Aboodi Shabi

Desert, Leadership, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

“The only definition of a leader I know is someone who has followers.” – Peter Drucker.

U.K. coaching and leadership guru Aboodi Shabi brings his wisdom to the Goaly blog once again today, giving us some insight into his philosophy of leadership. He challenges us to ask ourselves a question we hardly ever hear in leadership circles.

How Unavailable Are You?

When I work with leaders, I often ask them this question: “How are you unavailable as a leader?” What do I mean by this?

The Drucker quote suggests that it is your capacity to engage with others in such a way that they are willing to follow you that marks you as a leader.

For all of us who work as leaders, or who take on a leadership role in life, that capacity for engagement is an on-going process of learning.

A Way of Being

Leadership is not just about technical ability, or about a skill-set – it is about a way of being. We are talking about the ontology of a leader, if you will – what is it in our being that impacts how others perceive us as a leader. How do we show up, and how does that affect whether or not others are willing to follow us?

“How available are you for relationship?”

So, to come back to that question, I am asking leaders to reflect on those aspects of themselves which get in the way of their being someone people will want to follow.

Of course, this isn’t only applicable to leaders – even if we are not in a formal leadership role, we will need to relate to others and to be seen as someone that others will want to engage with.

Leadership, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

The question could be made more general: How available are you for relationship? What aspects of yourself get in the way of being someone that others will want to engage with?

Here are a few examples of things which can get in the way of your availability for relationship:

  • You like to always do things your way
  • You need to be liked
  • You are very results-focused
  • You don’t take time to really connect with others
  • You might find it hard to ask for help
  • You’re uncomfortable with not knowing all the answers.

While all of those things might be useful at times, they can also negatively impact your availability for relationship.

Relate More, Engage More

If you want to become more available for relationship, or you want to engage more in life, then one of the first steps will be to identify where and how you are unavailable.

The best way to find this out is to ask others. Sometimes you might not even need to ask – you might simply have to listen to what others have been trying to tell you all along!

Take some time to ask, or listen to, people around you. How do they experience you?

Some of these conversations may not be easy, but try to listen from a mood of openness and willingness to learn rather than trying to defend yourself. If you want to relate more to others then surely it’s worth trying to find out how they experience you

“If you want to relate more to others, then surely it’s worth trying to find out how they experience you.”

Note that this isn’t about you becoming what others want you to become – it’s not an either/or situation, but a chance to reflect further on what it might require for you to be more available in your relationships with others, and to participate more fully in life.

© Aboodi Shabi – 2015
aboodi@aboodishabi.com - www.aboodishabi.com

Headphones, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

Ever wonder why coaching — whether for business, career or life — is so effective for so many people? U.K. leadership developer and coach trainer Aboodi Shabi joins us today to talk about why listening is such a crucial part of the relationships between coach and client.

Are They Mad?

Towards the end of her life, my mother, who grew up and lived in Baghdad until she was in her late thirties, developed Alzheimer’s and started to forget herself during her conversations. Whenever we spoke on the phone, or when we met, she would ask me what I did for a living, and I would try to explain.

“She would look at me with a slightly astonished expression on her face, and say “They pay you? To talk to them? Are they mad?”

It’s never been especially easy for me to quickly sum up just what it is that I do, but explaining coaching to someone whose English wasn’t fluent and who couldn’t remember anything anyway, was especially trying.

Occasionally, however, she would get it.

And then, she would look at me with a slightly astonished expression on her face, and say “They pay you? To talk to them? Are they mad?”

A Solution to Every Problem?

The story about my mother and I is one I often tell, and it points to something at the heart of why I do what I do. We live in an increasingly rational culture, one that believes, in its rationalist way, that there is a solution to every problem.

“If self-help books work, how come we need more than one?”

This has penetrated our culture in ways I couldn’t have imagined as a child. Go to any bookshop, and you’ll find rows of shelves devoted to “self-help” books; look on the internet and you’ll find advice on how to deal with any problem you can imagine, and some you can’t.

And yet, despite the mass availability of good advice, information on how to deal with our problems, workshops on how to make money, find or maintain relationships, live powerfully, etc, we are still seeking something.

Rationality, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

Something else that I often say is that “If self-help books worked, how come we need more than one?”. It’s not that the information out there is bad or that the courses offered aren’t any good, but it seems there is something missing. Something that people will, despite my mother’s protestations, pay for and which they value.

The Answer: Listen + Listen + Listen

That something, I think, is listening. Sounds simple, but it’s almost as if the more solutions there are out there, the harder it is to simply be listened to.

When we talk to our friends or our colleagues about our challenges what we often get is advice – “Read this book,” or, “Do this course.” Or, worse, we sometimes get told we should “Just deal with it,” or “Get over it.”

“We don’t really get listened to. We get information and advice.”

In other words, we don’t really get listened to – we get “fixed”, or “told what to do”, but we don’t get listened to in the sense of being legitimised in our own experience. We don’t get seen, we don’t get witnessed and we don’t get that connection. We get information and advice instead.

For the Dogs?

Those of you who have dogs will know that, if you throw a stick for a dog when you are out walking with it, the dog will run after the stick, bring it back to you and drop it at your feet for you to throw it again. The dog doesn’t simply want the stick; it wants the connection, the relationship.

Information and advice are a bit like the stick. It’s not that we don’t need advice or solutions to our problems – of course we do – but often  what’s needed in addition to these things is simple listening.

Dog, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

In fact, I’d say listening is something that’s so vital and so rare.

Sometimes we miss the obviousness of simply giving someone the gift of listening. I know, from my own experience as a coach and also from the experiences of the coaches I have trained and worked with, that often the coachee will say that, in coaching (and also in counseling), they have been able to speak of things they have never spoken about before. The simple act of being able to speak those things was sufficient.

In the excellent book, “A General Theory of Love” , the writers Amini, Lewis and Lannon argue that one of the main benefits of counselling (for which you could also read “coaching”) is the connection between the counselor and the client – the limbic connection between them is the healing, not the content.

To Be Heard, To Be Seen

In summary, I think we can say that the human soul longs for, perhaps more than anything else, the chance to express itself and be heard or seen. It doesn’t need to be fixed, told what to do next or given a solution. It simply longs to be witnessed.

“The human soul longs to express itself and be heard or seen. It doesn’t need to be fixed. It simply longs to be witnessed.”

This need has been around since ancient times. Writer Joseph Campbell used to talk about “sacred space” – a space where people would gather to speak of their important matters and where the act of speaking would in itself be transformative.

I think it’s that space that people are seeking – the space where they can hear themselves and be witnessed. And, for that, no, I don’t think they are mad to pay.

© Aboodi Shabi – 2015
aboodi@aboodishabi.com - www.aboodishabi.com

Silly Guy, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

“We sit here stranded though we’re all doing our best to deny it.” – Bob Dylan (Visions of Johanna).

Our blog series with Aboodi Shabi, one of the U.K.’s leading coaches and leadership developers, continues today with the topic of incompetence. It’s hard for us to admit our mistakes and break out of our comfort zone, but Aboodi will do just that with the following post.

Declaring your Incompetence

I learned to drive more than thirty years ago, but one thing I never quite mastered was parking. Of course, I could sort of park, but I always struggled with parallel parking and would often give up on a parking space because it was too tight for me to get into.

I just put up with this and the frustration it caused. I didn’t think to ask for help, partly because I didn’t know that help would be available, but mostly out of embarrassment – parking is just one of those things one “should” be able to do.

Parking Your Pride

And then, a few weeks ago, I was visiting a friend for a walk. As I pulled into the car-park, she greeted me with “Gosh, your parking’s really awful, isn’t it?” Fortunately, I was in a good mood and was able to simply respond by agreeing with her,  saying that I’d always struggled with parallel parking.

Parking, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

Having acknowledged my incompetence, I was able to receive her offer of help and she set about teaching me the basics. Half an hour later, I understood something I’d never known before, and have been practising ever since.

It sounds like no big deal, but I think it touches on a fundamental aspect of human learning.

Help Me! (Or Not)

In my years of working with people, I have consistently come across one huge obstacle to learning that shows up for people however sophisticated, competent, or clever they are – the inability to admit the need for help, or more bluntly, the inability to admit their incompetence.

Even when people come for coaching or to one of my learning programmes, their starting point is often that “everything is fine” – to which my response, whether it’s spoken or not, is to reflect on why they have called me if nothing is wrong or if there is nothing they are struggling with.

Stop sign, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

It’s very hard for people to say “I’m lost, can you help me?” Just like the cliché of the guy who refuses to stop and ask for directions when driving, we live in a time when individuals are supposed to be able to help themselves and overcome any challenges alone. Any admission that we don’t know how to do something is a sign of weakness.

Where is Your Incompetence?

So, if we substitute other things for parking, where might you be just putting up with something you’re unable to figure out? Where are you sitting with frustration, embarrassed to ask for help, or not believing that help could be available?

Maybe you’re frustrated by the expectations of others at work and feel unable to do anything other than trying alone to stay on top of things. Maybe you feel unable to change some aspect of your personal life – you might drink too much, or feel unable to stop fighting with your spouse. Maybe you can’t find a way out of your financial difficulties.

In almost all of these kinds of situation, there is a way out of our difficulties. Support is often available to us, but, until that admission is there, until we declare that we can’t manage something or that we need help, real change is not possible.

“The hardest part of the learning journey or of making changes is the admission of the inability to do something or of the struggle.”

People are often willing to help us,  offer us new perspectives and ways out of our difficulties or provide comfort in our struggles. However, if we are unwilling to acknowledge the difficulties we face, then we are not going to be open to such support.

What I find time and time again in my work with people is that the hardest part of the learning journey or of making changes is the admission of the inability to do something or of the struggle. Once that step has been taken the process is usually simple, if not easy.

Surrendering to the learning journey by declaring one’s incompetence is the doorway to beginning to change.

Questions for Reflection

  • Where are you frustrated or struggling with a lack of progress in your professional or personal life?
  • What might be your learning challenges or areas of incompetence?
  • What stops you from admitting those challenges and asking for help?
  • What help might be available to you, once you begin to ask for it?

© Aboodi Shabi – 2015
aboodi@aboodishabi.com - www.aboodishabi.com

Boy, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

“We shape ourselves to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.” David Whyte

All of us have behaviors shaped by factors outside of ourselves.

Leadership developer and founding co-president of the U.K. chapter of the International Coach Federation Aboodi Shabi talks with us today about how we can identify and transform our learned behaviors. Enjoy!

From Apartheid to Great Expectations

In the introduction to Peter Senge’s book “Presence”, there is a powerful story from a leadership workshop Senge was running in South Africa in 1990 during the last days of the Apartheid system.

During the workshop, which was for both blacks and whites, the participants were shown a video of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which had been banned in South Africa, and which many of them had never seen before.

After the video was shown, one of the participants, a white Afrikaans businessman, turned to one of the black community leaders, Anne Loetsebe, and said to her: “I want you to know that I was raised to think you were an animal.” And then he started crying. Anne just held him in her gaze and nodded. (You can read the full story here.)

Similarly, Estella, the adoptive daughter of Miss Havisham in Dickens’ novel “Great Expectations”, is depicted as being unable to love because she was brought up by a mother who had hated men after being jilted at the altar.

Learned Behavior: It Can Change

Stories like that illustrate that people aren’t “racist” because they are fundamentally evil or bad, nor are they “unable to love” because they are inherently unemotional. We are the way that we are because that’s what we have learned. And the things that we assess as character “deficiencies” might simply be things we have or have not learned.

“We are the way that we are because that’s what we have learned.”

When I work with people, in all kinds of contexts and situations, I frequently hear statements like “That’s just the way that I am,” “I’m really bad at asking for help,” or, “I’m never going to be any good at leadership.”

On further exploration, we usually discover that, at some point in their early lives, they were trained to be a certain way, or not trained in a particular competency.

Suddenly, what initially seemed to them as a character flaw becomes simply a recognition of a lack of learning or training, and then a different kind of possibility occurs – the possibility to train in a different way, to learn a new way of being.

“What seems a character flaw can become simply a recognition of a lack of learning or training, and then a different kind of possibility occurs.”

Of course, as with the stories above of the Afrikaner businessman or Estella, this realisation can bring with it a lot of pain, regret over what we might have missed or sadness over not having realised this earlier. There are so many things I wish I’d known when I was twenty, rather than having to wait until I was thirty or forty or fifty, to discover!

Feeling Freedom

Once we realise those things, there’s a new kind of freedom as well as a compassion that sets in when we realise that we’re not intrinsically flawed, but that we have been trained to live, think, or be a certain kind of way. Then, we can be available for learning – for re-training – in a way that we were not before this understanding.

Girl Running, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog


That awareness can bring about a powerful shift in our mood – we’re not doomed to be the way we might have been all of our lives. We can learn something new – in much the same way as we are not doomed to only being able to speak our native language because that’s what we learned growing up, so we are not condemned to being unable to love, or to not being able to ask for help, etc.

Simply put, once we understand that who we are is, to a large extent, who we have learned to be, we can learn to be something new.

Questions for Reflection

  • You might like to take a look at “who you are” – at your characteristics and personality, and reflect on how you might have learned to be that way.
  • If you have aspects of yourself that you see as ‘flaws’, can you see them as simply ‘things you have learned’?
  • What do these reflections open up for you?

© Aboodi Shabi – 2015
aboodi@aboodishabi.com - www.aboodishabi.com

Talking into can, Aboodi Shabi

“The secret of tango is in this moment of improvisation that happens between step and step.” – Carlos Gavito

Today,  Aboodi Shabi, a transformational coaching expert and founder of the U.K. International Coaching Federation, offers his wisdom about the art and skill of grabbing someone’s attention with just the right amount of vigor and restraint.

How Do You Grab Someone’s Attention?

How much is too much? How little is too little?

When I did a somatic coaching course a few years ago, one of the exercises during the workshop consisted of literally grabbing someone else – by the arm – in order to get their attention.

“Whether we are acting in a designated leadership role, or simply taking the initiative in life, we need to get the attention of others throughout our day.”

As we worked on this, we were asked to pay attention to the question of how much is too much, and how little is too little. If I grab someone too hard, then I risk overwhelming them or putting them on the defensive, and if I don’t grab them hard enough, then I risk being ignored.

This question is a key territory for learning in the work I do with leaders. Whether we are acting in a designated leadership role, or simply taking the initiative in life, we need to get the attention of others throughout our day.

Listen to Me!

The exercise above focused primarily on the physical aspects of grabbing someone’s attention, but in our everyday life we grab others’ attention in all kinds of ways.

We make requests, for example, by speaking or by emails and gestures. We issue instructions or make interventions to make something happen or prevent something else from happening.

“The key aim is to get the other person to notice – to hear our request, for example, and to respond.”

This can be anything from asking our manager for a conversation, to calling out to stop a child from running out in front of a car, to bringing a staff member’s attention to some concern about their performance, or even when leading someone in tango.

Of course, the key aim is to get the other person to notice – to hear our request, for example, and to respond. This requires calibration.

Calibrating Your Technique

Make the grab too little and the other person might not even notice that we are trying to communicate with them – our requests go unnoticed; they don’t hear us; or, if they do hear us, they may not take us seriously. Make the grab too much, on the other hand, and we could alienate or overwhelm them or we might be dismissed as “too aggressive.”

We all tend to have a default style when it comes to trying to get someone else’s attention; we need to learn how to adapt to each situation in order to make the desired impact – there is no “one size fits all”.

Each situation, each conversation, requires a different approach.

“In any relationship, whether personal or professional, there is an ongoing need to calibrate, according to the situation, according to the context.”

How, for example, do you get the attention of your colleague to ask for their help on a project, or of your teenage child who’s ignoring your requests for help in the house, or of your team to address a crisis at work, or of someone you want to invite to a dinner date?

In each of those situations, it’s clear that there are different strengths of approaches needed. Not only that, but in any relationship, whether personal or professional, there is an ongoing need to calibrate, according to the situation, according to the context.

What worked today with your boss might not work tomorrow, for example. You might greet a friend with enthusiasm, only to notice her crest-fallen face, and need to adapt your approach.

Using Intuition to Dance

A way to look at this is to see each step in each conversation as an opportunity to calibrate, to be present to the question, “How little is too little, and how much is too much?”—not in a mechanical way, but more in the sense of being present to the conversation and to the other person, so that you are able to “dance” with them and “know” the right level of approach at an almost intuitive level.

Tango Dancers, Aboodi Shabi, Goaly Blog

Like anything else – like the tango, for example – at the beginning this may feel mechanical until we are more practiced in it.

Center Yourself, Find Your Balance

One of the ways to support this practice is by centering. When we come from a centered place, it’s much easier for calibrate and know how little or how much is needed, rather than just operating from our default style, or from our eagerness to get the point across or our concerns that we won’t be listened to.

Here are some reflections that might help you explore this for yourself:

    • What is your default tendency? What impact does this have on others – do you find people backing away? Not hearing you? Responding?


    • What conversations have you had recently where you might have been “too much” or “too little?” What was the cost to you or to the other person?


    • What conversations do you need to have this week? How can you make yourself more available for connection by centering and calibration?


There is nothing to “get right,” only consistent practice and learning about yourself and about how you show up in your business or personal relationships, consistently checking in whether you are being too little or too much in each interaction in the conversation.

© Aboodi Shabi – 2015
aboodi@aboodishabi.com – www.aboodishabi.com