Neish has moved.
It has relocated to the Scottish countryside into an old courtyard cottage at the gateway to the Trossachs. There are dense woods to the north and south of the property, practically crying out for fire pits, gargoyles and tree faces. I have, of course, obliged.
A few “wellie’d” strides down the farm track brings you to golden wheat fields and what looks like cypress trees in the distance. Sunsets are magical; deep cerise and violet ribbons of cloud streak across Ben Ledi. On a warm sunny evening, Stirlingshire morphs into Tuscany.
Inside the house, there is a renewal underway. The middle of the cottage, which includes the kitchen, the dining room and an upstairs bedroom is being carved out into one cavernous family den. As one friend put it, we’re opening up the heart of the house. The library is having a stone wall and inglenook fireplace exposed and the French doors, which frame the Gargunnock Hills, will be simplified to just glass. Five guest suites are being built as I write and when finished, four of them will overlook “Tuscany.”
Every alteration is in service of creating space, bringing the outdoors in and relaxing visitors. The design is simple: colourful and natural. Friends will be invited to open and stretch their minds so that unnecessary blocks and tangles can shake out.
It is called The Shireing.
When my nephews were babies, they would stay with my mum and dad once a week. On the Friday I would nip round for some toddler taunting, which included belly-buzzing and blanket-burls (whirling them round the room in a blanket just like their father did to me.) The boys are good sports and were usually up for terrifying experiences at the hands of their uncle.
Occasionally they weren’t. Sometimes my timing was off. Once or twice, I’d arrive and grab a child who had just been napping. Before I could have my entertainment they would squawk and signal my mother to rescue them. Mum would relieve me of the unhappy toddler, with the gentle scold of, “Och, give him a minute, he’s just shireing.”
As I thought about names for the house this year, The Shireing kept popping into my mind. The Tolkien-esque sound was appealing but more so the real definition. I always understood shireing to mean waking up but extracts from Scottish literature revealed that it actually means clearing. It is a culinary term, describing the clear meat stock once the fat and sediment have been removed. In books it was often used to describe someone clearing their head. People would write about going away so that “their heid could shire.”
The core function of a director is to create a vision that motivates people to higher performance. Over decades of coaching, I have noticed that there is nothing like an over-stressed and cluttered head to neutralise future thinking. Most executives have their brains flooded with hourly disruptions, voluminous information stacks and crippling complexity. They become too encumbered to inspire their teams.
Their futures are un-kept: cluttered with old, unfulfilled dreams or fears of past disasters re-occurring. The leader considers the prospective land and sees only the detritus of previous hopes and familiar dread littering the field. Navigating a vision is like walking a minefield full of diversions and obstacles; being drawn back into old cycles of avoidance and distraction.
From the human potential movement, we know that potent visioning comes from a psychologically neutral point. We take our fears and put them in the past where they belong. We re-experience haunting events till they complete, extract the learning and consign them to long term memory. We abandon nostalgic dreams and feel the grief. We start our future from zero, base level, an empty space, a position that is tangential from the past.
Our vision is new, relevant to our current desires and open to emerging resources. We put the past in the past and our future opens like a wide, empty fertile field.
From the void, we can invent a new future.
The Shireing is the place where we make our contribution to leadership. We help people to get closure, make better meaning of events, comb out contaminating beliefs, expose obstructive habits, talk about what is really going on, commit to new possibilities and strategise how to enrol others in bold dreams.
And we help them to clear their heads.
Neish uses sophisticated and innovative psychology but I’m curious to see, if in our future, more of our activity will involve sitting by a fire pit or taking a walk along a farm track. In the waves that ripple over wheat fields or in a God-painted sky, I wonder if more leaders will experience a shireing.