It was with great shock and sadness that I learned yesterday of the death of my dear friend and colleague Steve Onyett. Steve was on a charity cycling ride in Palestine when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was just 54 years old.
I first met Steve at the second SOLWorld conference in Bristol in 2003. Steve was interested in SF for both clinical and organisational use, and lived in Bristol, so it was natural that he came. However, the conference dinner on the Friday night was also Valentine’s Day, and he had at that time a routine of going out for dinner with two (female) friends to celebrate their single-ness. So, he brought the friends along too! The following day, the Saturday, Steve left the conference to join with a million others in London for a Stop The War march against the proposed (and feared) invasion of Iraq. This for me sums up Steve – he was committed to a better world, and if that meant political engagement sometime taking precedence over professional practice then so be it. He was pursuing a similarly humanitarian mission when he died.
Steve went on to train with us in Solutions Focus, joined me in the SFWork team, worked closely with us in our work introducing SF coaching into the NHS in various ways. He was a member of SFCT and came to our regular UK chapter meetings from time to time. He also served on the Editorial Advisory Board of the SFCT journal InterAction, allowing us a share of his visiting professorships at the University of the West of England (UWE) and then Exeter.
During the years I was developing ideas around Host Leadership, Steve was a constant source of encouragement and critique. He was instrumental in getting my first paper on the subject (Leader as Host; Host as Leader: Towards a new yet ancient metaphor) published in the International Journal for Leadership in Public Service in 2009 (he was one of the journal’s editors at the time). He maintained his interest in developing the host leadership metaphors and ideas, and joined our small ‘inner circle’ of practitioners and developers last year – an involvement which continued until his death. He wrote guest blogs about host leadership and solution focused coaching – see the links at the bottom of this piece.
We had occasional jousts about his fascination and engagement with things like the Way of Council and ‘shadow side’ facilitation (vital new development or old hippy nonsense? It was he who proposed the latter term – we laughed.) Steve became very involved in the Embercombe community, acting as a Trustee for their charity and being involved with programmes as well as helping to steward the organisation. He loved being outdoors, and spoke to me of the inspiration he found in Embercombe’s Devon countryside setting. It seems fitting somehow that he met his end in the open air, engaged in a cause in which he passionately believed. He is a great loss to people in so many circles and contexts, and we will feel his presence still in our continuing work.
Host Leadership and Solution Focused blogs by Steve:
- Why the pubic sector needs to deepen to the possibility of host leadership now (2014)
- Solution Focused coaching as a way to unlock leadership capacity (2009)