Pedal power

Liz Dimmock

Liz Dimmock, founder of Women Ahead, shares lessons for mentoring and coaching from the sports world. This year she is leading a team of women cyclists around the world.

In my last column I wrote about the importance of learning from role models, coaches and mentors. In recent months I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside (and learning from) a remarkable woman called Patsy Rodenburg. As well as playing a unique role at Women Ahead, Patsy is a world-renowned voice and acting coach, a global authority on Shakespeare and a best-selling author. She has worked with stars of screen and stage, such as Nicole Kidman, Natalie Portman and Dame Judi Dench, as well as world leaders in business, politics and sport.

Launching and leading social enterprise, Woman Ahead, has given me the opportunity to work and partner with some of the UK’s most successful athletes and some of our most respected sporting coaches.

A recurring theme within high-performance sport is the concept of being ‘in the zone’, or ‘flow’; of reaching and maintaining a state that gives the greatest likelihood of an optimal performance and a positive outcome. In recent months, my work with Patsy has convinced me that a similar state-presence is every bit as important in an effective coaching or mentoring relationship.

Patsy’s definition of presence comprises three circles that describe the way human energy or attention moves:

In the First Circle, this energy moves inwards, to the self. A person in the First Circle is likely to appear withdrawn or detached. If you are trying to engage with them, you are likely to feel ignored, dismissed or insignificant. Equally, when you yourself are in the First Circle, you are not observant or perceptive. Of course, there is a time and place for introspection and reflection, but being in the First Circle is not conducive to an effective coaching or mentoring dialogue.

In the Third Circle, the opposite of the First Circle, human energy moves outwards, with a force and energy likely to attract the attention of others. Third Circle energy lacks intimacy. Those in the Third Circle want to make an impact on others: to be felt and seen, and certainly not ignored. Third Circle energy obstructs listening and understanding, and is detrimental to effective two-way communication and empathy.

Lastly, Patsy defines the Second Circle, in which people fully connect with the world; where they are present and alert, and where their energy is “focused on a specific object or person and moved in both directions: taking in and giving out”. As coaches and mentors, this is the zone state that will lead to our greatest insights and improvements. As Patsy puts it: “Deep, active and thorough learning only takes place…in Second Circle.”

Patsy also says that “dialogue can change the world”. At Women Ahead we believe that effective mentoring can bring about profound and genuine change, at an individual, organisational and, ultimately, societal level, and that as mentors and coaches, dialogue is our most powerful tool. The simplicity and power of this notion is something that gives me a huge amount of energy and excitement – presence is something that we all have access to, at any moment.

The flip side is that being truly present in the always-on 21st century is arguably harder than ever before – there have been many times in my own life when the only circle I seem to have been in is chasing my own tail.

Being present is something that I am mindful of, and work towards, on a daily basis. My challenge to you is to think about where you are focusing your energy and attention, and which circle you might be in.