this most private place Steve had shared with noblemen and noblewomen his own manuscript, each had collaborated in defining their next chapter; business owners who resolved to divorce awkward business partners who no longer shared a common goal for their company, Founders to recruit new CEOs to take their companies to the next stage and support in future from the chairman seat, women returning to work having tackled the toughest role in life - motherhood - now realised the value this additional skill set would bring to future leadership roles, this time away from the board did not need to be seen as a period of loss but a period of investment to develop new skills and energies which only motherhood can bring. Steve saw young managers in the group grow maturity, and older managers find the passions of their youth. He supported each person in the room to dig deep and remember where their inner strength was, and in doing so, found his own. 

As Steve packed his case and walked back out into the world of tourists, phone calls, post it notes and pointless management meetings he carried with him the most precious gift, that of resolve, confidence and belief in himself. He knew he had battles ahead of him but he now had the tool kit he needed to win. He had to resolve the relationship with his CEO quickly or accept that she was broken not him and therefore move on to an organisation that would adore his energy, skills and vision for leading. He was not determined to exit but rather he was just determined to be the leader he had always been, within or outside his current employer. Each person on his programme at Windsor left with a unique forward plan emboldened by the friendships they had made and the support of the group leaders who had guided them to find all that was great about their leadership style even when it had become buried in the pit of their stomachs. 

Over the next few weeks and months, there were many emails and texts between the Windsor Castle group. Meetings in coffeeshops, introductions to new networks and support with role out plans. Steve found a new role as CEO, he stopped watching fishing programmes on TV and laughed so much he cried with his children. He found it hard to reconcile the transformation in himself to those just those two days, but he knew his profound sense of confidence had been stimulated by sitting in a room with strangers who became lifelong friends under the watchful eye of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth the 1st. 

footnote; I was delighted to be the facilitator for these programmes with Pete Ashby a hero of many transformations. We delight in the fact that leaders come in all shapes and sizes, each carving out a journey to their aspirational role. We have all experienced the blockers, the bandits, the dead ends and the internal politics which can throw a career off track. And that's before we encounter vile boardroom bullies. The leaders who join this programme are the heroes of the future, bonded together with their new networks they are transforming our organisations of the future in public, private and government situations. 

If this tale rings bells in your ears, if you are stuck, confused knowing you have more to offer, watching fishing programmes on TV or your children wonder why you smile less, join us on the next leadership programme at Windsor Castle and lets define your resolve and passion for the next big role in your career. Contact me directly and we can start the process of finding your leadership future.

Roy Newey

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