How it got here – the history, logic and psychology behind the wheel

Jul 3, 2020

Current events are showing us just how interconnected we all are. Global economic, social and environmental events are affecting us all. We are increasingly aware of who and what we rely on, near and far, for our own health, safety and well-being. And who is relying on, and is affected, by us. And not forgetting the importance of looking after ourselves, especially if we have to look after others.

So many of us are looking at what is happening, and where it is heading, and wanting a different now and a different future to unfold, and we recognise that we can’t just leave that to others – we have to be part of the change. Fundamental beliefs about what is right, what can be trusted and what is needed are changing. We are being shaped by events, we respond, and shape events, and they respond and shape us again… And so the dance goes on.

This awareness of the interconnectedness means that seeing ourselves as individuals is not the whole picture. Seeing our organisations as ‘stand alone’ in their success, and primarily competitive, is failing to see the essential (and greater) role of collaboration and mutuality in the world in which they operate. Indeed a nation that believes it can be strong and secure and well without consideration to the strength and security and well-being of its neighbours soon finds out what ’me first’ brings in its wake. Actions, reactions and consequences – all things are, indeed, connected.

So, for individuals it is not surprising that a search for meaning, and a desire for a better world, a better future and personally making a difference, are widespread. People want work and lives that are purposeful, bring joy and enable them to play their part in making a difference to something that matters greatly to them. Without purpose, and a sense of personal agency in knowing what to do and how to do it in shaping the desired future, there is a breeding ground for fear, frustration, hopelessness and helplessness.

Leaders are looking to find their compass; something that can help them guide through the mists and storms of business and personal life, and hopefully enable them to leave what is in their charge in a better place. Some profound wisdoms need to be held strongly, some lost wisdoms need to be rediscovered, and a lot of the thinking that got us here has now served its time and has to be left behind.

Organisations are wanting to be seen and recognised for taking care of their people, their customers, their suppliers, and the communities and wider world that give them the resources to operate. We are moving from ‘exploitation to nurture” as Josie Maclean puts it.

Most coaching (and indeed leadership tools and models) look at achieving at the independence level: a person, a team, an organisation’s success. Neil’s Wheel has been designed as a tool that recognises dependence, independence and interdependence – the interconnectedness of all of these things – so that people can discover a clearer map of how these things really relate to each other for them. With this clarity they can align thoughts, feelings and actions in a way that is both holistic and focussed.

How did that design happen?

Making the connections

So for several years I was looking for something that will enable people to achieve long and meaningful success – recognising, with interconnectedness, that success means considering ourselves and what is happening now, but also extending beyond now and beyond ourselves – and to consider our role and impact in a wider sense – something that can initiate a real, deep, profound exploration of enabling health, hope and positive change for others and the world around us, now and into the future.

The success of the coaching approaches

It was also important to me that that it embodies all that is powerful in coaching and is causing it to be a vital resource for success; the solution focus, the future focus, the “I’m OK – you’re OK mindset”, the assumption that the client is expert and guide (that they know more about themselves and their business than an outsider could), we meet on the level as equals, non-directive, non-judgemental, ‘aspiration not castigation’, the balance of challenge and support, and where questions are the answer. A challenge here is an ethical one – if the client doesn’t mention a subject, can the coach raise it? Or is that the coach’s agenda?

Enable, don’t tell

The Buckminster Fuller quote was very present with me: “If you want to change how a person thinks… give them a tool the use of which will gradually cause them over time to think differently.”

Build on ‘what works’

And with that, I was also mindful of the Wheel of Life – a widely used coaching tool that is easy to use and invites clients to see aspects of their life as a whole – though I was aware that its focus is very individualistic. Interestingly both coaches and clients were comfortable putting the Wheel of Life in front of people without discussing permission to speak about all the aspects of the wheel. It was taken as self-evident. What if a more holistic tool could be used in the same way?

Similarly, I was drawn to John Elkington’s assertion that a business is about more than profit; that any business with a future must balance 3 factors; People – Profit – Planet; and enables us to move vigorously towards sustainability. After all, sustainability is not a choice: what is unsustainable will, by definition, at some point fail.

Back to enabling people to make the connections

Yet to really embrace interconnectedness the tool needed to do more: It must connect what’s happening outside with what’s happening within. What’s happening now with what the consequences will be in years to come, our own perspectives with the perspectives of others. And how we are connected as people and can enable each other. This aligns with Julio Olalla’s call for us to rediscover the deeper wisdoms that allow us to be fully human and at our best. And John Whitmore’s imploring for the transpersonal – the need to reach out beyond ourselves and our immediate systems. This matches well with Martin Seligman’s work on Positive Psychology, which found that by serving beyond self, people experience much greater levels of meaning, purpose and fulfilment – itself meaning an invigorated commitment to their work.

Avoid the pitfalls

I also believed such a tool should recognise the experience that so many agents of change burn themselves out – and that this should be avoided.

Make it simple

This all sounds complicated. But such a tool needs to be simple, so that it can be quickly and easily used by potentially millions of people in many and varied situations.

So Neil’s Wheel on paper is very simple. A circle with seven named segments and a blank one. It’s for everyone to be able to quickly and easily use. It’s also profound, and likely to raise ideas and questions that can change the course of businesses and lives. The complexity behind it, touched on here, is only for those who wish to look.

Its first outing, in the guise of ‘Meaningful Leadership – Neil’s Wheel’, was in 2010. It had a big impact. And…Its success was also its challenge – it opened up profound conversations that for many were potentially ahead of their time. It caused pretty much every leader it was shared with to stop and think. For many, they recognised they wanted to do more beyond-self, and for their organisations to do more beyond profit. But that was not what their organisations were asking for. In 2010, after the crash of 2007-8, a key focus was getting the economy growing again, and success was still very much seen at an individual level.

A key experience was with a leader in a major financial institution. They looked at the wheel. And looked. And looked. “There must be more to it than this?” they said, with a hint of exasperation. And a growing rise of what could be described as panic.

“Absolutely.” I replied. “This is a trial. Please tell me what you think is missing.” But they couldn’t. They left the session deeply unsettled – a situation I’m not at all proud about.

It took me a while to make sense of what had happened.

Then it dawned. The client had recognised the importance of the sections. And had judged themselves to be doing poorly in nearly all of them. Up until then, they had seen themselves as a success. But this was telling them a very different story. It created an existential crisis. Of identity and purpose. And their current employment, to which they felt they were inescapably tied, was not going to allow them to do much about it.

Times have changed. The world is now more aware, and I believe more receptive. Increasing numbers of organisations and leaders want to make a positive difference, and are challenging the fallacy of individual success. Recognising that someone’s health and success relies on the health and success of those around them is beginning to become mainstream. People are seeing events unfold globally. As the saying goes, ‘You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality’. People know change is inevitable. They see the consequences around them now, and in the forecasts for the years ahead. And more and more want to play their part in being a force for a better future.

Recognising ‘its time is now’, Hetty Einzig encourage me to share the Wheel with professional coaches at an Association for Coaches event in London in January 2020. Many coaches at the event signed up for the trial. And it was at that event, in discussion with the experienced coaches who tried the tool out, that the blank segment was introduced.

A subsequent in-depth trial, with every coach coaching a colleague using the tool, and being coached in a session or series of sessions with the tool, gathered the data that:

  • Validated the design
  • Proved its effectiveness and safety (Note: This is a powerful tool – and like all powerful tools, care can still be required. For coaches, resources for personal and professional preparation are made available here. Coaches are responsible for their own professional preparation and work using this tool)

The research is on-going, as we gain learning to ensure ease and effectiveness with more coaches and clients, across different cultures and continents and in different situations.

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