Space – the final frontier

On Tuesday evening I went to a preview of Martin Firrell’s new installation in The Vaults underneath Waterloo Station. It’s called “It ends here” and it’s inspired by the Planet of the Apes and explores human nature and the possibility of peaceful co-existance with those who are different to us. I went with an open mind but ready to find an ‘installation’ could tell me nothing about things I care about. I was wrong.

The installation is just four rooms. Atmospheric, drenched in soft sound, with smells and vapours, and sparsely lit. Each has just a few words on a wall. It was the power of the spaces that hit me first and has stayed with me. It was the use of space that allowed the economy of expression to work.

Interesting. But what’s it got to to do with leadership and coaching? We know that the nature of a working space sends a message to those who work there. If a leader has an important message to give then choice of venue matters. Creative team work needs a creative space with light, air and colour. Coaching literally and metaphorically needs a safe space. But do we fully know or use what different spaces can generate?

Think about what is happening when a leader gets others to enage fully with a compelling vision, or when coaching provokes change. It’s not only the words, the insights, the actions that people take away, it’s also the felt sense of possibility – generated in the moment, in that space.

Martin’s third room was the Brutality Room. Unlit apart from pencil lights that some of us carried. A towering arched roof, dank brick- work, squelching underfoot along a tunnel. It felt brutal. And it gave onto the fourth room – small and gently lit with three words in gold lettering on the facing wall: “Resistance is Grace”. Tight, sofly provocative and cathartic. Wonderful.

So what space might evoke your leadership message? How few words would you need if you got the space right?

And if you see me coaching in an igloo, an art gallery or a tree- house, you’ll know why.