What you DON’T want to know about yourself…..

by Sandy Burgham, Founder, Play Contemporary Leadership Colab


We’ve all met them: talented people who seem unable to shift from a particular way of being that even they suspect is holding them back. Usually written off as stubborn or having low EQ (despite their own protestations otherwise) they progress to a particular level in their lives and get stuck. I dub them as having a sort of ‘locked-in syndrome’ – a term I borrow from the condition suffered by Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French ex-Fashion Editor. After a catastrophic stroke lead to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in his body except a few eye movements, Bauby dictated his incredibly moving memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, in a painstaking process of literally blinking a stream of consciousness to a secretary. The symbolism is devastating. A diving bell was the precursor to a wetuit and diving mask – a restrictive rubber suit with a heavy inflexible metal chamber for the head with an airhose leading to the surface for oxygen. Hence, one could not go too deep and vision was limited to the small circle right in front of one’s head.

So what’s this got to do with professional development? Well, most people want to learn about leadership skill sets i.e what to do. Many are allergic to the development bit which is more about who you are. While they cling to a thin understanding of the rhetoric around “authentic leadership” this is interpreted as yes that’s just who I am so suck it up world. Because they are trapped in what they mistakenly perceive as the safety and comfort of their own diving bell, they stick close to the surface for air and suffer from a type of tunnel vision.

You will have heard that most commitments to change fail. You may also accept the iceberg analogy that the world only sees 10% of what’s above the waterline. But to change behaviour you need to dive well below the waterline to deconstruct the belief system that created it. It was when I was about to lead a brilliant bunch of senior business executives through a year-long programme that I thought it might be helpful to go below the waterline “for research purposes only”. Sure, I’d “snorkelled” within the safety of my own comfort zone, occasionally pointing out colourful coral that was a bit sharp but I never went into the shadows. Why should I? I was pretty successful I thought….

This led me to work with Jenny Devine an integrative coach whose specialty is the Jungian work of masks and shadows. It is a simple and straightforward process for those who are actually up for transformation; they may have noticed a few recurring patterns in their life. It was precisely in taking a longer breath in, going deeper to understand my own behaviours which certainly had served me up until a point, that profound shifts occurred for me. It was in nailing those masks and shadows that I had, (as well all do), that lead to the ability to flex, reinvent and play in a far more rewarding and impactful way. And now a few years later, Jenny is one of the key collaborators at Play and this work has become a core part of what we do in leadership development because it simply speeds up the process of transformation.

For Jean-Michel Bauby, the diving bell represented the immobilization and helplessness of his syndrome. The butterfly metaphor speaks for itself. It was in the forced confrontation of how he had lived his life that he was able to break free from limiting/repetitive patterns of thinking and being, to go on to experience and impact others in ways he had never imagined.

If you are wanting to fast track your development or simply suspect repeated patterns are tripping you up, then get in touch with jenny@playclc.com

021 1207166 or me sandy@playclc.com

The next Conscious Leadership workshop is starts on 6th July in our Auckland location.

By Sandy Burgham, Founder, Play Contemporary Leadership Colab












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