I still feel quite embarrassed to say this, but – as I mentioned in the introduction of this book – one of my lifelong challenges has been to ‘feel like one of the grownups’. However, the older I get, and the more I talk to others, the more I realise that most of us feel like this to some degree.
My friend Judy Piatkus and her husband Cyril invited Helen and me to Sunday lunch at their lovely flat in Hampstead. Among the other couples were Sue and Kent. Sue had co-founded The Academy of Chief Executives and now ran the Global Leaders Academy (GLA), mentoring CEOs and leaders in small- and medium-size companies, and catalysing breakthroughs in their leadership. I felt suitably impressed and quite intimidated by her! Sue was obviously a big hitter.
We swapped business cards, and a few months later Sue and I met for coffee at her home in Hertfordshire, where I helped her explore themes for a book she felt inspired to write. She then invited me to become an honorary member of the GLA and attend some of their circles. I felt very intimidated at the thoughts of being surrounded by all these powerful, ‘grownup’ leaders. And yet a part of me deeply wanted to belong there. I ended up being part of the GLA for two years.
I attended a few meetings and then it struck me: there was nothing particularly ‘special’ about these people in the way that I’d fantasised there might be. They were not superhuman, they were not invulnerable. Indeed, many of them brought their vulnerability to Sue’s circle because she held it as a safe and confidential space for them. They brought with them the issues and challenges that they couldn’t necessarily talk to their colleagues or family about. Quite quickly my heart began to open to them all and I became less intimidated. All the same, when Sue suggested that I might like to make a presentation to the circle one day, I was apprehensive. ‘Blimey,’ I thought, ‘I don’t feel anywhere near ready for that!’
Then, at the beginning of December, less than forty-eight hours before the next GLA meetup, I got a phone call from Sue. It was snowing heavily in London and the scheduled speaker couldn’t get to the next circle because of the bad weather. Would I step in and present instead, as I lived in London? The circle would be meeting at the Earls Court Conference Centre. Gulp! Me –present to these leaders that I was only just beginning not to be intimidated by and in awe of? I said I would have a think and call her back shortly. It was a no-brainer really. Why wouldn’t I take up her offer? So I agreed and decided to run a session on ‘Inspiration, Resistance and Purpose’.
I had another pivotal moment to come. When we assembled on the Thursday morning at Earls Court, Sue started to introduce me to members of the group, most of whom I had already met. As she thanked me for stepping in, I heard her say, ‘Nick is one of my mentors.’ I had to do an internal double-take. So I was a mentor to the woman who mentors leaders? What did that make me? Obviously something good, or I wouldn’t be here now! Her comment was an enormous boost to my confidence and I went on to facilitate a three-hour session that went really well. I shared ideas, invited enquiry and conversation, coached and gently challenged the group.
But it was Sue’s words – describing me as one of her mentors – that stayed with me the most. Those six words, not even directed at me, but about me, helped me across yet another threshold: I truly was a grownup working with other grownups.