25 October 2011
Eve Poole - Education
Eve Poole was born in St Andrews, Scotland, one of four siblings. She earned a first degree in Theology (Durham), followed by an MBA (Edinburgh) and a PhD in Capitalism and Theology (Cambridge), with three different careers in between. Eve’s first career was working for the Church Commissioners for England. Her second, post MBA, was being a management consultant at Deloitte, and her third career has been teaching leadership and ethics at Ashridge Business School. Eve has written a couple of books, and keeps a fairly regular blog. She’s been singing in church choirs since she was eight, and has a trail of ex-hobbies: viola, fencing, skiing, archery, and afternoon tea. Her current hobby is making hats.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
A mum, or an actress...
How did you end up being an Ashridge associate?
I was working for Deloitte on a project in Bath, when a head-hunter called. When I presented myself for interview, he did a massive double-take and said: 'Oh. You're rather younger, and more female, than I was expecting...' I fully intended to turn up at the Ashridge interview just to give them a piece of my mind, but when I saw that Ashridge was actually Hogwarts, and met the lovely staff there, I fell in love with the place. It has been such a privilege to work with the world's most senior leaders, from such a wide range of organisations. This year I became an associate so that I can take some time out to write my next book, but I'm still involved with the Leadership Centre there.
You're a specialist in change management - what's the fascination?
While I think people are a bit allergic to the terminology, we still underestimate how hard it is to change habit. I learned about change the hard way, when the Church of England tried to re-organise in the late 1990s. Very few organisations really give change enough energy and attention. If an organisation's leader wavers for even a nanosecond, staff take that as a signal to carry on as usual, so it is a huge act of will to live the change at a senior enough level consistently enough to make it happen further down the organisation. It's genuinely hard, and I don't think we ask for enough help from the experts, nor manage them well when we do.
One of your focuses is 'emotional intelligence' - give us a pearl of your wisdom.
Organisations are squeamish about love, but emotional intelligence is essentially about love, and about loving yourself enough to be able to love others.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on three projects. One is a neurobiology project about how leaders learn, one is about 'leadersmithing' and the kind of apprentice pieces leaders need to achieve mastery, and one is a book on 'toxic assumptions' - all of those foundational tenets that have been used to build capitalism but which have gone rotten over time and now need to be repaired.
Cultural highlight of the year so far?
Working with the cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company to help them understand themes of leadership, power and politics in Measure for Measure. It's also the first time I have worked with my brother, who teaches Shakespeare at New College in Oxford. It was brilliant to work with the company at such an early stage in the process, and it will be amazing to see the actual performance when it opens.
Which biblical text or story motivates you in your work?
I often have snatches of hymns and psalms going through my head rather than Bible passages, but the lost sheep/coin reminds me about attention to detail and going the extra mile, and the parable of the talents reminds me about how important it is to help people to identify their own talent and to nurture it well. I find both George Herbert's hymn about sweeping a room as for thy laws, and E.E.Cummings 'I thank you God for most this amazing day', inspirational.
What's the best and worst about teaching ethics?
The very best thing is seeing leaders realise that their personal and work selves can be united, and that they can legitimately bring their worldview to bear on their work. But this is also the worst thing, as it really challenges a lot of cultural templating. Sometimes this proves too uncomfortable, because challenging the status quo is costly in personal and career terms.
What is your dream for society?
That we would all play our part and actively create the society we want, by making more and better decisions about where we invest and spend our time, money, energy and prayer.