4 minutes reading time (897 words)

Lessons from a Three Legged Stool

Lessons from a Three Legged Stool


I made a three-legged stool. I have never made anything from wood before and had pretty low expectations of the results that I could achieve. However, my stool is sturdy, functional and, if I say so myself, rather beautiful. More importantly, I had the time of my life doing it. I had a complete sense of flow state and timelessness in the process. In one day I split out a log, made tenons and mortices, shaped a seat and sculpted the legs on a shaving horse.

At the end of the day, my muscles and hands were aching and my heart was bursting with pride in my achievement.

As I reflected on the experience later, I wondered what made it possible for someone with no previous knowledge or experience to learn and accomplish so much in a day. My conclusion is that it was down to the environment that Eoin (our tutor) created. I noticed remarkable parallels with my work as a coach and facilitator.

Safety First

At the beginning of the day, I was nervous and eyed the tools and equipment in the workshop with anxiety. I am sure the others felt the same. There were a few jokes about missing fingers and our distance from the nearest A&E.

The very first thing that Eoin did was to give us a safety briefing in a matter of fact way – no drama. We only had three things to remember; store tools properly when not in use, do not creep up on people or startle them and stop working if you want to speak to someone. He also asserted that people do not get hurt if they apply common sense and care for themselves and for others.

The calm and undramatic briefing instilled me with confidence and a responsibility to use my common sense to keep myself and others safe.

I also noticed during the day, that Eoin and the other tutors both modelled these behaviours and reminded us when we slipped up -  never, ever ignoring the safety principles, even if there was no apparent immediate danger.

When I am working with leaders, I am very conscious of creating safety as soon as possible and also sharing the responsibility for safety with the leaders. Safety is a necessary emotional state for deep learning .

Modelling “Good”

As we moved from each step of the process to the next, Eoin or another tutor demonstrated the technique, told us what the most important aspects were for a successful outcome and then let us get on and try it.

On reflection, I notice that they modelled good approaches, techniques and process, rather than good product. I think if I had been shown a “perfect” product at each stage, it would have undermined my confidence that I could deliver the same product.

I already know what a perfect three-legged stool looks like. What I needed was help to understand what I could do to achieve a great result.

I get feedback from the leaders I work with that they appreciate the way I relay information and models and also that I share my own leadership stories - even the ones I am less than proud of. I try not to focus on perfection. Instead, we explore and understand what really matters and makes a dfference to the eventual outcome. Our goal is to get better at executing the skills - to be the best each of us can be.

Fostering Self-Belief

“If you can build a three-legged stool, you can build a house.” Eoin said with absolute sincerity. “You will leave here today with your stool and you will have made it yourself. You will do it, not me.”

At no point during the day was anyone told they were doing something wrong or badly. Of course there was “correction” but that was always the result of Eoin suggesting to try something to see if it made things easier or better.

I do remember a lot of coaching, sincere praise and encouragement for both technique and results. Eoin also made a point of spending time with each of us in conversation. Sharing some of his personal story and asking about our lives. Throughout the day, he demonstrated his care for us as people, his confidence in our ability to achieve and his willingness to share his experience and knowledge.

I do also recall being left alone a great deal. When I was in “flow” and making progress (both learning and achieving), the tutors left us to it. I have no doubt they were watching carefully, but I was not aware of it.

How important it is for us to "connect" with others; even when we are working independently. We have a deep need to feel valued and recognised for our effort and not just our achievements. My self-belief grew out of the experience of crafting my stool, not the resulting object.

The Stimulation

I left at the end of the day physically exhausted, emotionally “full” and mentally buzzing. Learning something completely new, outside anything I have ever experienced and getting to a product I could be proud of is an experience I want to make a habit of for the future.

Next time, perhaps a garden bench, or a spindle backed chair?

If you would like to know more about Eoin’s workshops, have a look at www.thebigtreesociety.co.uk

The Origins of Courage


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