Lending an ear…even if even if you were the Prime Minister by Nicholas Wai
I do miss living in London, some times…walking in the parks when the weather is nice (and dancing in the rain when it is not), strolling around in world famous museums and galleries whenever you like it (even for 10 minutes as they are free), listening to world-class thinkers and speakers talk about their research at the Royal Society of Art, and taking classes in anything that take your fancy (from furniture design to bow making). Of course, there is also going to concerts and plays anytime you want. But luckily, with technology these days, one can watch a performance from the National Theatre at a local cinema in your own city, which I did last week – “The Audience” with Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.
Every Tuesday, the Queen and her Prime Minister at the time (if they are both in London) will meet for half an hour where there with be no one else there and no minutes taken. In theory they can talk about anything and with no official record no one is supposed to know. Intrigued by this, the playwrite imagined what actually happened at these meetings, and with ‘ready-made’ strong characters (the Queen has reigned with 12 different PMs so far, from Winston Churchill when she was 25 to David Cameron who is younger even than her youngest child, and 8 of whom, the PMs, are featured), created a play that was both serious and funny, with clever dialogues and flawless acting to match.
What I found fascinating was that the Prime Ministers featured, who were the most powerful men and woman tasked with running the country, could not have talked freely with anyone without worrying that it might be used against them. With the Queen having no actual authority over them, and could be trusted to keep absolute confidence, some appreciated such opportunity, and shared their most intimate insecurities and worries with their soverign, who with age and experience grew in strength and confidence but also understanding and compassion, as successive PMs come to her for a sympathic ear, or just an ear. One great scene was when the Queen heard about the passing of Margaret Thatcher, whom reportedly she did not much warm to, remarked that they were only 6 months apart in age, in a tone that disclosed her sense of loss and respect, which we got a glimspe of when they debated fiercely about the sanctioning South Africa in an earlier scene.
In coaching, we often work with top executives who are in similar situations, where they could not talk freely with people in their own organisations, or show their worries and insecurities because of their positions, but still need an outlet. In coaches, they look for trusted allies with whom they can feel free to disclose their inner-thinking, and discuss different ways in handling them. We as coaches are not there to judge or counsel (although suggestions are sometimes requested for consideration), but overall to listen and care with a level of understanding and compassion that will make them feel safe and confident enough to let down their guards and be vunerable, for just a while, so self-examination and growth can occur. It might be a passive role, but an important role nevertheless in holding up the mirror and in bouncing ideas off with. We can all benefit from a trusted ally like the Queen, and thanks to her the Prime Ministers of the UK have remained relatively sane.