Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Hopes going down, the real man stands revealed

I don’t know if you read the story about poor Paul Hopes?
Why do I call him poor? In three years he spent nearly £4-million on fast cars, fast girls and five-star hotels.
Big problem: it wasn’t his money. So now he’s in custody waiting to be sentenced after pleading guilty to 18 charges of theft.
Paul managed the purchase ledger at Toys ‘R’ Us in Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK, a chain whose exchequer he clearly saw as his personal plaything. His story is well told by Ben Marlow and Robert Watts in The Times.
What jumped at me was this:
The 58-year-old accountant, with greying hair and a double chin, appeared to live a life of suburban normality... “It’s all been a big surprise,” said one of his colleagues. “We just knew him as ‘Paul from finance’. He was a quiet, likeable chap. He just didn’t strike you as that sort of person. Look, in all the time I’ve worked in the same building ... getting arrested is the one memorable thing I can remember him doing.”
And why did that portrait leap out? Because of all the times that I and others whose mission is to coach and communicate with staff in various corporate enterprises have been warned off by executives who take an entirely one-dimensional view of their underlings.
You know the put-downs? “These people are accountants, so there’s no point trying to appeal to their imaginations”; “they’re in sales, time-starved, only interested in a quick fix that will open someone’s wallet”; “you’re dealing with IT people, for heaven’s sake – they’re geeks. You can’t expect them to emote or perform.”
There’s a line you can use in a session limber-up which often brings surprising answers: “everyone of us leads several lives – tell me about one of your other ones.”
And you discover the geek who writes songs and plays in a rock band, the salesperson whose vacations are cricket tours, the accountant who’s an ardent cineaste and is just now shooting an amateur movie.
My point being that one reason communication and coaching fail is that its clients are often treated as functions rather than people. Find a route into the whole human being and they blaze up like logs pushed together in a fire.
Paul Valéry, who was a poet, wrote: “If the logician could never be other than a logician, he would not, and could not, be a logician. If the poet were never anything but a poet... he would leave no poetic traces behind him. I believe in all sincerity that if each man were not able to live a number of lives besides his own, he would not be able to live his own life.”
So if an accountant could never be other than an accountant, he would go mad. Or take the journey Paul Hopes took through the high life and into the slammer.
Next week, for Christmas, a ghost story. Well, probably not – you decide when you read it.

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