Head of Perimeter Development

That’s the title of a job I recently saw advertised on LinkedIn: Head of Perimeter Development, Heathrow Airport. 

It was posted in the days immediately following the shut-down of Gatwick Airport because of the (definite, probable, possible, maybe, don’t-be-daft) presence of drones in the airspace and, at first, I assumed it must be about building higher fences or installing anti-drone technology to create a more secure perimeter.  Or extending the boundaries of the airport to make it larger. 

And that made me think about coaching.  Perimeter development (I would call it boundary management in a coaching context) is one of the issues that comes up repeatedly. 

You might find yourself asking why no one ever invites you for lunch, or shares their emerging ideas.  If you lead a team, you might feel they are compliant without being really engaged or motivated.  The energy is low, and a sense of passion and excitement seems to be missing. 

Or perhaps you feel you can’t get anything done because people are always interrupting you.  You’re the go-to person for a chat or advice or a moan.  People bring you problems and you spend your time solving them rather than getting on with your own work.  You find it almost impossible to give people critical feedback, or to say no to more/extra work, or to ask for the conditions in which to do your own best work. 

These issues are likely to be the product of how we relate to others, which is a product of how we learnt to relate to people when we were young.  As someone once said to me, our family is the first team we experience, and unconsciously we can recreate the patterns of that “team” in later life. 

Was it safe to share your innermost thoughts and feelings as a child, or did it lead to ridicule or shame or rejection?  Or did you grow up in an environment where people were interested in your ideas and where you felt listened to, appreciated and validated? 

Your early context will have taught you a set of behaviours that enabled you to get your needs for safety and connection successfully met.  We learn what works and we repeat it.  We do this unconsciously as children but as adults we have the cognitive capacity to observe ourselves and notice how these patterns are showing up in our adult relationships. 

Understanding the origins of these patterns can be liberating.  Realising that your colleague is not actually your overbearing parent or your annoying sibling or your clingy teenage best friend allows you to let go of the unconscious expectations that this history produces, and to choose a different way of responding. 

Of course, learning a new habit takes time, effort, practice and repetition, as anyone who’s ever tried to get physically fit, or to learn the piano, will know.  We have to build a new way of behaving – a new muscle memory, if you like.  For example, learning how to say “no” to requests, which sounds simple but for some people most definitely isn’t, because of their historical learning.  Then we need to find low-risk places to practice, before we plunge into that difficult conversation with our boss or a colleague. 

I help clients recognise the impact of old habits and build more productive new ones.  It’s time-consuming but it’s definitely possible, and I’m constantly in awe of what people who put the effort in are able to achieve, turning round not only their performance at work but many other aspects of their lives too.  They get clear about what’s important to them, prioritise where to put their effort and attention, concentrate more fully on fewer things, and as a result they become more productive, with higher quality results, while also managing relationships more effectively. 

So that job at Heathrow.  What did it actually involve?  Creating great experiences for the thousands of passengers who pass through the airport every day.  Not maintaining boundaries, but managing the customer experience of everything not happening on the runway itself: “Life with us means exploring unlimited opportunities. And making a real difference to people who are travelling to all sorts of places for all sorts of different reasons.” 

Sounds a lot like coaching.

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